accepted job offer but still waiting to hear on another

A reader writes:

I was contacted by Firm A, a place that I’ve freelanced with in the past, and have always been on excellent terms. They flew me out twice, and I interviewed with over 15 people and to a person felt a very good connection and fit. But I totally understand that they may have found a stronger candidate, of course in this economy.

I received an offer from another agency, Firm B, and informed Firm A of the pending offer in hopes of expediting their process. I expressly said that I understand they have to make a decision that is best for their business, and that I didn’t expect them to short-change that process. The recruiting manager said that she doesn’t want me to lose an offer in hand, but that she wanted to continue the process, they just haven’t made a decision (yes, they’ve narrowed the field to 3 finalists, I’m one of them). She said she would get back to me early last week.

At this point I’ve accepted the offer from Firm B. I had already exhausted the week waiting time they gave me, so felt compelled to accept their offer.

Some of my mentors have advised me that Firm B, while being a low offer at first, has more potential. They’ve agreed to all near-term future career progression expectations, which is key. If, and this is a big if, Firm A does make an offer, I understand that I would be burning bridges with Firm B (big time) but Firm A is in my hometown and the place where I would eventually like to spend a good chunk of my career. What would be your advice? I assume that at this point I’m not Firm A’s first choice and that they’re trying to nail down their first choice before they make any other moves.

My main question at this point is I should give up any hope of Firm A extending an offer this time around. I think it’s just the usual bruised ego taking control and wondering how Firm A could have found a better candidate, and also not contact me with either a yes or no.

There are two different issues here: Can you back out of a job offer you’ve already accepted, and what’s going on with Firm A?

Backing out of a job offer you’ve already accepted is something you can do, but shouldn’t do. You’ll be screwing over that company; by now, they have turned loose their other candidates, possibly invested money in preparing for you, and may need to start the hiring process all over again with those back-up candidates gone. And you can’t isolate the damage to your reputation; not only do people talk, but people have a way of popping up again, at other companies you may want to work for. Seriously, don’t do it.

Besides, Company A isn’t treating you like a candidate they particularly want anyway. If a candidate who I’m very interested in tells me that they have another job offer, I get them a solid answer within their timeframe. Period. Even if that answer is just, “You know, we’re interested in you, but we’re just not going to be ready to make an offer for a few more weeks. I understand if that means we may lose you as a candidate.” That’s the answer that candidates get when they’re good, but not so overwhelmingly good that I’m willing to choose them right now, without considering others first. And it sounds like that’s basically what Company A is trying to tell you, but without the courtesy of saying it outright.

And the fact that she said she’d get back to you last week and then didn’t — especially knowing that you have another offer? That says that the only way you’re getting an offer from these people is if their other choice(s) fall through. And maybe not even then, given how cowardly so many employers are about just telling people they’ve been rejected.

Stick with the employer who really wants you.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    this is great advice. going with the place that really wants you. you keep relationships in good shape on both sides, learn new skills, explore a different city. the adventure continues. i think what happened is that i was too senior for one position, and not quite senior enough for another position. que sera

  2. Joel*

    Whether it would be "screwing over" or not depends on the size of Firm B, but I think the smart thing to do would be to give Firm B a chance and build experience. Who knows, you might end up really liking it there. And if not, you can be a stronger candidate in the future for your next job search.

  3. Anonymous*

    Plus it sounds like Firm B may be a better fit for you with your career, and they're thinking along the same lines for your advancement.

    Go work for Firm B, and in 5 years or so if Firm A is hiring again they'll remember you as a great candidate that someone else hired away from them, rather than that 2nd or 3rd choice they hired after their first choice didn't pan out.

  4. Anonymous*

    I would take the offer with Firm B. As the saying goes, "a bird in hand is better than one overhead".

    If Firm A really wanted you, then they would've given you an offer within your time frame.

  5. Charles*

    While it is possible for the person at Firm A to have a "valid" reason (i.e.; Recruiter was out sick; Firm A was being delayed by other candidate) for not getting back to you. The fact remains that Firm A did NOT get back to you. That's the bottom line for your job search. So follow all the advice given so far and go with Firm B.

    However, it doesn't end there!

    Call me old-fashinoned, or out-of-touch with reality, I don't care. But I believe you have a moral obligation to act professionally in this matter.

    Turning down an offer after accepting doesn't just burn your bridges. It is unprofessional and unethical behaviour directed at, not just the other Firm, but, also directed at other candidates.

    Regardless of the size of the Firm (sorry Joel) you could be screwing over other candidates who may have been in a situation like yours waiting to hear from Firm B, only to be told that someone else accepted the offer; so, they have now moved on.

    Recruiters are in the business; so, they know that being burned sometimes comes with the territory. But, job seekers really don't deserve to be.

  6. Jack*

    Charles, I completely agree with you.

    But tangentially, what you say also made me think that it is possible that Firm A has made an offer to one candidate, and is waiting to hear from him/her. If they don't get an acceptance from that candidate, then they might go for the person who wrote in with the question.

    So this is a waiting game. This might explain why they are delaying matters. Not that this possibility should impact the choice made, now that the offer has been accepted.

  7. Hannah*

    I'm in a similar situation, so I figured I would post here instead of opening up a new question.

    Yesterday, I was unofficially extended an offer for a PT position at a highly recognizable company. In my field, this is like a dream job. Its pending that I pass a drug test, no biggie.

    I am also considered for a FT position in a different company/industry and have a 2nd interview early next week with them.

    I told the PT position that I was very interested, however, I had previously made interviews and didn't want to cancel them and that I would let them know my decision by Wednesday.

    Do I bring up the PT job offer during the FT 2nd interview?

    I would love either position, but really, really, REALLY need FT work and don't want to harm my chances of being considered a candidate.

    I also don't want to leave the PT position hanging as I would love to work there, too…they're just my second choice.


  8. Anonymous*

    I disagree that it would be unethical to back out of a job after getting a more desirable offer from another firm. That’s just business. Companies don’t hesitate to dispense with employees when doing so is advantageous to them, and it works the other way around too. You have to do what is best for you. C’est la vie.

  9. GY*

    Hi my situation is kinda like Hannah’s in the thread…was wondering if anyone had any comments about that?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you search for the word “juggle” in the search box, you’ll find a couple of posts about juggling one job offer when waiting on another. Good luck!

  10. Yousri*

    Seeking your advice,i accepted an offer from a well known local bank ,but i promised to receive a job offer in the comming week from a multinational co .for anyone be hired there it’s like dream job,need to now what to do now as i didn’t sign the contract yet!

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