obligated to accept internal offer?

A reader writes:

A job was posted to my company’s internal site. I applied for it and have an interview scheduled, but I am not sure I really want the job because it involves an extensive amount of travel (75-80% of the time, sometimes more).

Am I under any unspoken obligation to accept an offer? Could I foster ill will within the company (and especially with the department I am applying to) by applying, interviewing, and not accepting an offer if it came across the table?

I am well qualified and pretty confident that I will get an offer. It is not a popular position for internal candidates since there is so much travel. This is a job I once really wanted but I have since reconsidered, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to apply for the interview practice and to see if the travel requirement might be flexible. Additionally, I am filling in temporarily for the position that is being offered (traveling out of state to provide training to a customer). Could this add to the possible ill will?

You’re never under any obligation to accept an offer, but you’re right that there are additional considerations when you’re applying for a position internally. Often when you apply for an internal position, people assume you know enough about the job and the culture that you already know if you want it or not.

But a lot of this depends on the specific politics and culture at your particular company. Do you have a relationship there with someone in a position to give you good advice? If so, they’re going to be able to give you advice that’s more tailored than mine. But if not…

I wouldn’t recommend doing an internal interview just for interview practice or for a job you know you don’t want — that’s wasting the time of people you work with and not something they’d be happy to hear. I’m also skeptical that the travel requirement could turn out to be flexible — if it’s 75-80% of the job, that’s so much of the job that removing it would turn the job into something totally different.

I think the best thing you can do is to be up-front. If you know that the only way you’d be interested in the job is if it didn’t include all that travel, I’d tell them that right now — before the scheduled interview — and ask if it’s still worth moving forward with the interview.

Otherwise, if you don’t bring it up until during or after the interview, you risk looking naive, illogical, or even a little presumptuous, or just like you’re not paying attention. The courteous thing to do would be to fill them in on your thinking now and asking if it’s worth proceeding.

I know someone is going to point out that job requirements can be changed, and that’s true. But that’s why you ask ahead of time that’s the case here. Someone may also point out that you should go through the interview and wow them and see if they’re willing to make adjustments after that being blown away by your interview … but again, this is an internal interview and these are your coworkers, and you care about your reputation with them. I’d ask ahead of time.

{ 10 comments… read them below }

  1. Charles

    In addition to your original thoughts and AAM's advise I would like to add:

    Be very careful about travel!

    It will sneak up on you. Every position that I have held where travel is involved it always starts out as just "a little" and soon it becomes more and more.

    They will always have an excuse; there is an increase in sales, more business, more folks need training, etc.

    No matter what "promises" they give you, the very nature of such a position involving travel will not allow them to keep them.

    While this might or might not be the case with your employer, please consider that when thinking about this or any position where travel is involved.

  2. Anonymous

    I have to reiterate, you need to back out graciously now because once the offer is out and you turn it down, I'm (1) never going to seriously consider you for a position in my dept. again since you jerked me around (2) resent that my time was wasted and (3) be annoyed that now I either have to repost, re-interview or go externally for something that I thought (hoped) was buttoned up.

    You should immediately go to the HR person handling the requisition (or the manager if there's no HR) and let them know that you've reconsidered the travel and that you've decided the position isn't a fit for your current aspirations. If you're honest and open about it I doubt much harm will come of it.

  3. Justin

    Thanks for the advice everyone. I took AAM's advice and let them know today that I am not sure about the travel requirement but that I am excited to fill in a few times and would consider positions within their department after getting a feel for what traveling and training entails. I just got an email back from them saying that it's OK and that interviewing with them wouldn't hurt anything. They have another possible candidate set up to interview later in the week so whether or not I took it wouldn't be a problem. I will take this as an opportunity to learn more about the position and show them how great I am in case something a little more desirable opens up ;). Thanks everyone for the fantastic advice.

  4. Cathy

    Does anyone know if management can start REQUIRING you to travel if that was part of the advertised job you accepted? Or do they have to ask for volunteers to travel if there’s a group of people. Would love to know what employees MUST do as opposed to what rights we have to decline travel assignments if it’s never been part of the job. Thanks!

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes, they can require that. You should certainly talk to them and explain you strongly don’t want to travel, but it’s legal for them to require it as part of the job (unless you have a written contract stating otherwise, but that would be unusual).

  5. Cathy

    Thank you for a quick response. But I left a key word out of my question – I should have asked if it was NOT a part of your advertised job and they just decided one day that it would work better for them if you traveled? In my case, they didn’t ask for volunteers in our group, just pick the onesof us that they want to travel. We’ve never had to do it before. Occasionally is ok but now they say some us have to travel to other work sites weekly and that our job hasn’t changed because we do the same thing at the other plants that we’ve been doing at our official station. Some don’t mind but some of us don’t want to travel. But we don’t have a say in who they “direct” to travel. Thanks and sorry I didn’t ask it right the first time.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes, an employer can change your job description at any time (unless you have a contract that says they can’t, which would be unusual).

  6. A'Nonimouse

    I know this is a little late here…but what if you’ve interviewed and you’re pretty sure you don’t want the job? What’s the best way to handle this? People have told me “don’t turn it down till they offer it,” but based on what I have read in this column, that seems like a bad idea!
    I interviewed for this job because I thought it might help me get valuable experience for what I *thought* I wanted to do for a living. It has been an eye-opener. Now I’m not even sure I want to pursue a career in the same field!

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