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

This post was originally published on July 3, 2009.

A reader writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ 31 comments… read them below }

    1. Adam

      I imagine it varies from company to industry to level of position to urgency, so all kinds of factors. I think for a new grad in a starting out type position it’s more likely to get less time to decide than a senior executive and such.

      Granted for my last few job offers I always said “I’ll take it” right when I got the joyous phone call. Probably not the best thing to do, but when you need the paycheck…

    2. jasmine

      I was also taken aback by that. If a company gave me only 24 hours to make a serious decision that could affect me for years to come, I’d consider that to be a huge red flag.

      1. Josh S

        I could go either way. It’s possible that you’re the first choice of Company, but they have a close second choice who has another option with Orgs-R-Us and asked them for an expedited decision.

        If you say no but wait a week to give the answer, they might also lose out on Candidate B… So they ask you for an expedited answer.

        Now, it’d be nice if they acknowledge they’re asking you for something a bit rushed to mitigate the message it sends, but it’s not entirely a red flag.

  1. Lanya

    I’ve asked for a few extra days to consider a job offer in the past, and it was never a problem. Reasonable people would understand that even though you may be super-excited about a job, it’s still a huge commitment, and definitely something that might require more than 24 hours to think through. Especially if you happen to have 17-other-things-going-on-in-the-next-three-days and need to find a way to carve out a few hours to go over the job offer information, plug in the new salary numbers to the budget to make sure it will be ok, go over possible schedule or commute changes with the spouse, etc. People have lives, and sometimes life gets busy!

  2. Ruffingit

    It’s been 3.5 years since this letter, I’m wondering what ended up happening here. Did the OP happen to update you Alison?

      1. Ruffingit

        Thanks, I always get curious about that with letters like this. I wonder if they ended up working for Company A and if so, how it turned out.

      2. Anonymousdr

        I was already scrolling through for an update – I hope the OP responds with an update too. If she does, please post it right away!!

  3. RobM

    I’m in two minds about this. As an interviewer, I want the people we offer to be excited to accept the offer.

    As a candidate, I’ve had employers keep me waiting for a while before making an offer. Long enough, in fact (though I never asked!) that I may have been choice #2 and choice #1 said “no.”

    Equally, still as a candidate, I was out of work, had two interviews and accepted the first one when the offer was made by phone and I could pretty much hear a context of “I suppose you’ll do, Robm” in the manager’s tone, then changed my mind to ultimately accept the offer from the second employer, who had one of their most senior directors ring me early evening after the interview that afternoon to tell me that I was fantastic, exactly what they were looking for, and that the quicker I could start the happier they would be, and would (a considerable pay increase over the other offer, let alone my previous job or unemployment) be enough.

    Perhaps it was rude to yank the carpet out from underneath the firm that made the first offer, but I don’t regret it.

    1. Ruffingit

      I don’t think it was rude. Dating analogies are frequently made here and I think this situation lends itself to one. It’s sort of like someone saying “Well, no one better has shown up so I guess I’ll just be with you…” vs. someone who really wants to date you and genuinely wants to see where the relationship will go. Most sane people with an iota of respect will go with the latter option.

      1. RobM

        That’s pretty much how I saw it. Needless to say, the recruiter and hiring manager for company #1 didn’t agree.

        I’ve since been with company #2 for 15 years, 3 or 4 rounds of promotions and corresponding healthy pay rises. I’ve done a lot for them and got a lot back.

        I’m looking to move on now as my options to progress here are rather limited, but I’m glad I took their offer.

  4. Stef

    When I’ve interviewed potential applicants, I’ve asked often them “If I offered you this job right now, would you accept?” If there’s any hesitation, I definitely have to take that into consideration when I’m evaluating their interviews. We’ve just had an opening that got over 500 applications, so passion for the job and enthusiasm are REALLY what we’re looking for!

    That said, we want quality applicants who think through their decision. Just giving someone 24 hours is kind of extreme – if they’re doing this just the interview process, can you imagine what working there is like?

    1. Patrick G

      I had an interviewer ask me this on a recent interview and I deflected the question by saying that I would need to see the details of any offer before I would give them a commitment (salary, insurance, retirement benefits, PTO, etc.). Despite my hesitation, I would up getting an offer, and I wound up turning it down because the insurance was terrible.

      I think it’s rather silly question, to be honest. A desperate person is going to be very enthusiastic if they really need a job. On the other hand, a very qualified candidate could be hesitant because he/she needs to weigh their options and doesn’t have all of the necessary information. So, you could be marking off good candidates who are just being realistic with you. The people you’re interviewing are obviously interested enough in the position or they wouldn’t be there in the first place.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      But do they know what salary you’d be offering, benefits details, etc.? If not, you’re not going to get genuine answers to that question and also will make your best candidates feel uncomfortable (well, you’ll probably make most people feel uncomfortable, but it’s the best ones you really need to worry about).

    3. Ollie

      You want someone who thinks through their decisions, but if you ask them that question and they hesitate, you’ll hold it against them. Isn’t that hypocritical?

      People might not give genuine answers just because they think not saying “yes” would look bad.

      1. Ruffingit

        Totally agreed. Don’t ask if they would accept the job right now, that is not a good question to assess enthusiasm for reasons people already stated. Find another way to get at what you’re looking for.

      2. tcookson

        Plus, anyone with any ounce of Machiavellian self-preservation impulse will automatically say yes, while thoughtful, salesy/pushy-tactics-hating people will hesitate (they’re thinking WTH!!).

        We had a candidate who, when asked point-blank whether he would accept a position with us, unflinchingly said “yes”. Turned out, he was using us a leverage for a higher starting salary with another university.

        Bad question.

    4. MR

      To me, this is one of those questions that is completely irrelevant to the position (I can’t think of anything it would be relevant for, except maybe entry level retail, because most retail interviews are just to make sure you aren’t an ax murderer).

      As a result, this question just shouldn’t be asked.

      1. Eric

        Agreed. A question I like asking a lot better is “if you were to start working here tomorrow, what would your biggest concern be”.

    5. Josh S

      My answer, without hesitation, would be, “From what I’ve heard so far, I think this position would be a good fit for me because of A, B, and C. I definitely want to know more about the company, the culture, and the team I’d be working with. But certainly, I haven’t heard a thing that would turn me off to talking further about this position and the value I could bring to the company in this role.” But that’s just because I’m pretty good at deflecting the awkward question without making it seem like I’m saying a flat no.

      Quite honestly, your question is as sales-y as the candidates who finish the interview by asking, “Is there anything preventing you from making me an offer right now?” If a candidate did that to you, how would you respond?

      Because basically, you’re asking the same of them.

    6. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      When I’ve interviewed potential applicants, I’ve asked often them “If I offered you this job right now, would you accept?”

      That seems unprofessional to me, like the interviewer is trying to fill many slots very quickly, the kind of slots with high turnover like cold sales or high volume call center.

      I’m flattered when a candidate accepts an offer within 24 hours but not bothered if it takes a week. I used to be all like “omg we have to fill this slot NOW” but long term employees are an investment. If someone isn’t worth investing an extra week to allow for best decisions, I shouldn’t be hiring them. That’s what temp agencies are for.

    7. RobM

      I’m sure you didn’t mean it the way it comes across, but it sounds like you’ve just said you’re screening out people who like to think before acting in favour of people who are “passionate”, which seems counter-intuitive for the needs of most employers. I need someone who gets things right on my team much more than I need someone who is happy to plunge over the side of a cliff with a smile on their face!

      Also, interviews are a two-way process. They’re interviewing you while you’re interviewing them, and good candidates, the sort that have options of which your employer is just one, might not appreciate being put under that kind of pressure and decide to look at their other options, regardless of what they say to you in reply during the interview.

      1. Ruffingit

        I need someone who gets things right on my team much more than I need someone who is happy to plunge over the side of a cliff with a smile on their face!

        THIS. SO MUCH THIS. This encapsulates exactly why I have a problem with that type of question. It screens for the wrong candidates.

  5. Ask a Manager Post author

    I emailed the person who sent in this question back in 2009 and asked if she’d update us, and here’s her response:

    Your email couldn’t have come at a better time.

    I’m not entirely sure if I ended up apologizing with the manager, but I did end up confirming with them on their offer. When I came to work the following week, the group head of the department I was in jokingly asked me, “So are you sure already?”

    Yes, he’s the type to make unfunny jokes like that.

    But over time, I got to know the hiring manager who made me the job offer more and it turns out that she’s the manipulative type of person who will take what you said or did in the past and turn it against you (she’s done this to several other employees in the past as well). When some people in my department resigned before, she’s been known to say negative things to make them guilty about leaving, hoping that they will change their mind and stay. In terms of workload, she’s been known to weasel her way out of big tasks and to delegate everything to other people, even though those people don’t directly report to her and are managing other projects as well. Needless to say, she’s not very well-liked nor well-respected in the company – people constantly question the value of her job and work output to the organization.

    Looking back, it now makes sense to me as to why she said those things to the naïve fresh grad that I was – because that’s how she gets things done, and since I didn’t have much experience with job offers yet, it would be easy to pressure me into saying yes within a short period of time.

    And as to the company, well, the work is generally toxic in nature. Poor work-life balance, short notice on major changes in direction, everything is always labelled as urgent. I’ve been with the company for four and a half years already, but I’ve managed to stay that long by periodically changing my roles and my department. The turnover is generally high, and employee engagement is low. I’ve learned a lot about the industry throughout the years I’ve spent there, but the work is really fast-paced and the pressure is always high. Some bosses are notorious for rebuking employees harshly in front of everyone for mistakes or for poor performance.

    I say that your email could not have come at a better time because I’ve just filed for my resignation only last week. After changing roles so many times, I’ve come to realize that corporate work is not for me. I don’t regret accepting the offer because my job experience has made me grow and has taught me so much. I’ve made some of the best friends ever from my job. And I don’t regret confirming with Company A over Company B because the work toxicity in Company B is just the same. In fact, I had been offered a job at Company B around two years ago, which I declined because I knew I’d just be getting into a similar, if not worse, work environment. I’m resigning because I can’t imagine myself doing the work my boss or her boss is doing over the course of my life, and it just feels that every day that I still continue to work there, I am constantly lying to everyone, including myself.

    Going back to my original question – the only thing I would want to tell my naïve fresh grad self during the time I wrote you that email would be not to feel pressured, and to assert my right to think over the offer with a clear head if I needed to. If they rescinded the offer, well, it’s not the end of the world – other job offers will still come in.

    1. Ruffingit

      Sorry to hear the OP landed in a toxic environment, but it’s great to hear she’s getting out. I hope her next job will bring her all the good things she deserves. Thanks for the update Alison and OP!

      1. Anonymousdr

        OP – I’m really impressed! You stayed for 4.5 years??? Wow! You have a mature, well-reasoned perspective and attitude, and you come across as someone who has been in a professional work environment for a long time! It seems like you’ve learned a lot, and wisely and quickly learned tough lessons about the toxicity and politics in some work environments that some of us (me!) took a LOT longer to learn the hard way.

  6. Tara T.

    From Rob M’s post: “who had one of their most senior directors ring me early evening after the interview that afternoon to tell me that I was fantastic, exactly what they were looking for, and that the quicker I could start the happier they would be, and would (a considerable pay increase over the other offer, let alone my previous job or unemployment) be enough.” That shows that it works both ways. The interviewer wants the applicant to be enthusiastic about their workplace. The applicant wants the interviewer to be enthusiastic about him or her as a candidate.

  7. IndianaJane

    I’m very grateful for this! I actually am going through something very similar; I interviewed yesterday with a company’s CEO and then later, with a supervisor, a manager and my would-be manager. Funnily enough, a friend of mine works in this office and is the one who gave my resume to the CEO. Long story short: Great interview with CEO, and a pretty good group interview with others, I came home feeling alright about it. However, friend @company tells me the one manager (lets call him P) wasn’t keen on me, had another candidate in mind. Color me surprised when a couple hours later I receive a call from P himself, offering me the job. ATM moment I’m unemployed so @ the interview I said I could be available immediately. When I received the call I only asked to be given a chance to discuss the job offer w my partner, and P says he’ll send me the job offer details. Next morning, still no email, so I call and ask P, and he says he’s concerned because I’m “not sounding excited.” Still no job offer sent to email and now feeling pretty sure that P will want to rescind job offer because I didn’t jump on it right away. Now I’m thinking I’m glad I asked for details and time to discuss it. I do think of myself as a quality candidate and if the job offer is rescinded because I didn’t jump in blind, than maybe I don’t want to work there anyway.

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