should I turn down a job offer in the hope a different company will offer me a job?

A reader writes:

I had 2 interviews about 2 months ago for a position I am well qualified for. After my second interview, I waited a week and asked for an update, just to be told that they had gone with another candidate.

Move forward to about 2 weeks ago, when I got an email from the director of operations saying that the CEO wanted to meet with me for coffee about the position I interviewed for previously. I was thrilled that after that amount of time they thought of me! So I went to coffee, and it was about as excellent as meetings could go. He said the next step would be to come in and meet the director of operations, and that he wanted to get me in to start on some projects. So I emailed the director of operations, and she replied that the CEO thought we had not met yet, and since we have, she would ask what the next step he wants me to take is.

That was a week ago. After hearing nothing, I emailed her asking for an update, and she said she sent my email to the CEO and that we were waiting from there.

But today I got a call for a job opportunity for a full-time position that I would want to take because I am in serious need of getting back into the work force. So I emailed the director of operations right away and said that I had an offer from another company, but that they were my first choice and I was more interested in pursuing the opportunity with them. She emailed me back and said that “she spoke with the CEO and they’ll need another week until any final decisions are made so they understand if I need to take another job offer.”

I am crushed and confused as to what her response means in terms of my chances. I know I need to move on and am still looking and applying for other jobs. So my question is A) how do I try not to analyze her last answer as me not getting the job and B) how do I go about telling her if I don’t wind up taking the other position?

Her answer literally means “we won’t have an answer for another week.” It doesn’t mean “we won’t be offering you a job” or “we will be offering you a job if you wait.” It means “we don’t know, but we hope to know in a week.”

That means that you need to decide whether to take the job offer you have and forgo this other position, or to turn down the job offer you have and risk not getting an offer from these people either — leaving you with no job offers at all.

Keep in mind that if the first company was really sold on you, they’d make a decision right now, since they know you’re considering another offer. They’re not sold enough to do that. That doesn’t mean that they won’t be in a week — they very well may be — but it does mean that they’re willing to lose you to this other job. That doesn’t tell you anything definitive about what they’re likely to ultimately decide, but it does tell you they’re not jumping to hire you, even when they know it means they might lose you entirely. Of course, it’s also possible that their hesitation has nothing to do with you — they could be working out some budget issue, or waiting on something else before being sure that they even need the position that they’re thinking of you for. A good company would explain that though, if it were the case, rather than leaving you thinking that they’re simply deciding about you.

In any case, what you’re choosing between is a certain job offer and a job offer that may or may not ever materialize. Whether or not to take a risk on the latter depends on how badly you need a job, how well you’d weather it if you turned down the first offer and the second one never came along, how much you want the job you haven’t been offered yet, and how much you don’t want the offer that you have.

As for what to say to the first company if you decide to turn down the offer you have, you can simply let your contact there know that you decided the other job wasn’t quite the right fit and that you’re still very interested in working with them, at whatever point they make a decision.

Related posts:
juggling job offers
how to juggle multiple job offers

{ 41 comments… read them below }

      1. Ruffingit*

        It’s your own fault. We await your posts, they’re one of the few helpful job sites on the web. :) I read a lot of online content and this has been one of the few sites I’ve found where the information is helpful from both you and the commentators and people don’t become rapid psycho trolls in the comments.

          1. Ruffingit*

            And obviously it’s too early for me to be posting. That should be “rabid psychos.” :)

              1. Ruffingit*

                True! It really is such a relief to have a site where people don’t go crazy and become insulting and trollish. It’s so sad to see a helpful site become a stomping ground for crazy.

                1. HR Abnormal*

                  I actually think “rapid” psycho best fits many forums out there. This is one of the great few.

              2. Jessa*

                Rapid does work too. And yes we sit in wait for you, because your blog and all the fellowship on it, are amazing.

        1. Sara*

          I realized the same when I read the very post here, even if I find myself bewildered or in disagreement–the fact remains that this is one of the best online commentary sections I have come across on the internet. Very very valuable resource!

  1. periwinkle*

    Did the second company call to make an actual job offer to you, or just an interview offer? The phrasing wasn’t clear.

    Honestly, the first company seems interested but not sold on you. The CEO said you should meet the Director of Operations. The DO, having already met with you, tossed the ball back in the CEO’s court rather than saying “that’s great, let’s talk some more about the position.” (the company also showed discourtesy by not contacting you with their decision the first time around, but hey)

    You don’t say anything about this second company’s position – are you at all excited about that opportunity?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh, good point — I assumed that meant that she had an offer from the second company! If not, and it’s just a call for an interview, then this is all premature.

      1. Ruffingit*

        The OP phrases it as having an “offer” from another company when she called the first company so I’m going to assume it’s an actual job offer. In that case, I say take it if the OP is at all excited about it because periwinkle makes some good points regarding the first offer. They are being discourteous in some ways.

        Also, this is something of a red flag if only a small one – “So I emailed the director of operations, and she replied that the CEO thought we had not met yet…” Really? The CEO met you for coffee and told you he wanted to get you in to work on some projects, but then he didn’t communicate that to his DO? Seems to be some communication issues there.

        Anyway, if you need to work now and you don’t have the luxury of waiting around, then take the second offer.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit*

          Pretty sure this meant that the CEO didn’t realize that the Director of Operations had met the OP in the previous hiring round.

    2. Anonymous*

      The company did contact the writer about their decision the first time around:

      “I…asked for an update, just to be told that they had gone with another candidate.”

      And it does seem that the writer has another offer:

      “I emailed the director…and said that I had an offer from another company”

      1. Anon*

        “The company did contact the writer about their decision the first time around”

        not really. if she hadn’t asked for an update, I don’t think they would’ve told her that she was not selected. It seemed as if they knew about their selection for a while and just didn’t tell her that she was not hired.

      2. rw*

        That’s the company reactively contacting the OP. Had she not asked for an update, she likely would not have been informed of their decision, judging from their inept communication later on. If they had already made the decision before she contacted them, then they should have sent her an email on their own initiative.

        1. Anonymous*

          It was only a week after her second interview. I don’t see faulting the company. I think she contacted them before they could contact her.

  2. OP*

    ahh! I agree with the others about being an avid reader, I’ve probably read almost every post you have! (Not in a creepy way, in a “I love your helpfulness way) I really appreciate you answering me!

    Onwards… seeing you write it just confirmed what I thought: they aren’t so sold as to hire me right away, but that doesn’t mean that I definitively didn’t get the job.

    I’ve decided to turn down the full-time offer, I forgot to mention that it was just a temp position for a few weeks. I have a stable part-time right now, and would rather not let it go over a few weeks of higher pay.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Ah, it being a temp job makes a difference! Definitely don’t let go of your stable part-time for a temp full-time. That wouldn’t be smart. Glad you have some choices here in that you have a stable PT position now. That certainly helps with the job hunt.

    2. OP*

      To answer the confusion: I do have an offer from the second job (see above post)
      I wouldn’t have heard back from the first company if I hadn’t asked for an update, and I do see it as discourteous as well! Yes, they are at a lack of communication. But this is a job I would be good at, and would enjoy immensely.

      thanks guys!

    3. periwinkle*

      Thanks for clarifying, OP! Agreed, don’t give up a stable PT position in favor of a temporary one. As AAM has often advised, move on mentally and keep looking for opportunities.

      Any chance the second company would be interested in taking you on as temporary part time or short-term 1099 consultant? Building up cash reserves is never a bad thing.

      1. PuppyKat*

        I think you offer two excellent suggestions for the OP to consider, periwinkle.

    4. kasey*, not a “full-time offer” at all. Because I am into horse beating, I found this sentence confusing too: So I emailed the director of operations, and she replied that the CEO thought we had not met yet, and since we have, she would ask what the next step he wants me to take is. I’ve had a nasty cold and am probably reading this wrong, but to me reads that the CEO doesn’t remember meeting with you?

      1. Anon*

        I read it as the CEO not realizing that OP and the DO had met previously. CEO was trying to arrange a meeting, when in fact OP and DO have had a previous interaction (presumably during the inital interview process).

      2. Elizabeth West*

        “because I am into horse-beating”

        This made me spit my sammish out. ROTFL

  3. FD*

    But before you decline the possible offer, make sure you get the ‘firm’ offer in writing!

  4. Felicia*

    I had something similar happen recently, except the job that I was offered I really really didn’t want, and it was unrelated enough to what I do want that I didn’t think it would be helpful enough for me to be miserable at work. So I turned it down, because I don’t desperately need the money, and I’m pretty sure it was the right thing. I am in the second interview stage for 2 jobs I really do want, so I will hope for those offers, and if i don’t get them I’ll be ok. What really helped me was thinking “Would I be ok if i said no?” and “Are the negatives of whatever choice i make something I can live with?”

  5. Elizabeth West*

    This is a dream wrapped in a nightmare for most job hunters. You want an offer, but not the one you don’t want. It really is like dating–the wrong guy calls you, every. Single. Time.

  6. Hill*

    “Should I turn down a job offer”….

    Geez, a lot of us would love to have your problem!

  7. oneblankspace*

    Back in 2000, I was living in Chicago and had interviews in Virginia on Monday and Kansas on Friday. I flew out to Virginia and was almost scared out of my mind by the traffic. I flew back on Tuesday, and had an offer on Wednesday. I asked for more time to decide because I had an interview scheduled on Friday.

    On Thursday, there was a thunderstorm in Michigan. What does that have to do with anything? The plane they were going to use to fly me to Nebraska (so I could drive to Kansas) never made it to Chicago, and my flight was canceled. So I called Kansas, rescheduled for Monday, rescheduled my flight for Sunday out and Tuesday home, rescheduled the other reservations, and told Virginia I would not know anything before Monday’s interview.

    At Monday’s Kansas interview, I let them know I had the offer from Virginia. The interview did not go great, so after calling a friend who worked at a toll-free number (not everybody had cell phones in 2000) from a pay phone at a gas station, I called Virginia to accept their position. I then drove back and told the interview committee that I had accepted the other offer.

  8. Stevie*

    Take the firm offer. Odds are the other won’t materialize. You can always switch later if it does, and who cares if that inconveniences the second company. That’s nothing compared messing up your career because of someone’s indecision. Because really, you only have one decision to make, whether to take the offer you actually have. The other company shouldn’t factor into your decision making at all.

  9. Mark*

    I have a related question: say you turn down the job for Company A, still waiting to have an interview with Company B. Is there a tactful way to let Company B know you turned down a job offer because you are more invested in the opportunity of Company B?

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