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Should I have returned the job offer?

In the October 21, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker gives back a job offer:

I had an offer for a great new job a few weeks ago. Before accepting, I had to resolve some issues regarding my relocation. The company was great during this time and worked with me to make it agreeable for both of us.

no-thanksHere’s the dilemma. It was taking longer than expected to resolve my personal issues. I felt uncomfortable delaying my start date further, so I returned the offer letter. Two days later, my personal issues were suddenly resolved. I called the company and said I was now free to take the job, but they were lukewarm and said they might want to consider other candidates.

I’m left with no job because I resigned my old job of 10+ years. The new company had remarked on numerous occasions that they would not pull the job offer from the table and I was free to work out whatever issues I had.

Although I felt I was doing the right thing by letting them move on, I feel somewhat betrayed by their treatment at this point. Did I handle this wrong?

Nick’s Reply

First: Never, ever, ever resign a job until you have accepted another.

But there’s more to this: Please read When should I tell my boss I’m resigning? It’s too late, but please remember this next time, and I repeat it for everyone else: Never, ever, ever resign a job until your new job is nailed down tightly.

Now to your main question: If anyone should feel betrayed, it’s the company. You made a decision that forced this company to deal with the situation in a way they didn’t expect.

You rejected an offer that was left wide open to accommodate you. When you returned the signed offer, you terminated the hiring process. Now, they quite reasonably want to turn to other candidates. I’m afraid you may have damaged your credibility with the company. (See Do what you say you’re going to do. This company gets credit for doing it right.)

The better choice would have been to let the deal sit on the table until they withdrew it, while you tried to resolve your personal issues. I realize you were trying to be considerate about this, but in the end you hurt your own position, without giving any real benefit to the employer.

At this point, all you can do is go straight to the hiring manager and make a clear commitment. (See Do I have to say it?) If you don’t act, then nothing at all happens. Offer a firm start date; something the company can bank on. I think this is worth a shot. But don’t be surprised if they look at you like you’re crazy. In that case, apologize and move on.


For more about how to handle job offers, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, which includes these sections:

  • FJH-9The company rescinded the offer!
  • Non-Compete: Did I really agree to that?
  • Am I unwise to accept their first offer?
  • Can I use salary surveys to goose up the offer?
  • The bird-in-the-hand rule of job offers
  • Juggling job offers
  • Give us the pay stub
  • Vacation Time: What’s good for the goose
  • How do I decide between two offers?
  • How to decline an offer
  • Does a counter-offer include pay-back?
  • Am I stuck with this non-compete agreement?
  • How do I ensure the job offer matches the job?
  • How to avoid a “bait and switch” job offer

The lesson in all this is that a company is perfectly capable of looking after its own interests. It was indicating its strong interest in you by keeping the offer open and giving you the time you needed. You should have kept the offer.

Would you give back a job offer? It’s one thing to decide to reject an offer. But to return it? How should this reader have handled an awkward delay? Now put yourself in the employer’s shoes — what would you do?

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29 Comments
  1. @Nic You answer everything that in my opinion needs to be said on this issue right here,

    “First: Never, ever, ever resign a job until you have accepted another.”

    End of story.

  2. Sorry about above post yet there is no edit function, of course I am referring to @Nick

  3. I’m not sure I understand the difference between “rejecting” the offer and “returning” it? When I first read “returned” I presumed OP meant accepted, but apparently it means the opposite?

    Either way, I think the courteous thing would have been to be honest with the employer, “I need some more time to work stuff out before I can accept your offer” and yes, let that offer sit on the table until the employer decided they couldn’t wait any longer. The employer wanted OP, so the kind thing was to let them decide how long they were willing to wait (especially as they had indicated they would wait for a long time).

  4. @ Kimberlee, Esq. What you expressed was my initial impression also however I stopped and asked myself, would they honestly wait around for this person? This is why I had to agree with what Nick wrote.

    It is my experience that too many just do not care about an individual’s situation, regardless of how much of an appearance to want the applicant. It is unfortunate but I see little to no professional business etiquette and honestly in too many situations today. This is due to a number of factors all of which must change in my view before we can resume any normality of business. Sad but true most just jump to “OK, Next!” under such circumstances as outlined.

  5. @Nick, it is not often that one of your readers makes a move like this simply because they 1) read you and 2) are just a bit more savvy to start having sought this blog out. The real shame is that this person wasn’t prepared for the offer and what would be next steps through that long process. I wonder what he/she said during the process re relocation. Then he resigned the old job before committing fully to the new position.

    I can understand the stress that final negotiations and resolving what were obviously MAJOR family or financial (the usual things behind “personal”) issues can put you through, but this unready person maneuvered themselves into the WORST possible outcome.

    Frankly, this employer gave this candidate plenty of room to demonstrate poor judgment in a dilemma. And work brings plenty of them. No, if I were the hiring manager, I would move on. This person demonstrated they can’t handle a situation.

    Some introspection is needed by this person…it’s probably not the first time either.

  6. It also appears in the telling that this employer bent over backwards to accommodate this person and give the person time to work out issues. As Nick mentioned above, “If anyone should feel betrayed, it’s the company.” An unusual situation, surely, in this day of ‘offers which aren’t offers’ and negotiated LOAs/LOEs that are signed by the candidate and then the hiring manager decides “to go in a different direction.”

    Am I the only one to think that something else was going on here?

  7. @Dee It appears to me stress for whatever reason played its part, which is more reason I agree with Nick’s advice.

  8. “Never, ever, ever resign a job until your new job is nailed down tightly.”

    Although I agree with this advice for this particular case, sometimes it isn’t that simple. It’s certainly preferable (rent’s gota be paid!) but in this economy it’s just not that easy.

  9. @A reader First up, you could have the decency to use your first name. If you cannot own what you say I personally do not care to read it.

    Now, to address your comment for all reasons you mention that is WHY Nick’s advice makes all the more sense under the circumstances.

  10. For the record, there are about a million legitimate reasons why a person might not want their name searchable online. Second, nobody is verifying that your real name is Nic, so I don’t think the very concept of having random first name in that field is tantamount to “owning” or not “owning” anything, and certainly has nothing to do with decency.

    Third, I am also curious what A reader, who is a person, means when they imply that the economy might cause one to be in a position where it is advantageous to quit a job without another offer lined up?

  11. @ A Reader–your statement is contradictory. Not to jump ugly, but resignation is usually a voluntary thing. No one compelled this person to resign their present position for one they hadn’t accepted.

    Which was another reason why I said ‘something else is going on here.’

  12. There are some details left out which would probably help. But based solely on the information in this post, as a hiring manager I would wonder why the applicant did not resolve these issues before applying for a position that required relocation.

    Before applying for any position a job candidate should have worked out what salary they would accept, where they would relocate to and how, the kind of work they can and would do, etc.

  13. Tom: That seems like an awfully high threshold just to apply! For one, there are all kinds of personal issues that might come up during the application process, or worsen unexpectedly. A person may need relocation assistance to make a move, but it would be weird to ask if that’s a perk of employment before even applying. And what kind of salary a person would accept is often going to be based on details about the job that you’re just not likely to know pre-interview. If this is your methodology, I guess I hope it works, because it sounds like you’re closing a lot of doors prematurely!

  14. @Kimberlee, Esq. I find such a blatant anon as “a reader” for a post making a comment in a discussion personally both offensive and indecent when a first name could be used.

    As for “For the record, there are about a million legitimate reasons why a person might not want their name searchable online.” I have no idea what these million reasons would be to not have their name online (are the same people on Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc under their own name?) If so, and they have nothing to hide, then in my view that decency should extend to us here at least with a first name. If they feel so strongly about such things then make one up so it doesn’t appear we are not being addressed by or addressing a robot.

    I will also say, yes my REAL name is indeed Nic.

  15. @Kimberlee: Your point is well taken, but the employer was already giving the candidate more time, and clearly had no intention of taking the offer back. There was no problem. I think the candidate was feeling rather guilty and then acted rashly out of a misguided sense of responsibility to the employer. It’s really unfortunate.

  16. @Omar: Thanks for clarifying your name. :-)

    @All: The information in the Q is all we have to go on. I never heard back from the individual. I have to agree with those who put this down to stress. I think the person was trying to behave responsibly by returning the offer, but didn’t stop to consider what the act really meant.

    As some have noted, the bigger mistake was quitting the old job without having the new one nailed down. I can’t fathom how this person could resign first, and return the offer next. ???

    I decided to publish this Q&A precisely because it raises so many questions. There are many lessons here and I’m enjoying the comments!

  17. Nick nailed this one as usual. I think some people think of hiring managers as monsters, giving offers under great duress. Actually, once you’ve found a good match the alternative to giving him or her a few weeks might be months of resume reading. That’s a no brainer.
    My daughter just got a job offer where they wanted her to move in 3 weeks. She lives in Europe, where you are under a contract, and neither she nor her husband could move that fast (let alone arrange an international move so quickly.) I told her the hiring manager would probably have no trouble waiting, and I was right.
    It is also a good start to the relationship.

  18. “This person demonstrated they can’t handle a situation.”

    To me, this says it all. The kind of offers that come with unlimited time to make a relocation aren’t those that lower level employees get. This person likely had to make decisions at some level in the position, and clearly screwed up a very important one involving himself – how would he act with others? Otherwise, any company might want to avoid the lenghty and expensive process of hiring AGAIN when they have a ready willing and able person to take the job.

    And really – how many people rent a hotel room and weekend commute and do all kinds of things to keep a good job offer even when they have “issues” to resolve? Too bad we can’t get follow-up on this. Would be interesting to have some answers on what we don’t know.

  19. The person said they returned the offer letter, isn’t that actually the end of it?

    Did he make the wrong move? In my opinion, yes.

    The more I think about this case the more I am questioning why it is even being discussed. He decided against it, and they moved on. End of story.

  20. @Nic: Agreed. There’s no there, there.

  21. Folks: Sorry for this off-topic post, but over on my PBS NewsHour column a lot of people seem to think they’re “forced” to apply for jobs online and that conventional methods are “required” — and that personal contacts are for “stalkers.”

    I’d love it if you all joined in. The topic of the column is resumes, but the discussion is really about the frustration of dealing with the Employment System:
    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/ask-headhunter-heres-resume-isnt-getting-traction/

    Hope you have a minute to drop in and comment. More than anything, I’d love for you to offer some words of hope to the most frustrated commenters! They really need help. Don’t be too hard on them – this is all new to them. Maybe we can save a career or two… and help some just put food on their plates.

    Thanks!

  22. Good advice, as usual Nick.

    The mistake the OP made was in trying to be too fair to the employer. What he could have done would have been to contact the employer, reiterate that he’s very excited about the offer, is very interested wants the job, etc., but still has a few personal matters to wrap up–then ask if he could have a little more time. That would have been honest without being squirrely. At that point, if I were the OP, I would have provided one or more reasons for requesting more time (on top of their already generously giving me time to make a decision). We don’t know what was going on in OP’s life; it could be anything from having to wait for a spouse to hear about jobs she has applied for to having to make arrangements for the care of elderly, failing parents (critical now that he’s moving and won’t be around to deal with these issues) to children-related issues (health, school, etc.) to wanting to wait until the lease on his apartment is up so he’s not saddled with paying rent for an apartment he’s not going to be living in due to the new job to waiting for an offer on the house (if he can’t sell his house, he can’t move for the new job).

    I wasn’t offended that he had issues that he needed to deal with before making a decision–we all have issues, and the older we get the more complex those issues are. The problem was in how OP handled it. If the employer freaked out because of adult issues, and rescinded the offer, then the result is the same as now (OP is unemployed). If the employer is remotely human and humane, especially since these issues were resolved within a couple of days of the OP returning the offer, I would hope that they’d give him more time, and if not, then explain “Bob is leaving by the end of the month, and we need you here so Bob can train you before he leaves”.

  23. @Nick

    I’ll definitely comment on that thread.

  24. @Nic:
    As long as there are roughly 58 million people not able to find work in the United States, there will be no normalcy to hiring practices, business etiquette or consumer confidence.

    When business leaders figure out the quick answer to that dilemma, they will again be able to look around and find themselves in a robust, prosperous economy.

    Kimberlee, Esq:
    When the economy will make a difference in how you handle quitting a job? Say you are a North Dakota oil field roughneck, and your boss is a douche. You can quit at 10:00 AM, and before you make it to J Dub’s Bar & Grill you will likely have 3 viable offers of employment in your hand. Location occasionally is everything.

    Employers in every field in the rest of the country could take a lesson.

    @Nick:
    I took a quick read of the comments on your PBS NewsHour column. Tough Crowd!!

  25. @LT It appears that number of people looking for work is more like 91 million. I have seen this figure in a number of reports.

    The Washington Post had posted the same
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2014/01/30/are-there-91-million-americans-on-the-sidelines-looking-for-work/

    That’s change you can believe in!

  26. @Nic:
    I had extrapolated my numbers from two Bureau of Labor Statistics databases, one being Workforce Participation and the other the Civilian Labor force.

    I can easily believe 92 million looking for work, since (if my math is any good) you have a baseline of 58 million unemployed. Another 34 million underemployed or working in miserable conditions isn’t too much of a stretch.

  27. @Nic, L.T.: You might find Paul Solman’s Un/Under-employment scale helpful:
    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/two-tiered-jobs-report-two-tiered-economy/

    This is the only regular report I know of that emphasizes “under-employed” people. They need to be included, because they’re looking, too. If you’re a job seeker, it means your competition is bigger than you’re being told.

    Of course, the mystery that politicians love to maintain is how many people are not working or under-employed.

    I got a kick out of Glenn Kessler’s Wash Post column – thanks for the link, Nic. These are fun numbers to noodle around with. Scary stuff.

  28. @Nick et al Yes, numbers are fine but more important to me are the underlying principles and problems of the why we are in this mess. While the manipulators keep putting out disinformation telling everyone things are fine. I guess the shoe shine boys are giving stock tips now too.

    OK anyway point is while I do not watch CNBC I find it one way highly ridiculous but I do find Rick Santelli and Peter Schiff the clearest straight talk voices on the state of things economic. What they are saying at the link below does not take nuclear physicist to figure out the logic of it all. Frankly, I have been saying the same since pre-2008.

    The problem I find is that very few understand any of this (I even had a Chase Private Banker actually say to me when I mentioned Christine Lagarde and the IMF, “I don’t know who she is or what that is” Imagine, the stupidity!!! Yes, I closed all Chase accounts that day) so anyway few want to hear any of it, but they better is my point. Listen on http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000321563

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