regrets about turning down an offer

A reader writes:

In mid-June, I applied for a job with company A, and also one with company B at the end of June. Company B’s interview process went much more quickly than A’s, and B extended me an offer in late July. I turned down the offer because I felt I would’ve been happier at company A – much better rapport with the people I interviewed with, and a chance to gain experience in a new area – and thought my chances with company A were good.

Now it’s 2 full weeks later and I have not heard back yet from company A. This is somewhat expected as the hiring person (the director of the program) seems to be very busy with her other responsibilities. After she extended me a second interview for example, it took about 2.5 weeks and a fair amount of follow up and persistence on my part before it was scheduled for mid-July. She keeps giving me dates of when things are expected to happen. For example, they expected to make a decision by end of July, but those deadlines are never met, thus causing me to need to follow up constantly. I did let her know about my job offer (no response), and continue to express my interest in working with her organization. She has given me her work cell phone, office phone, and email contact info and I have made use of all 3, but its been very difficult getting a hold of her. I have not been told that the position has been filled or that I am not in the running.

At this point, I’m starting to worry and regret my decision to turn down the offer from company B. I not sure if I would’ve been happy there but having a job and having financial security looks great right about now and much more important than happiness and whatever else I was holding out for. I feel that the hiring person from company A is very genuine and that she is truly swamped with other responsibilities. At the same time, I feel very frustrated and foolish to an extent for continuing to wait on them and investing so much effort into following up.

What do you think about this process? I have began searching for other openings already, and last week noticed that company B reposted the same position. I’m assuming that their second candidate did not work out either and am wondering if I should write to them and see if they’ll re-extend the offer to me. What are the rules in regards to this? Truthfully, I am not sure if this would be the best environment for me especially in comparison to company A but I am at a point where I just want to be working already.

Juggling this sort of thing — an offer from one company while you’re waiting to hear from a different company you think you’d prefer — is really tricky. My usual advice when that happens is to let the other company know that you’ve received an offer and ask them if there’s a way to expedite their timeline, if they’re interested in you. But you did this and got no response, so then what?

Here’s what I can tell you, based on my own experience as a hiring manager. (As a disclaimer, the hiring manager at Company A may think entirely differently from me, so factor that in.) If a candidate is high on my list, I don’t want to risk them accepting another offer. If a candidate who I was interested in told me that they had another job offer, there is zero chance that I would not get back to them. Generally, I would try to speed up our process, but if that weren’t possible, I would at least explain to them what factors were holding things up on our side. So because she didn’t respond to you, and continued not responding to your other attempts to contact her, unfortunately that indicates that it’s likely that they’re not seriously interested at this point, and you should move on. If they contact you at some point in the future, great. But don’t make plans around it.

As for the position re-opening at Company B, you should consider this totally independently of the position at Company A. If you had never learned about the position at A, would the job at B interest you? If you don’t believe the job at B is right for you, I’d keep looking. But if you think B could make you happy, absolutely call them up and tell them you’d like to re-submit yourself as a candidate for the position. Be prepared to explain what has changed since you turned down their offer and why you’re now interested (it shouldn’t just be “I need a job”).

And of course, the lesson here is: Never, never, never count on a job offer until you actually have it in hand. Things change, other candidates come along, plans for the position evolve. Counting on an offer you don’t yet have is the job equivalent of never making plans with your friends because you hope that cute boy might ask you out and you want to be free if he does … but with much more serious repercussions.

{ 19 comments… read them below }

  1. HR Maven*

    As an HR person, I would have some concerns about a person coming back to us after the ‘preferred’ position didn’t pan out. I would wonder how long you would last.

    It’s worth a call but I would continue to look.

  2. Just another HR lady...*

    I always tend to be devil’s advocate, but it does sound to me like the HR person from company A is just trying to deal with whatever is happening with the position internally, and keep you on the line as well. Perhaps budget approval was taken away, perhaps all the managers are on vacation as it’s the summer, perhaps the hiring process is just extremely slow due to red tape issues. There are a lot of reasons a recruitment can drag on (and on and on!), and short of the HR person telling you that you are no longer under consideration, I would guess that some or all of the above might apply.
    Unfortunately, I wish I could tell you that when I have a candidate with another offer it speeds up our process, but we have a “red tape” issue, so I push and push under that kind of situation, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In those times, I do my best to let the candidate know what is happening, but sometimes dates still end up being extended.

    That being said, I would agree with AAM, each employment decision should be made independently. There must be a reason why you turned down offer “B”, other than just waiting for offer “A”? If offer “B” was right for you, you would have taken it the first time. Try not to second-guess yourself, instict tends to be right most of the time.

  3. Rachel - Employment File*

    As HR Maven said it’s going to be hard to get back in. If you really want this you’re going to have to schmooze like crazy.

  4. HR Godess*

    I agree with HR Maven. I’d be apprehensive about re-extending the offer to you at this point. I would, however, listen to your reason for turning us down in the first place. There are, sometimes, extenuating circumstances. I don’t see how you’ll justify this instance however. Be honest. If you’re not honest, they will see right through it. Good luck.

  5. Anonymous*

    As per Company A: they’re just not that into you. It’s unfortunate, but true. If I know my top candidate has another offer, I’ll set some fire under someone’s chair to move things along. I’ll even go so far as to make an offer, pending…(reference check, security clearance, etc).

    For Company B: no good HR person will re-extend an offer without a real reason. (A death in the family, a serious illness, etc as cause for turning down an offer). Honesty is the best policy, but I doubt they’ll reoffer. Good luck!

  6. Anonymous*

    In this situation, I would accept the offer from Company B and ask for two or more weeks to “give notice” to my current employer.

    In those two or more weeks, I would track down Company A and let them know that I have an offer and would like to proceed quickly. Then, if I get an offer from A, I can decide whether I turn down B or not. If I don’t get an offer from A, then B is still available as a backup.

    I know the HR Professionals here are cringing at that. But, with the loyalty that companies provide workers these days, that’s what you get. You can’t expect loyalty and fair dealing when companies stopped providing that long ago.

  7. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous: Not only is that unethical, but it risks burning your bridges — not just with the company you’d be screwing over, but with anyone they ever mention it to. No company will extend extend that candidate an offer again, if they hear she operates in that way.

  8. Anonymous*

    Sorry, I don’t see how picking A after B as unethical at all. Companies often consider the first three months as probationary. Companies feel they can get rid of employees within that time frame, regardless of the actual performance of the employee, why the double standard for the employee getting rid of the company?

    Further, I’ve had one company offer me a certain salary during negotiations and then pay me a lower salary once I’ve started. I’ve had another company offer to send me to Sweden during negotiations and then change their mind a week after I started for no reason whatsoever. Crap like this happens ALL THE TIME. And you want to tell me that choosing A after B is unethical?

    People are employed at will. That usually just translates to employers being able to fire anyone at any time for no reason whatsoever. But, that also means employees can come and go as they please, even before they start a job.

    Further, we are a capitalist society. Goods and services flow to those who provide the capital. You pay me more, then you get my service. As long as that relationship is equitable for both of us, then I’ll stay. But, if someone else is going to offer me a better deal, then you bet I’m leaving. What does it matter if I’ve been with the company for 10 years, 1 year, or haven’t even started yet?

    Companies these days have proven time and again that they are not going to take care of you. You have to take care of yourself first.

    If you want to make sure to not lose someone before they start, then you need to give them a solid, economic incentive not to job shop in the first place. Don’t nickel and dime in the salary negotiations – offer them a more than fair salary from the start. Don’t pull this 90 day waiting period for medical benefits nonsense – offer real medical benefits from the start. Offer real benefits and pay that actually mean something and people won’t feel the need to leave before they even start.

  9. HR Maven*

    That is certainly an interesting point of view. From a HR perspective, I don’t agree.

    We offer fair compensation and great benefits. We have not laid off anyone since 1991. We invest in our employees with training, education and consulting opportunties – and I work in non-profit. We do appointment (not offer) letters to insure that people accept jobs with nothing else promised other than what is conveyed in writing.

    I have a pretty good idea when I am being played. It affects the candidate’s credibility before s/he even walks through the door. If there are issues BEFORE the hire, it will hang over the candidate. Period.

    I had an employee who came to work for us and worked two weeks. Got a better offer and, with no notice left. She realized her mistake and has spent the last six years trying to get back in. Won’t ever happen.

  10. Just another HR lady...*

    I work in a very small industry, and I can tell you that anonymous’ behavior would become industry fodder in my world. Accepting a good faith offer from a company, and then not showing up/withdrawing your acceptance at the last moment may not be a big deal to you, but it totally throws the company’s hiring process into chaos. At that point, we’ve already let all the other candidates know that the position is filled, the other candidates have moved on, we’ve ordered computer equipment, planned training, prepared the work environment, and many more activities that happen behind the scenes for a new hire. Beware that reputation may proceed you if are not accepting an offer in good faith.

  11. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous: At-will is a legal concept, not an ethical one.

    When I extend an offer and it is accepted, I cut loose other candidates who otherwise might have received that offer. I expend resources in preparing for the new employee (everything from ordering business cards to spending significant time preparing a training plan). We are a nonprofit, and that time and money that we are investing in the new employee is time and money that we are not investing in our mission. For someone to knowingly put all that into motion by accepting an offer while planning to rescind that acceptance is unethical.

    Even if we were not a nonprofit, I maintain that it’s unethical. Do companies do some things that are unethical themselves? Sure, absolutely some of them do. But that is not license to throw ethics out the window with an employer that you have no reason to paint with that brush.

    Many people have had excellent experience with their employers. Like HR Maven, we pay fairly, offer good benefits, treat employees well, and offer them a chance to do meaningful work in a fair, open environment. We put offers in writing and stick to what we say. We warn people who are in danger of losing their jobs and work with them to help them improve.

    And finally, if none of that influences you, self-interest should. As Just another HR lady says, you would be inflicting potentially severe harm to your reputation and career by doing what you propose.

  12. regrets*

    Thanks all for your comments, they were very helpful. An update: I finally heard back from company A yesterday and didn’t get the position. I wish I had been more aware of the signs instead of waiting and hoping and wasting my time. As for company B, I decided not to re-pursue the opportunity under these circumstances.

  13. Anonymous*

    You’ve shown how someone accepting a second offer inconveniences a HR department. However, you have not shown how that is unethical, especially when there is no actual harm to the business.

    Applicants that you turned away can be called back. The computer that you ordered can still be used later. The work environment will still be prepared for when the next candidate starts. Any harm to the company is completely minimal.

    As for all the blackballing threats, I certainly do consider that to be unethical. So, why the double standard? You want the employee to be ethical, but you don’t practice good ethics yourself.

    Why would you want to make someone stay who is more interested in other opportunities? I say let them leave and find someone who is truly interested in the position.

  14. Ask a Manager*

    It does indeed cause direct harm to knowingly waste an organization’s time, money, and other resources, to cause them to turn down other candidates who may no longer be available later, etc. It’s your prerogative to decide you don’t care about those things, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t measurable and direct impact.

    It sounds like you have a double standard: You want employers to act ethically (not retract offers, not fire without notice, etc.), but you don’t believe candidates should act in good faith on their side. If you want to apply that sort of philosophy to companies that you know to be unethical/uncaring, that’s one thing — but it’s not right to apply it across the board, when there are plenty of employers who don’t behave that way.

  15. HR Maven*

    We go to great lengths to ensure mutual interest. If there is not, in the end, then I think that is dishonest and unethical. It’s not illegal but in my line of work, would be considered inappropriate.

    You raised a good point and one that I would like to address. I would never blacklist anyone TO other employers. As I would never stand in the way of someone finding a job somewhere else. I would however prevent someone who behaved unethically from returning to our business.

    I would love to hear from the original poster when s/he finds a job.

  16. HR Godess*

    I agree with hr maven, Ask a Manager and just another hr lady. If a company is being forth right and honest through the process, I expect the candidate to be doing the same. I’ve interviewed candidates where I’ve been up front about them being the front runner to go through the process for them to say “oh, I accepted another offer” when I asked if they were interviewing, etc. Why not be honest if you’re asked? There is no harm in telling a prospective employer the truth if you are pursuing other positions.

    I also would never speak badly of the candidate to another company but I would definitely remember the circumstances in which we were turned down. Does that mean I “blackball” everyone? No. Sometimes I will place a call even a year later to see where they are at and how they like the position and if they would be willing to discuss employment with us again. It has worked but I would only go back to the candidates who were up front and honest and, quite frankly, ethical.

  17. Anonymous*

    I am in the same predicament. I have one offer and one pending— the one pending is the one I really want. I’m debating telling them about the offer I’m considering. I have until the end of the week to decide but I also don’t want to be too pushy by saying I have a job offer to decide upon when they have told me I am a top canidate and they will be deciding in one 1/2 weeks. Should I still tell them about my offer to speed it up or will this hurt my chances of getting the offer please advise.

  18. Ask a Manager*

    Yes, you absolutely should! Use this advice given in this post — don’t be pushy, just let them know that you have another offer but they are your first choice.

  19. Kathir*

    Great Article. I am in the exact same situation. it hits my thick skull only after making this mistake.
    I Had offer from Company A. When I decide to quit, my company offered a different posisiton to continue.
    I didnt accept the offer from COmpany A, Considering the work invoived in relocation to another country.
    But it has been 3 months now, and still my company is drawing a new contract. and even they are discussion if I can do that other task being in the current possition, as I like those tasks.

    you are right : Never, never, never count on a job offer until you actually have it in hand.
    And as far my company is concerned, Now even if a contract is offered, the trust will not be the same.

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