how bad is it to accept an offer and then back out for another?

A reader writes:

I am about to finish grad school and am job-hunting. I have interviewed with a company for Job A, and feel like I may get an offer in the next week. Although I am interviewing now, I would not start this job for several months due to my grad school courses, something Job A knows about.

I am also interviewing soon for Job B, which is with the federal government. I applied for this job last year, well before Job A was on the radar. Job B would be my dream job — higher starting pay than most positions in my field, ironclad stability, and on an incredible team in a great agency. However, the federal government is notoriously slow to make its offers, so it is unlikely I’d have even a verbal or tentative offer in hand from Job B before an offer and its window to accept from Job A has come and gone. The job market is also incredibly tough in my field and region, and so I’m worried these two jobs could be my only prospects for the next few months.

How bad would it be if I were to accept an offer from Job A, and then sometime between now and my start date back out because of an offer from Job B? On the one hand, you’ve given advice in the past that backing out of an offer after you’ve accepted is bad form, and I am in a field where people from these two employers know one another. On the other hand, Job B has been in motion for a while, and there’s not really anything I or anyone can do to speed it up. Additionally, it’s been a while since you’ve written about this topic, and in 2023, I think we all have a different idea of what we owe our employers and potential employers than we did 5-10 years ago, especially after seeing how companies have treated their employees during Covid and layoffs.

As far as I can find, I’ve always said you can back out of a job offer if you decide it’s in your best interests to do that — you just have to accept that you might be burning the bridge with that employer.

I’d state it a lot more strongly now though, and that’s because both the world has changed and I have: these are business decisions and you get to make the decisions that are best for you.

And people back out of offers. They take another job they like better, or they decide not to leave their current job after all, or they decide they’re not willing to move, or all sorts of other things. You do need to accept that you might be burning the bridge with the employer, but that just means they might not be willing to offer you another job in the future, not that they’ll be badmouthing you all over town. (At least they won’t if they’re reasonably functional — and if they’re not, that’s all the more reason not to go work for them.)

On their side of things, employers also back out of offers. They do layoffs and oops, your position is one that was cut even though you haven’t started yet and even though you’ve already quit your old job. They have hiring freezes. They reorg and the job you were supposed to start is gone. It’s not super common but it happens. These are business relationships, and everyone is acting in their own best interests. Employers get to, and you get to too.

You shouldn’t do it cavalierly, obviously, but you never need to sacrifice your best interests to an employer.

{ 124 comments… read them below }

  1. MackM*

    “but you never need to sacrifice your best interests to an employer”

    I love it- I think you summed up the impersonal reality of business relationships very well.

    1. Sharvey*


      “These are business relationships, and everyone is acting in their own best interests. Employers get to, and you get to too.”

      This summed it up for me. Can we get that on a shirt please!

      1. Vio*

        I think we have a tendency to think of businesses as sociopathic people. They put on a façade of being friendly and caring but they only care about their own interests. They’re not necessarily bad, they’re unlikely to screw you over for a giggle and if it benefits them for you to be happy then they’ll be very good to you. If they can profit from your misery then they’ll carefully calculate if they would get away with doing you harm or if it could come back to haunt them. It sounds evil, but there’s no malice to it, just pure self interest.
        But we’d still feel bad if we treated another person like that, even if they were a sociopath. Businesses really are NOT people though and we shouldn’t feel badly for prioritising our own wellbeing ahead of theirs. It’s not a personal relationship and shouldn’t be thought of as such. They love to humanise their company but it’s important we not allow ourselves to see them as people. They’re corporate structures that we can have a mutually beneficial relationship with but it’s not healthy for it to be personal.

  2. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    Accept the private industry job, if the government job comes through… great. A job offer in hand is better then 1,000 applications.

    1. Antilles*

      Bingo. Given federal government hiring timelines, I could definitely see a scenario where OP accepts Job A and is with them for several *months* before Job B moves their process forwards to the offer stage.

      And even so, I’d still be on the side of doing what’s best for you. The calculation is a bit different since you’d know how much you liked Job A and can factor that into your calculation accordingly…but if you really still wanted B, then you do what you need to do and just accept it.

      1. doreen*

        Could be even longer than a few months. My son was “offered” a government job a couple of months ago. The email said not to quit his current job yet. Yesterday , he got an email about filling out paperwork for the background check, which will probably take another 2-3 months – and they still haven’t told him what the starting pay will be. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was almost a year from offer to start date.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          This. I’ve had people work for me for over a year before a government job they applied for the same time they applied with us comes to fruition. My spouse was hired on an “expedited” basis for an urgent need over a decade ago, and it still took 2-3 months between interview and his actual first day on the job.

          1. DeeDee*

            2-3 months from interview sounds fast! When I got my state government job I got the offer in July and started in October. I don’t even remember when the interview was.

            1. Taketombo*

              I was also “expedited” it took 9 weeks and was the slowest hiring process I’d ever been through. Looking at it from the other side, management in my department must have moved heaven and earth to get to to go fast enough to snap me up while I was unemployed.

        2. Kelly*

          Yup, federal hiring can be bizarre. One agency kept saying they were DESPERATE for people so I applied. I never heard a thing and it doesn’t look like anyone ever looked at it. Someone I knew in the agency said you had to get in contact with the right person so your application didn’t get automatically weeded out by the computer by not having some random keywords in it and have them manually push it through. I wasn’t interested enough to jump through all those hoops while they begged for applicants.

          1. FYI*

            That’s not really how it works. Knowing someone won’t stop your application from getting automatically weeded out in the early stages. You have to make it on the “certificate” of qualified applicants first.

        3. Student*

          If it was a federal US job, then the pay info was indirectly available in the job post via the general schedule. The job post and any offer will say GS-##, and that maps directly to salaries. Other governments may have pay info for equivalent positions posted publicly; it depends.

          1. doreen*

            Not a Federal job – and although the minimum pay is published , how much he is actually offered will depend on the exact assignment , how many years he has already worked for the city and possibly other factors. And pay will make a difference – he won’t take the job unless they start him in the middle of the range.

        4. Felis alwayshungryis*

          I can believe this. I used to have a boyfriend who applied for a government job (not in the US), and even after a lengthy interview and aptitude test he would still have waited at least six months for all the security clearances, given the nature of the work. I can easily imagine it would have been nearly a year from interview to first day. He ended up working elsewhere.

      2. Miette*


        Also, OP, a dream job is a Dream Job. You get to leave anywhere at any time for the opportunity of a lifetime. Don’t let guilt over having already started (if that’s how it goes) slow you down either.

        1. Chilipepper Attitude*

          Overheard on TT, I don’t have a dream job because I don’t dream of working.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Though you should also remember that few Dream Jobs are actually that great in reality, so be sure you’re still looking for red flags. Mine was one of the most stressful I’ve ever had, and it was a relief to switch to an “okay” job instead.

          1. Antilles*

            That’s especially worth remembering if the timeline plays out that OP is already working at Job A first.
            If you hate Job A, then obviously you take the “dream job” offer of Job B, pretty obvious. But if you find that Job A is going really well? Then it’s a tougher decision and I’d be asking a lot of questions before accepting Job B to make sure it’s the right call.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      I applied to a Fed job and it was over a year – a YEAR – before I got a call back from them to even interview. I ended up leaving a job I had been at for only six months to take the Fed job.

    3. wendelenn*

      Captain Shaw, look at what happened when you accepted that job offer from Starfleet. . . :D

  3. Goldenrod*

    Agreed! Both employer and employee need to act in their own self-interest.

    As Alison pointed out, employers never hesitate to do this. So employees should do it too.

  4. ferrina*

    You’ll probably have a little more grace since Job B is with the federal government (I assume you’re in the U.S.). Anyone familiar with federal government hiring knows it’s extremely slow and can be very competitive. If you say “I got an offer I couldn’t refuse from something with the federal government that I applied to months ago,” I think you’ll get some grace.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Maybe – hopefully, even. I could also see someone not being familiar with federal hiring and being insulted you went with someone who took so long to get back to you, or someone with a bias against government jobs. Point just being that you can’t manage other people’s emotions, and you might still burn the bridge, but if you decide that’s still in your best interest then that’s okay.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        But it sounds like both jobs are in the same field/related, so I’m guessing the private sector employer would totally get it, in this case. They might still be cranky about it!

    2. Harper the Other One*

      Yep, I’m in Canada but most employers here know that a federal government job offer happens when it happens – which can be anything from a month or two to YEARS. Companies won’t be happy about it but they will definitely understand that this wasn’t you being cavalier.

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      I was coming here to comment the same thing. You can easily say the federal job offer just came through and I think most people will understand. Especially if you commercial company is used to working with the federal government. I think you can do so even if you only get the federal offer after you have started at job A because I think it may take the federal government that long to get you hired and starting.

      You can never know from the outside if a job is a dream job, but a federal job has more job security than many jobs so also burning a bridge might not be a huge concern if you’re hoping this leads to a career in the federal service.

    4. Bee*

      Yes, I think this is the kind of situation where most reasonable people would be bummed/annoyed but would also understand how it could all have happened in good faith. You might not get a reasonable reaction, but it also might not be a burned bridge.

  5. Mouse*

    I agree with everything here with just one caveat: make sure your school doesn’t have policies against this. I’m a grad student and if I back out of an accepted offer without a really good reason (a given example is a reduction in the offered salary), I can lose access to all career services as an alumna.

    1. ZSD*

      Wow! I’ve worked with graduate offices at two different universities, and neither of them would have done this. What a terrible policy.

    2. Mouse*

      Maybe I should clarify–I’m in an MBA program and recruiting is on a very structured schedule, so there shouldn’t be a reason for a student to accept one offer and then switch to another. The reason for the policy is so that the school can maintain highly positive relationships with recruiting firms. It makes sense to me.

      1. Feral Humanist*

        Ahhhhhhhhhh okay, that is a super specific context that does not apply to most graduate students. It might make sense in your very narrow context but it would not in pretty much any other.

        1. Mouse*

          Understood! I have no experience with other programs, but thought it was worth mentioning as the OP didn’t specify their program.

          1. Another MBA*

            FWIW as a fellow MBA grad, it struck me as common sense that schools would have policies in place to preserve their relationships with employers. I’m surprised to hear it doesn’t translate to other kinds of programs.

            My firm recruits undergrads through a similarly structured process through Career Services, and while it’s not unheard of for a student to reneg on an offer, we certainly make sure the school hears about it.

            1. The Somewhat Average Gilly Hopkins*

              I can’t speak for most graduate programs, but in terms of PhD programs, there is usually almost nothing in terms of recruitment support. Students apply for jobs only based on their research, teaching, and personal networking. The only way my old grad program had any connection to an employer is by being able to name-drop famous places where people get jobs. (No, I’m definitely not still bitter…)

            2. Elitist Semicolon*

              It’s largely dependent on field but also on whether the applicant in question found the position by direct recruitment through a career services office. Those offices (and universities in general) don’t have any leverage if a student finds a job on their own, accepts it, and then backs out, and therefore employers don’t have any recourse either. But starting a job and then leaving after a few months is a different situation than accepting and backing out without starting, which (in my professional experience) is what most of the policies about losing access to services are designed to address.

            3. Yorick*

              Many graduate programs don’t have relationships with employers at all. Students don’t get much real help finding jobs from the program.

            4. CL*

              My undergrad alma mater organized recruits very heavily for big consulting firms and had rules for those recruits…the other 80% of us were on our own.

      2. Eugene Debs*

        Way to bury the lede. On-campus recruiting at top business and law schools is very context specific. They often have deadline for employers to make offers as well as for candidates to accept.

    3. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      WOW! That seems oddly micromanaging. I’m curious as to what there reasoning is for this. Do they say why? And how are they going to know if you backed out of a job?

    4. Feral Humanist*

      Wait, wait, wait, WHAT? There have to be some further parameters –– like it’s a job with an employer who hires through the university’s career services center, and you got it by going through those channels. If you just went out and applied to jobs, how would your school even know if you backed out of an offer? And why would they care? The only reason I can think of for the rule is that they are trying to maintain a relationship with the employer.

      Even with all of that, it’s a terrible rule. People early in their careers need a certain amount of flexibility, and a $20K difference in starting salary (for example) can have big repercussions down the line. IMO, as someone who works with grad students in a professional development capacity, the relationship between the employer and the university is not the student’s problem!

    5. Relentlessly Socratic*

      I’ve never heard of this. Honestly, most university career services aren’t all that useful.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        Really? I have gotten three of my corporate jobs via the UT placement office.

        (The other three have come from applying to job ads. I have never gotten anything by networking. Maybe I’m really bad at networking?)

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          I’m willing to concede that not all university placements services are equal! But, on balance, I’ve not found them to be useful and haven’t heard many success stories in the wild.
          I’m glad it worked for you!

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            It could also vary by major. My university’s placement program for hard sciences, engineering, and business are very, very good. For liberal arts majors? Not so much. There was a job board and career services support but nothing like what they had for the STEM fields.

          2. Texan In Exile*

            And upon further reflection, I realize that what the UT placement office did for me was show me job listings. That’s it. I did not rely on them for anything else.

            And my undergrad placement office was truly useless. As NotAnotherManager! notes, it can be great for engineers (which it was), but for an English major like me, there was nothing. Indeed, the one time I went there, the woman working there, upon discovering I was an English major, asked “How fast do you type?”

            So yeah. Placement offices have served me, but only in the sense that I saw job postings there. But not as far as helping me write a resume or prepare for interviews or how to handle a networking event.

      2. Chairman of the Bored*


        “You won’t have access to Career Services” isn’t the threat they seem to think it is.

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          If you’re in an area like law, where the initial interviews are largely organized by and through career services, it is.

          1. foolish fox*

            Unless you want to work in a niche area… My career services experience was mostly them looking at me blankly, then pressuring me into going through the standard process anyway. Even though there was zero chance of me getting a job I wanted and nearly zero chance the firms they had on their list would want me.
            Then when I moved cities after graduating and spent a while building a network before finding a job, they pressured me to take document review jobs just to help their stats.

    6. Antilles*

      Even if your school has a policy, I’d still say go ahead. Maybe it’s another factor in the “don’t be cavalier” stance that Alison mentions, but if it’s a better job, that’s probably a cost worth paying.

      Especially since in most industries (yours may be an exception), the sarcastic but correct response would be “and I care about that university policy because…?” It’s not like they’re going to come to my house demanding the diploma back, nor would they refuse to send me
      copies of my transcripts. And from a reference perspective, for future job searches, I’m going to use individual professors (if at all, once you’re more than a couple years out nobody is going to want to talk to your professor when you’ve got actual managers).

    7. The Shenanigans*

      That’s a TERRIBLE policy! The silver lining, though, is if that’s typical of the career center, you’re absolutely better off without it.

    8. Chilipepper Attitude*

      So don’t back out of the offer. Take the job, then quit when the govt job comes through. You still get access to career services.

      I understand the reasoning, but it also harms students more than businesses.

  6. grubs*

    I’ve done this twice. The HR recruiter was extremely offended and asked if I thought I was the Queen of Sheba.

    The second time, which was years later with a different company, the HR recruiter was very kind and graceful about it. I told her how nervous I was to tell them I was rescinding, and how it went down the previous time. She was appalled.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Man if that HR recruiter was any indicator of the company as a whole, you really dodged a bullet there!

    2. AngryOctopus*

      Imagine how they’d have reacted at job #1 if you asked for a raise. Yikes.
      The recruiter was probably also angry that she wouldn’t get a placement fee. But that’s for her to complain about later to friends, and also a fairly known cost of doing business as a recruiter.

    3. Just wish them well*

      Exactly. As a private sector hiring manager who recruits for skills valued by government, this happens ALL THE TIME.

      In fact I’ve had it happen twice in a row for the same position.

      But there’s no point getting snarky about it. We just wish the candidates well and move on.

    4. Ellie*

      I’ve never backed out once I’ve accepted an offer myself, but it happens all the time when we try to recruit new graduates. About 50% end up rescinding. There are no hurt feelings at all, its just business.

  7. Maybesocks*

    If job A is for a faculty position, there will probably be a contract to sign soon.
    The school is committing to its side of the contract, and that is taken seriously.

    And the hiring is seasonal. If you back out late in the season, you will have caused the department to hire someone temporary and then repeat the original hire in the next season. This is not at all common, and I urge you not to do it.

    1. Two Dog Night*

      OP says job A is with a “company”–doesn’t sound like a faculty position is likely.

    2. Bess*

      I would think they would have mentioned this in the letter as the expectations around a faculty position are so different and would be part of the considerations…seems like the degree is not one that aims for the academic track, from what is written.

    3. Samwise*

      Doesn’t sound like a faculty position. However, you are correct that in academia (at least in the non-STEM fields I’m familiar with), backing out early on is Not Done, and people Will Remember.

  8. Smithy*

    In addition to all of this – I think as much as possible, talk about decisions like this with mentors/peers in your sector and not friends/family in different fields.

    This isn’t to say to be cavalier in conversations with spouses or parents who are significantly involved in your financial life. But even if you have a largely supportive relationship with family, friends, loved ones – the realities of their sector for making this choice and the realities of your sector may easily make this cost benefit analysis really difficult or impossible for them to relate to.

    In many sectors, it will be understood the length in time of getting those federal government jobs and that while it’s not ideal – it’s understandable. For other sectors, working for the federal government isn’t necessarily any more or less ideal, so it would be seen as burning a bridge unnecessarily.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Absolutely. My husband is in a different industry than me and even though I work in HR and can advise, even in generalizations, about a lot of different industries and professions, his is so wildly out of my field (think academia vs private sector) that I am pretty useless for anything besides cheerleading. So are his parents, but they seem less aware of that fact.

      Having a support system is so important, but know who your experts are.

    2. Bookmark*

      Yeah, I’ll just echo Smithy’s point that the closer/more cross-pollination your Job A has with government, the more understanding people are likely to be. In my field, everybody knows government jobs can take forever to get an offer/get security clearance after the offer/in some cases, also get an appointment approved or get confirmed. There’s also an incentive to be friendly and cordial to people leaving for government jobs because odds are good you’ll be running into one another frequently in professional settings. I’ve known colleagues to give multi-month heads up of potential government appointments, or give notice for a government job within a year of starting. It can be a bummer, but it’s always totally understandable.

  9. PassablyFondofBoiledPeanuts*

    Quick addition: you should be sure that (i) whoever wrote your letters of recommendation are on board if you back out or (ii) you’re okay with burning bridges with them as well.

    When I was in grad school, it was pretty clear in my department that if you backed out of an offer as a new PhD grad, you weren’t ever getting a letter of recommendation from any of the profs in that department again (the general understanding was that, unless the school was top-10 or whatever, backing out on an offer risked getting the school put on the affected organization’s “do not hire” list for a while). That could vary by discipline, however.

    1. Feral Humanist*

      Probably not a faculty position because OP would have said if it was –– those hiring rules are different.

      Also, that is a terrible rule I’ve never encountered in any department I’ve been in. People need to stop micromanaging their graduates, yeesh.

      1. PassablyFondofBoiledPeanuts*

        This held for non-faculty positions, too.

        Part of it is that my whole field’s hiring process is “unusual” and having someone back out a couple of months after accepting can legitimately mean not filling an entry-level position until next year for smaller organizations.

  10. Knope Knope Knope*

    I have done it and have had it done to me. Everyone gets over it and moves on.

  11. Two Dog Night*

    OP says job A is with a “company”–doesn’t sound like a faculty position is likely.

  12. Observer*

    Given the long lead time till you could start work, I don’t think this is a big deal.

    There are two situations where someone not only burned a bridge with the organization, but also with people who might talk to others. The really bad one was the person who just did not show up the first day. They accepted the offer, we started getting them set up and then. . . they just never showed up. We finally tracked them down and they just had no answer.

    The other was someone who was in a fairly high level position, with a fair amount of work going into on-boarding. They left after w few weeks – just as they were in a position to start being productive. Yes, they certainly had the right to make the decision that works for them, but all things considered it felt like the took the job in bad faith.

    Others? Even people who declined an offer even after we agreed to meet their terms? Just not that big of a deal. Sure there is some exasperation when you try to be flexible and meet someone’s terms, but they apparently change their minds. Even people who accept the offer and then change their minds. Maybe in some cases they may be marked as ineligible for hire at the organization. But no one is talking to others about it, and no one is moving on to another organization and looking at their candidacy with negativity at all. And I’m talking about situations where time from offer to start date is 2-3 weeks max.

    You don’t need to sacrifice yourself.

    1. A Person*

      As I was coming into a job to lead a team, I had a similar situation where someone literally came in and did something like a week of work and then quit for another job that they had apparently been interviewing with. What I found interesting is I was pretty annoyed (similar to above, it felt like bad faith) but my boss (CTO) was much more blase about the whole thing.

      His advice was basically “yeah, it happens, and they did what was best for them”. I probably still would not have hired the person back at our company, but they didn’t burn any bridge other than that one.

      1. A Person*

        And if they had quit before starting, especially significantly before, it would not have been nearly as big of a deal!

  13. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I’ve done it, once. The “other offer” was a counter-offer I accepted. (Yes, I was and am well aware of the odds of a counter-offer panning out in the long run).

    You’re definitely risking running your name through the mud, so make sure the offer you’re accepting is one you can live with for the medium run. In time, bygones will be bygones, but you may well have “how do I know you’re not going to back out on this offer” hanging over your head.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is mostly thinking out loud, but I wonder if the politics are different with a counteroffer. There are a lot of reasons someone might prefer to stay somewhere familiar, and it seems more in the realm of “we decided not to move” than it does “I was surfing the market and accepted your offer in bad faith”. But then again maybe it makes it feel like you were leveraging their offer. I dunno it feels different to me somehow I might need to reflect more.

      1. Don Draper*

        In advertising, at least, the politics are against you if you decide to stick with a counteroffer. It was (is? dunno — out of the game) so hard to move up within your own agency that the only way to do it in some places was to march into your boss’s office with an actual offer in hand. So there was a rash of bad-faith acceptances that caused HR departments to put together do-not-hire lists and other policies.

        I’m not saying it’s bad or immoral to do it. In an industry that treats people as badly as the ad world does, you’ve got to look out for yourself.

  14. ClosingTime*

    Allison, what if the LW accepts and starts job A and the gov job B reaches out to interview and/or offer a job after LW has started job A? Is there minimum amount of time that should be met? Given the glacial movement of some positions and offers (govt or academia) it might happen and overlap with them already starting the only job they had lined up.

    1. Nina*

      I have done this, in a situation where I was absolutely certain I preferred Job B to Job A but Job A had much faster hiring timelines.
      You start Job A, you do good work for Job A until/unless Job B comes through, and the moment it does you tell it “I can start in (in my country the standard is 4 weeks)”. The moment you have a signed contract with B, you resign from A using all the usual language about how great they’ve been and how much you’ve enjoyed working with them (even if total lies) and how you were offered a job with B out of the blue (not a total lie, you applied for it but had no idea whether you’d get it) that you just can’t turn down.

  15. Michelle Smith*

    I worked with someone for a few months who left as soon as she got an offer from the federal government. We all wished her well and one of our bosses took up a collection to buy her flowers. As far as I know, everyone was just genuinely happy for her. Take the bird in the hand (assuming you get the offer from A) and make a decision about B if and when the opportunity arises.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Oh I should add, she applied for the job with my team around the same time as the job with the feds. It just took so much longer for their process that she accepted our offer and worked with us for a while before that process resolved favorably.

  16. Bit o' Brit*

    A couple of years ago we had someone leave for a better offer two days into the job. I was covering the position in addition to my own, so I wasn’t exactly happy that I had longer to wait to hand it off, but in a “that’s rotten luck!” sense rather than “damn that person for leaving”.

    I’ve backed out of offers three times in my career. Twice at the same company, so I probably can’t apply there again, at least while Jane still works in HR.

    1. Outsource HR*

      This is another reason why companies should outsource HR. Hard feelings and taking rejections personally are a lot less likely when the HR person is an outside business.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Then again you could say that one of the disadvantages of outsourcing HR is that an outside business is more likely to hire people who’ve already flaked out of the company on one or more occasions…

  17. Never Boring*

    Another consideration for some federal jobs – even if you accept an offer, it may be months before you are allowed to start if you need to clear a background check first. Mine took nearly a year!

    1. Ssssssssssssssssssssss*

      +1 for security clearance! It’s worse if you’ve ever lived abroad, have family abroad or have been in your current location, i.e. country, less than 10 years.

  18. Bridgerton*

    If you get an offer from Company A (and it is otherwise suitable), I think that you should accept it. You don’t know if Government Job B will come through (or if there will be some other problem that makes it undesirable).

    You might burn a bridge with Company A, but if one of the benefits of Government Job B is ironclad job security, that might be less of a consideration.

    I work in local government. Several years ago, we offered a job to a candidate. He accepted and agreed to start in 4 weeks. Then, he asked for another 2 week extension. Then, he asked for an additional time extension. We found out later that he accepted a different job (and was waiting to see if it worked out). When he reapplied for a different job, one of the other interview panel members didn’t think this was a big deal. (The candidate interviews well. He has had 8 jobs in 10 years, which the other panelist also didn’t think was a big deal.)

  19. Ssssssssssssssssssssss*

    I live in my Nation’s capital where SO many people work at a federal job and many more are trying to get a federal job.

    Accepting job A – not government – only to later move to Job B – a government job – is *incredibly* common here.

    Do what feels right for you. Job A will figure it out and carry on.

  20. This Old House*

    I did this once, but very badly. I had applied/interviewed for several jobs, got and accepted an offer at one that was an entry-level, temporary, night shift job, and then later got an offer from, essentially, my dream job. I ended up backing out of the original offer, via email, at the last minute (the Friday before the Monday I was supposed to start). I never received a response to that email.

    In hindsight – right decision for me, WAY wrong way to go about it.

  21. Bruce*

    Back in the 80s my boss hired a guy, the day he started he was laid off. My boss was not laid off at first, but voluntarily quit, beat the bushes to find the guy another job and then moved on himself. Boss quitting may have saved my job, I’m not sure. But yeah, companies can pull the rug out from under you, and people back out from accepted offers too.

  22. Hiring Mgr*

    I did this once – absolutely realized I was burning the bridge but that wasn’t a factor. I did feel bad since at least back then this was frowned upon.

    Interestingly, the job I did take was a horrible fit and I left after a little more than a year.

  23. ThePear8*

    In my last position, at one point we were supposed to have a new person join the team. A couple days later we got the word they would not be joining after all, as they received a better offer from elsewhere and were rescinding on the one from us. None of us had any problem with this whatsoever (of course we were a little disappointed, but no one faulted them for making the choice that was most beneficial to them! In hindsight it probably worked out better for them too as the company was hit with massive layoffs a few months later)

  24. andalova*

    I’m in scientific research, and in my field a Fed or tenured academic position are widely regarded as the end goal for most people. I don’t know how often Fed jobs come up in your field, but in mine they’re quite rare, and there’s a huge component of blind luck (right career level / speciality at the the right time). It’s not at all uncommon for people to back out last minute / quit soon after starting when one of these come through. I can think of so many examples that it’s just a standard part of hiring for us. We have a lengthy security process, and often lose good candidates for contract positions while waiting for their security to come through – and have never held if against them. Do what’s best for you! And good luck!

  25. Anonymous Koala*

    I was in this exact situation at the end of my postgraduate work OP! I took the company offer as a backup, backed out 2 days after I started to take the federal job, and have never even once in 10+ years regretted my decision. I did burn a bridge with the first job (they made that very clear, lol) but for me it was worth it – the job I turned down was with a tiny start up in a field only tangentially related to mine and I knew it was likely that I would never work with those people again. Assume you’ll burn a bridge with the job you’re backing out of, and then do your math: is the federal job still worth it for you? If it is, then accept job A and be prepared to jump ship if Job B comes through. Look out for yourself first.

  26. govie scientist*

    I was in nearly the exact same situation when I left grad school. I started interviewing months before my defense and immediately got a great job offer from a company I was really excited about. I verbally accepted the offer (no officially paperwork signed) because I thought it was a really good fit for me and I hadn’t interviewed with the fed agency, because their interview process was slower. The fed agency did eventually contact me and when I interviewed, I knew it was THE job I wanted, despite a substantially lower salary.

    In my field this is extremely common, though I didn’t know it at the time, and it happens to my agency constantly. I didn’t burn any bridges, although I suspect they were shocked that I passed on their offer.

    FYI, for most positions, govt or industry, they can’t usually start your offer paperwork until your degree is issued (or you have a letter of intent from your department), so plan to wait to receive your paperwork. With the fed gov, it can be several weeks under the best circumstances. You can speed up the process by getting your department to issue a letter the day you pass your defense.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Do what is best for you.
      Employers don’t hesitate to do so.

      Any employer can rescind an offer the day before you start or a month afterwards ….
      A business can have a sudden profit downturn causing hiring freeze/redundancies or a nonprofit uni can suddenly lose funding.
      Or a new CEO arbitrarily decides to save on salaries and won’t give a shit about ditching you.

      The fed job could take a year to come through, or might never happen.

      No real worries about burning bridges when you quit, because if you plan to stay with the fed job for years, then you won’t be crossing back over that bridge.
      Anyway, worst case is this particular employer won’t hire you in the future. Many other employers would be available if you decide to leave the fed job with a few years experience.

  27. OhWell*

    I had the opposite situation, but similar feelings of guilt. I had a government offer contingent on a security check, 6 months went by, then an election happened and security checks got even more ridiculous… then I got a private sector offer for more pay, flexibility, etc etc…. then 2 weeks later the clearance came through. After over a year. I felt bad turning down the gov job after all that, but had to go with the best option. Haven’t regretted it since. (Especially after the election result upended the agency I had applied to.)

  28. DivergentStitches*

    If you’ve only just applied for the federal job, I wouldn’t count on even being selected to interview. If you’ve started interviewing, that’s different.

  29. H3llifIknow*

    It hasn’t happened to me a lot, but I’ve had people due to begin on Monday email me on Friday and say, “I’m sorry; I received an offer I really can’t refuse and I’m going to have to back out.” I never begrudge them. I’ve taken “option B” knowing that if my first choice made me an offer, I’d want it more, myself. I don’t think any hiring manager or HR person has NOT had more than one person back out, and if you explained, “my dream job opened up for me” they’d wish you well, I promise.

  30. A single, solitary newt*

    How ironic–just a few hours ago, I saw that someone in my network was supposed to start the LinkedIn Business Program or whatever it’s called, had turned down other offers for it, was told yesterday that it was still on, and then was informed today that the whole program has been cut and the role has been eliminated. So yes, businesses do exactly what OP is proposing all the time.

    Do it, and feel no remorse.

  31. Sciencer*

    This is something people face often when looking at both academic and industry jobs (say, at the close of a MS or PhD), similarly because the timeline for academic hires is so slow. When I was about a year out from finishing my PhD, I got a high-paying offer from an industry giant that was literally 3x higher pay than I could hope to earn in academia, but they made the offer with a narrow decision window and I was looking at months ahead of applying for academic jobs (my start date for the industry job was almost a year from the offer date, but they still wanted a decision within a couple weeks!). Many people, including veterans in my field who had worked both industry and academic jobs, advised me to accept the industry offer and continue job-hunting academic positions, knowing I could back out of the industry job before even starting if I got lucky enough to land something I wanted more. This advice was always doled out with a grimace and the warning that it was going to ruffle feathers and likely blacklist me from that company for a few years, but that it was a pretty standard approach and I would not be the first person to do it.

    Ultimately I decided to turn down the offer because I realized I just flat out did not want that job – but that’s different from your situation in which it sounds like you’d be happy with Job A but thrilled with Job B. So you’re not even accepting the offer in bad faith as I would have been.

    Finally, to underscore Alison’s second point, that industry giant whose offer I ultimately turned down did some major restructuring when the economy took a turn later that year. By the time I would have started the job they offered me, it no longer existed – the entire team had been dissolved and reassigned to completely different roles. The majority of them switched to academic positions within a year or two of the restructuring, despite the huge pay cuts, which perhaps underscores how dramatic the changes to their jobs were.

  32. Purely Allegorical*

    I’ve been in this exact position several times. Take Job A while you wait for Job B with the gov.

    For one thing, you have no idea how long the gov process could take — timelines can take as long as two years. My most recent timeline took one year from conditional offer to clearance approval and actually being able to start. For another thing, government processes and clearances can be quite random or arbitrary at times — you have no idea if this job will exist by the time your clearance comes through. I once waited two years through a process, got a conditional offer, and then a few weeks later got another letter saying the job didn’t exist anymore because of budget cuts.

    Take the first job offer you have now, and wait for the second offer to become a real, physical “here is your start date” before you resign that first one. (And as others have said, if you work a period of time at Job A and then resign for Job B with the gov, most places understand that.)

  33. SB*

    You don’t owe a potential employer anything. Having said that, if you may want to work for or collab with them in the future, call the hiring manager & explain that you will be unable to accept the position after all due to some previously unknown conflicts but you hope they find the perfect candidate.

    They don’t need to know the real reason but try to back out on good terms just in case you need them in the future. :)

  34. L. Ron Jeremy*

    I backed out of a job offer once after finding that their health insurance would cost 25% of my pay. They were surprised when I told them this as well.

  35. There You Are*

    I accepted not one but *two* jobs prior to graduation and then backed out of both when my internship suddenly materialized a job offer at the last minute for a starting salary tens of thousands of dollars over the other two companies.

    With each of the lower-paying jobs, I just said, “What would you do if you were me?” And both said they’d do the same thing I was doing: take the higher-paying job.

    Hilariously, that job was a massive house of evil bees and I stuck it out for exactly 365 days so that I could get my annual bonus (25% of my salary).

    I was able to quit because one of those two job I backed out on called me 10 months into Evil Bees job and said they had an opening for a senior role that would pay me more than Evil Bees, including with the annual bonus.

    I’m still at the company with the more senior role and — over three years later — loving every minute of it.

  36. Peanut Hamper*

    Accepting or backing out of a job offer is just a business decision for you.

    A decent business should understand that something better came along for you and not be too bothered about it.

    A business that gets upset that you’re leaving? Yeah, you’re probably burning a bridge, but as was pointed out a few days ago, sometimes the bridge you burn is a bullet you dodge.

    Do what feels right for you. The company you leave will do just fine.

  37. takeachip*

    As an employer, I’ve been on both sides of this–having someone renege after accepting our offer and having someone take our offer shortly after accepting another. In the first case, I was very annoyed; in the second case, I didn’t give it a second thought. Just to reinforce the point that employers care mostly about what is best for them and if the shoe were on the other foot, Employer A would probably be glad to have you jump ship for their offer with no regard for Employer B.

  38. Anonymous Educator*

    Please learn from my mistake.

    One time, I accepted a job offer from A, and shortly after got an offer from B. I preferred B to A, but I was trying to do the “honorable” thing by sticking with my acceptance of offer A (there wasn’t a great reason for B to not offer earlier, but that’s a whole separate story). It didn’t end up working out with A, and I quit very shortly after, and I ended up working at B (the position was still open, fortunately, and I ended up liking working at B).

    What did my acting “honorably” do (i.e., sticking with my acceptance of the offer instead of reneging)?

    Well, it meant I was not happy at A. It meant A wasted time training me, only to lose me shortly afterwards anyway. It also meant if A had a runner-up candidate, they likely told that candidate the position was filled, and they may not have been able to get that runner-up candidate after I quit (I’m only speculating here). And it meant B was probably wasting time still looking for someone while I was at A.

    Does it suck as a hiring manager if you think you got a candidate, and then the candidate reneges shortly after? Sure. But it’s not nearly as bad as for a candidate if the offer gets rescinded by the employer.

    If an employer makes an offer and has a candidate accept the offer, the employer likely has a backup plan (one or two candidates on the shortlist, unless it’s a very niche position). If you accept on a Monday and then renege on Thursday, they can likely still reach out to other candidates they’ve interviewed to extend an offer. Sure, they’ll be annoyed you reneged, and you may have burnt a bridge, but they’ll probably be fine. On the other hand, if an employer gives an offer and then rescinds it later, the candidate may have already given notice at their current job, and they may not be able to back out of that, and they likely don’t have a backup job offer they can go to.

    A candidate with a rescinded job offer may be unemployed and unable to pay rent/mortgage. An employer with a reneged job offer acceptance will probably be just slightly inconvenienced.

  39. CSRoadWarrior*

    You do what is in the best interest for you. If you prefer Employer B to Employer A, and you already accepted an offer from Employer A and then later on Employer B extends you an offer, by all means go to Employer B. You need to do what makes you happy, and it is important to be the happiest you can be at any job. Chances are that Employer A will not find itself in trouble if you go back on an offer and will find another candidate.

    And in the rare case Employer A is desperate and won’t do well if you back out, chances are that the company is either disorganized or is a sinking ship. And if it is neither and the company belittles you for going back on an offer, then it is likely a toxic workplace. In any case, this isn’t a company you would want to work for.

  40. Jenga*

    I hired a guy who quit a few weeks in because he got a better offer. Some managers might, but I didn’t hold it against him because I would have done the same thing if I were him. There’s an old school mentality that employees owe their employers loyalty, but they don’t. If the company isn’t offering the best working conditions, they had better be prepared to lose employees to companies that do better.

  41. Kim Dojega*

    I applied for two companies at the same time before and Company A was faster in processing and offering, so I accepted but I asked for two weeks to enjoy and fully rest. During the two weeks I was vacationing, Company B offered a position and I preferred everything they had to offer, from salary, location and company perks so I contacted the HR of Company A and sincerely told them, “I think your company and your offer is phenomenal. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I just got an offer today from my dream job that I was unqualified for and wasn’t expecting to get >>this is a lie<< and I believe this is my only chance in pursuing this job. I'm very sorry for suddenly dropping the news like this. It saddens me to let go of this opportunity of working with your company but I would like to cancel my previous acceptance of your offer. Thank you and I wish you and the company more success in the future."

    The HR manager congratulated me and said that she understood my decision. Like the others said, you should accept the job since you can back out anytime anyways and government offices tend to be really slow at processing anything really.

  42. Sharkbait*

    As an employer representative, it’s very annoying and inconvenient when someone accepts a job offer then backs out. But those are my / the company’s issues and that’s not a valid reason to go against what is in your best interests. As you would with any situation where your action is going to cause annoyance and inconvenience, communicate politely and in a timely manner as much as possible.

  43. Clara*

    An older relative of mine hires a lot of people for the insurance company he works for, and said that when he’s doing reference checks etc., before extending an offer, he will always ask if they’ve ever backed out once a contract has been signed. If he finds out they have, he will not offer them the job, as he thinks it shows poor character. I was appalled when I heard that, and tried to dissuade him otherwise (not just because it’s reliant solely on what you hear from others, which may not be a complete picture), but to no avail. It’s reassuring to hear that I was write when I told him that’s definitely not the norm!

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      It’s ironic that he works for an insurance company, because they are well known for denying claims. I probably would have countered with that same question.

  44. BestForYou*

    I second the turning down or backing out. Companies do this all the time. I’ve had it happen four times. Some will be upset and it’s possible someone you inconvenienced will remember you in the future if you meet again and that may affect your prospects, but it’s also possible that won’t happen.

    I also suspect the odds of someone backing out go up quite a lot when the offer is made and accepted well in advance of the start date, so it may not even be considered that much of a ding. Either way, do what’s best for you. The company will certainly do what it considers best for itself.

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