In the December 3, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader gets a job offer that may deserve a NO.


job offerAfter months of looking for a job, I finally got an offer using your methods. (Thanks! The interviewer said I was the best candidate she’s talked to in a long time.) But there’s a small matter that concerns me, and it’s not the money. The salary is good. But neither the interviewer nor the HR person would tell me who my boss will be. HR just said I’d be assigned to the manager who needed my skills the most. Then she said they need my answer by end of day tomorrow. Is this a trap? Should I take the job?

Nick’s Reply

It may not be a trap, but it’s a risk in many ways — and not knowing who your boss will be is certainly not a small matter. Your story raises a bigger question. When should you say NO to a job offer?

There are many signals that might turn you away. I won’t tell anyone who needs to pay the rent or put food on the table to turn down a job offer. Take it if you really must, but consider the risks.

Here are three reasons to say NO to a job offer.

1. You don’t meet the manager you’ll be reporting to

You have no idea what you’re getting into if you don’t meet the manager. If the HR department (or a committee) does the hiring, you won’t be able to assess whether you and your new boss are compatible.

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention, I show how to conduct due diligence before and during the interview, and before accepting a job offer. These are just a few tips to help keep you out of trouble.

In the interview, don’t miss these points:

  • What must the company do to meet its goals? Is your job important in meeting these objectives? How?
  • Check out the tools that will be at your disposal. If they’re not part of the deal today, don’t expect you’ll get what you need later.
  • Who, in other departments, will affect your ability to do your job successfully? Meet them. Look for facilitators and debilitators—people that will help and hinder your performance.

From “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?”, pp. 13-15

This cuts both ways. If the boss doesn’t meet you, it may turn out you’re not as qualified for the position as HR suggested. Your new job might be short-lived.

If the company won’t arrange a one-on-one meeting with the boss, it could mean the boss will shortly be gone. Where does that leave you? Ask to meet your future boss. Reconsider the position if the employer declines the meeting.

2. The job offer is low but you’re promised a raise “soon”

This is how companies seduce reluctant job applicants: with a promise of a raise “soon.” Will the company put the date of the future raise in writing along with the amount? Will it guarantee in writing a performance review in so many months? You have every reason to doubt the good intentions of the employer if it will do neither.

Compensation is what the written job offer says it is. Do not count promises as part of the job offer. Get it in writing.

(There’s another promise to watch out for: stock options. See What are stock options worth in a job offer?)

3. The details of the job are not made clear

It’s an old story: A person takes the job based on the description in the job posting, only to find that’s not the job. The actual work is something else. If all you get are vague answers when you ask about details, you may be accepting a broken job. The company may want you only for a short-term project or — even worse — “to fill head count.”

Ask the employer to list the main tasks you will be doing, and ask for a written definition of what exactly is expected of you after three, six and 12 months on the job. Or consider walking away.

Is the job offer really right for you?

These are just three of many reasons to say NO to a job offer. (See 13 lies employers tell about job offers.)

It’s important to pause when you receive an offer. Don’t get lost in the thrill of success. Take time to consider all the terms of the offer, the company that made it, the manager you’d be working for, the work you’d be doing, and — of course — the compensation. Like the proverbial car shopper, you must be ready to walk away from a deal that’s not really right for you.

Have you ever turned down a job offer? Why? What other reasons can you think of for saying NO? Have you ever accepted a job only to realize that the signs were clear that you should have said NO?

: :

  1. The worst interview of my life was one where they were staffing up for a big project. They hyped up how they were going to complete it fast. When I asked “what will the next project be?” They became completely hostile and the interview went completely off the rails. Of course no bad offer came, but 9 months later the news ran a story about massive “unexpected” layoffs at this company.

    • @J: Trust your gut and never beg for a job that smells bad.

  2. Any company that says you’ll be assigned to whoever needs you most is looking at you as a warm body to fill a position. Nothing more, nothing less. The demand for a quick response just confirms it.

    That’s all you need to know about this company. Unless the writer needs the money, I’d say walk away.

    • Agree. It means that they really have no clue why they are hiring (or it is just for some bureaucratic reasons); it is not because they have some specific work that needs to be done. And because they do not have any clear work, they may not have any position down the road either.

    • It could easily be that “whoever needs you most” is the hostile, toxic cousin of the founder who is only there because Auntie Em invested in startup. Could be the manager who’s “revolving door” spins so fast that it air conditions the place.

      Either way, or any other reason, bad news.

    • Well I can think of several jobs like count metro or teaching where you would not know who your manager is.

    • When “someone else” is doing the hiring (not the manager with the job opening), it’s a safe bet there’s trouble ahead.

  3. I said no to a job where the compensation changed from the ad to the offer. It went to 100% commission. Uh, that’s much different than you originally posted. Thanks for making me eat a vacation day for nothing.

    • @Laura: Kinda makes us wonder, where’s the “truth in advertising” law in the recruitment advertising industry??

      • I’m not an attorney, but every state in the U.S. has an Unfair, Deceptive and Abusive Practices (UDAP) statute on its books that might be applicable here, even if for some reason the Federal Trade Commission’s truth-in-advertising regulations don’t apply. The catch with most of these UDAP statutes is that the plaintiff has the burden of proving an actual loss. It’s not sufficient to merely allege a “bait-and-switch” scam. However, in Laura’s case, I would think that a lost vacation day has some quantifiable value, not to mention the out-of-pocket expenses she might’ve incurred to attend an interview.

  4. Many years ago, I accepted a job offer with a small privately owned steel service center that had just opened. I had just graduated from a university (at age 30), so I was chomping at the bit to get back into the workforce and start earning a paycheck again. For starters, the president made me wait over an hour for my interview. I never met who my boss was, and took the job sight unseen. Not only was the place toxic, but the first day when I met my ‘boss”, my heart fell into the pit of my stomach. This guy was a classical narcissist/sociopath. I spent the next 3 years in an abusive hell hole with this man. The kicker was I loved the job, and the customers, and I could have really made a difference under decent management. One day, I was called in and unceremoniously terminated. I heard my ex-boss died of cancer in 2006 (he was a heavy chain smoker). Lesson learned, never take a job if you don’t meet your manager, and if they make you wait more than 20 minutes for your interview.

  5. Ignore their deadline and engage them in conversation regarding the question you have. An offer’s deadline (in your instance, but not all) is moot because if you said ‘no’ to the offer, they’d be back at it for at least a few days, which means they–by default–absolutely have the time to wait. Make them wait! Ain’t no one gonna die!

    Who you report to is your hiring manager. Until you meet them, don’t consider this a true offer because the one held accountable for your employment is not involved. OTHERS are hiring you on behalf of someone not involved! *red flag* *red flag* *red flag*

    There are a lot of presumed risks in your scenario. Until you ask the questions your gut needs answers about, do NOT consider yourself a proper final candidate.

    I’ve walked away from an interview process (and even said hell no to a request to interview) based off of the behavior of the ones engaging me in the process. It speaks loudly on the company culture.

    Would you date someone who deflects from basic, major aspects of their life/identity? If not, then please do not ‘date’ this employer. It reeks of desperation (or even a flat out lie to hide an unsavory truth). Don’t reek like them.

    • “Make them wait! Ain’t no one gonna die!”

      This is true. Yet employers intimidate job candidates all the time with often ridiculous demands for quick answers and refusals to provide more information about the job.

      K-Ster is absolutely right. What’s the rush? Slow down. If they move too fast, you’re probably gonna fall off that bus once you get on anyway.

      • I once let one of these “exploding offers” just outright expire. The were so many red flags besides only having 24 hours (ok ok 28 hours) to make a decision. I felt like they were massively unorganized and didn’t give a sh*t, so why should I?

  6. I turned down a job offer because the salary they offered was exactly the same as what I had told them my current salary was. Refused to negotiate at all. Why would I go through the stress of changing jobs for the same salary? That told me that I was not the preferred candidate of the hiring manager, who was the person calling me. Turned out to be a smart choice for me as the company was sold within a few months and the corporate headquarters, where I would have worked, was closed.

    • That’s precious. You’re not the preferred candidate. Do you want the job?


    • “You’re not the preferred candidate.”

      “How ironic. You’re not the preferred employer. Guess this works out for both of us!”

    • The company is not the preferred firm.

  7. I don’t even grant interviews without seeing the resume or LinkedIn profile of the hiring manager. (Unlike HR “talent acquisition specialists” and robo-recruiters, I CAN evaluate resumes.)

    • @Bill: You will enjoy this if you haven’t read it already:

      Why would anyone consent to providing their professional credentials to a manager if the manager won’t provide theirs??

      • @Nick: Well put. I think that obtaining the hiring manager’s resume was less important in the distant past (before HR took over). Companies were more professional and characterized by a meritocracy (though cronyism certainly existed). You were judging the company’s reputation and it was far more likely that a manager had earned their position.

        Now everything is driven by HR, which exists to discriminate–they often boast about it, though they call it diversity and inclusion (I could provide some good examples). With experienced people being thrown out due to ageism and reverse discrimination, those who are inexperienced or simply don’t have the necessary background are being rapidly promoted. It’s gotten to the point where the default assumption, until proven otherwise, is that the hiring manager is unqualified. Looking through the profiles of people at some companies can be really dismaying.

        • Why promote or hire people who can’t do the job?

          • @Kevin: You’re kidding, right? To advance a social agenda and remake/transform the workplace. When a company says, “we must, we MUST! hire and promote more of category X,” (you fill in the blank) and you then see people of that category being hired without a suitable background or experience and then being rapidly promoted, you are seeing that agenda being pursued and achieved. Likewise when you see open propaganda that members of category X need to stick together (empowerment uber Alles!). There are thousands of networking groups exclusively devoted to category X, the purpose of which is to advance their own kind. When that’s your goal and purpose, objectivity and merit goes out the window.

  8. About 13 years ago, I turned down a job offer because the commute would have been horrible. I did not want to drive there, and the public transit options were limited. I had visited the company on at least three occasions for several interviews and some kind of testing. I was very interested in the job. My future supervisor was a new mother, and I was told that her infant would be in the office nearby during the workday. The job required exceptional concentration (copyediting test preparation materials in science and engineering). I asked whether the company would pay for relocation expenses, and they said “no.” So, I turned down the offer primarily because of the long commute and secondarily because of the infant.

  9. I once turned down a job offer that had an aggressive deadline to accept or pass set to it. I had met and for the most part, was comfortable with the hiring manager and team. In this case, it was the organization itself that turned me off. Aside from imposing an arbitrary deadline to accept the offer, they were just a total brick wall when it came to negotiating literally anything. Their benefits were pretty sub-par and their office was in some far-flung location that was inconvenient for most of their employees, but there was absolutely no remote work allowed ever. Some of their enthusiasm for my candidacy was because I had worked for a company that was a good sales partner of theirs. Given my purview of my previous employer’s struggles in the market, I concluded that any company that considered my old company an important channel was probably in more trouble than they realized. Even so, it was a tough decision because it was an offer when I was in between employers. However, I gracefully declined and moved on with my search. I ended up accepting an offer from another company a few months later and less than a year from my interview with them, the company whose offer I had declined was sold off and the hiring manager had moved on.

  10. I turned down an offer years ago for a job that the recruiter kept telling was a critical position within his client’s company. The salary they were offering, though, was significantly below what other companies were offering for similar work. A few months after turning down the offer, the company was bought out by a competitor. The recruiter was pushing (hard) for a quick decision and had called several times — the day of and the day after the offer came in, even late at night — and wasn’t very considerate when I told him I needed time to think about it. In the end, he was very angry that I turned the offer down. I later came to find out that he was desperate for the commission, hearing from one of his compatriots in the industry that he’d recently been divorced and was sleeping on a friend’s couch.

  11. Yeah, there’s a bunch of red flags in this weeks note and good advice given.

    People don’t realize that the #1 reason people leave is their boss/management. #2 is money, but I’d argue that ultimately falls under boss/management. Therefore, I’d say it’s pretty important to meet your boss so that you both know what your getting into.

    Secondly, anyone that wants you to give an answer in a days time is trying to pull one over. That’s like the oldest sales trick in the book. I’ve had this sort of thing happen twice in regards to job offers, neither ended well in the end or my decision was vindicated. In other words, any sane employer will at least give you a couple of days to sleep on it.

    Additionally, Nick points out that it’s hard enough when you have a written job description to work off of. On one instance, no one provided me a description and individual contributors couldn’t tell me how they spent their time each day (I asked for rough percentages/tasks).

    As for #2, luckily most companies I’ve been at have a formal review process in place – they either have a set time where everyone gets a reviewed and a raise, or some other formal thing. My current role is the latter, but I am in a state institution and in a union so the review process is pretty much written in stone.

    • @David: Thanks for emphasizing two very important points:

      1. “People don’t realize that the #1 reason people leave is their boss/management.”
      2. “individual contributors couldn’t tell me how they spent their time each day (I asked for rough percentages/tasks)”

      It’s important to keep these in mind during the excitement of getting an offer.

    • Psychopathic bosses and inept/political management were my ONLY reasons for leaving “permanent” professional jobs.

  12. As far as low ball offers with the empty promise of a raise after 90 days, or whatever, I’ve been pimped before like this. The employers came back with “we’ll look into it”, which never happened, or “we never said this” when I called them out on it after being hired. I’ve also asked for the terms to be put in writing. All that resulted in this was my being disqualified and ghosted. I’ve never met anyone who was able to secure this in writing either. If an employer offers a low wage that’s not competitive, I’d say run! Btw, am I one of the few people in these life experience stories who’s noticed that invariably the villain is frequently a headhunter or recruiter? Why deal with these types in the first place?

    • @ Antonio — You write, “I’ve never met anyone who was able to secure this in writing either.” Well, hi, my name is Chris, and I’ve received several / most job offers in writing, signed by an applicable official of the organization.

      My question is, are you asking for such a confirmation / offer letter, or are you simply assuming it would be nice if one were provided?

      And if you’re asking and not getting, is there a reason you’re taking the position anyway?

      • “Is there a reason I’m taking the positions”. Yeah, it’s called work to live and bills to pay. Have you ever been unemployed for an extended period of time, and the wolves are heading for the door, as in this last recession? I was. Not a cake walk. Of course, I’ve asked for many things in writing, and in a civil and professional manner as well. Employers don’t have to give you any promise letters. Maybe in California, where it appears many of the Silicone Valley folks on here are from.

        • @ Antonio — Hi again. Yes, unemployed for long periods (one of 14 months), and all in Ohio. And you’re absolutely right, it is not a cake walk (to say the least).

    • The same thing happens with other terms in an offer. Vacation time is a good example. “Policy prevents us from giving you more than two weeks, but don’t worry, I’ll give you three. Just let me know when you need it.”

      3 months later that boss is gone. Good luck explaining to HR that you were promised an extra week.

      Get it in writing. The manager isn’t hiring you. The company is.

  13. If I were just in need of a job, I would accept this one and keep looking!

  14. One summer I got multiple job offers and I ended up taking one that turned out to be a really oppressive company (lots of surveillance). I got another offer and was able to quit in 3 months. A couple years later a friend had an interview with this same company – I told her not to do it. She canceled the interview.

    They were constantly firing people. The upper management just looked at surveillance videos all day – and I quickly learned there were certain things you did not do and certain places in the plant you did not walk to.

    • @ Kevin. Sounds like my current employer, and some others I’ve had in the past. Fascist and toxic employers. A friend of mine calls them “crisis management” employers, and my late father called them “revolving door” employers.
      Another friend of mine, and former colleague, ascribes to the view that “sometimes the best job is the only job”. I used to think somewhat that way, and have taken jobs out of desperation (e.g. after debilitating long term unemployment and job searches), only to get bit. There’s also a push to take “fill in” jobs. Although I agree with conventional wisdom that one may have to resort to this (been there, done that), it usually results in career suicide. I’ve seen myself and others get pushed down the ladder into a low-level wasteland, and I can attest, that climbing out of it is next to impossible. Still yet, try getting a lower-level stop gap job when you’re an older worker, and you are having to take 50%+ drop in wages. Sadly, if you’re younger, unmotivated, and unreliable these kinds of jobs are there for the picking, except that they’re not being picked by the targeted group, and older desperate and willing folks are told to take a hike.

      • @Antonio: I am going to tell you something that you may hate to hear. A lot of your posts sound full of despair and hopelessness. Could that be coming across in your interviews?

        You cannot control potential employers, but you can control what you do.

        The manager who hired me for my current position as well as a manager I had when I was young both have told me they admire my enthusiasm.

        So I ask you: What are you enthusiastic about?

        One thing: in addition to my engineering degree I also have a master’s degree in music (organ performance and church music) – and I am most enthusiastic about making music this way. No matter how enthusiastic I am, however, it is an obsolete profession, so I don’t make music as often as I would like anymore. My music degree made me a better engineer.

        Coming back into engineering was hard, but I now enjoy it more. Think to yourself: What else can I do?

        PS: I am working on starting my own business. I recently went to a trade show in the field of my new company (I will continue working full time until I am ready to launch).

        • Despair? No, I’m a realist. You’re in more professional type occupations. I’m more in the semi-professional/ shop floor grunt realm. World of difference. Most of these posters sound like I.T. or similar, but I still don’t get this using d-bag headhunters and recruiters route. With all due respect, you reside and work in a state that seems more worker/employee friendly, and some laws that appear to favor said workers (paying accrued vacation time when employment is terminated, not holding workers to non-compete agreements). Not so where I’m at. I’m also adept at keeping what you refer to as despair masked in interviews. I just refuse to play ball anymore with sleazy and sketchy employers.

          • @Antonio: NOW I understand – interesting how “business friendly” means “employee hostile.” I wonder why so many managers and corporations treat employees like dirt when treating employees nicely increases productivity.

            • Yes, you have seen my point. I’ve wondered the same thing, believe me. My late father was a WWII/depression era man. He graduated from a HS that back in the day, could run circles around the university I graduated from long ago. He entered a United Steel Workers machinist apprenticeship. Made a good middle-class living, busted his chops, and was with his last employer for 30 years before retiring at age 62. He dealt with a few bad apples, but was treated well. Yeah, business friendly does not often equal worker friendly. I don’t agree with many of the progressive policies of Minnesota (where I grew up), or California, where you are, but I’m afraid hoping for good will from most employers today is a pipe dream, and the millennials and Generation Z folks I know and mentor in my parish, and in my part-time evening CC gig, are spot on with having a mercenary world view with employers. Btw, I’m very long suffering, bitten my lip and have endured often egregious behavior, and have never been combative with employers when trying to resolve issues. I see an extreme shortage of people in skilled trades, and I think supply and demand is going to have some dire effects on employers in the future, at least in the manufacturing world.

  15. I just left a job after two years because of my “manager.” Won’t go into details since I want to restart a job search and need the recommendations. The process of hiring included a group interview, but not a one-on-one sit down to discuss what I would actually be working on. The red flag was that they had been looking for someone to fill the position for over a year. Good salary and benefits. I ought to have asked why they thought they hadn’t filled the position. Possibly too direct. I moved and took the job, quickly to find out HM and I were not compatible, and all the “expertise” they hired me for was dismissed. At the time, I decided to accept because I fell into the “but they have so much potential!” trap. As a friend once said, potential doesn’t win the ball game.

    Agree with those who posted above: two red flags out of three. If they don’t make time to consider how you would contribute to the organization and who you would work with, they see employees as cogs in a Rube Goldberg device. Also the pressure of “we need an answer” may mean they have someone else on the hook as well. Unless you really need the money and will have enough energy to continue searching for a better position, you’re better off saying “thank you. Next.”

    Best wishes to you!

  16. One offer I SHOULD have said no to:

    * The person who called and made the offer was not HR, and was not the person who would be my boss. I found out who was my actual boss two-odd weeks after I joined… after two weeks of trying to get onto the schedule of the person who I thought was my boss.

    * I was told the job would be an individual contributor role. Only after I joined did I find out I was slated to become the group’s manager.

    * The pay was substandard for an engineer, let alone a manager.

    * Only after the fact did I learn the place had a double-edged reputation; not just as a “bleeding edge” R&D place, but as asweatshop demanding 20+ hours a week or more of casual overtime on a regular basis. (IMHO, their R&D methodology was “bleeding edge” 30 years ago, and in my time there I saw what I would call many unethical practices…. and while I’m not naive, when I mentioned “But… I can FIX this problem with one ECN cycle if I make this change THIS way” and was told to do it partway –
    clearly with a view do creating another billable ECN cycle to truly fix it – the lack of ethics clearly was pervasive.)

    * On the walls of the building were quotations by the founder/president of the company. In one meeting someone started saying them to prove a point. Cult. Of. Personality.

    * They refused to budge on anything salary / benefits / perks wise. This, in 2020 hindsight, was a big red flag. Clearly implied was that it was an “honor and priviledge” to work for them. Sorry, I can’t pay bills with prestige, or buy groceries with challenge.

    * Lastly, when I pointed out the rapid churn of people through the company – IN and then OUT – they pointed to that with pride saying “We burn people out!”

    Another time, I interviewed for a position at a place not ten minutes from my house. A dream commute. The pay was $20K LESS than what I’d been making for a position that – arguably – had much more responsibility. I would have accepted a lateral pay move for the commute’s sake. But… $20K less was an insult.

  17. @Bill Freeto

    “With experienced people being thrown out due to ageism and reverse discrimination, those who are inexperienced or simply don’t have the necessary background are being rapidly promoted.”

    I know of a person who was in a Director position — with no direct reports — and nobody seemed to know just what this guy did within the company. Tons of talented people were either let go or left in disgust in the years since I worked there (over ten years ago) while this barnacle is still there.

    Many found it weird that there were so many instances of people like this within the company—it didn’t take you long to find one of them on the org chart. People with lofty titles with nobody reporting to them who appeared in lots of emails’ CC: lists but never had any other involvement with the work being done. You might see them at an “all hands” town hall meetings but, otherwise, they rarely attended meetings, they didn’t sign off on work, they provided no input… they were just /there/.