did I burn a bridge with this recruiter?

A reader writes:

In my recent job hunt, I was fortunate enough to interview with two companies. Company B contacted me about an interview at a point where I had already received a verbal offer and was waiting on physical offer from Company A. I firmly believe nothing’s final until it’s in writing, and went to interview with Company B while waiting to here back from Company A. I was straightforward with Co B and told them of my situation, but interviewed enthusiastically. Co B then asked me to come back for a second round, right at the time I received my offer from Co A.

I responded to Co B that I had received my offer, and would be in touch with them when my decision was finalized. Co B recruiter was very insistent that I try to come back in for a second round, but it just was not feasible.

Co A was my preferred choice based upon a variety of factors, benefits, work hours, change and growth opportunity from my current role, etc. So I followed up as I said I would with Co B (by email), thanking the recruiter for the opportunity, but explaining I had taken the other position.

The recruiter followed up with a rather harsh email regarding their disappointment that I was not a serious candidate (since I wouldn’t come in for the second round) and had not taken the process seriously and considered the opportunity, and further how disappointing my communication, that I had emailed not called, was.

I responded with a very brief apology and thanked her for the feedback, as I truly do not intend to give such an impression and would hope to never leave such an impression again.

Now to my actual question: Does this sound like just a frustrated recruiter, or is that bridge really good and burnt? (Co B was a fantastic opportunity and given a different set of circumstances I’d love the opportunity to work there.)  I realize it’s a small world and we may run into one another again. How much might this damage my reputation long term? And furthermore, what is the right way to follow up with a recruiter after a great interview where your interest in the position may have waned? I suppose I could have been more forward from the start, or declined the interview from the start?

You did nothing wrong. The recruiter with Company B was completely off-base in implying that you did. You were straightforward with them from the start about your situation and kept them updated about your circumstances.

In fact, you went above and beyond what you were obligated to do: It would have been perfectly reasonable to have interviewed with them originally without disclosing that you were awaiting an offer from another company. And frankly, you could have bowed out after the first interview for any number of reasons unrelated to getting a different offer — didn’t think it was the right fit, decided to stay at your current job, whatever — and that would have been completely legitimate and reasonable. And a good recruiter would have been appreciative that you were honest about your lack of interest so that they didn’t invest additional resources in you.

So the recruiter is out of line. However, it’s understandable that you want to preserve the relationship since she may be your connection to a job you want in the future. You can’t always make unreasonable people reasonable, of course, but you could try saying something like: “I really appreciate your work in connecting me with this opportunity, even though it ultimately wasn’t the one I chose to take. I thought Company B was fantastic because of X, Y, and Z, and I was glad to get the chance to talk with them. I hope you understand that I didn’t want to waste their time once I’d decided to take an offer somewhere else instead, but that’s no reflection on the opportunity itself. If I think of candidates who might be a strong match, I’ll send them your way.”  It’s much nicer than she deserves, but the goal here is to preserve the bridge, not to fight for the principle of the thing.

If you can, I’d also recommend following up with the hiring manager who you interviewed with there to explain that you ultimately accepted another offer but think their company is fantastic and would love to stay in touch.

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. Dave Ellis - YouTern*

    “and further how disappointing my communication, that I had emailed not called, was.”

    First, for a recruiter to be angry with someone for responding via the “wrong” medium is really funny. You replied! So much more than most job seekers get.

    To your main point, I agree you did nothing wrong. It was entirely the recruiter’s issue. And it will be entirely their issue whether any bridge is indeed burnt. I would indeed send an olive branch (email? phone call?) to say, thank you, and would like to keep in touch. Good advice.

    1. Vicki*

      Oh my, there’s no question. Certainly not by email. Maybe not even a hone call will suffice at this point. By paper mail, on nice cream stationery, in black or blue black ink, handwritten.

      1. A Bug!*

        I’m sorry, but if I get anything less than an illuminated manuscript from you, you’re never going to work in this town again. In fact, to be on the safe side, you’d better hire a singing telegram to deliver it to my office.

        1. The Editor*

          I’m totally all over that…. Anyone else having visions of “Clue” going through their heads? :-)

        2. Esra*

          Please note: all red ink dye in the manuscript should come from berries lovingly grown and harvested in your own garden.

    2. Anonymous*

      I’m not sure…I always make it a point to respond using the same method: email gets an email, phone gets a phone, letter gets a letter. I take the original medium as the sender’s preference and I respect that.

  2. Josh S.*

    I’ve read it a couple times, and I don’t get any sense that the OP used a recruiter or recruiting service. When s/he refers to “the recruiter,” I think s/he means the HR Rep for Company B.

    Your advice seems to indicate that the OP should reach out to the recruiter *and* Company B thus seems a bit redundant.

    Am I reading this wrong?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I can’t tell for sure if it’s an external recruiter (someone hired by the company to locate and screen candidates) or an internal HR person, but my hunch is that it’s an external one and that’s why she was so upset with the OP — she wants to make the placement and get her commission. But either way, it’s a good idea for the OP to reach out to both the recruiter and the hiring manager, in order to build two connections.

      (In case it’s not clear, hiring manager = the person who will be managing the position and the one who usually makes the final decision. A different role from HR.)

      1. Josh S.*

        Oh, I *did* misread that part at the end. Definitely a good idea to reach out to the hiring manager with thanks. (And perhaps anyone else you interviewed and received contact info for, for that matter. Never know when it turns into a networking thing.)

      2. Riki*

        I got the impression that this was an external recruiter, as well. If that is the case, and this recruiter is not THE recruiter at their agency (unlikely), then I don’t think the OP needs to do anything more. S/he may want to send a final thank you to the hiring manager at Company B, but other than that, OP did what they were supposed to do.

        Sometimes bridges are burned for you and there’s not much you can do about it. It is rare when your entire career and reputation hinges on the opinion of one person. OP, if at some point in the future you need help in filling a position, would you even think of calling this person? I doubt it! Don’t sweat this recruiter.

        1. KayDay*

          “Sometimes bridges are burned for you and there’s not much you can do about it. It is rare when your entire career and reputation hinges on the opinion of one person.”

          Very true. And also, I would imagine if this recruiter gets so upset at the OP for such reasonable behavior, s/he probably gets mad at a lot of job seekers. Even if the recruiter’s opinion is valued in the field, it is likely that people have (or will soon) also learned about the recruiter’s unreasonable expectations.

  3. Nodumbunny*

    Not to mention that a lot of candidates in your shoes might have tried to use Company B to get Company A to sweeten their offer, thus wasting even more of Company B’s time.

  4. Anonymous*

    It sounds like you did all the right things and the recruiter is taking it personally. I think it would’ve been worse not to say anything, go for a second round with Company B, and then end up accepting Company A’s offer (probably would’ve given the recruiter a false sense that you were truly interested in the position with Co B and would accept if it went to the offer stage). I believe it’s best to bow out as soon as you know you won’t be interested, rather than going along in the process. As Alison said, you can’t make unreasonable people reasonable, and you’re certainly not responsible for the way the recruiter chose to act to your news.

    Congrats on your new job, by the way!

  5. RachelTech*

    I think it’s really strange that the recruiter reacted this way, given the (as already stated) above-and-beyond honesty that you exhibited during the hiring process. I’ve also had HR reps for companies I’ve interviewed for continue to pursue me after I turned down an opportunity initially, for any number of reasons, and I think it reflects poorly and generally reinforces what I already knew – that the job wasn’t right for me.

    If they didn’t think you were the right fit for the job, they were probably right. It goes the same way if you felt you weren’t a good fit or that the job itself didn’t suit your needs.

  6. Hannah*

    It sounds to me like the OP was perfectly professional, and the recruiter acted childishly. The recruiter is the one who burned a bridge here.

  7. What the?*

    Wow! Not to sound like one of those ” disappointed, left out in the cold job seeker, never to hear from the HR hiring manager ever again who wasted my time” type person, but it is somewhat refreshing to see the shoe on the other foot for a change. I agree with AAM and the other posters, the OP acted professionally and diplomatically.

  8. Harry*

    I’m not all that surprised what happened here. With the influx of applicants and the unemployed, recruiters may think they have an edge and are doing applicants a ‘favor’ when giving them an opportunity. It seems to me that the recruiter feels that the applicants didn’t appreciate the offer for 2nd interview.


    1. A Bug!*

      I feel like the OP was probably the strongest candidate by a significant margin. The recruiter (if external) was probably picturing a big bag with a $ printed on the outside, and with the OP’s withdrawal the bag’s grown wings and flown away.

      I doubt the recruiter genuinely felt she was doing the OP a favour. Maybe she believed she was on a surface level, but there was almost definitely an ulterior motive there. If there wasn’t, the recruiter would presumably have been more gracious and attentive toward the OP.

  9. CH*

    I’m actually in a similar but opposite position! I have just recently been verbally offered a job with Company A, but already had an interview arranged with Company B. Company B want to do 2nd interviews and given the choice between the two, I would rather have the job with company B. However Company A is via a recruitment agency, so I would have to let him know that I took the other position. Company B know all about Company A.
    I’m not in a situation where I have two job offers but I wouldn’t know how to tell the recruiter if I did!

    To the OP’s question: I think you were more than forthcoming about the situation and I agree that it would be more about commission. That being said, if it is direct with the company, they might just be miserable because they really wanted you (the recruiter might have had inside info) – they have other candidates so why would it bother them?
    They knew about the situation and you would have to make a decision eventually.

    1. Long Time Admin*

      You know, you’re allowed to prefer one job (or company) over another, and to accept whatever job seems best for you. As long as you keep it professional, you should have no qualms about letting a recruiter know that you accepted another job that seemed to be “better fit” (hey, they use that expression on job candidates all the time, so I think we can use it with them).

      It’s just business.

  10. Joey*

    Here’s the problem with a good number of external recruiters I see. They’re so focused on referring a sure thing they get pissed/embarrassed when any candidate backs out. I think they believe it’s a reflection that either they’re not that good or didn’t do their homework screening candidates. The ironic thing is a lot of them don’t do their homework. They’re too busy trying to sell the position/company and preparing people to interview they rarely talk about any negative aspects or challenges of the job. Too many of them are just salespeople and not real recruiters.

  11. AccidentalRecruiter*

    As a former third party recruiter situations like this one are a large part of the reason for our bad reputation.

    Yes, I can understand why the recruiter was frustrated that the OP didn’t go for the second interview but the OP did nothing wrong. They informed all parties about the pending offer so when it came through it should have come to the surprise of no one involved.

    I would much rather have a candidate be upfront about potential offers, which is why I always ask the question, then have it come out of left field at the last moment.

  12. Nichole*

    Based on how the OP handled this situation, I’m guessing there will be many more people saying positive things than negative about him/her, so I wouldn’t worry about reputation. Definitely reach out to the hiring manager in case the recruiter put a negative spin on your refusal. Don’t say anything about the recruiter, just follow AAM’s advice about saying how much you think of the company and how the other job was a better fit for you at this time, but you so appreciate being offered the opportunity.

  13. K*

    No, OP. You absolutely did not burn a bridge. These are the type of recruiters you don’t want to handle potential job leads for you. Your recruiter dearist was more concerned about receiving her commission. Let it roll off your back. Congrats on your new gig!

  14. GO*

    Id say you have done MORE in communicating that I have gotten on the other side of the fence. I communicate and touch base but the recruiters “forget” about me. Once we chat they ask for a resume and that’s the last I hear. I have to follow up with THEM. Annoying. Kudos to you for being honest and maintaining communication thru the whole process.

  15. Old School*

    I would most certainly reply – copying everything to the company owners/partners/shareholders etc. If *MY* company representative – the “Human Resources Manager” (and, yes, I do use that term loosely) – had behaved in such an unacceptable juvenile manner I would most certainly wish to know about it. At which point they would have the choice of apologizing, sincerely, and working to correct the errors of their ways – or they pay the price for abusing their position in MY company.

    It is high time these juvenile HR Dweebs get off their holier-than-thou high horses and toe the company line instead of trying to make their own arbitrary lines.

    Let her boss know how poorly she represents their company. If they do not apologize on her behalf then you are MUCH better off without them.

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