I turned down a job, and now people are devastated

A reader writes:

I recently changed jobs. Company A had seen me speak at a conference a few years ago, and brought me in to consult. After I came in, they contacted me and said they had a position they would like me to consider. I agreed to interview, mostly to get more information than I had during the consulting process. I had some large concerns, partly because their plan would have had me potentially going from supervising a staff of four to a staff of 20 within the year, most of whom had never had a solid line manager before, and because it became very clear they were bringing me in to fix the culture — as in, the manager directly told me they wanted me to fix the culture problems in the division, without having to change anything that contributed to it. The position is one of their big prestige positions, and they didn’t want to deal with things that were causing the problems — specifically, the second-in-command, who was bringing in more money than they ever had in the division.

I eventually ended up going with Company B, and turning down Company A and a couple other offers. Here’s where my questions arise. I ran into folks at company A at an industry-wide function, and they were a nightmare. Not only did every member of the group who came want to address their personal feelings about me turning it down one-on-one, but one of them cornered me at a restaurant off-site and asked me to justify myself. I was so caught off guard, I did. He then followed me to the table I was at, and just kind of sat down and wanted to rehash everything that I said and tell me why I should reconsider. This is the same person that I had concerns about managing — the second-in-command. During the interview process, the last scheduled interview had been in his area, and when I went to pack up, he informed me that he had scheduled other interviews that HR hadn’t “thought were important.” I ended up having an extra two hours of unscheduled interviews on top of the five hours I had planned for. I didn’t say anything at the time because if I took the job, I planned to address it with him personally.

In addition, while I was speaking at a mixer to a couple people who had seen me present, the former person in the job came up and confronted me about not taking their job. She asked me to justify it also! (This person and I sit on a couple of boards together, and while I thought she had known about me applying and turning it down, apparently the second-in-command had just told her it was me.) She is no longer at that company and has moved onto a different field altogether. In all, I figure that I spent about six hours out of a four-day event dealing with people from Company A.

I just received emails from them today, prompting my question. Apparently the company has reposted the job, and they want me to apply. (This is despite me very publicly identifying myself in my new role — it’s been six months, I am not leaving this role for the one I turned down.) I’m trying to decide if I should reach out to the very hands-off manager for that role, the person with the hiring power (he’s about three levels above the position, but due to their position as a prestige unit, they “answer” directly to him) and let him know about the second-in-command’s behavior, before they get to on-site interviews? Additionally, do you have any hints on how to deal with these folks going forward?

Next you will look out your window and see them standing there holding up a boombox, a la Lloyd Dobler.

The thing is, they can’t force you to reconsider the job, and you also don’t need to keep justifying your decision to them.

Here’s what I’d do going forward:

To the person who asked you to reapply now that the role has been reposted: “Thanks for thinking of me! I’m really happy with my current job and not on the market anymore. I’m sure you’ll find someone great though!”

To anyone else who tries to cajole you into reconsidering: “Thanks for thinking of me! I’m really happy with my current job and not on the market anymore. Best of luck filling the position!”

To anyone who asks you to explain or justify your decision: “I had a couple of offers, and the one I took was just a better fit for me. But I hope you find someone great!”

To anyone who keeps pushing beyond that: “There’s not much more I can say other than that I had multiple offers. Anyway, good seeing you!” (And then leave or, if you can’t, replace “good seeing you” with a pointed topic change.)

You asked whether you should tell the hiring manager about the second-in-command’s behavior. I wouldn’t bother with it — then you’d just be getting more enmeshed with these people who you’re trying to extract yourself from. The exception to that is if he gets really out-of-hand with it — like if he does show up with that boombox — but if it stays more or less where it is now, just set the reasonable boundaries above and be on your way, and enjoy these people officially being Not Your Problem.

{ 215 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    Your post defines ‘dodged a bullet there.’ Congrats on having excellent sense. And never take a job where the job is to ‘change the culture, but we don’t want to deal with any of the actual things that make the culture suck.’ Good call there.

    1. Kate*

      Seconded. This is one of those times where there is absolutely zero doubt that you made the right decision.

      1. OP*

        It was a hard decision at the time because the potential was so high if I could pull it off, but I’m very, very glad I made the choice I did – and really happy in the new role!

        1. Alli525*

          Culture changes are SO DAMN DIFFICULT. My best friend was brought in to her company to do this (making it worse, the “company” was actually a big department of a large city’s government… in the South…) and from the way she talked to me about it, it sounded like she was the ONLY one told that she was there to help change the culture. No one wanted any part of it, and she was belittled and beleaguered from the start. Luckily, she’s a rockstar and managed to survive a few years before switching to a different department, but the culture did not change because no one else was on board with it.

          1. Collarbone High*

            The obsessed people at the conference make me think it was the opposite problem — that the manager deflected every issue and complaint with “oh, LW will fix that once they’re in this role.” Probably everyone was counting the days until LW came in and did something about the second-in-command. Which is another reason LW was wise to say no.

            1. designbot*

              That was my impression too–these folks were looking to OP to be their savior, got their hopes up unreasonably, and she dashed them by having the audacity to make her own decisions.

            2. RVA Cat*

              This reminds me of Cavafy’s “Waiting for the Barbarians.” It’s worth Googling.

          2. Close Bracket*

            “it sounded like she was the ONLY one told that she was there to help change the culture. ”

            For me, lots of people knew I was there to implement culture change, and one of the very people who told me how hard it would be to change the culture was a major barrier to one of the changes I needed to implement!

            Just don’t do it. Run, run far, run fast.

          3. required name*

            Yeah, seriously. Change has to come from within.

            (I used to work in process improvement. If leadership wanted it but no one on the ground was interested? It didn’t work. If people on the ground wanted it but leadership didn’t buy in? It didn’t work. Change is hard and it requires people doing things to change it.)

            1. Kelsi*

              Change is hard even when EVERYBODY is on board.

              We’ve been going through a major culture shift at my org for the last few years–the old culture was created primarily by people who have since left, and we had new leadership take over after a retirement. When the new president took over, one of the major things she did was poll the staff about culture stuff and really dig deep, and then make a plan for how things were going to change based on everyone’s feedback.

              Three? Four? years on you can definitely see the difference, and it’s all good change, but we’ve barely scratched the surface. And this was with everyone (at least publicly) agreeing on what we wanted, and then actively working towards it.

              Previous leadership always paid lip service to fostering the kind of environment we’re working for now, but never actually did anything to encourage it (and in some cases, actively and intentionally discouraged it). If everyone’s not rowing the same direction, the boat’s not moving forward.

              1. sstabeler*

                the way I would explain it is that everyone being on board with a culture change is a prerequisite for to to POTENTIALLY succeed- however, it isn’t enough by itself.

                and unfortunately, there is a reason why there’s a saying that some new ideas get accepted because all their detractors have died off (you can substitute retired/been fired- the point is that the idea outlasts it’s detractors)- some cultures are so ingrained that that particular group of employees won’t change.

      2. Fergus Formerly Known as the Artist Fergus*


        The reason the employees wanted him to take the job is when the crap hits the fan, they could all blame him and have him on the PIP and write him up, and he loses his job. Now they don’t have that and sooner or later the chickens will come home to roost.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously; these folks seem totally unhinged. (Not saying they’re unhinged, but their behavior is so bizarrely invested and out of the norm that it seems pretty alarming.)

      1. OP*

        This round of job hunting was the first time I’ve interviewed with organizations/people that I had personal relationships with before (or, more personalized professional relationships, I guess?) So I initially wrote off their enthusiasm during the interview process as inappropriate, but well-intentioned. The conference tipped it over for me.

        1. Observer*

          I can imagine. I was thinking that this information must have confirmed for you that you amed the right choice!

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            Yeah, and I think that second in command dude is beyond borderline. Planting himself at LW’s table without being invited and launching into a harangue about how they should have taken the job? Give me a freaking break!

            Bullet dodged, indeed.

        2. Hey Nonnie*

          If you can afford to burn the bridge, I’d be inclined to say flat-out to the next person who accosts me about the job “I won’t consider it because your entire staff were aggressively rude and hostile to me at [conference] about this job, and it was incredibly unprofessional. I will not work in a place that finds that kind of behavior normal or acceptable.”

          I mean, what other answer IS there than the other offer was better? Accept it and move on.

          Don’t do this if your industry is small and/or gossipy, or if this place is in a position to impact your reputation. Or if you’d ever consider working there in the future, though I expect that ship has officially sailed.

          But me, I have little patience for making nice with folks who don’t feel the same obligation to me.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            I’m the same way, and your script would be what I’d most likely say (actually, I’d probably just say, “What part of ‘no’ was unclear to you people?” and call it a day).

            1. designbot*

              I’d probably keep it simple as well, something like, “You’re really not helping your case by continuing to push me on this.”

    3. Fergus Formerly Known as the Artist Fergus*

      He didn’t just dodge a bullet, he dodged a full on spray from an AR-15. Those people are drama llamas, if I was him and I saw any of them I would run the other way, they are kooks.

      1. Artemesia*

        Alison gives lovely tactful responses to any further overtures; let me suggest the less tactful ‘you have to be kidding me!’

        1. Julia the Survivor*

          I don’t like this for other reasons. It can be very hurtful, and why hurt people when it’s not necessary? These people are already messed up. Why add to their pain?
          It’s fun to imagine saying such things, but in real life I would try to be as kind as possible getting the point across.

      2. Wehaf*

        I find this phrasing really insensitive. “Dodging a bullet” has a long history as a purely metaphorical phrase, to the extent that nobody uses it to describe actually dodging a literal bullet. But “full on spray from an AR-15” has no such context, even when used in conjunction with “dodging a bullet” – it conjures up nothing but imagery of horrific violence with reference to a specific episode of mass violence/mass murder. Maybe we should stay away from using it to refer to anything else.

        1. Tara2*

          Agreed. Especially since there are many less-specific but equally effective options, that other people have used here.

          1. Former Employee*

            Thank you for your service.

            I’m glad you are happy in your new job.

            Most of the time, we have no idea as to the outcome of the path not taken. The behavior of the people at the other company says it all.

        2. Tassie Tiger*

          Hm, interesting…I didn’t get that sense at all. To me it reads as being playful with a trite saying.

          1. Airy*

            Given recent tragic events involving an actual AR-15 I think it’s not surprising people feel uncomfortable with that particular term being used playfully. Even if the intention was innocently playful, hearing that it landed badly with many readers justifies dropping it from future use.

          2. paul*

            I’m not particularly sensitive about firearms stuff (I’ve got…~2 dozen different guns including a few ARs set up for different use cases) but holy shit, really?

          3. Wehaf*

            I think some of the comments later (dodged a cannon ball, dodged an atomic bomb) are “being playful with a trite saying”. But the only reason the vast majority of people know what AR-15s are and what they can do, and basically the only context in which they have been discussed in the public sphere since Feb. 14, is because one was just notoriously used to murder 17 innocent people. The AR-15, right now, is inextricably linked with a very recent, very upsetting tragedy; given that context, “being playful” when talking about them is very insensitive, at best.

            1. RVA Cat*

              Exactly. It reminds me of the letter about the edgelord-hole who made a crass 9-11 joke – to someone who was directly affected.

        3. Marvel*

          Yeah this threw me too. I did a double-take at the computer like, “Did someone really just type that?”

        4. Wintermute*

          I disagree entirely, it’s a turn of phrase. I’m clearly in the minority here but I want to put my voice up in opposition to the pile-on.

          1. neutral nancy*

            I would call this constructive feedback, not a pile on. Nobody is calling the commenter a bad person, the suggestion is just to avoid using such a specific metaphor in the future.

        5. The Strand*

          Please read the commenting rules, e.g. not engaging in criticism of word choices. There are many times we offend each other on the blog. Question is whether continuing to discuss is helping overall resolution of problem. Let’s assume Fergus meant good faith, move on.

          1. Kendra*

            I do appreciate that it was brought up, though. I at first wouldn’t have understood that it was offensive and why, so I’m glad someone mentioned so that I or anyone else who didn’t think about it too hard don’t file it away as a useful phrase for later.

    4. Close Bracket*

      > ‘change the culture, but we don’t want to deal with any of the actual things that make the culture suck.’

      I took that job, once. I was eventually fired from that job, so that’s how that worked out. Oh boy, did I learn that lesson.

      1. LazyHolidayMondays*

        My husband had the same thing happen to him. Headhunted, please do great research for us…and fix the culture. The people he was to fix wanted nothing to do with it or him. With no support, he found himself on a PIP instead. So he quit. He’s still bitter.

    5. turquoises*

      Right?? That was exactly the phrase that came to my mind… like, beginning of the second paragraph, accompanied by trumpets and kazoos. DODGED A BULLET. Good job, OP!

  2. Murphy*

    Next you will look out your window and see them standing there holding up a boombox, a la Lloyd Dobler.

    HAHAHAHA! That was great. Thank you for that.

    You could try giving them a pen next time you see them…

  3. caledonia*

    John Cusack reference for the win!

    I’m sorry but they are taking this waaaaay too personally. Like, it’s just business.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I’m guessing the #2 person knows that it is probably kind of personal, in that OP really didn’t want to deal with them specifically, and that’s why they’re so bent out of shape and spreading drama. I feel like that #2 person is the source of all of this.

      1. justsomeone*

        Part of me really wants to know how the “second in command” person would have reacted to the OP directly saying “You. You are the reason I turned this job down and the reason the culture is so bad. Please leave me alone and think about what you’ve done.”

        1. whingedrinking*

          It reminds me of a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic, where Person A says, “I’m sorry, but our relationship is over. We’ve just drifted apart.” Person B responds, “Please, I need to know! Just tell me why you’re ending it!” “Because you’re selfish, vain, egotistical and becoming less attractive to me every day.” “…you’re right, we’ve drifted apart.”

      2. OP*

        The sad thing is that I really do like #2 – I worked with him during the consult. I just can’t imagine supervising him. I think he saw me as his hand-picked candidate, and really wanted me to be his boss. He may be taking it personally, but I suspect it has more to do with that.

        1. SophieChotek*

          So he hand-picked you to be his boss…but it sounds like he doesn’t/would not have really wanted to make changes (or doesn’t realize he is a huge part of the problem)? Yep, like other said – sounds like a bullet dodged.

          1. OP*

            He absolutely doesn’t realize. He specifically came up when I met with that bigwig I was asking about emailing, so they are aware of his behavior. One of my interview questions was about how to manage him back into professional norms (and I used a lot of what I have read here!). But I’m not sure if that boss actually realizes how pervasive it is.

            1. OklahomaSpeaks*

              Are there any gender dynamics at play with management? Like, is #2 considered a go getter instead of overbearing and rude?

            2. PB*

              One of my interview questions was about how to manage him back into professional norms

              Cue a whole parade of red flags. Wow.

              1. Artemesia*

                No kidding. THEY hired him and keep him and they don’t want to manage him but think it can magically happen with a new manager who doesn’t really have their support to manage him. Cue jaws music.

              2. Falling Diphthong*

                “I would have him kidnapped by a pack of bronies, then fed buckets of Ben and Jerrys while watching Sparkle Twinkle until he was pliant. Then, the elves come out…”

            3. BethRA*

              How can they not realize it if they are asking interview questions about him? They flat-out said they wanted you to “fix the culture.”

              Based on that, telling them about #2’s extra interview nonsense is a waste of time. They know he’s an issue and they’ve made a decision not to deal with it.

            4. hermit crab*

              One of my interview questions was about how to manage him back into professional norms (and I used a lot of what I have read here!).

              I’m so curious about what you said! Would you mind sharing?

              1. OP*

                Ah, gosh, its been six months. I talked about how it seemed he had set up a personality cult. A lot of the information was being stored at the top, so when things didn’t break their way, he was able to paint it as outsiders not liking their division, rather than other objectives being given priority (which is what it was). I picked up on the fact that a number of the employees in that division were using a an oddly formulated word choice to describe people working against their division – and he used that terminology A LOT, but it wasn’t the way it would normally be described by people who had a background in the field. (his is a bit unorthodox – he’s got a lot of good skills that are transferable, which is why he is 2ic, and doesn’t want/wouldnt be considered for the manager role.)

                I focused on 1) sharing information so that external factors are manageable, and not scary, 2) redefining the division’s identity as a team player, rather than the division outshining all others, which makes him/them untouchable and creates an environment where they expect to be prioritized over all the other divisions, 3) focusing his personal development on developing skills that are needed in our industry, and that people coming up within it would normally develop (My impression is that he got a lot of “he’s not one of us, so he just doesn’t understand” and he hit his targets, so they let it slide), and 4) setting clear expectations of culture – i.e., how he interacts, what he expects of subordinates, and providing actual feedback on that.

                I was in the military before I made the jump, so my one on ones tend to be very personal/professional development based, and I tend to give a lot of qualitative AND quantitative feedback. I am working on my instincts which are to always address such issues privately, and off-line, unless its a safety/perception issue. I need to work on not needing formal structure for such things.

                1. Mayati*

                  Daaaang, they should have paid you as a consultant for that.

                  Also, can I work for you? You sound awesome.

                2. OP*

                  For some reason, I can’t respond directly to your comments, but the industry is higher education. I was so vague because my normal comment name + this would probably give folks in the know a good idea of who I was. (I had a friend who was at the conference with me ask me about this post last night.)

                  And I’m actually the lowest ranking in my chain of command at the current job right now, but I’ll be hiring for three positions in the next year!

            5. Jesca*

              You cannot “manage someone back into professional norms” without putting them through some really PIP type things. It sounds like they let an ego monster grow but getting rid of him is not on the table. Not everyone needs to be managed with the threat of being fired, but some people do. Those people are generally people who are not getting it. This guy falls into that category. You definitely dodged a bullet.

            6. Elizabeth West*

              If they can’t manage him back into professional norms by themselves, what makes them think you can? Sheesh.
              THEY are part of the reason he isn’t behaving.

            7. Close Bracket*

              > One of my interview questions was about how to manage him back into professional norms (and I used a lot of what I have read here!).

              Was this a question from him? If so, O.o

              If not, still O.o

        2. Lil Fidget*

          Yeah but my instinct is that he’s stoking it with all these other people who seem so hot and bothered about it, by bringing it up or sicking them on you. I’m not sure why I got the sense from the letter, but there’s my assessment.

  4. Matilda Jefferies*

    I suppose you could ask why they care so much, but I have a feeling they would tell you, and then you’d *never* be out of the conversation!

    But you could always make it a statement, if you really do need to push back against someone with a boom box: “I’m not sure why you’re this invested in my career decisions, but I made the decision that was best for me, and I’m not open to discussing it any further. How about that Sportsball?”

    Good luck, though. This sounds exhausting!

    1. BeautifulVoid*

      I guess channeling Regina George and asking “Why are you so obsessed with me?” isn’t the most professional response….

      1. FlexitimeCanSuckSometimes*

        I was just about to say that. It seems like the people in the company were looking at OP like a fairy godmother to come and solve all the problems they had.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      Dude. That would be like asking the toxic, narcissistic relative why they are they way they are, when really what you need to be doing is going no-contact with them. OP, how I wish you could go no-contact with this company. These people are bonkers. “Thanks for asking; I had several offers and chose the best fit, and I’m happy there, so I’m off the market” is about to become your mantra. Do not deviate.

  5. CatCat*

    Oh my gosh, cannon ball dodged!!

    If anyone catches you in a place you can’t leave and still can’t take a clue after all these scripts, just directly shut that down, “I ‘m not open to discussing this further. Thanks for respecting that.” Or anyone who is such a loon that they follow you around and interrupt your privacy (I mean… sitting down at your dinner table uninvited (!)), “I’m not available to [eat with you/whatever with the person there] so I’m going to have to ask you to please leave.”

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah nobody can make you continue a discussion that you don’t want to have – especially somebody that you don’t want to work for anyway!

    2. ReanaZ*

      Or if you don’t care to tank the relationship: “Literally this behaviour right here.” Stare blankly in silence til he goes away.

      1. OP*

        I’ve been trying to avoid that – despite all this, they were my first independent consulting gig, and they’ve been good about recommending me since then. Part of the reason I wrote in was that I was struggling with how to not cut those ties – I may not want to work for them, but I enjoy the work they’ve sent my way!

        1. No Mas Pantalones*

          I was just thinking of opening up a compact and facing the mirror towards his face without a word.

        2. Lady Sybil*

          I’ve had a somewhat similar situation with a person (and their organisation) who played an important role when I was starting out in my career, has lots of great qualities and would be marvellous to work with if only they were a different person. The tangle of gratitude and goodwill on the one hand, the wtf factor on the other, and the need to coexist in the shared industry on the third (running out of hands here …) is not always an easy one to sort out.
          FWIW, I’ve found it got much, much easier once I decided that if I wanted the relationship not to explode, I couldn’t think of them as a friend. This took a while (because see above re: gratitude and great qualities, and because we *had* been friendly), but deciding that really helped me to establish and enforce good professional boundaries. I won’t lie, there was a difficult(TM) adjustment period. However, we now have a cool-yet-cordial-enough working relationship (it also helps that we don’t work together all the time!), and they’re good about acknowledging my expertise and recommending me.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          You know, OP, I have family members who ask the same question repeatedly.

          It’s fine to say, “I have answered that question already and I will not answer it again. Is there another topic you would like to discuss?”
          They ask again.
          You say, “Hmm. I have already answered that question. I won’t keep answering it.”
          They ask again.
          You say, “I have answered that question and I have discussed this topic as much as I can.

          Some folks need to hear the same answer 3-4 times before they hear it for the first time. While you can vary your statements slightly, as it feels less rude, you can still say the same basic message over and over.

          Here’s what I did:
          Family member # 1 : Will you do X on Wednesday?
          Me; Yes, I will do X on Wednesday.
          Family member 2: #1 said you would do X on Wednesday.
          Me: Yes, I will do X on Wednesday.
          Family member #3: Will you do X on Wednesday?
          Me: I told #1 and #2 that I WILL do X on Wednesday.
          Family member #2: Are you sure you will do X on Wednesday?
          Me: It’s not a big deal. I will do X on Wednesday.
          Family member #1: Are you still on track to do X on Wednesday?
          At this point, I want to throw the phone. But I didn’t.
          Me: Look on Wednesday and you will see that I have done X. This is the fifth call I have had about this, you can stop asking me.

          It was the same people who did this regarding a legal matter earlier. It had almost a stalkerish feel to it because they did not seem to comprehend my answers. I finally called their attorney and asked him to instruct his clients to quit calling me and asking me about the legal matter. There was nothing I could do about the legal matter. The attorney quickly agreed there was nothing I could do and he said he would speak to them. So that ended that round. A few months later the same behavior started up regarding my promise to do X on Wednesday.

          Match what is coming at you, OP. If the questions do not stop then up your game plan. People in meltdown tend to need to be told clearly and directly that answer is no.

          1. designbot*

            “I think I’ve been clear about this already, let’s not keep rehashing it.”

        4. FD*

          Yeah, I think responses like that aren’t something you really should do…but it can be fun to fantasize about it when giving a bland but firm boundary-setting answer.

      2. Airy*

        That would be so, so satisfying. It’s not even rude but damn does it get to the point.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Oh I like that so much, but would be hard to pull off outside my fantasy.

      1. Lindsay J*

        But they were all understanding about him leaving again and again and again.

        They would have loved him to work for them and were creepily enthusiastic about it, but didn’t interrogate him about why he went somewhere else instead.

  6. FieldBiologist*

    Yeah, I totally agree with Alison’s advice. If they’re being this weird about it though, I might briefly mention it to my manager – just to be clear you sent enforcing them or thinking of leaving. I’m very happy here, no intention of leaving, not sure what their issue is.

    1. OP*

      I’ve actually had a couple of weird run ins since that round of hiring – I sat next to another company I had turned down at the same time, at a conference the month before – but they were a lot of fun, and I ended up playing pool with them a couple nights at the conference. I’ve kept my boss in the loop the whole time, because it all just seemed so strange!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is interesting. It sounds like you are pretty popular. You might want to prepare for more of these types of conversations with random people in the future.

        We are a rural area. There are not a lot of contractors, so when good weather hits the contractors around here are buried in work. They all kind of speak the same way:
        “I cannot take on more work right now. I am over extended as it is.”
        “I cannot do your project because I am in the middle of a three month project.”
        “If you can find someone else, you should because I will not be available for the next five months.”

        Now these statements don’t fit your exact setting, however the overall idea holds up well. Have your go-to statements ready so you are not blindsided by these requests.

        There are probably articles and books about how people who are in high demand handle this stuff. I am sure Alison has a number of pointers herself, just from her own experiences.
        People who are in high demand get to chose which projects or companies they want to work for. It’s just a fact of life. It almost sounds like you did not expect such a reaction. But now that you know it can happen from time to time, you can prepare.

        In my area, many groups of people get hit like this. Yard equipment repair people get hit hard. I guess someone stayed open for 24 hours during this last storm so people could come in. I think they had about 6 techs on standby just waiting round the clock. (Actually working their tails off, the demand was probably very high.) Landscape companies go through this, too. I have a long list of examples. Businesses do or should write out plans what to do if the business takes off and they get mobbed with customers. For an individual like yourself, you will probably need a plan for this new level of “demand” or interest in your work abilities.

        1. OP*

          These are great building blocks – and I actually used your example today when coaching someone else – so thank you!

    2. Pollygrammer*

      And so your current job/field will take anything negative they ever happen to say about you with several metric tons of salt.

  7. Myrin*

    Who are these people??
    Seriously, OP, you made good calls all throughout this entire über-weird situation – that is extremely admirable! I don’t have much of substance to say other than that I’m sure you’ll be able to extricate yourself from them sooner or later. But oh my, what an unnecessary situation to begin with!

  8. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    As crazy as #2 sounds, I’m also shocked at the person who got mad at you for NOT taking her job! I mean…who does that???? As if it’s someone else’s responsibility to get her out of her job?

    As satisfying as it would be to tell the top guy that his Cmdr Riker is nuts, I would stay out of it. The more you give them, the more they will demand. These kind of people only view reasons as invitations to change your mind.

    1. OP*

      That was honestly the weirder one for me. When I was describing it to my friends, I alluded to “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE.” I’m not sure why it was so personal.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Just remember that Anakin was the Chosen One as well & look what happened there.

        Congrats on a job well dodged.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Harry Potter was the Chosen One too, and boy was that a thankless job. Nobody wants “Must transform toxic culture into healthy one while managing Voldemort” as a career path.

      2. Observer*

        I suspect that it’s a sign of the larger dysfunction at this place. How many letters have we seen from people who feel guilty about leaving their organization and / or being pulled in to help with “transitions” that never seem to end? The former manager may have justified (in her head or to upper management) that her leaving was “ok because OP will take over and she’s REALLY good”. Now that the OP has turned the position down, it becomes her “responsibility” again.

        1. OP*

          She left almost a year before I interviewed – they actually failed the first search, because they realized they needed to restructure the qualification in light of the massive reorg they were expecting. The former manager also didn’t even know that I had been the candidate they loved until the conference.

          1. Observer*

            Oh my! You REALLY were smart to not take that job. That level of enmeshment is just weird. And I say that as someone who works for an organization that has kept some pretty strong ties with a number of former staff people. This is just waaaay out.

    2. Scubacat*

      That’s not Commander Will Rikker! It’s transporter clone Thomas Rikker!

      If I was Captain Picard, I’d want to know that my ship was compromised by a T. Rikker loon.

      Perhaps the organization is run by Maquis? They’re looking for the OP to win the Dominion War for them. Sorry rebels, the OP cannot come up with a plan to deal with the Cardassians.

        1. The Expendable Redshirt*

          Look up the Cardassians vs Kardashians meme. It’s hilarious.
          Either way ( invading Cardassians /Kardashians/clones ), the OP dodged major phaser fire.

  9. synchrojo*

    The pop culture reference I thought of while reading this question was the accounting firm that Ben Wyatt kept turning down on Parks and Recreation. But at least they accepted rejection gracefully!

    1. Mikasa*

      I always felt so bad for them! “Ben, you’re back! Oh… you’re leaving again… ok…”

  10. arcya*

    Straight on you can deal with pushy jerks like these exactly like you would a guy you decided not to date who now wants you to “justify” it: do not justify, argue, defend or explain, do not let them dictate the topic of conversation when you must interact, specifically call out rude behavior when they insist on bringing it up in front of others. This is not, like, a negotiation because they have nothing to bring to the table but whining.

    1. Mike C.*

      I’m with you here. I’m really uncomfortable with all the softening language and fake pleasantries when we start getting to the point of someone sitting at your private table in a restaurant or continually hounding you at a conference.

      With the conference issue, I almost wonder (presuming the OP had a time machine) if the OP should have gone to an organizer and complained “about attendees from a particular company refusing to leave her alone”. It’s a tough judgement call based on a lot of information we don’t have, and some of the activity happened outside of the conference, but I can imagine that the last thing conference organizers would want are attendees who act like this.

      1. OP*

        So I (and the person who used to be in the job) are actually on the board that organized it! Its a pretty small conference (maybe 500 people), and, given the industry involved, I would have received support based on my reputation, but alienated one of the larger names in the industry. At the time, I didn’t consider it worth the effort. Honestly, despite my exasperation, I found it a little funny. I’m not that impressive credentials/experience wise – I just think quickly on my feet!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Thinking quickly on your feet stands alone. That will draw people to you. Just a head’s up on that.

      2. LouiseM*

        I don’t know about this. You’re right, these people are *waaaaay* out of line, but I think complaining to the conference organizers will just make the OP come off like a Major Drama Llama (even though she is in the right).

  11. Chai*

    I’m less worried about someone showing up outside OP’s house with a boombox, than I am about OP waking up with a severed horse’s head in their bed. The people from Company A are way overreacting to someone turning down their offer.

  12. Liane*

    What I want to know is why the Previous Person in that position was so personally insulted in OP turning them down? I can see current Dysfunction Dept. staff acting out that way, as an example of how serious work-dysfunction ruins people’s sense of what decent/professional/normal behavior is. But the person who had the role before? Maybe she signed a bizarre contract with Co. A that she had to return to work for them if they didn’t find a replacement within X months?

    1. OP*

      My guess was because she had been the first director of the department, and hired everyone to work there – and had a hand in the creation of a lot of those departments that they want to stick under her successor. That said, I don’t have any exceedingly special qualifications that set me apart. (Besides competency, from what I heard about the other candidates.)

      1. Myrin*

        I don’t have any exceedingly special qualifications that set me apart. (Besides competency, from what I heard about the other candidates.)
        You. I like you.

      2. Weyrwoman*

        That said, I don’t have any exceedingly special qualifications that set me apart. (Besides competency, from what I heard about the other candidates.)

        These two sentences are pretty much how I got my first office job! (They even told me so after I started….which in hindsight is A Flag.)

    2. Bea*

      Maybe they’re calling her sobbing about how her replacement they had banked on refused the offer…

      I’ve had former bosses try to buy me so that I wouldn’t leave. Then sob about the hardships of replacing me.

      At least they were all loveable and I cackled at the whole thing. I didn’t try to track down someone to fill the spot let alone freak out when someone didn’t pan out. I can see it happening though for someone who isn’t built like me, I’m a duck, it all rolls off my back and I swim away cackling every time.

      I guess the person I replaced awhile back got called back to help out when they couldn’t find someone to slip into my spot when I essentially walked out. They’re lucky in that case since she agreed, God only knows why.

  13. Sara without an H*

    Whiskey, tango, foxtrot…OP, I can see why you might have been tempted to take this on, but you made a very wise choice to go elsewhere. Fixing this level of dysfunction would take much more than bringing in a new manager.
    Enjoy your new position in Company B!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Am chuckling. The first thing you would have to do, OP, is to teach them not to beg in restaurants. Public begging is really not a good look.

  14. G. Percival Burdell*

    @paul is right. You outran an artillery barrage. KEEP RUNNING. Those bunnies are VORPAL, and will eat you for breakfast if you let’em.

    Depending on subsequent behaviour, you might even consider dusting off and nuking that bridge from orbit. I mean, I’ve run into some pretty dysfunctional *people*, but when the whole *organisation* acts that way… set course for Betazed, Commander. WARP NINE.

    1. here goes*

      I dunno, I think after dealing with people like this Betzed is the last place I’d want to go! What was the planet where everyone was happy and Wesley almost got murdered? Or where Picard went on vacation? Go to those!

      1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

        I don’t know where Wesley almost got murdered (lots of places?…) but Risa is THE vacation spot in the galaxy!

        1. here goes*

          Found it – murdered isn’t the best phrase, the episode was Justice, and the planet was Rubicun III. And yes, Risa was the one I was thinking of. Go to Risa!

  15. jk*

    Good god. They really like you, really really like you. You must be good at what you do. Consider it a compliment and if you have any pet bunnies, please check in on them.

    Seriously though, they will let it go if you reply with Alison’s suggestions. It may take some time.

  16. Boredatwork*

    OP – These people sound very intense, the good news is that once they hire someone your problems will hopefully go away. I agree with Alison’s advice about saying that you’re no longer looking and very happy in your position. I’ve had to do this in my profession where competition is very intense and I get offered jobs regularly at conferences. I just politely say how happy I am and try to move on.

    1. OP*

      One of the interesting things about this is when I originally turned it down, I told them I would be happy to disseminate their posting through my networks if they needed to search again. Since then, I can’t imagine recommending the job to anyone I was friends with or wanted to stay friends with.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I understand that you don’t want to burn any bridges. But it seems to me that they have burned a lot of bridges with you.
        After your first refusal, they could have asked you to help them find someone. And you could have said, “I will keep my ears open, but no promises that I will find someone for you. I can try that is all I can do.” And everyone could have walked away happy. But NO. They could not do that.

  17. Chaordic One*

    There has to be a way to use the phrase “dumpster fire” in describing this situation. In any case, you made the right decision in avoiding this situation. What odd people who work there.

  18. mf*

    Imagine if you had accepted the job, worked there a while, and then tried to resign! They’d have gonna bananas!

    I agree with Alison’s approach but I will say that the next time someone corners you in an inappropriate way (like at a restaurant), you should definitely tell them to back off in a polite way. “Excuse me, I’m having dinner here, and this is not the time or place to discuss my decision to turn down your company’s offer.”

  19. Cassandra*

    I get vibes like Danny Rand fully expecting Jessica Jones to come save him from the Hand?

    Like, OP is somehow this place’s personal superhero-on-call? And superheroes ALWAYS answer The Call.

    That’s Netflix, not reality… and walking into an employment situation that apparently expects superheroics is practically always a bad move. I hope they get over themselves and leave you alone, OP… not least for the sake of whatever hapless cape they actually convince to take the position.

    1. OP*

      That was a large part of what tipped me away from them. (Although I do love the new job!) I was kind of taken aback by being treated like the savior during the offer and negotiation stage.

  20. Bea*

    What a nightmare! Next you’ll find they have your office all set up for you…like a shrine…they just need to lure you in and you’ll see what you’re missing out on!

  21. Stranger than fiction*

    I am quite shocked there’s so many people at one organization with the balls to confront a person about something like this, let alone one person!

  22. LouiseM*

    I hope this isn’t too off-topic, but this letter just reminds me that we are so lucky to be in a commenting community where people are such superstars in their field that people are *literally* chasing them down to try to hire them, and they still take so much time out of their days to leave such long, incredible comments on AAM just to try to help others. We are blessed here!

    OP, it sounds like you really dodged a downpour of bullets here. Good for you for standing firm! People who won’t take no for an answer are not people you want to work with. Who knows what else they will do?

  23. Adlib*

    I like the title of the post, honestly. I didn’t realize until reading the letter how true that was!!

  24. MassMatt*

    While the people at this company definitely have serious boundary issues, it sounds like both they AND another company you turned down really want you. You sound like quite the rock star, congratulations!

  25. k.k*

    Holy moly aioli…the hits just kept on coming with this one! If there was any small chance you’d consider them again, they sure did a great job messing that up.

  26. NW Mossy*

    Just like we always say that candidates shouldn’t get heart-set on a particular job, the same goes the other direction!

    It feels like this organization built the OP up in their minds as The One Who Will Save Us, and now that this isn’t happening, they literally have no plan for how they’re going to go forward and it’s kind of making their brains shut down a little bit to realize that it’s actually on them to get their stuff straight. That’s….sobering, I think.

    1. Cassandra*

      I was so relieved to be able to tell the chair of the search committee for a position in my department that I would honestly be happy with any of the finalists.

      In the end we landed my first choice… but I do prefer a strong field; less failed-search disruption.

    2. Anon Anon*

      I read it the same way that the organization that built the OP as ” The One Who Will Save Us”, and so now have no idea what to do next. And almost no one can live up to those sorts of expectations. As long as that organization is looking for a departmental savior they will either put off great candidates like the OP or they will hire okay or crappy candidates who will disappoint them and won’t make it more than a year or two in the position.

  27. Overeducated needs a new name*

    This is so bizarre! The common (generally true) wisdom is that everyone is replaceable, our jobs won’t miss us as much as we hope/fear when we leave, but this is just totally the opposite. Like OP is the only person in the entire universe who could do that job, so they can’t take no for an answer or they will never be able to fill it again. So weird.

    1. Overeducated needs a new name*

      PS OP, I don’t doubt at all that you are great at what you do, and hope my comment didn’t come off that way – it’s just that usually we see the fixation on only one possibility from the candidate side, not the employer.

      1. OP*

        No, I know what you mean! Its a very large company in a pretty big city. I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t have any truly exceptional qualities (I am qualified, but thats mostly luck), and compared to the person who had it before, I’m a little less experienced. I think one of the things that threw me was that I could understand during the offer and negotiation phase why they wanted me, but I couldn’t figure out why they wanted me THAT MUCH.

        1. BoredNerd*

          Were they trying to fill this position for awhile? or have had they had trouble filling other positions?

          I could easily imagine a scenario where they’re company culture and behavior is turning people away very early in the interview process, and they end up in a situation where they can’t get very qualified or experiences people because of that, which might explain their desperation.

  28. miyeritari*

    Nothing is better than being immediately confirmed you made the right choice, like avoiding these bozos.

  29. Galatea*

    Holy cats, OP!

    You said upthread you wanted to maintain the relationships; for that, being a cheerful and polite grey rock/a very happy in her position broken record is for the best, but I’d have a real hard time not responding with less wisdom and more truth.

      1. Jeannie Nitro*

        For the record, I’m pretty sure the “grey rock” is referring to the specific technique for dealing with toxic people. I can’t link but if you google “grey rock technique” you’ll find it pretty quick.

  30. McWhadden*

    This reminds me of the Accounting firm from Parks and Rec that keeps trying to hire Ben.

  31. Lurker*

    The thing is, I can see from the way you phrased the OP and your replies in the comment thread why they wanted you. You seem to genuinely like and have a positive relationship with these people, and to be willing to engage with them constructively without being blind to their flaws. This is in contrast to maybe 99% of the respondents who regard the situation as a toxic waste dump to be avoided at all costs (and it’s possible that the percentage among interviewees may be similar). So I can see why you might have been tempted in a kind of Mission Impossible sense, although it does sound like your decision was correct.

    I suspect what we are seeing here is the reverse of the ‘I thought things went great, why don’t they want to hire me?’ letters. You probably performed sufficiently well in the interviews that they thought it was a fait accompli and got ahead of themselves (they probably already ordered your nameplate). So now they have a bad case of jilted lover syndrome – one of the more aggressive variants, where they claim you were wrong to break up with them and they’re sure you would realize it if you would only listen to them for a moment.

    The solution is the same as it would be in that case. Be kind but firm. Don’t entertain any discussion of your decision-making process or indulge any of their attempts to relitigate it. Set the tone of the relationship you want to have with them in future and let them adjust to it in their own time. Be prepared to take any necessary steps to protect yourself if they cross the line.

    1. Marthooh*

      Yes! It’s like a Bizzaro World version of those job candidates who are absolutely sure nobody else could be as well qualified as they are.

  32. MommyMD*

    You are not obligated to answer these pushy questions. A simple “I accepted a job that was a better fit for me” suffices. If they rudely persist, “I already addressed this. Case closed”. This is not rude when dealing with insufferable people.

  33. This Daydreamer*

    My jaw dropped reading this. Are they farking serious? Are they a cult? Are they going to slip something into your drink so they can kidnap you and force you into the job? Are you going to need to get a restraining order? Go into witness protection? I have so many questions.

    Cut off contact. Do not engage. And for the love of kittens DON’T EVER CONSIDER WORKING THERE. Yeesh.

    1. OP*

      Whats interesting is that given what I saw of company A, outside of that division, I had it on my list of “if another job opens up down the road, go there!” Another company that was in the mix early on had such a toxic boss that it turned me off of the whole company. Based on my interactions with people from both companies at conferences since I made that decision, I’ve reversed my opinions!

  34. SophieK*

    I find that slightly cryptic answers that throw a monkey wrench into the brain of the asker work well. These people are approaching the OP in this way because he has not made it uncomfortable to do so.

    In this case I would say something like “oh, I got the feeling it wasn’t a good cultural fit! Coming from the military I much prefer working inside a well oiled machine with people who follow orders!” (Hint, hint–you people are Office Destructors.)

    Since I’m a 47 year old fluffy bunny who looks much younger I use bright, sunny “yeah, you’re going in the wrong direction” statements a lot. It doesn’t make me any friends, but my goal is to get them to STAHP. NOW.

  35. Kevlar*

    Wow…talk about ridiculous. I can’t believe the level of entitlement to seek someone out and demand they justify themselves as if they committed a cardinal sin. Granted, I don’t know the full context and maybe it was less aggressive than I’m perceiving it to be, but still…

    Good on you OP for going with your gut and resisting any external pressure to sway you otherwise. I can’t imagine what it’d be like dealing with problems at that company considering how each person had to give you their two cents on a decision you made. I have a feeling that would be recurring.

  36. Sara without an H*

    I once accepted a position running a department where they wanted a “change agent,” i.e. somebody who would fix all the problems without changing anything. I was actually pretty successful, not solving everything, but making real progress overall. Why? Because the Associate Dean I reported to (this was in an academic library), was a heavyweight with a national reputation and a low tolerance for crap. She made it known that she had my back, and we were able to bulldoze our way through a lot of craziness.

    OP, it doesn’t sound as though whoever they finally bamboozle into that position will have that kind of support from senior management. You made the right decision. When you see these people in the future, just smile sweetly and say, “It was a tough decision.”

  37. CAndy*

    “We want you to change the culture” is doublespeak for, “We’ve been trying to fix this mess for years and we can’t.”
    As a few people have said above, I took that hook once and regretted it from the first day.

    1. Garlicpress*

      I think it’s worse. It’s “we can’t or won’t see what’s wrong so we will invoke the nebulous concept of ‘culture’ because that’s hot right now”

    2. LBK*

      To me, it translates to “We know that ‘fixing the culture’ will require holding people accountable in a way that we’re not comfortable with, so we want to hire you to be the bad guy.” I’ve been on two teams where the culture was fixed and it was done by bringing in entirely new management and then more or less cleaning house. It was ugly and required full support of upper management, and it doesn’t sound like that existed here.

      1. OP*

        It was a little more insulting than that – the culture issue revolved around some sexism/racism issues. I have impeccable credentials for what these folks evaluate others on, but I am visibly a minority – I’m a lesbian, and although I look white, I grew up with my latinx family and spoke Spanish at home. While I apparently impressed professionally (I definitely check all the boxes for academic and professional achievements), I also think that their version of fixing the culture basically revolved around getting the division to see that a queer bilingual female could do the job too.

  38. CM*

    Resist the impulse to get further involved by offering more explanations or advice for their hiring process! I think it’s time to just smile like you assume they’re joking when they demand reasons and cry about you not taking their offer.

  39. Camellia*

    If second-in-command ever approaches you again, I would say, “You probably should be glad I didn’t take the job because my first act would be to fire you,” just to see what his reaction would be.

    But then, I’m evil that way.

  40. SpaceNovice*

    OP#4: Just some observations. Hope that I didn’t over-edit this to be too short!

    Company A has shown personnel issues (they’re bothering you in hostile ways!), you can clearly see resistance to change, they’re fostering off all the work onto one person, the change they want is far reaching and needs employee buy-in, and they’re obviously setting someone up for failure (and blame) when they can’t manage the culture change. They’re self-aware enough to know there’s a problem but not self-aware enough to actually fix the problem by looking at where the issues lie, and the way they are treating you now is actively hostile–the same hostility that would likely be fostered on anyone making and forcing changes. In order to fix a company like that, you’d need a lot of power and a team that has your back, which you wouldn’t have, and it might not even be successful even with the best team someone could put together.

    You were right to not go with them. Definitely stick to brief explanations as suggested by Alison because they can’t handle the truth. Bullet dodged!

  41. Runner*

    I wonder what people are asking that has OP interpreting them as asking to justify why she didn’t take the job? Because I’ve never heard anyone actually say that before. And I might have asked people in the past, “Oh, why didn’t you take the job?” That has never been in regard to a job at my own company, but even if it were, I’d be taken aback if someone thought that was in any way asking them to justify turning a job down.

    1. OP*

      The 2ic literally said “You were so good, and we wanted you. Why didn’t you take it??” (This was after a polite acknowledgement of me not taking it had happened in a public area during the conference) He also attempted to explain away and rationalize the reasons I offered, which he rehashed again when he emailed me to see if I would apply again to the new opening.

  42. BoundarySetter*

    I would recommend the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud. It is amazing at teaching you how to set boundaries. A faith-based book, but applicable to everyone.

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