I now want the job I backed out of a year ago

A reader writes:

Last summer, I was torn between two jobs: my job at the time and a new position with another company. Both managers competed against each other’s offer for about a week for my employment. I finally accepted the new job and gave the other my 2 weeks notice. To my suprise, literally the day before I was to start at the new job, my employer pulled out all the bells and whistles and made me a shocking offer to stay. I was flattered and couldn’t turn it down. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to decline the new job literally the morning I was to start with them. I couldn’t get ahold of the manager and so I left a message with the answering service and sent her a very long email explaining the situation with a wholehearted appology for the way it happened. I had asked her to respond but she didn’t.

Long story short, I now realize I made the wrong decision. I should have gone with the new job. What should I say in an attempt to regain the new job offer? Should I do it in person, by email or phone?

Here is a copy of what I was thinking of saying. “Last summer, I was honored with an invitation to join your staff. Unfortunately, the company I was with at the time enticed me to stay on with them at the last minute and I declined your offer. When they presented me with an offer full of bells and whistles, I lost sight of my goals. What you had offered to me was more in line with what I was actually seeking. I wholeheartedly regret this decision and I humbly apologize for not handling it more gracefully with you. It has been a learning lesson I will be sure not to repeat. Over the course of this past year, it has become clear that I made the wrong choice in turning down your offer for employment. If you are still looking for additional employees and would consider giving me a second chance as a candidate, I would be delighted to speak with you about this.”

This is why you never take a counter-offer from your current employer. Whatever the problems were that sent you looking for a new job in the first place, they’re still going to be there once the glow from your raise wears off. (And if the original problem was just money, what are you going to do the next time you want a raise? Threaten to leave all over again?)

In any case, it’s very unlikely that the other employer is going to consider you again. You reneged on your acceptance of their offer on the morning you were supposed to start working for them. In their eyes, you’re flaky and unreliable, and you’re a high risk for bailing prematurely again. What incentive do they have for considering you again, in a sea of well-qualified candidates? That bridge is burnt.

If you want to leave your current job, start a new search. And don’t leave the door open for counter-offers from your current employer.

{ 118 comments… read them below }

  1. Not a Hiring Manager*

    Alison – Do you think the OP’s idea to contact the company she bailed on would hurt her? I am tempted to say, “it can’t hurt to try”; although, I agree that it is incredibly unlikely they’d give her another shot. From their perspective, she wasted their time and strung them along because once she accepted they declined all other candidates and probably had to start the hiring process all over again.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I debated the “it can’t hurt to try” point while I was writing my response. It’s probably true that it can’t hurt to try, other than probably making the OP look naive to the employer on top of how she already looked.

      I ultimately left “it can’t hurt to try” out of my response because I think there’s a lot of value — especially in a case like this — in taking responsibility for your actions and decisions and realizing, “Okay, I handled this wrong but I’m not going to ask someone to undo it for me, and I’m going to move forward from here.”

      1. Jamie*

        I left a comment but it’s gone now – weird – so apologies if this double posts.

        I do think it can hurt to try, for the reason stated. It takes the OP from someone who flaked out on them once, to the person who was naive enough to think that was something that could be overcome a year later.

        I actually can see a letter like the one suggested forwarded around for with a “can you believe this?” tag…and expose her name to more people at that company than before. Not to sound harsh, but it does happen.

        You never know when you will cross paths with people down the road and the fewer people who tie your name with this the better.

        I would consider this a bridge burnt – there may be someone willing to overlook this and give a second chance, but that would be a very rare unicorn indeed.

        1. KayDay*

          Yeah, after a year, they probably haven’t forgotten completely but the situation is probably far from their minds. Sending them an email would just remind them of what happened and really cement the OP’s name and what s/he did, and ensure that the OP is never forgotten.

        2. cbecker53*

          I agree Jamie, I think an email like the one she proposes will just leave a bad taste in the mouth of the company she left in the lurch. It was extremely unprofessional.

          Maybe, someday, if/when she crosses paths with people from that company she could confide in them that she made a big mistake, but it should be on the order of “I really blew it and I know that now.” and maybe even “I learned a hard lesson.” But it should NOT be “and please consider giving me a second chance.” My opinion.

        3. Not a Hiring Manager*

          This was the one way in which thought it might could hurt so that’s why I asked. She could look even more flakey and as Alison said naive.

          As I said I expect she won’t have any luck so moving on and forward is probably for the best.

        4. Liz*

          Oh, good point! A second full hit of “can you believe her?” is definitely something to avoid.

          1. Long Time Admin*

            True enough, Liz.

            I think we all still remember the intern who turned down the summer job at the pool.

        5. Seattle Writer Girl*

          We actually had this happen at my company a few months ago. New hire wrote us an email (no phone call) on the day he was supposed to start to let us know that he had decided that he had taken a job at another company in a different industry because it was more aligned with his post-college career goals (always good to include that not only were we not his first choice company, but not even his first choice industry).
          Literally HOURS LATER THAT DAY, he wrote us another email (again, no phone call) telling us that he had gone to work at his new job, realized that it as a commision-only telesales job and that he had changed his mind and would we consider taking him back?

          Our answer was a big fat “NO.”

          Sorry OP, you burned your bridge but good. Accept it and move on.

      2. Emily*

        What if she wrote a note that was purely an apology for her behavior and an acknowledgment of the inconvenience she caused for the other company, dialing down the element of “I made a mistake and now I’m paying for it” and omitting entirely any reference to her potential as a second chance candidate? I’m no expert, but I do think there’s something to be said for admitting your errors and apologizing in the interest of mending bridges, however fragile. Plus, if there really is a chance that the OP could encounter this company farther out in the future, I think it would be better to have taken responsibility now than to say, “Oh, hi. Sorry about that one time . . . and can I apply for this job now?”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I do think an apology would be a good thing to do, as long as there’s no hint that she’s just trying to mend the bridge in the hopes of being considered as a candidate again.

    2. Charles*

      ” . . . once she accepted they declined all other candidates and probably had to start the hiring process all over again.”

      um, no, they most likely did NOT start the process all over again. What they most likely did is go to their second, or third, choice.

      And, in my opinion, it is precisely because of behaviour like this OP’s that so many organizations do not let job seekers know they did not get the job. The hiring organization is waiting to see if the new hire works out (or will bail before even starting!) and don’t want their second or even third choice to go elsewhere (nor think they weren’t first choice)

      OP, you made a commitment and did not keep it; so, thanks, OP for continuing the mistrust between job seekers and job fillers!

      (Am I old-fashioned and naive to still believe that one’s word should be kept?)

      1. Broke Philosopher*

        Or bailed even after starting. I quit my job a few months ago but agreed to stay on part-time while my replacement was being hired/trained. My boss found someone new, but that person called in sick one day and then never showed up again. Unbelievable.

      2. Anon21*

        I don’t know that you’re old-fashioned or naive, but let’s be real here. As an at-will employee, your employer retains the option of asking you to hit the streets at any moment. And they have much more power in the relationship to obtain a replacement employee than you have to obtain a replacement job. (Obviously the good employers will try to steer you clear of stuff that could get you terminated without warning, but the power is always there.) So the idea that you should add onto that power imbalance some sort of ethical freight doesn’t sit well with me.

        I’m willing to heap the minor disapprobations of “unprofessional” and “naive” on someone who pulls a stunt like this. But a moral lapse? In the mercenary world of capitalist employment, I think not.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          You’re kidding, right? Integrity is about you doing the right thing in spite of what others do. No, some employers don’t care. But the people that work for those employers do care.

          And Charles is right – the bad behaviour of one individual will affect the others that behave rightly.

        2. Charles*


          Just who exactly, in this situation, was acting like a mercenary?

          The employer? Maybe.

          The OP? Most certainly!

          I’m not saying that organizations don’t look for the lowest bidder, they do; but, most do not do so in such an underhanded way that the OP did.

          If the OP is lucky, her reputation is only damaged at that company – what if someone from that company (who knows of her little stunt) is now working at another company that she applies to?

          Here’s a true story: I once did some contract training at a non-profit in which an employee quit without notice and did so in a very dramatic way (cuss words and all!). A couple of months later I was doing another contract training assignment at another non-profit (unrelated except that they were both non-profit and in the same city) and the HR person there asked if I knew so-and-so from my training at that other place. I said that the name sounded familiar and let me check. I called the other place to check, and yep, sure enough it was the same person (boy, did they remember her!) So, I told the HR person at the new place what happened as I was also a witness to her “drama.” You can bet that they never called her and she was probably wondering why she did not get called for a job that “she is perfect for”! (I didn’t mind being a “snitch” because no one should be subject to the verbal abuse she heaped upon her manager)

          However, none of this changes the fact that what the OP did was wrong (and, yes, I do mean morally wrong). Just imagine if the OP showed up to work the first day, only to be told that she wasn’t needed because the employer found someone else to do her new job cheaper? You can bet that would be a very interesting (and a million comments added) post by AAM.

      3. Rachel - Former HR Blogger*

        You’re assuming that they liked the other candidates. At my organization we usually narrow it down to 2 or 3 candidates for second levels. After second levels the hiring manager tells me who they would like to proceed with. I always ask if that person does not work out do they want to consider the other candidates. I would say only 10% of the time answer in the affirmative. The other 90% of the time if it doesn’t work out we start over from the beginning.

  2. K Too*

    AAM, in your response to the OP, how common is that POV amongst hiring managers and HR who have been in that situation.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Almost everyone. There’s probably a miniscule sliver of employers who’d consider her again in these circumstances, but they’re miniscule. (In situations where there’s a wide variety of opinions, I try to note that so that I’m not presenting my opinion in those cases as universal.)

      1. Cary*

        Speaking as a HR person it takes a lot of time, effort and often money to hire the right EE and I would be mighty pissed at someone who dropped out on the day they were meant to start. Also as Alison says contact the other ER now smacks of oops I made the wrong decision and now I need you to rescue me from my own idiocy. Also it makes me wonder if I’m now meant to match the offer she had from her current company.

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          I’m not an HR person, nor am I “Not A Hiring Manager”, but I totally agree. I think that if she apologized well for it when it happened, apologizing again now (even sans entitled request) won’t add anything. If she didn’t apologize well enough the first time, it will leave a bad taste, remind them of the issue, and possibly be circulated.
          If it is the kind of company that would hire her again, what is she expecting? She could begin from a deficit, without a good reputation (re: HR and boss, maybe colleagues)… She could begin at a pay cut from what she’s getting now…
          Even if just for the sake of personal growth, I’d recommend moving on.

  3. JLH*

    The OP reneged on the day she was supposed to start, didn’t do it in person, and then a year later wants to try to get that manager to hire her again? I wouldn’t advise it, either. I think in this case it does hurt to try, because the possibility of this being a story that gets around is high.

    1. bingo dauber*

      Not only that, they asked the employer to respond! After having both managers ‘compete against each other’s offer for about a week’. Seems like the OP played themselves out of consideration for good.

  4. Charlotte*

    Allison is correct: never accept a counter offer. In addition to what she said, your employer probably starts looking for your replacement also. It changes the employment relationship irrevocably. Just don’t do it.

  5. Josh S*

    “Last summer, I was honored with an invitation to join your staff. Unfortunately, the company I was with at the time enticed me to stay on with them at the last minute and I declined your offer. When they presented me with an offer full of bells and whistles, I lost sight of my goals. What you had offered to me was more in line with what I was actually seeking. I wholeheartedly regret this decision and I humbly apologize for not handling it more gracefully with you. It has been a learning lesson I will be sure not to repeat. …”

    Just end the email right there. Don’t look for employment; that bridge is burnt. All you can do is apologize sincerely and humbly–for their benefit, not yours. You can perhaps add your regret that you didn’t get the chance to work for them, but please do not use the contact to try to get a new job with them.

    If you directly seek a new position at their company, the apology will come across as horribly insincere and self-serving, and the bridge will be even further destroyed (call it the foundations being dug up or something).

    Just…apologize. Leave it at that. And start your job search anew elsewhere.

    1. Jamie*

      This is great advice. This truly falls into the category of won’t help but can’t hurt – and it’s a decent thing to do.

    2. JLH*

      +1 — Yes, an apology is surely warranted. Expecting a position from it is going to make you look even more of an opportunist.

    3. EngineerGirl*

      An apology is certainly warrented, but leave off the “company enticed me” line. Nope. Wrong. You enticed you. The company offered something you thought you wanted, but ultimately you gave in to it. That is your responsibility and you are accountable to it. Stop blaming your current company for your bad decision.

      If someone backed out like this, that would be it. It shows a lack of honesty to say “yes” and then say “no”. On top of that, it was done in a very selfish manner – didn’t contact the company until the start date, didn’t follow up, etc.

      Just apologise. Maybe 10 years from now they will be over it.

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        Despite my name, I’m not trying to be Snarky:
        Can someone explain to me the point of apologizing again and now? Why waste their time?

        1. AB*

          Agree 100%. It was a YEAR AGO! It seems that an apology now is just going to put you on the “do not hire” list today. If they have a position open, apply for it. They liked you once, and a year can be a pretty long time, so you may be lucky enough to get called in again. THEN, and only then, should you consider bringing it up. Not to be “snarky” either, but they don’t owe you a job or a favor now, so it comes off as too little too late.

        2. EngineerGirl*

          You are allowed to be young and stupid sometimes. Apologies are always appropriate once you realize you were wrong. It takes guts and integrity to apologize. Apologizing now means you grew up a little. That is something worth taking forward.

          1. Jamie*

            This. It’s the decent thing to do, and the collateral benefit of perhaps lessening the viscerally negative impression in case your paths cross down the road.

            Way down the road – because no way can this be mitigated short term.

        3. Josh S*

          Why apologize?
          Because the OP was wrong, and it’s the decent thing to do. It’s humbling, it’s character-building, and it internalizes the lesson the OP thinks s/he has learned.

          If you’re religious, consider it penance. It doesn’t really get you anything, but it makes the world a little more ‘right’ by virtue of the fact that you’ve taken a step toward re-orienting yourself and (possibly) beginning to heal a relationship.

    4. Long Time Admin*

      Oh, Lord, she should end the email after “Dear Ms. So-and-So”. This email belongs in the trash and should never be sent.

      There’s no way it would turn out well if she sends ANY email at this late date.

      1. Josh S*

        It’s not about things ‘turning out well’ or the OP gaining anything from the company by going through the exercise. It’s about recognizing that a wrong was done.

  6. opt gal*

    See I wouldn’t never write an email in this case. If you really want a job with this company, track downthe decision maker from the company and hangout with them at happy hour or a similar place you can talk to them like “hey it’s been a while”. At that point you can vaguely slip in you’re looking for something else without indicating you’re waiting for an offer from them. Then if they give you an offer you can act surprised and humbled that they considered you again and it would behoove you to give a guarantee that you’re starting.

    1. just another hiring manager...*

      If I were the hiring manager, I wouldn’t want to be “tracked down” and see the OP in a social setting. I would be majorly irritated if this person tried a stunt like this. Unlike just sending an email, doing that WOULD absolutely just make things worse for the OP.

      1. SW*

        Agreed. If someone who flaked out majorly like that tried to track me down “casually,” I’d tell them to GO AWAY.

  7. AD*

    It’s also relevant, I think, that there was some kind of bidding war to get her in the first place. That means the hiring manager put a lot of work into it, perhaps going to her own supervisors more than once to get approval, and having to sell the candidate who ultimately bailed on her is extra-embarrassing/infuriating.

    1. Tamara*

      Yes – it essentially makes the hiring manager look bad. Although it happens to the best, I’m sure, I still find it mortifying when a hire I supported doesn’t work out – or is even just mediocre.

  8. fposte*

    I’m also not seeing any indications that there are actually openings at the other company right now. Certainly the opening you were hired for has been subsequently filled, so that one’s not available. So is this a request for a “go ahead, apply, we’ll definitely consider you” permission without a specific job opening? Because they’re not going to tell you that anyway–you’ll apply and take your chances, because that’s what the game is.

    I’m also a little taken aback by “I had asked her to respond but she didn’t.” When you dump somebody at the altar, they’re not going to want to respond to your requests or to talk to you, even if the request is “Please let me know you got this.”

    Honestly, I think it’s time for you to stop the what-might-have-beens and start looking for workplaces outside of the one you’re at and the one you jilted.

  9. Alice*

    I can’t stop thinking about how this position is being assumed as available, a year later, to them personally, after turning it down after the last minute. It’s like this whole thing went directly to the OP’s head, and stuck there for a whole year. I think sending that letter would be insulting at best.

    1. K.*

      I was thinking that too. The position was open a year ago. When s/he turned them down, they hired the next person on the list. It’s safe to assume the job’s not open anymore – they’re not going to punt the person they hired for the person who turned them down on the day s/he was supposed to start.

      I’m on the side of “Don’t email them.” At best, they’ve forgotten about you, in which case an email would remind them that you’re That One Who Bailed On the Day S/He was Supposed to Start – it’s not going to jog a pleasant memory for them. Let it go, start a new search.

  10. Bookworm*

    I would love to know what field and state these positions were in! Competing? For a week? Clearly I’m in the wrong field…

    I agree with the majority here. You need to slink away with your tail between your legs. This position is just not in the cards for you, I’m sorry to say.

    1. Liz*

      My guess is some sort of computer programming. And yeah, I’m in the wrong field too :)

      1. L.A.*

        You just completely jogged my memory of a case when this DID happen successfully in the computer programming industry – my old coworker.

        He was unhappy with his job, told a raise wasn’t possible and interviewed elsewhere. He received an offer, our company countered, new company countered the counter, and he put in his two-weeks. That spurred our company to realize we really, REALLY didn’t want to lose him (some people here are under the misguided impression that because the economy sucks it’s impossible for any of their employees to find other jobs) and countered with a HUGE raise, promotion, work from home, etc. He turned down new company and stayed with us (not the day of, but the Friday before he was supposed to start). A year and a half later, they realized he had too much autonomy, sort of demoted him and he called up new company, told them he was still looking at they hired him on the spot.

        Not saying I think it’s a good idea for this email to be sent, but it DOES work sometimes – and I assume it works more often in the computer programming industry than others because of the specialized skill sets they can bring to the table.

  11. Anonymous*

    I agree with the advice to treat this situation as a lesson learned and look elsewhere for your next move.

    One thing I’ve found helpful before starting a job search is to figure out how I’d answer “Why do you want to leave your current employer?” If there’s anything my employer could do that would make me want to stay (money, new responsibilities, etc), the best approach is to ask them for that first. If either they say “no, we can’t do that” or if I realize that there’s nothing that will salvage the current situation, then I can approach job searching without feeling torn between wanting to stay and wanting to leave. While counter offers are flattering, if the company didn’t value you before you said you were leaving enough to try and make things better, they are even less likely to value you once you’ve made it clear that you were looking outside!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m actually listening to that Manager Tools podcast right now! I’m glad you linked to it; I love those guys. I just wish they’d write their stuff out instead of making you listen to it — I tend not to listen because it feels so much less efficient than reading. But their stuff is great.

        1. B*

          I love manager tools also! I actually like the podcast format. It’s more relaxing than reading an article and you get to hear them banter and their tone of voice.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I just finished listening to it. I love their point about understanding the risk if you take a counteroffer — that you shouldn’t take one at all, but if you do, at least understand that what you’re doing is terribly risky. Usually when people take one, they feel great — like they’ve won something — and they’re totally oblivious to how risky things just got for them.

        1. anonymices*

          To me, a nagging voice says that taking a counteroffer is a bit like the mentality of staying in a bad relationship just because the fool promised to be nice to you now, and never hit you again.

      3. Sandrine*

        Yup, and this part directly related to the OP :

        “6. Good luck getting that new employer to ever consider you again. If you go all the way through their hiring process only to accept a counteroffer from your current employer, then the former is going to be wary of considering you in the future. If it’s a company you’d like to work with, you might be shutting a door you’d rather keep open.”

        Indeed, indeed!

  12. cbecker53*

    Yeah, you totally blew it, OP. Learn from your mistake and move on. Sorry to be blunt. So to soften that, I’ll just say, it happens. But don’t let it happen to you again.

    When I resigned from a job many years ago, at my going away party, my boss said, you know, you don’t have to leave–you can still change your mind and stay. There was NO offer of more money or any other sweetening of the pot (in that academic setting, his hands were basically tied), and I STILL hesitated, for about one second. I was so FLATTERED. Duh. But no, I stuck to my guns.

    Years later, in another organization, someone resigned, his resignation was accepted, the staff went through an advertising and recruiting process, and he applied for his own old job! And they hired him! I don’t know the details, and I didn’t know him well (I now know him better) but i have to say he lost credibility with me in that episode, as did his supervisors.

    1. Womble*

      Resigned/reapplied/rehired: It might seem odd, but it’s not actually all *that* odd. It’s sometimes used to useful effect by people working at places they like, but which don’t like to give payrises commensurate with the market. Having had a full and frank conversation with your boss, without getting any satisfaction, you resign, your position is opened up, you apply, the company sees that there’s nobody near your level who’s willing to work for the pittance they were offering, they realise they have to get more… bing bang bong, instant huge payrise as they rehire you.

      I’m sure anyone sensible enough to be reading this site can see the pitfalls here: a pissed-off, jilted hiring manager refusing to consider you because you’re making them do all this extra work; someone *actually* being willing to work for what you were on before; a buyer’s market for labour meaning they’ve got lots of good talent to choose from… and the list just keeps growing as you think about it.

      For myself, I would consider it one of those high-risk/lowish-reward manoeuvres that just shows you to be a money-hungry mercenary… but then again, I don’t work in industries where that’s considered to be a positive personal trait (*cough*banking*cough*). I do have a friend who works in one of those sorts of industries, and it *did* work for him (much to my great surprise, I might add).

        1. Kimberlee*

          I have to say, in the event I interviewed people for any kind of job involving real money (lately I’ve only been hiring $9 an hour interns, so it’s a moot point), I would be totally turned off by a money grubbing attitude. Maybe it’s because I work in non-profits, but I need to know that the person I’m going to hire is intrinsically motivated. That they’re doing it because they like the work or at least like the cause or the company. Sure, you should get paid a fair wage for your work. But if you’re in the sector you’re in because you want to make money, not because you’re motivated by the work, then I don’t want to hire you.

          1. Jamie*

            “I would be totally turned off by a money grubbing attitude.”

            Out of curiosity, what would you consider a money grubbing attitude? I am sure the situation of the OP is rare, so is it someone who negotiates salary, or someone who asks about the future regarding compensation?

            Barring someone showing up for an interview wearing a Scrooge McDuck blazer and carrying a bag with $ on it – what’s the red flag on this?

          2. Esra*

            . But if you’re in the sector you’re in because you want to make money, not because you’re motivated by the work, then I don’t want to hire you.

            Can’t it be both? I work for a non-profit, and the cause is really important to me, but so is paying off my student loans, paying rent, building a down payment for a home, contributing to RRSPs…

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’d say that you want to hire people who are intrinsically motivated, absolutely — but most people do care about money, and nonprofits need to be able to hire the most talented people possible — not the most passionate, but the most talented. And sometimes those people have a higher price, because that’s what they can command. It would be short-sighted to not hire the best person because they were financially motivated — you want the person who will do the best job, motivations be damned.

        2. fposte*

          I think there’s a difference between working to make money and making every decision based on possible financial reward and nothing else–including ethics, consideration, etc.

        3. Jamie*

          “When did wanting to make more money become a bad thing? I don’t work as a hobby.”

          This. We’re selling our services when we take a job. The employer gets our talent, intellect, and work in exchange for a dollar amount. Companies want to hit their highest price points for selling their products, why is it wrong for employees?

          I love what I do, and have a significant sense of personal loyalty to those for whom I work – but no one is under the delusion that I would do this for free or that I would turn down better offers out of the aforementioned loyalty.

          As long as there are no ethical or legal violations I see no shame in it being about the money.

    2. Cassie*

      I know how this feels. I was working on a special project that I felt was out of my comfort zone (the project required a more outgoing personality). After about 6 months, I told my bosses I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job on the special project and asked if I could stop working on it.

      My bosses agreed and posted a job opening for a 50% person to handle the project. One of my coworkers applied and interviewed. They were *this close* to offering the job to him. Then one day, I was in a meeting with my bosses and they casually said “if you want to continue working on the project, we’d be fine with it”. I was flattered and thought “well, I guess project isn’t THAT bad”. So I changed my mind and everything went back to before I tried to quit the project.

      What a mistake that was. Based on that single sentence in the meeting, I thought “oh, my bosses want me instead of my coworker!” when in reality, I think they would have been fine either way. And I definitely ruined my relationship with my coworker (we had been pretty friendly previously), and damaged my reputation with the manager of the dept. And my bosses hadn’t even offered me anything – it’s not like they promised a raise or even showered me with compliments. Not that that would have made it okay, but clearly I wasn’t thinking straight.

      What a mess. If you make a decision to leave or quit, stick with it.

  13. Sandrine*

    What the others said.

    While I see the temptation and understand how one may want to do it, I would never think of trying it. It basically is just like being invited to two parties, like a new friend’s wedding… but at the last minute your best friend asks you to come over at his place to watch movies.

    You go watch the movies without warning your friend, missing the wedding, and then you wonder why your new friend won’t talk to you anymore…

    Okay, I know, enough rambling here. But I’m sure you will get the point. I guess that, aside from professional etiquette, this is when you realize that the world does not have to help you work on your mistakes. It’s a nice and admirable sentiment to realize you made bad choices, but life isn’t fair so if you have to do anything, just apologize and move on.

    I wouldn’t think of re-hiring you, either. Not because you are a bad candidate (as in qualified) but because flakiness is bad, indeed.

  14. Also A Hiring Manager*

    This really tees me off. It’s happened to me before…..and a number of times, the candidate reapplies to one of my positions a month or two later! A LOT if time has to pass before I’ll even entertain re-interviewing them, let alone make a job offer. Like Alison said, there are far too many great candidates out there!

  15. Anonymous*

    The other thing to consider is that because the OP waited until literally the morning she was supposed to start she may be listed in the company’s actual payroll system as an un-rehireable former employee rather than just a flaky candidate. When we bring new people on we generate a new payroll record, log ins, ID’s etc prior to their first day so if that’s when they cancel on us that changes the situation from candidate declining an offer to employee being removed from the system and being marked with a rehire indicator.

  16. Nichole*

    If we’re going to go with the “may not help but probably won’t hurt” approach (and for the record, I agree with the peanut gallery that it’s too late to undo this and probably time to chalk this up to you-live-you-learn), would it hurt to simply reapply when a position opens? If the incident is forgotten or forgiven, even cautiously, and if you’re qualified for what’s available, maybe you’ll get your chance, and can explain if they bring it up. Getting an interview means they’re willing to give you a chance to atone, right?

  17. What the?*

    Sending a “sorry i bailed” email is useless. Explaining yourself 1 year later will only serve as a reminder of something that may have very well been forgotten or a very distant memory. . The OP should just wait for a job opening and apply, if they get lucky and get an interview, would be more effective to explain yourself in person. The other option is to put the experience in the pile of life learning lessons and move on

  18. Steve G*

    OP – please tell us what the bells and whistles were. This would help the readers understand why you’d decide in the 11th hour not to leave. Just curious. …

  19. TracyB*

    Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
    Will Rogers

  20. Also A Hiring Manager*

    Also, I’m not reading any true remorse in the OP’s letter. Remorse for him/herself, yeah….but nothing that seems to indicate he/she truly understands the inconvenience she caused the new employer; “inconvenience” is putting it mildly. I think you’d better look for other places to apply, OP.

  21. Ellen M.*

    I think contacting the former employer ‘just to apologize” is a lousy idea.

    First of all, the OP would not be contacting them “just to apologize”; she wants that job she threw away a year ago. That’s why she wrote here to Alison. She’s not really interested in apologizing, unless it will benefit her in some way. It wouldn’t be sincere – she’d be saying or writing the words but that’s it.

    This will be perfectly obvious to the employer. They’ll think, “Her current job is not working out and she wants to work here.”

    As others have noted, the job she wants is probably no longer available – it’s been a YEAR. Or does she think they’ll create a new job just for her because she is so wonderful?

    Some people said, that the former employer has probably forgotten about her – I doubt that. Maybe they’re not thinking of her every day, but if it comes up (if she contacts them again), you bet they’ll remember someone who quit via e-mail the morning of the day she was supposed to begin.

    She made the hiring manager look bad. This will not be forgotten, nor forgiven.

    I have to wonder if the OP really understands how badly she screwed up here. I agree that there is no real remorse, only, “ME ME ME, I WANT.” She says that she asked the manager to respond but she didn’t. As if the manager is being unreasonable by not responding!

    As Alison said, that bridge is burnt. MOVE ON. OP, if you write to apologize and/or ask for the job, they will laugh at you. And oh yeah, they probably won’t even respond!

    1. Charles*

      “I think contacting the former employer ‘just to apologize” is a lousy idea.”

      I’ll second that – even if the real reason the OP were to write an apology is to sincerely apologize (which seems doubtful) it could come across as “so what does this person really want?”

      1. Just Me*

        Agreed. It was over and done a year ago. Getting an ” apology” alone would seem desperate as well as I’d question what is the real motive

      1. Also A Hiring Manager*

        Also, i’m not going to have “forgotten” that candidate a year later. We have an ATS; trust me, I will have written a note about you. And it will not be favorable.

        1. Anonymous*

          I know my situation is different , but in a way I understand. I really wanted to work for a certain place. I made a stupid mistake, but I really wish with all my heart I could go back. I really liked the HR person I had contact with. I had contact with this person several times. She called me about positions too. She responded to me a lot. She also responded to my mistake and she was nice about it. I really appreciated her. I guess I hold out hope that maybe sometime down the road my bridge is not completely burned there. I think we all sometimes wish we could take the different road.

    2. KT*

      Agreed! The OP is not sorry–they want something from the prospective employer. If the OP were truly sorry, they would have apologized prior to wanting a new job. A year has gone by with no apology. If I as a hiring manager received that email I would probably laugh. The OP spent a year withour apologizing for the inconvenience and all of a sudden feels bad? It comes off as selfish, and as Ellen says, all I hear is “ME ME ME.”

  22. Blue Dog*

    Never, never, never, never accept a counter from your present employer. Never. If you are reading this and thinking that your circumstances are different — that you are somehow unique — you are not. Don’t do it.

    You know how some people get into a relationship and think they are going to be able to “fix” the other person and later realize that you cannot do that? A business organization is much worse. There is far more ballast and you just cannot do it.

    You wanted to leave. You found a (presumably better) job. Move on. Forgive the hyperbole, but if you stay, you will like that person who gets knocked around but then agrees to go back when someone promises it will be better this time. It never is. Just move on.

    1. Jamie*

      ITA – but I would also add that it applies even if the sole reason you were looking to jump is the money.

      If you had no workplace issues and wanted to leap for a higher salary, it’s can be easier to kid yourself that if they meet the salary you now have the best of all worlds. You don’t – because the workplace where you previously had no issues? Now you have issues.

      Counteroffers are one of those things that seem like such a good idea…but I’ve yet to see one work well.

  23. Charles*

    Not exactly a counteroffer.

    Many years ago, I did turn one job down because the money was too little for the amount of work. A big plus is that I had another company offering me a better salary, benefits, and work more aligned with what I wanted.

    I turned down the first company only to be called back by the HR person who “spoke with the CEO” and would like to increase the salary. I explained that it wasn’t salary, it was the work. I really thought the second company was a better fit for me.

    Then the CEO called me to offer even more! I still declined saying “I feel like I’ve been put into the driver’s seat without a license. But, that I still thought the second company was a better fit.”

    Of course, he told me I was wrong and that his company was growing and I would regret my decision, yada, yada, yada . . . (He actually sounded a bit bitter towards the end of our conversation)

    The funny thing is, while it felt great to be offered more and more money, it also felt like I was being cheated. The final offer was about 30% more than the initial offer. Why wasn’t the initial offer even close to that amount? If I was worth that amount 2 days later why wasn’t I worth that amount from the get-go?

    Would working for them be dealing with the same “cheapskate” attitude as the intial offer when it came time for raises or promotions? Would I have to play that “threaten to leave to get a raise” game? Not for me, thanks!

    So, no, a counteroffer really isn’t a good idea.

  24. bob*

    You snooze, you lose. Get on with your life and hope the industry isn’t so small (like mine) that people will know about it 4 states away.

  25. ES*

    My company tried to do the same thing before I started my new job in February. They made a counter offer three days before I was due to start the new job (I had given them two weeks notice, so they had plenty of time to offer before then).

    I turned them down and went with the new job, and I’m glad I did. The real kicker, though, was that the HR person at my old job told me that people back out of jobs “all the time” even after an offer letter is signed. Maybe they do, but it’s pretty likely you’ll never see another job offer from them again…

  26. Just Me*

    When I gave my notice to a place where I was my supervisor asked me into the directors office. She asked what can they do to make me stay. I said some dribble about something stupid which I knew wasn’t going to make me stay or they would change. I didn’t think about the money as the job was too stressful and I just was sick of the BS. My guess is I probably could have gotten more $$ though.

    I unfortuntely did not go to a better situation and sometimes I question myself about that decision. I then look back at that job and couldn’t find one positive aspect of that job to keep me there.

    What I regret is not asking better questions of the new job. I would not have left the old job at that point knowing what I found out later.

    As far as ” it couldn’t hurt ” for the OP to send that Email, that, in my opinion is not the right logic with the situation.

    I had 2 interviews with a company. I did not get the job. If it posted again the ” it couldn’t hurt to apply” would apply more. I can more ” assume” that they liked me and just chose someone else for maybe just a minor reason. Maybe they just flipped a coin.
    I had a positive experience and appyling again I don’t believe would cause a negitive reaction as I got 2 interviews already. They obviously liked me. That to me is more of a ” it couldn’t hurt to try” situation.

    The OP blew the place off. See ya ! Got a better offer ! It is like a date blowing you off. ” Sorry I am not going to pick you up for the date because someone prettier can along” . And then calling the person back later.. OK I have changed my mind.

    OP needs to just dropped it as a lessoned learned.

  27. TheReaderIsMe*

    Hi. I am the “reader” who wrote this letter. I truly appreciate all of you weighing in on the issue. Many of you have asked for clarification on some issues, so I will add some more info to the discussion. (Although I am pretty sure from your advice that I will not be contacting this employer)

    First of all, when I sought out the “new employment”, it was due to a loss of contract with my 1st. company. A job that I had been at for 8 years and absoultely loved! I was hired on by the 2nd company/current employer who took over said contract. This was a good thing because as I said, I loved my job. However it was with this new company that I had no knowledge of and had never dealt with before. When I applied for a job with the 3rd company/new employer, I had no idea at the time that the 2nd company would be taking on those of us who lost employment with the 1st. company. (whew its confusing I know) It was only AFTER I had been hired by the 2nd company/current employer that the 3rd company/new employer called with a job offer. This was about a month after I had interviewed. (I should clarify that they had offered me a job on the spot at the initial interview but I could not work the hours they had wanted so I humbly declined. Several weeks later, the manager called me and offered me the job with the hours I needed) It was a great job to be sure. I was very excited and accepted right away. However, when I gave the 2nd company/current employer my 2 weeks notice, then the battle began. They immediately offered me more pay. Which was enticing as the economy is so hard right now and every penny counts. Plus this was a job I was familiar and comfortable with. So I contacted the 3rd employer and explained the situation. She called me back with in the hour with a counter offer. I was floored. I did not expect ANY of this to happen and I never have had to deal with this before. Well, again I went to the 2nd company manager and said they countered. She then countered with the bells and whistles to keep me on board literally at 5:20pm that Friday. I tried to get ahold of manager 3 all weekend to no avail to tell her of the circumstances. Not to ask for a counter but to simply tell her that I was staying with company 2 because they convinced me to stay. It was a very stressful situation and not one that I am familiar with.

    Long story short, well not so short really, haha thanks for reading all of this…..Over the past year, I have come to really dislike company 2. Their ethics leave a lot to be desired and they have now decided that my position, the one they persued me for, is no longer necessary and I am being laid off. Nice huh?

    So here I am, having missed a really exciting new job because I put my trust in company 2. I was flattered by their persistance.

    As for the 3rd job being open, I work in health care and there is indeed a very good chance that the position is still available. Even if it isn’t now, it may become so in the future and I would REALLY like to be considered for it. However, I understand from all of your posts how I have “burned the bridge”. Truth be told, not showing up for work that day was very out of character for me. As the manager of company 2 was reading me the bells and whistles, I thought to myself “you already commited to company 3”. I just didn’t listen to myself.

    I have definitely learned a valuable lesson with this experience.

    1. bob*

      Oh well nowwwwww it all makes sense! Okay that was a little sarcasm. Actually your situation sounds a lot like any outsourced corporate IT environment .

      Company A wins the contract for a year to do IT crap and supply warm bodies, Company B wins the contract the next time so they have to take on all the people who worked for Company A with contract buyouts blah blah. Before a boatload of us got laid off at a place I used to work *cough* Microsoft *cough*, they used a contract IT staffing company and the folks (who are left) I worked with 3 years ago are on their 3rd IT staffing company now. Isn’t IT great!!

    2. fposte*

      Yes, that could be a confusing time. But it sounds to me like you’re now not so much leaving due to dissatisfaction with your current employer (even though you have some) as leaving because you’re getting laid off. So that’s an even more significant reason not to contact the hiring manager–the talk of your dissatisfaction and regret is going to seem awfully disingenuous in the face of pending layoffs.

      It sounds like you’ve got the skills to keep you in demand; I hope you’ll soon be happily settled at company #4.

    3. AD*

      1) You still don’t sound like you are taking responsibility.

      2) Your timeline doesn’t add up. If they “immediately offered you more pay” and then the new place countered “with in[sic] the hour”, then why did it still take more than two weeks to get this sorted out?

  28. TheReaderIsMe*

    Oh..one more thing. I did call and leave a message with the answering service and I did send a very long letter of apology at the time last year.

    1. Jenn*

      How would you feel if the company whose offer you accepted decided, the night before you were supposed to start, to rescind the job offer? Would leaving a voicemail on your cell phone be sufficient? How about sending you an email, telling you how sorry they were that they had to rescind, last minute?

      Yeah, you really need to own your side of this.

  29. Ellen M.*

    To the OP: you are still making excuses for your bad decisions. Your “explanation” is confusing to put it mildly…

    You are using the word “humbly” to describe your actions but there’s no humility here. It’s as if you decided that if you use that word, all will be forgiven.

    In the future, real humility (and integrity) would probably lead to better decisions for you, but only if the entitlement and excuses are dropped.

    1. Ellen M.*

      People who are truly humble would never use the words “humble” to describe themselves or “humbly” to describe their actions.

  30. Lisa*

    I have the opposite problem.

    I took the new job over the bells and whistles, and I regret it. My old co-worker offered me a job to go back, and I am considering it. It may be a mistake, but he said so much has changed there that I wouldn’t recognize the place. Its shocking how much it changed there, and I really am thinking about it.

    1. Sandrine*

      One of my friends had trouble finding a job and went back to her old job.

      Oh, sure, things had changed, but went back to the mess they were before very quickly. She regretted her decision a lot, and wished she had other options but she didn’t and went the safe route.

      Good thing she has a good support system otherwise I wonder how things would have unfolded :( .

  31. Anonymous*

    What about my friend who is in a rather small industry, applies for jobs, gets offers, then declines because they are not high enough. I think too many bridges have burned. I wouldn’t make a second (or third or fourth) offer to a candidate. And I’m in government — yes, I have to interview you, but I don’t have to make an offer.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s tricky, because certainly candidates aren’t required to accept a job offer simply because one is made. However, if she’s declining frequently, I’d ask what’s causing the pattern — does she have unrealistic ideas about what her work should pay, is she not clarifying things with the employer before it gets to the offer stage, etc.

      1. Anonymous*

        That is just the thing, AAM. It’s government (also, though another branch than mine), so salary is public record. There’s really not much to clarify. And only so many local governments to burn your way through. Probably two or three declines a year for about eight years now. It’s a red flag, imho.

        1. Emily*

          To me, that sounds like someone who is reluctant to leave her current job because it’s comfortable/familiar, or the commute is convenient, or she likes most or some of what she does or most and some of her coworkers, so she’s factoring the discomfort and extra effort and energy involved in making a change into her salary expectations. You could get pretty comfortable in eight years, and even though she should be able to predict what the offer will be, when it comes down to accepting one, she second guesses what she values and what she’s worth. After declining that many offers, it’s more than a pattern; it’s a habit!

  32. Mishsmom*

    my 2 cents: i hire student workers for our department, and i’ve had new student workers do this to me – on the first day of classes i’ll find an email saying “i’m sorry, but…” – and unless it is a death in the family – they’re so done i couldn’t even stick a fork in them if i wanted to.

    i’m glad you learned your lesson, and i know i sound like a jerk, but humility goes a long way, and judging from your response, you may have “seen” your mistake as poor strategy for YOU, but nowhere in your response do you mention the consequences you threw on manager no. 3. for all you know that manager or another employee had to work an entire week of 12 hour days to cover for your no-show, or maybe had to cancel a long-awaited appointment, or a vacation, or someone else did, etc. my point is, when someone is counting on you, it’s more than just about burning bridges, it’s more than just about you and what it did to you…your actions can affect the lives of those who depended on you to show up and do your job. i know i sound dramatic, but this can and does happen…

    1. Charles*

      You’re not dramatic nor a jerk – I completely agree with everything you are saying here, 100%!

  33. anonymices*

    We had a man withdraw because of a counter-offer, *after* he accepted, set a start date, and we announced to our client that we were bringing BlabbidtyDingDong on board to XYZ. There is zero chance that Greasy-haired fool will ever work for me after the to-do he caused.

  34. Spokker*

    “This is why you never take a counter-offer from your current employer.”

    You can only do this if you have the credentials. My significant other was working on getting a new job 50 miles away from her then-current job. When she informed her then-current employer, they bumped up her salary beyond what the new firm would have paid her. She still hated the job, but convinced herself that she would hate commuting 50 miles.

    In any case, she eventually got a job in the field she wanted, and on top of that the employer she blew off emailed her and asked if she would be willing to consider that firm again. She politely declined.

    You can do that sort of crap when you’re a UCLA law grad who graduated at the top of her class and worked for a federal judge. You can’t do that when you graduated from a tier 4 law school.

  35. anon*

    This is a really old post but I’m hoping that someone out there still reads this! I have a similar situation, except I was offered a job, and then I turned it down – immediately. I turned it down because I was holding out for another job that I’d interviewed for, but didn’t get. Anyhow, I noticed that the employer who gave me a job offer posted a new position. I want to apply for it, but I don’t know if I too have burned a bridge.

  36. Artemesia*

    In Academia often the only way to get a real raise is to have another offer and get a counter offer. I know lots of people who ended up staying at places when the pot was sweetened because they were afraid of losing them. In business, absolutely agree that once you are in this situation only bad things are going to follow if you take the counter offer and stay — but that is not what I have observed in Academia where of course tenure also factors in so you can’t be easily dumped if you are a valued professor who has accepted the counter offer.

    A relative was a rising star in a company but still very junior when he was offered a very big step up with a competitor; he accepted. His company counter offered with an enormous promotion; he went to the competitor and told them the situation, explaining that he would honor his commitment but that of course this promotion was the direction he was hoping to take his career. The new company released him without prejudice so to speak and he was soon a CEO of the old company’s XYZ division. Years later the company that had made the offer recruited him to head an even more important initiative. So it can work — but the key for him was that he didn’t renege on the acceptance, he agreed to follow through unless they were willing to let him go. Tricky, but it was a dance he managed.

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