did I offend the company that just offered me a job?

A reader writes:

I’m a fresh grad and I just received a job offer from a company I really want to work for (let’s say Company A), but I have a pending interview at another company I am also considering (Company B). Company A gave me 24 hours to make a decision, and just before the deadline ended, I asked them for an extension (I asked for less than a week’s time), telling them that I wanted to evaluate my options better after I get all the results of my pending applications, and to discuss things with my family.

The person who interviewed me then told me that they were surprised about this, because in the interview I told them that I would be prioritizing Company A over my pending application at Company C (another company). The day Company A interviewed me, I didn’t see Company B as an option yet. She then proceeded to tell me that one of the factors to why they offered me the job is because I seemed to have a strong interest in the company and because I sent them a thank-you note that reiterated my interest. In fact, they were leaning towards another candidate but because I was very interested in the company and seemed “100%” about it, they chose me. Nonetheless, they gave me an extension for my final decision.

Should I apologize to her? I still want to work for the company, and I am planning on confirming it on Monday. I don’t want to have any bad blood between us. Did I mislead her in the interview when I really told her what my thoughts were at that time? Should I have not sent a thank-you note? I thought that these were the things interviewees usually said/did during interviews. Could they rescind the offer because my interest level waned a bit after they gave the offer? What should I do?

Yeah, I can see why this happened and also why you didn’t see it coming. You’re right that you were honest and sincere at the time that you told them they were your first choice, and of course you were correct to send the thank-you note.

Then things changed. But Company A was still operating on the information you’d given them, which was that they were your first choice and you were excited about them. And that kind of thing does influence a hiring decision, because, all else being equal, managers want to hire someone who really wants that particular job. So of course Company A was surprised and probably a bit annoyed when you told them that you were evaluating other options.

Here’s the thing: It’s totally fine to ask for time to think over the decision. But say it’s because you want to make absolutely sure it’s the right choice for you, your finances, whatever. Don’t say it’s because you’re waiting for other offers, because that comes across as sounding like, “I’m not all that excited about this job but I may settle for it, depending on what else is offered to me.” That drains away the excitement that the hiring manager had and makes them question your enthusiasm; it’s not good. And it’s especially not good when it happens after you’d been telling them they were your first choice; of course things can change, but from their end, it looks like you might have been disingenuous with them.

To answer your question about whether they can rescind an offer, yes, offers can be rescinded. However, you can salvage this. I recommend calling her and saying, “I want to apologize; I got sidetracked. You’ve been my first choice throughout this process, and I’m so excited to have an offer from you. After we interviewed, I did hear from another company that also seemed promising, but this is the job that I want, and I’m so sorry if I caused confusion about that. I’d be honored to accept your offer.”

Of course, that’s only if it’s true. If you really do still want to wait and see what happens with Company B, then you have two choices: (1) You can call Company B and tell them you have an offer you’re in danger of losing if you don’t get them a decision within a few days and see if they’re interested enough to expedite their timeline (but be prepared for them to say no), or (2) You can turn down the offer you have from Company A and take your chances on getting an offer from someone else (potentially risky in this economy). But what you can’t do is keep putting Company A off or, even worse, take the offer from them and then bow out later if Company B comes through.

By the way, don’t beat yourself up over this. You’re new to the work world and handled this all honestly, neither of which are bad things. Good luck!

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Thank you so much for the quick response! I'll definitely follow your advice. Hopefully all goes well!

    Just another follow-up question, would it still be ethical to verbally accept the offer at Company A then continue with a pending interview at Company B as a backup plan? I've read in another website that I shouldn't cancel an interview just because a company made me a written offer, since this can be rescinded.

    The thing is, Company A's job offer isn't really complete yet because I still have to pass a physical examination. I do plan on accepting the offer first thing on Monday, but the official written contract is subject to the results of the exam. Should I cancel my scheduled interview at Company B (which is also happening on that day), or should I go through with it anyway? If I go through with it and end up being offered a job at Company B, and if things go well with Company A, I will end up having to decline Company B even when I told them in the interview that I'm very interested in working for them. Like you said in your response, Company B's HR personnel and interviewers will probably be annoyed with me. What should I do? I don't want to burn any bridges and I want to protect my reputation.

    – Reader who sent the original question

  2. Ask a Manager*

    If you accept the offer, even if only verbally, you have accepted that offer, period. You don't back out after that. If you're really concerned that they might rescind the offer, you can continue to interview — as long as you have no intention of accepting any other offers (assuming Company A doesn't rescind theirs).

    If you do go forward with the interview, regarding how to express interest to Company B without misleading them, just don't use words like "you're my first choice," since they're not. You can say things like "I'm very interested," just not that they're your first choice. (You also don't want to say they're NOT your first choice; just avoid talking in terms of first choices.)

    But even continuing to interview carries some risk. Imagine if someone at Company A happens to know someone at Company B and hears that you're interviewing there, after having already accepted their offer and reassured them that they really are the job you want?

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