declining after verbally accepting a job offer

A reader writes:

I was job hunting two months ago and received two job offers. I took the offer with Company A and told Company B that I would take the offer from company A. Well, one month into my new job with Company A, I thought the job was not really what I wanted and I regret my decision turning down’s Company B’s offer. Then I called Company B asking whether its position is still available. Company B said it is and asked whether I would reconsider. I said Yes and verbally accepted Company B offer over the phone. Now I have Company B’s offer in writing and they are waiting for my confirmation.

Now I think I might have made a huge mistake to call Company B — I’m realizing that my first month feeling with Company A is just typical new job anxiety and the job is not really bad. And I more strongly feel that it is very inappropriate and unethical to leave Company A after just one month in the job. The industry I work for is pretty tight and people talk — a lot of them know each other.

I must have screwed up and don’t know what to do. Please help!

I think all you can really do is apologize profusely to Company B. Explain that you’ve agonized over this, but you’ve concluded that you can’t leave Company A in the lurch after such a short time and that you need to rescind your acceptance. Make sure you acknowledge the inconvenience you’ve caused for Company B and be as profuse in your apology as you can.

The good news is that if Company B is smart, they were waiting to cut loose other candidates until they received your written confirmation anyway, so hopefully the damage isn’t as bad as it could have otherwise been.

One other thing: You mentioned that your industry is tight-knit and people talk. It would be bad if your current company heard through the grapevine that you’d been on the verge of accepting an offer from Company B after only one month. So you should probably find ways (unconnected to this) to let your current company know that you’re happy there and wanting to stay for the long haul; that way, if they do hear rumors, they’ll be less inclined to assume the worst.

{ 5 comments… read them below }

  1. Rachel - I Hate HR*

    Phew. Either way you’re going to have a company very angry at you. Good luck trying to get a job with Company B again.

  2. Anonymous*

    Good thread. Similarly, What is the protocol when you have an offer in hand from Company A but you’re “waiting” on a second job offer from Company B that you think would be a more optimal fit? Let’s assume Company B’s offer might not be forthcoming (if at all) for 3 weeks or more. Obviously, you can try to tell Company A that you’re sifting through all your alternatives and need 2 weeks; but how long can one reasonably expect to string along Job A? I’ve seen people accept Company A (a bird in the hand…) and then “quit” in a month if Company B’s offer comes through, yet that strikes me as quite unprofessional. What do you think?

  3. Anonymous*

    It’s completely unprofessional. The ideal thing to do would be to tell Company A that you need a week to consider it (maximum reasonable time I’d allow a candidate) and you call Company B and tell them you have an offer on the table, and need to answer Company A within the week. If company B really wants you, they’ll hustle.

    If you accept Company A’s offer and then resign a month in, expect that you’ve burned multiple bridges.

    1. Anonymous*

      Who cares about burning bridges? Companies treat staff like commodities all the time, why shouldn’t the favour be returned?

      How is it ‘unprofessional’ for employees to act the same way employers do? Is it the implied ‘power’ that companies think they have over staff?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You should care about burning bridges, because you should care about your own reputation. Rightly or wrongly, there IS a double standard on this stuff, and it WILL impact your reputation in the future. It’s about how things really do work, not how they should work.

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