In the March 24, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a student accepts a job offer, then gets more interviews and a better offer. What now? Renege on the first offer?

Question

renegeI am in deep turmoil right now. For quite a while I was not getting any calls let alone interviews. About a month ago I got interviews with three companies. Company A made an offer and Company B made an offer later in the week. I didn’t hear anything back from Company C. Out of fear of losing my first real offer, I quickly accepted Company A. Company B’s offer was nothing compared to what A offered. However, it’s a job in the industry I prefer.

About two weeks later, I got calls from Companies D and E. I passed phone screenings at both, and both invited me to fly out for interviews. These were really good jobs for a soon-to-be graduate that include good leadership programs. I asked my professors for advice on how to prepare for these new interviews, and what to do about the offer I accepted from Company A. They right away reproached me for still interviewing after accepting an offer. They talked me out of going forward with Companies D and E, so I cancelled those interviews and told them my situation.

Now I am having second thoughts. I am still in talks with Company B for a possible better salary. It’s a better fit for me. I am even considering reopening talks with Companies D and E. And now I am receiving calls from a new Company F. I am thankful for where I am, but worried that I may have accepted to soon and the job might not fit me.

Nick’s Reply

Congratulations on all the interest you have stirred up, and on your job offers. While I respect the intent of your professors, I don’t agree with them. In fact, this problem of staggered job offers and rescinding acceptance of a job offer is something I’ve covered in detail in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.

The bird-in-the-hand rule of job offers: When you have one offer in hand, and you’re waiting to complete interviews with several other employers, you still have just one offer in hand. And that means you have just one choice to make. (From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, p. 12)

Should you renege?

The gist is this. To renege on your acceptance of a job is a crappy thing to do and it may have adverse consequences. But it is your choice to accept those consequences if you think another offer is compelling. That is up to you.

Just as companies sometimes rescind job offers (rare, but it happens) and companies sometimes lay people off for purely business reasons (nothing personal), people sometimes renege after accepting a job and take the consequences.

But be careful: It seems your C, D and E opportunities are still not solidified completely. That’s another risk you take if you rescind your first acceptance. Don’t play the odds and be left with no offers at all. Sit down and flow-chart how things may play out, and how your decision might have some adverse impacts on your reputation. There’s a cost to everything. The thing is to make informed judgments and choices.

Choose the best job offer

I know your professors will disagree with me, but I stand by my advice: Make the best choice, consider the downside, and decide whether you’re willing to accept the consequences. (For example, upsetting an employer.) Please keep in mind that there is risk in any of these choices, including the dissatisfaction of working at a job you changed your mind about.

Odds are high that you will search for a new job within a couple of years – not because you didn’t choose carefully, or because you’re not dedicated. It will be because you will develop your first sense of what’s important to you and what motivates you. The simple truth is, at your age you will change very much in the next one or two years – and that’s good.

Choose the best company

Concern yourself with making a choice to work with a company that has these 4 qualities:

  • Good people – who will mentor you.
  • Good projects and products in the pipeline – that you will work on and learn from.
  • Good financial prospects – so you won’t have to leave unless you want to!
  • The respect of its customers, vendors, and peer companies.

But mostly, choose the company with the best people. Ask to spend a day shadowing someone in the department where you will be working. You’ll see firsthand what it’s really like to work there.

Learning how to control information

I admire how you are taking this one step at a time and learning as you go. You’ll get better at juggling job offers with time and experience.

It’s really no one’s business who else you’re interviewing with. It would have been better to conduct your search and negotiations without telling each company what you were doing with others. Recruiters might get offended, but they control information to their advantage all the time. They have no problem making an offer to their #1 candidate and stringing you (the #2 candidate) along until they get an answer from #1. They want to keep all options open, so they won’t tell you they’ve already made an offer to someone else.

Make sense? Controlling information (without ever lying) is what we do in business.

The book I referred to above tells a lot more about how to deal with job offers. In any case, I hope something I’ve said here is helpful. I would like to know what you decide and how this works out for you. Best wishes on your first job!

Is this job seeker being unethical? Is it ever okay to renege on a job offer? What other ways could a person handle this? And what about the appalled professors?

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73 Comments
  1. Because someone reneged on a job offer back in 1998, I ended up being hired for a job that changed my life. I was finishing graduate school in organ performance and church music (my undergraduate degree is electrical engineering – that is what I returned to when all the Cathedral jobs dried up). After an interview for a full-time organist/music director position, I got a call within a couple of weeks that I was not getting the job. I applied to several other churches from Hartford to Honolulu. A week before graduating, I got another call from the church that rejected me with an offer for the position. I had one more interview, but after that, I accepted this position.

    This job lasted 5 years (I returned to engineering when it went to part-time), and is the longest time I have ever held any job.

    I met my wife (introduced by 2 choir members – I had a policy of not dating choir members, however) – we celebrate 20 years this year. We have 2 children who have caused us no trouble.

    If you find something you are truly interested, just be very professional and tell the original employer your decision. Call them. There just might be someone who would be truly excited to receive that job – all because you reneged.

    Life is full of hard decisions. I just resigned from my job today, and my soon-to-be former manager wrote to me and told me that he really appreciated my professionalism – because I called him before sending my letter of resignation (note: he is in another state).

    Finally, yes, you might make a mistake. That’s life.

    • @Kevin: Great story! The bookend to this is some advice I’ve discussed here before. Just because you came in #2 and didn’t get the job doesn’t mean you should forget about it. Wait a week or two after being rejected, then call the hiring manager to say thanks, reiterate your interest and ability to do the job, and say you’re still available. That two-week period is a critical time.

      1. #1 may renege
      2. #1 may regret starting the job and quit
      3. #1’s boss may regret the hire and, under the normal probationary period, may decide to terminate and replace the hire

      It’s not likely any of these will happen. But it’s not impossible. You did a lot of work trying to get that job. Make sure the job was actually and permanently filled.

      • Nick Corcodilos- “Just because you came in #2 and didn’t get the job doesn’t mean you should forget about it”. Back in the day, I might have agreed with you, and conventional wisdom. But in reality today, I’d walk away and put it in my rear view mirror. I’ve been there and done that. I mentioned about the toxic drama ridden steel company I worked for years ago. I was job hunting discreetly, and I interviewed for a similar position in a completely different industry (pump manufacturer). After two rounds of intensive interviews, that seemed to have gone well, I was ghosted (this back in the late 1980s). I discovered they hired another candidate. Two months later, they were advertising for the same job again. I went around the HR lady, and went straight to the hiring manager who’d interviewed me. I ask to be reconsidered. His reply “we wouldn’t hire you if you were the last candidate on the planet”. Ouch! They must have masked their disdain for me well, because from the two interviews, you could have fooled me. Lesson learned. I think we give too much benefit of the doubt to I’ll-mannered employers.

        • @Antonio: With the one employer, you REALLY dodged the proverbial bullet.

          Interestingly, when I interviewed for a job at a local company, the HR person said they were highly interested in me. I had a third interview a week later after which I was ghosted. I saw her in a store – I could see she recognized me and then started walking very fast with her cart.

          I’m a big boy and I can take it if you want to reject my application or change your mind. Just don’t ghost me.

          • Kevin, I agree. I can take the ghosting; par for the course. But if an employer narrows it down to 2-3 candidates, runs you through multiple time wasting interviews, then ghosts you (or the HR lady in your case who sees in a grocery store, and then runs away. How petty is that!!). At least, how hard is it to mail, or email, a “dear john letter” “we’ve gone with another candidate”, and don’t do it 6 months later! Employers demand unearned respect, and that you as the candidate, or employer, should take the higher ground, and bite your lip. Then they get butt hurt and petty when candidates, or employees, ghost them. Sweet for sweet/what’s good for the goose analogy.

            • Another company that ghosted me makes audio products – and I am both an engineer and a professional musician. Needless to say, knowing how these companies do business, I don’t recommend either one. It’s not because I’m hurt either.

              In fact, the audio company was out of town, and they flew me out.

              This is where I draw the line.

          • Kevin-I’d add something to hitchhike with your story of the audio-products company. I used to question “raining on the just and the unjust”, but I now see that it’s empirical truth. Years ago, when I was trying to get out of a toxic and drama ridden steel service center, I submitted a resume to a competitor of my then employer.They we’re a major player, and had listed a classified ad (pre-internet/job boards days). I was called in for two interviews, one with the GM, and one later with the Sales Manager respectively. I have a litmus test I’ve now developed late in life; how the receptionist presents themself is a fairly accurate gauge of what the management and culture are like. The receptionist was extremely rude, and was rude to other guests who’d come in for appointments. Today, I’d walk. The interview went well with the GM, the Sales Manager, not quite as well. In the interview he asked me “what some of my outside interests were”? I don’t care for employers asking intrusive questions, especially if they immediately disqualify you simply because your hobbies or outside interests are not their own, something they abhor, or they don’t see it as relating to the job at hand. I’m a dog lover, so I told him “I like dogs. I have two big rescue dogs”. “No, no he replied clearly irritated, I mean sports. Do you like sports? You have to be able to talk sports with the customers”! “I deal with a lot of industrial accounts, and none of them want to talk sports. They want to talk about the business at hand, then move on”, I replied. That ended it then and there. A week past, so I gave the guy a follow up call. “We’re bringing in candidates for the next round of interviews, and you sure as h*ll aren’t going to be one of them”, he curtly said. I politely thanked him for his time and hung up. 20 years later, I was invited to serve as an officer on the board of a professional industrial trade association. I was honored top serve. The association had changed some bi-laws as they were being inundated with vendors as members in proportion to actual manufacturing members. This guy had tried to go around our local chapter to the national HQs in order to gain membership. The board put it to discussion, and then to a vote. I shared about my interview experience. To my surprise, every member shared similar bad experiences with this guy in their business dealings, and several referred to him as a jerk, and in other terms I won’t say. Then came the vote for membership. All in favor, zero hands shot up. All opposed, every single hand in the room shot up. The guy never attempted to join again.

  2. 1. …another example of how “professors” are still giving out bad job/career advice in the 21st Century.

    Those guys really need to try living in the real world.

    2. Changing jobs right after accepting one is done all the time. ‘One Must Watch Out for One’s Self’.
    ..
    ..

    Paul………

    • Paul – absolutely spot on. Professors live in the ivory tower. Many (not all) have no real world experience. If I’d ask any professor, it would be a part-timer (adjunct or lecturer) who actually had a job in the real world, for this type of advice. Same with most college career centers: the career “counselors” have never had a real job or worked in the real world…and they rarely hire their staff from the real world, so their advice is suspect at best…(they are typically good at giving standardized career assessments, however, and that’s quite valuable)

      • Amen, Michael. Having supplemented my day job teaching as an evening adjunct for seven years, you’re spot on 100+% right in what you’ve said.

      • Michael……………TY……………paul

    • Academics are often well-intentioned, but disconnected from the real world. The traditional ideas of honor and ethical behavior are misplaced in the business of job hunting and hiring, not because honor and ethics don’t matter, but because academics have ancient ides about the real world. (Sorry, guys, I used to be one of you and I know!) Academics are not accustomed to negotiating business deals but are overly concerned with gallantry in the face of negotiations.

      @Paul Forel: I’m not surprised you’re the first to focus on this aspect of the column!

    • Paul Forel- A tale for the college professor debacle that some of us both see and have experienced first hand. I belong to two trade associations. One is in the foundry industry, and one in the welding industry, respectively. Conflicts have prevented me from being as active as I once was. There’s a college professor from one of our state universities who brings his gaggle of students to chapter meetings, usually just the first meeting in the fall when the chapter dishes out generous scholarship and equipment acquisition funds to his program. I once had words with the guy a few years ago after one of his ill-mannered students shot his mouth off and interrupted me during an announcement I was asked to give at a meeting. Since then, I keep my distance. One meeting he showed up with 20 students. This after the chapter president told him ahead of time to only bring 3-4 students as the chapter had to dole out $30 a pop for himself and his students to cover the buffet meal at the casino conference room and the small honorarium for the speaker. Not only did the chapter present the professor with a check for $5,000, but they had to cover an additional and unexpected $600 for the extra students he dragged to the meeting. To add insult to injury, the speaker, was giving a presentation on how the EPA, OSHA, and our illustrious state and federal government was ravaging and beating down what little of the foundries are left onshore. I was sitting at a table with some guys from some local foundries I do business with. These were guys who came up off the shop floor. At the end of the presentation, there was a Q&A time. Like a petulant child having a temper tantrum, the professor stood up, chimped out, yelled and waved his fist in the air, and severely excoriated the members for “not giving his students employment and paid internships”. Huh? We’d just handed this guy $5,000, plus had to dole another $600 for the extra warm bodies he was told not to bring to the meeting. Most of these foundries were struggling to stay open, and several had laid off workers and were running with skeleton crews. These were privately owned companies, not the federal government that can create WPA style made for work jobs, or pull jobs out of the air for his students. Cart them off to Sweden or Denmark then. I’ve been supplementing my day job for seven years teaching as a part-time adjunct instructor in the evening in a 9 month welding program at a community college. Never would I, nor any of my colleagues in the vocational-technical programs at the CC, ever stand up in front of a professional trade association and angrily demand that member companies “hire our students”! Not to mention in front of my customers as well! These guys on here in love with college professors are just naive! Many of these college professors are just that; entitled, out of touch, and I’ll-mannered at best.

      • Not much to say to that except to say respect is where you find it.

        Bad attitude and faulty thinking is infectious, especially for those looking for ways to skate and avoid responsibilities attendant to the real world. In the meantime, people like myself and Nick will continue to deselect them.

        Keep doing the right thing.

    • AMEN!

      Worse yet, the other year on this very site (different topic) I was chastised by a self-proclaimed “tenured professor” for posting real-life factual information related to said topic. This professor, in a weak attempt to “prove” his advice, boasted about his several decades teaching and topped it off by saying anyone remaining unemployed for long is just not trying or isn’t good enough.

      LOL!

      Did we expect any real life value out of a clueless wonder hiding in the classroom? Of course not!

  3. I forgot to say that it is too bad you were not recruited for the better job. Then you could simply shift all the blame to the headhunter, LOL!

  4. “What about the appalled professors”? I assume this job seeker is in a STEM major (multiple job offers, flying to job interviews. Doesn’t sound like some artsy toilet paper degree type). It’s none of their business how this job seeker handles this situation, nor would I have even brought it to their attention. Most college professors are out of touch with the real world (IMHO), and they don’t have this job seeker’s back. Let them be butt hurt educators. The job seeker has most likely accrued hefty student loan debt, so he/she owes them nothing. A year or two from now, it won’t make a bit of difference. Is this job seeker being unethical”? No! He/she needs to look out for themself, and develop a mercenary “monkey branching” view of jobs. “Is it ever ok to renege in a job offer”? Yes, employers are reneging more and more on job offers in today’s job market. Further, again, this job seeker needs to look out for his/her own best interests.

    • @Antonio: Your comments are echoed in further mail exchanges I had with the reader whose question we’re discussing. It’s a rare student that can see the pitfalls in the professors’ advice. Here’s what the reader told me after deciding to go full-steam ahead with the other employers:

      “My professors and advisers at school will never tell me anything you wrote. I have respect for them for who they are, but [there] can be no doubt that they too could be looking out for their and school interest/image. My adviser demanded that I stop any new company that come[s] knocking and reject them and she made it an ethical/integrity issue, which is something that I did not fully buy into. I am thankful that I [came across] your website on the internet and your being kind enough to reply back to me, otherwise I would have made further decisions that could have not been right. I am going to keep chin up high and stay in it till the finish. If I took my professor’s suggestion, I would be in a completely different and possibly stressful situation from turning down more interviews.”

      Now, that’s a new grad I’d want to hire if only for their persistence and refusal to go along with the conventional wisdom!

      • Nick Corcodilos- I sensed there was more to this than what could be condensed in the article. I hope David Ryan will read your post. I’m encouraged that some of the younger Gen Z folks, as I assume this young job seeker is, are seeing the “forest through the trees”, and aren’t buying the bill of goods academians are pushing. Like I said in my post, these college professors “don’t have this job seekers back”! I knew they were guarding their perceived reputation and best interests, and possible connections, with said employer, and hey, who can blame them. Point is, this young job seeker may easily have made a bad life decision by going with this company. Years ago, as a much younger man, I was caught up in the dreaded recession in the early 1980s. After several months of job searching, I took a lower-level job with a plastic molder, despite some major reservations. It also required me to relocate (even more foolish on my part). At the same time, I was working with a contract engineering company that had a permanent placement with a job that sounded like a much better fit. I turned it down because I had already accepted the job with the plastic molder, and I felt it was the “principled thing to do”. The recruiter told me “it doesn’t sound like a good deal, and you should do what’s in your best interests here”. At the time, I found his words disconcerting, but after taking the job, getting into a hellhole, and getting let go two months later, than moving 500 miles back home on my dime yet again, I should’ve reneged and taken the other job.

  5. As Nick mentioned, don’t forget the possibility that companies sometimes rescind job offers. Keep on interviewing. Even after you started working in Company A, you may find that there was some “misunderstanding” and the environment or job nature is quite different from what you been led to believe, or you may be put into a team with a boss you cannot tolerate for some reason. An offer from another company would be a life saver then.

    To your professors, ask them if they will pay your salary if Company A’s offer was suddenly gone for whatever reason. No? Then they have no business telling you to stop interviewing other companies.

    • Remind me why I have a dim view of academia!

      • Academia has its place, but certainly not on the front lines of giving employment advice (unless, perhaps, it’s in academia).

  6. Ahem. The academic job market is five times as bloody as the industry job market.

    Nick’s advice, as usual, is spot on. No offer exists until it is signed and sealed, and not even then. I’ve seen companies renege on job offers in times of economic turmoil – like we’re in right now. I don’t know when this letter was sent, and what industry the writer is in, but at the moment he or she might be lucky if company A doesn’t back away from the offer.
    Not that it is wrong to renege on an offer for a better one – but this might not be the time to be playing games.

    • “The academic job market is five times as bloody as the industry job market”. Says who? I’ve been supplementing my day job for seven years as an evening adjunct in a community college. Academia is rife and glistening with nepotism. I’ve never seen the magnitude of fanny kissing and knob polishing in any of my private sector jobs to the level I’ve seen in academia, and this at the CC level, not even close to the shenanigans in universities. So who exactly forced people to pursue MAs and PHDs in Gender Studies, Canine Anthropology, or Puppeteering knowing full well that there’s zero job demand in the private sector, save for a handful of made for work jobs in the academic sector. Ivory palace college professors have no clue as to advising anyone about careers and jobs.

      • I was in industry for 40 years, but I know lots of professors and my daughter is one – at a top business school, not in the basket weaving department.
        In business you don’t get judged in 5 or 7 years and kicked out if you haven’t jumped through the right hoops. Adjunct professors don’t go up for tenure. Some top departments have a policy of kicking all their new professors out and hiring ones who got tenure at other places.
        Most people in business don’t have to spend half their time getting funding for themselves. People in business don’t have to publish or perish. I did research in industry, and it was a lot easier than doing research in a university.
        None of this applies to community colleges of course.
        BTW my daughter has not only given advice to her students, she has gotten jobs for them. Some of her class projects are done with local industry.
        Sure professors can give bad advice. So can people in industry.

        • Yeah, and people in industry don’t get granted life time employment (tenure) after 5-7 years either, and protected even when incompetent.

    • @Scott: You raise an important point. The question came in before the coronavirus crisis began. I’ve been holding it while running other Q&As. But I’ll say this: I know people who have received very good job offers in the past couple of weeks. I’m watching to see whether any get rescinded or changed due to the crisis, but so far, so good. I wouldn’t bet a nickel either way right now.

  7. Interviewing with the other companies is a good idea. Hell, until the day this person starts the job, they should be interviewing/contacting other companies. Company A could pull the job at the last minute.

    Even if the job with company A turns out to be great, they’ve now got contacts at all the other companies. If company A goes bankrupt, they get a new manager who’s a real jerk, or A gets bought out by another company that decides to lay off most of company A employees, they’ve got names and numbers they can start calling.

    • Chris-at least you’re live in the real world.

    • @Chris: “Even if the job with company A turns out to be great, they’ve now got contacts at all the other companies.”

      Bingo! Those contacts are the coin of the realm, and it doesn’t matter whether you made them while job hunting or not. They are priceless and should not be pushed away for any reason. There is nothing unethical about meeting people who might help your career. In fact, it’s dumb to push away any such contacts ever! Professors are surprisingly transaction oriented when it comes to this, when they should be thinking long term!

  8. Sorry, I respectfully disagree with Nick and most of the other comments above. While not the biggest fan of academia either, I lean more toward the professors’ advice in this one.

    While companies certainly express bad behavior at times, that’s on them. That doesn’t give carte blanche for us to toss personal ethics out the window.

    To me it has to do with living up to what you say you will do, even when it’s uncomfortable. If you earn that professional reputation, it will serve you well down the road.

    And in this case, it doesn’t seem you are even getting close to getting into an “uncomfortable” with choice A.

    I would ask you to consider what it perhaps it was about the team at Company A that they made an offer first? Just maybe they have it more together and/or are more efficient in making decisions?

    Nick talks about being willing to accept the consequences if you renege. Ok, I propose that you consider just what might be some of those consequences? I submit they may be more severe than you may think — and that they may actually be silent consequences — ones you’ll never hear about.

    If Nick’s main thesis is true that networking really is the most productive way to advance your career, then why does it all of the sudden make sense to possibly “burn a bridge?”

    “Oh, I’ll never meet that person again.” Oh really? In this day of social media and movement within the workforce, you stand a good chance of running into the direct person(s) you screwed again — either literally or virtually. And they will remember you. I remember all the hires that ghosted or jerked me around as a hiring manager. I certainly didn’t open any doors for them, and yes, I closed a few in some cases.

    One of Nick’s criteria listed in the article for judging whether to work for a company is: “The respect of its customers, vendors, and peer companies.”

    I contend that respect Nick talks about in that statement is based on the tenet of living up to commitments, even when it may be uncomfortable.

    If choosing Company A was done under duress, or if you discovered something unsavory after committing, that’s one thing, but to jump ship after having made a commitment I believe is a bad precedent to set as you enter the work field.

    I urge you to think this through more.

    You owe them at least a year of work, maybe more, depends on the industry. And this doesn’t sound like a death sentence. Use this as a learning experience. There are positive and negatives about every employment situation.

    And you just might be pleasantly surprised.

    • @David Ryan: I would agree with you except for one thing: When you hire on, you sign an employment-at-will agreement. They can let you go anytime, and you can leave anytime.

      That said, there is much to be said about being professional – and that includes making hard decisions. It includes giving bad news to people.

      I would not have the nerve to renege, but things change. Just be honest and straightforward. Maybe that company needs to change something to become more competitive.

      ….and remember, I am married to my wife because somebody reneged on a job offer: I never would have met her otherwise. Our 20th anniversary is this year.

      • I would answer that just because one has the legal right to do something doesn’t necessarily make it ethical or the right thing to do.

        Congrats on your 20 years of marriage. Most laudable for sure. However, I would argue that should play no role in justifying bad behavior by the other hiree. I do not believe we want this young person who wrote Nick to use any sort of “cosmic” rationalization to justify possibly reneging on his commitment. If we want to play that game, then I would say you were the beneficiary of some good karma you created someplace. And likely that person who reneged created some bad karma from that deed that we are not aware of. But I know that is being a bit naive. My main point is that developing a reputation of living up to commitments will serve one well in the long run.

    • You owe and employer a good faith effort and integrity. But living in angst that burning bridges, or refusing advice from air head academians, is going to come around and bite you in the rear someday is false.

    • “You owe them at least a year of work, maybe more”. Really? Spoken like an HR or hiring manager type for sure. Indentured servitude is illegal in America! There’s no legal contract here. You don’t owe this perspective employer jack. “Company A just may have it together or be more efficient in making decisions”. And company A may well be looking for anyone with a pulse, and who can fog a mirror, to fill a lack luster or hard to fill position, so they just threw out an offer for a warm body. Happens regularly. Don’t kid yourself, if someone came along who’d work cheaper, or gives them the tingles more, company A would renege in a heartbeat. Happens all the time today. “I’ll never meet that person again”. I mean, if you personally desire to go through life afraid of your shadow, that’s your choice. I’m certain company A had other candidates in the mix, and they’d go straight to plan B. Happens all the time, and I’ve seen it numerous times in my current workplace. The worse that can happen is this young job seeker could be disqualified from ever working at company. So what. Doesn’t sound like any big lose. This view that employers have some dark triad network that will follow you to your grave and destroy any employment prospects you’ll ever have as the result of intentionally/or unintentionally slighting someone is pure nonsense and tin foil hat.

    • @David Ryan: I’m glad you (or someone) posted such an articulate alternate point of view. It’s important to hash this out because the “conventional wisdom” needs to be revisited. The issue is reduced too easily to a matter of honor or ethics, and it’s more complicated. I’ve seen too many people accept, or stay in, jobs they didn’t want because they were afraid of what it would do to their reputations, while they set aside what it would do to their careers and mental well-being.

      [NOTE to readers: David and I know one another outside this forum. He’s a good, generous, very smart, honorable guy that I’d let hold my wallet while I go for a run. I respect his point of view even if we disagree.]

      This is not a simple matter, in part because it confuses ethics with business. No — I don’t believe ethics are not required in good business. They are. But I don’t think this is an ethical matter. It’s a business choice that plays out every day. I don’t think we need to resort to judgments about honor to understand any of these examples:

      1. A company hires you. A week later it experiences a massive financial downturn and terminates you. An unexpected event triggers a choice. Is that unethical? It’s crappy (as I suggested reneging on a job-offer acceptance is), but it’s the result of a sound business decision that happens to have adverse consequences for someone else. The company must accept those consequences. Perhaps the person who lost that job (and all their friends) will never buy that company’s products again, or apply for a job there. That’s the cost to the company. In business we face this frequently.

      2. A customer orders products from us on account. The order is of such a size that it will have a great effect on the customer’s business for several years. A week later the customer cancels the order because it found a better product at lower cost — a decision that will have meaningful impact on the customer’s future. The customer is doing nothing illegal, even if it hurts the sales rep quite a bit for loss of the commission. Is that unethical? It’s business.

      As someone else has hinted, this quandary is so real that it’s addressed by laws that protect at-will hiring and employment. We might argue the law itself is unethical, but we still must address the fact that such laws were enacted. Society protects your right to choose, even as it leaves you holding the bag on the consequences of your choice. You might run into that sales rep your company screwed over when it cancelled that big order, or you might run into the HR manager who issued you the job offer you reneged on. Welcome to the world of commerce. I would not argue with you if you respond that you would not put yourself in this position; that you would choose to honor your first choice — and live with the consequences of keeping a lesser job to protect your honor. That’s your choice. But I don’t believe it makes one who takes the other path dishonorable.

      I’ve grappled with the problem of rescinded job offers and reneged offer acceptances. Both are difficult, painful, sometimes costly events. Yes, one party may judge the other as dishonorable or unethical or as a jerk. One party may get financially hurt. I wish it didn’t happen.

      I think the key is in choosing to accept the consequences of the decision. As you note, the job seeker’s reputation could be hurt meaningfully, just as an employer’s is hurt when it rescinds an offer.

      I find the bottom line about this matter in two things:

      1. Did the job seeker have a binary choice or a “multiple choice” at the time they made the decision? In this case, it was binary: Yes or No to the only offer on the table. Even if other interviews were underway, those outcomes are unknown. The questioner even said it: They took the A offer for fear they’d get no other. Naive? Perhaps. But defensible. If the person had multiple bona fide offers in hand and accepted one, then switched to one of the others, then I’d agree that’s unethical.

      2. What’s the consequence (ah, those consequences!) of the job seeker sticking with A? A year or more working at a company while filled with regret and resentment, because they “did the right thing?” That hurts both parties. It’s like the spouse who married the wrong person and is miserable but “toughs it out in the marriage” because it’s wrong to make such a commitment and then welsh. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable analogy — both situations deeply affect lives.

      This problem could probably be handled by a different kind of law — the contractual kind:
      https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/employment-contracts

      It’s important to consider both sides of this. Thanks, David, for an eloquent defense of ethics and honor and for taking time to post it!

    • @David Ryan: “You owe them at least a year of work, maybe more, depends upon the industry.” Seriously? Does this cut both ways? That is, does the EMPLOYER “owe” the employee at least a year of work, maybe more, depending upon the industry”? If the hiring manager for this employer received a call from a former college roommate/classmate/frat brother or relative who said his son needs a job, you mean to say that the hiring manager would tell said former college roommate, etc. “sorry, I’ve already hired LW, I can’t help your son”? The hiring manager could fire LW and hire his buddy’s or relative’s son. Or what if the company decided to “restructure” and put the funding for the job elsewhere? Do they “owe” the LW at least a year’s employment? Hell no, they’d fire him and tell him “it’s not personal, this is business”, and LW would have no recourse.

      With all due respect, and I mean this, because based upon your comment, you’re trying stress the importance of behaving honorably and professionally, I think you’re way off base. You’re telling the LW that he is to be held to a much higher standard than any employer. By the way, I think employers should be held to a higher standard, too, but they’re not. So if no loyalty is owed from an employer to an employee, why does the employee owe loyalty to an employer? Loyalty won’t pay the LW’s rent, student loans, and other bills.

      If LW sticks with his original decision and the company folds before he begins, then what? Does the employer owe him anything because he didn’t look out for his own best interests?

      • I take your very well-made points.

        However, in answer to your specific question about the situation with the former college room mate, I must respectfully disagree wholeheartedly.

        In that situation, I believe the response should have been, “Sorry, I have already committed to someone else. Let me see how it works out with that person, and I’ll get back in touch with you. In the meantime, I will keep an eye out for other opportunities for you both internally, and I will also check-in with my other industry contacts to see whether there may be an opportunity.” And then follow-up on doing that. The reputation one develops from doing business that way, in my opinion, is so valuable.

        Now, I am sure my perhaps naive line of thinking is based from the time I was an independent contractor for 11 years in the video production field, where seldom were contracts signed. Gigs, even ones lasting for a few months, were obtained from word-of-mouth referrals, agreements over the phone, hand shakes, etc. One was “toast” if he/she broke the commitment to take a more lucrative gig, etc., and on the other side, the producer who booked the gig likewise would be “blacklisted” from getting good talent if they developed a reputation of jerking folks around. So that informs my way of operating in my business dealings,

        And it carries over to today, where I now have my own video production business. Case in point: I recently needed to submit several references from clients for a bid on a new project. My references felt the desire to share those with me. I was almost take aback by their praise. Coincidental to our discussion in this blog discussion, one common theme expressed was their appreciation of my living up to what I said I would do and exceeding expectations, and being flexible when requirements changed (which they almost always do). Maybe I am a “sap,” but I won the project, and this now new client said to me, “Wow, you have some amazing references. We are very impressed.” I get the sense that many of these current clients of mine have been burned by previous vendors who basically just did the minimum and hemmed and hawed when things got uncomfortable. I on the other hand have developed relationships with these clients to the point that they volunteer restructuring the payments if some project requirement radically needs to change.

        Now, have I been jerked around? You bet. I actually was laid off three times, (small, medium and large companies) in three years within the not-to-distant past. The small one and the large one handled it appropriately, while the middle one were total jerks.

        So I get what you are saying.

        I trust, though, you see where I am coming from as well. Developing a reputation of living up to commitments, even when uncomfortable, can become a “calling card” that sets one apart from the competition, and that becomes a very valuable marketing asset.

        And once again, for the young person asking the original question, we are not talking about it being like a life-time marriage. We are talking about a year or so — basically it’s a gig — and again, it doesn’t sound like a death sentence.

  9. ….and I am in no way trying to justify bad behavior. In truth, if this happened to me, I would stick with the job I accepted unless there was some way I could justify pulling out – death in family, change in relationship status, etc.

    When I get an offer, I am very clear about being ready to accept or not. In fact, I have gone on interviews with another offer in hand telling them that I have a pending offer. If they are interested they move quickly.

    While some things went well in my life just because someone reneged on a job offer is in no way my justification for doing it, but just to illustrate a point that there is another story of what happens behind the scenes when a person does renege.

    Hopefully this young person has a good mentor – preferably somebody in the industry. Also, as a college student, check in with either career services or with a therapist at your student health center (I’m not saying you need counseling, but a good therapist can help you reflect and make a decision and be OK with it).

    • “Check in with either career services or with a therapist at your student health center”. As someone who’s been supplementing my day job teaching as an evening adjunct in a community college for seven years now, I disagree with this. While I’m in the vocational-technical side, most saavy young (and not so young) people I’ve seen today avoid these folks like the plague, and these folks often do more harm than good.

      • @Antonio: First, I like your practical no-nonsense viewpoint in things, but my suggestion to work with a mentor or therapist is to help do some soul searching – not to get direct advice. Everyone should have a mentor, and a good mentor (or therapist for that matter) does not give advice but helps you figure out what is right for you.

        • Kevin-again, I don’t share your views of therapists and those in the behavioral sciences. While you may say they help people (as in this young job seekers case), I say they often do more damage, as I’ve seen many times firsthand. A woman in my church is a Clinical Psychologist. She left a secular practice, and a nice income, for a faith based practice, and at substantially less income, because she could not reconcile her faith, and principles, to the methods of therapy, and often morally bankrupt methods of therapy, she was encountering in that profession.

        • @Kevin, @Antonio: Getting therapy is a matter of personal judgment. Not all therapists are good but not all are a waste of time, either. Cognitive behavioral therapies, properly applied, can be incredibly helpful and there’s solid research-based evidence to support this. I suggest reading something by Dr. Albert Bandura about social learning theory and self-efficacy. Not to suggest that difficulty finding a job can be helped with therapy, but if there’s an underlying psychological/behavioral issue, it might.

          • Nick Corcodilos- I don’t see it that way. I call it like I see it. A lot of these people have an agenda, and it’s not always good.

  10. I too got a job (only one school year though) because some one reneged. While I was in college, every time the professors saw me in a suit for a job interview, they asked if I was getting married. (As years later I had to advise a friend who went there to were a suit and dress shoes to interviews instead of jeans and army boots, there may have been issues there.)

  11. My first job out of Engineering School was at Great Western, a contract drilling company. During the first week, I sat in at my desk in an open area thinking things would somehow get better. Someone at school had said always accept the lowest paid job because there is more opportunity, so I did. That Friday I told my boss, “see you Monday.” He replied, “you mean, see you tomorrow … didn’t anyone tell you that we work half-day Saturdays?”

    Driving home that evening, I stewed about that and decided I’d quit on Monday, there was no way I was going to be compelled to work weekends. Saturday, a Job Offer from Texas Instruments was waiting in the mail (seriously). I drove into Great Western and quit, drove over to TI and accepted. I doubt there has ever been a time in my career when I ever worked only 40-hours, but it was never compulsory.

    Three months later TI laid off 10,000 people and I was offered the “opportunity” to transfer to Michigan (from Houston) in order to keep a job.

    When I entered Venture Capital a similar situation arose when I “gave my word” to the first firm to make an offer. The Boy Scout in me caused me to follow through and it worked out well. Nonetheless, a few offers followed the first and one in particular from a Founding Partner of a firm who needed his first Associate. He wanted me and told me that I could, “change my mind and rescind my offer,” to the first firm. Later on, I completely understood that he was right, but I lacked his business and negotiating experience. His fund was very successful and merged with an even more successful one. This guy is simply terrific.

    That’s life, it goes one way for a reason. I needed to be on the path I choose and it worked out well for me.

    All this is to say is I completely agree with the advice you’ve been given.

    • @Newell: Thanks for an example from a domain we don’t hear much about on this forum — venture capital — and for the “it happens for a reason” view! The path is indeed really a learning curve! Your story reminds me of some important lessons I learned from another VC, Gilman Louie. Unrelated to this topic, but a worthy read:

      https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/11884/recruit-competitive-advantage

  12. Friend reneged, company checked in once a year for about three years to see if he wanted to come work, no additional interviewing required.

    So sometimes it doesn’t burn any bridge at all.

    Of course it could have gone the other way.

    • @Observer: Much of the attitude about reneging or rescinding is emotional because these choices seem to fly in the face of what we are taught is fair. Thanks for a good example of a company that took a practical approach — it wanted a good candidate and didn’t judge that person by a business decision they made.

      Of course, a person might also renege callously or rudely and earn a justified bad reputation. It matters how you do it.

  13. In pondering this submission by Nick, I’m reminded of an occasion that happened to me when I was in my mid 20’s. I applied to several different companies in different business categories. Company A offered me a position in another state with a decent entry level salary and a program of training that would lead to management. This was in a field that interested me and so I accepted the offer and was given a definite time to report for that first day of work. Two days after I accepted this offer Company B called me and offered me a position in another state with the promise of an elevated salary, protected territory, and if I performed well, advancement to a state I wanted to live at that time of my life.
    I told Company B I would take their offer and stewed the next 48 hours how to tell Company A I was rejecting their offer. Finally I called Company A and informed them of my decision. They were stunned but graceful and wished me well in my endeavor.

    One month on the job with Company B I learned the realities of the company and despite being a Fortune 200 company on Forbes list, they were unethical as hell and actually lied about their so-called promises. Two months later I quit. I made contact with Company A to determine if another position was available. The same contact person said this to me, “We do have a couple of entry level positions available but we won’t consider you despite your qualifications and our earlier perception how you would fit in with our organization. The reason we won’t offer you a position is your lack of character. We simply can’t trust you.”

    Obviously I was stunned by the man’s answer but I took it to heart and realized my only real asset is my character. Later when I became a manager and had the responsibility of hiring, my earlier experience was like a neon light. I always looked for character first, then qualifications.

    Interestingly no where in this man’s question is there any mention of his professors not having experience in the real world. Yet, the vast majority of comments are based on the assumption they haven’t. What’s the reality? Even if these professors don’t have real world experience, they have insight to principles and how businesses operate. I believe my personal experience reflects what David Ryan has said. Also it appears this person’s dilemma is based on lack of professional experience based on the statement of his being in college. It’s fortunate for him he has a field that is of demand at this time, but that can/will change with the business environment. What won’t change is his character, which will manifest itself in different ways whoever he is employed by. Issues arise that bring out one’s character, which impacts people in different ways. In today’s business environment that is fickle at best, the probability factor is this person, or anyone else, will come in contact with someone from the past. What happened in that tenure will go a long way to getting either that dream job or a position to pay the bills.
    I believe the majority of comments on this issue are stated as conjecture and not only are wrong but definitely short-sided and simply the wrong advice to this person. It also reveals to me, character and who I would or wouldn’t want to associate with. Maybe some of these commentors should reflect how their character has either aided or hindered their career pursuits. Of course the real litmus test would be to solicit comments from those who have dealt such people.

    • What a load of crap! So Ask the Headhunter is now Ask the Social Justice Warrior? Some real HR and management noodle arms crawling out the woodwork today. The vast majority of college professors are ideologues, out of touch with the real work world, pie in the sky, and most couldn’t teach their way out of a wet paper bag! That’s common knowledge by most people. In addition to working a day job, I’ve taught part-time in a CC as a night adjunct for seven years (top student evaluations too), and I graduated from a state university when I was 30 years old, plus I’ve worked with many graduates of top engineering schools and universities who can’t pour it out of a boot, nor want to learn how to do it. Perhaps you should have shown a little more discernment and intuition on accepting what you perceived to be a better offer back in the day, when in fact it wasn’t. That was being naive, or more like greedy, on your part. Sounds like you went with the greener grass and sweetened pot behind door #2, it didn’t work out, and you crawled back to door # 1. So what. I wouldn’t of done it. This same scenario happens to lots of workers, including myself, that is employers sell you a bill of goods, then back peddle, or show their true colors soon. Then they dropped this character virtue signaling, as you’re doing now on the posters on this site. People live and work, and most eventually see how the game is played, and it’s not always a level playing field, or equitable. But ascribing to some blind sense of a taking a “higher road” with sketchy and douchey employers as you’ve described, well that’s just being a simp.

    • @Et tu: You raise an important issue – character. Like ethics, it’s a complicated one. I understand and admire you for ranking character so highly. I do, too. But I would not judge a person to be of low character because they changed their mind about a job they accepted from me. A lot would depend on how they did it. If they didn’t take ownership of their change of mind and apologize, I might question their character. I also would ask myself how sophisticated they were, and whether they were simply afraid to face the music by being candid with me. How many good people do we know who simply don’t know how to communicate bad news, and so avoid it altogether? Does that mean they have no character? If an employee bungles a project because they don’t know how to do X, should I fire them?

      I respect your view on this, because it’s a matter of judgment. But character is not black and white, good or evil, high or low. Human motives are complex. Please take a look at the comment above from Observer of Jobs. How do we explain the company in that case? Is it of low character because for 3 years it continued to pursue a candidate that reneged?

      When someone tells you they won’t hire you because of your lack of character, before you accept that judgment ask yourself what they base it on. One business decision you made? A few interviews? On the way you expressed your change of mind? On the way you reappeared asking about other jobs?

      I think there’s a lot more to this than a binary judgment. But there’s nothing easy about it, and that’s why I love all the discussion and all the points of view about it. We’re all learning something.

      • Nick Corcodilos- While you give this guy some credence, you do end with a question that shows valid points. Many years ago, I worked for a family owned steel steel service center. The place was the poster child for drama and toxicity. I worked in Inside Sales, and despite the toxic culture, I really enjoyed the work, and had good rapport with most of the customers. One day, a large direct competitor announced they were setting up shop in town, and they were going to commence hiring, including Inside Sales positions. The grossly narcissistic president, and the GM, called a meeting of the Inside Sales staff, that numbered about 6-7. The president said “———Steel is opening up soon. If any of you are thinking of jumping ship and going to the competition, just remember, Inside Sales people are low-level clerks, and that’s all that you’re, and you’re a dime a dozen”. Ouch! Talk about a slap down, and an incentive to get your people to leave! So, I submitted a resume to the competitor. A short while later, I had a phone interview with their GM. He came off as kind of a jerk, but I continued professionally with the phone interview despite it. He raved about my strong background in metals/weld & fabrication, which was unique, in an industry that normally fills their Inside Sales positions with order takers and button pushers. A few days later, he called back and said he wanted to meet up for a face-face at a restaurant of his choice as he didn’t trust me coming to their new service center being I worked for their competitor. I reluctantly agreed, but the next day called and left a message on his vm saying that I wasn’t comfortable meeting him in a restaurant (seemed sketchy), but would like to come out and visit more about the position at their location. I didn’t hear a reply. Today, I’d move on. Under the circumstances, I wanted out of the clown show I was in, so I called the guy, and he answered. He told me “you’re looking for another job, so you’re disloyal, and we don’t want someone who’s disloyal, we couldn’t trust you”. Really? So why did you set up a phone interview, then set up a face-face in a restaurant? Two days prior, as the millennials say, I was the “bomb”, and today, I’m untrustworthy. Huh? I later learned from a friend and former colleague who went to work there (and regretted it, and was terminated eventually) that the guy was a pugnacious narcissist. If I had a dollar for every time some past cheese wiz interviewer, or employer, slapped me down, rubbed my nose in my skill sets and credentials, made sweeping value judgements on my character based on no empirical evidence, or tried to define me, I’d be able to retire now. Sticks n’ stones, man! As you aptly analyze, “asking yourself what they base their judgement on”?

        • Antonio,

          That guy sounds like he’d hire Blackbeard the Pirate if he thought that the was right thing to do. That day. The next day he’ll come up with some other twisted thought.

          Guys like that have no moral compass and maybe they get stuff done and maybe they burn bridges but mostly they use people up like a used match.

          Who needs that?

    • @Et tu Brutus: What an appalling story! I hope that you realized that employer’s judgment of you didn’t really reflect you, your trustworthiness, your character, or your ethics but rather their misplaced sense of the loyalty they believe you owed them. And they were wrong.

      I do believe that character is important, but it cuts both ways, for both employers AND employees. What if you’d quit Company B for another reason, for example, to move for a spouse’s career, to go home to take care of a sick relative. What if Company had gone out of business? You’d be in the same predicament, looking for a new job. If I were an employer/hiring manager, and a person to whom I’d made a job offer but who ultimately took a job elsewhere contacted me about other job opportunities, what has changed? He’s still the same candidate, with the same skill set and education, and if time has passed, perhaps he has gained new skills or additional education that would make him an even more attractive candidate. I suppose much depends upon how leaving the first company was handled. If done openly and honestly, then I wouldn’t hold it against him, nor would I punish him should he apply for work with us. That this company did hold it against says more about them than it does about you. If something had happened (they found a more attractive candidate, cheaper candidate, or if the funding for the job was allocated elsewhere, they’d fire you in a New York minute and not give it a second thought. If the funding was restored and they called you to come back to work, they would expect you not to hold it against them (firing you is “just business, not personal”) and would bristle at any suggestions on your part about their lack of transparency and trustworthiness.

  14. Et Tu Brutus,

    From my viewpoint, you have formed a definition of character as characterized by someone with nothing at stake when s/he said ‘they can’t trust you’.

    Their value quotient is not necessarily yours and it certainly ain’t mine. You did nothing significantly disruptive when you withdrew from Co. A and importantly, as others here have pointed out, employers will stab you in the back if it suits them to do so. So, again, as I said in my first post, it is about Self, First.

    That you went back to Co. A is natural enough and they are entitled to their assessment but who are they to Brand you and who are you to let them Brand you?

    ‘Character’ is not just about changing your mind, it is about how you treat the population around you and if you do what I might loosely call ‘the Christian thing’ meaning you offer no malice to those around you and you do not take advantage to the serious detriment of others in an immoral way. There are additional ways to measure ‘character’ but you get my meaning.

    As for those ‘professors’, well, you may believe they are talking at a ‘higher level’ and in this case, who knows but what is most important, most important is that their response, as originally described is very typical of such professionals who have been regularly giving out naive, useless and detrimental job/career advice for years because they DO NOT KEEP UP with HOW THINGS ARE DONE in the employment world.

    Side with them if you like, your choice but keep in mind many of us roll our eyes when we hear that again, ‘those professors’ are giving out job/career counselor advice without a clue. Even if in ‘this’ case ‘they were right’, it does not mitigate the number of times I’ve heard similar tripe, over and over again during my thirty-eight/nine years of Executive Search.

    1. I had a placed candidate leave her job after a year. As a beginner and in a panic, I suggested I replace her since the original ‘plan’ was more like one to three years. ‘Relax’, they said, she more than replaced the recruitment fee through her productivity and in addition, she had gone to them, showing them the Offer and they had agreed, regretfully, it was a ‘better than current’ opportunity and she should take it. Leaving ‘prematurely’ was not perceived as a character flaw by her employer, it was viewed as a wise decision.

    2. A senior executive (VP & Actuary) had just taken a top job at a well known NY insurance so we were calling to congratulate him and were also working to curry favor with him so he would throw bones to us in his new capacity. Two weeks later we heard he had quit and taken a ‘better’ job at another NY insurance company. We were flabbergasted since jumping ship right after starting at the first company is a chancy thing to do, especially for a senior executive. We called him and he let us know the first company was not happy but they were not children and understood how things are done and that includes watching out for one’s self. His long time history in his industry spoke for itself (because the industry saw him as a professional with Character) and he did not suffer and in fact, frankly, he probably did others a favor by showing that ‘it can be done’.

    Some snot telling you off (nicely?) is not a guideline, it was a Reaction. And for all you know, that person -with or without an HR peer group- might have been the only one(s) who felt dissed and s/he was not in fact speaking for the company. You gave that person an opportunity to offer some petty retaliation and so you got the pie.

    Soupy Sales came back each week, pie after pie and never complained because his eye was on the larger picture. In this case, the larger picture is all about what’s best for you and the person who first posted their question to Nick.

    Paul….

    ..

  15. Keeping in mind there are similar-minded folks here regarding clueless ‘professors’, it occurs to me that I began hearing about this when I started in the Search business in 1980 and it obviously continues.

    My point being there is no Quality Control here. Institutional types giving bad job/career advice, year after year after year after…

    On Mars, professors are probably giving out the same bad advice. Maybe Al knows for sure, either way….LOL

    • Don’t forget tenure. Short of committing something grossly egregious, college professors with tenure have mostly life time employment, and it’s very difficult to terminate them.This is antiquated and bad all around.

      • Antonio,

        In the military, we refer to these types as ‘Lifers’.

        Self-explanatory.

  16. Years ago, my brother was looking for a job. He telephoned a former colleague of his and told him he was looking. The former colleague told him that they had just hired someone, the guy had accepted the job, was all set to begin, but the former colleague would rather hire my brother. So he rescinded the other guy’s job offer, made the offer to my brother, and my brother went to work there. The other guy had given notice at his old job, thinking that the written offer, which he accepted, signed, and returned, was good enough. But it wasn’t, because my brother happened to fall out of the sky on his former colleague’s desk. The other guy was not only out of the new job but out of his old job. Employers can rescind job offers all the time, and it is perfectly legal. It isn’t ethical–the ethical thing to do, in this case, would have been for the former colleague to express his regrets and tell my brother that the job was filled. This is one of the hazards of at-will employment. An employer can fire you for any reason or for no reason (so long as the reason isn’t because you’re a member of a protected class–think race, because race gets the highest level of Constitutional protection) and you can quit for any reason or for no reason.

    I think this week’s LW needs to do some serious thinking, and consider the pros and cons of any/all job offers. In the long run, he must do what is best for him. If something happened with Company A, and suddenly the funding for his job disappeared, they’d let him go, tell him it isn’t personal, and that is that.

    • Marybeth, are you sure you’re from Massachusetts? Lol. You’re making way too much sense. I don’t know why some people, here and elsewhere, are under the delusional view that employers are infallible, or you owe them a certain amount of your life and labor, or you owe them some type of unearned loyalty and respect. Like I always say “you owe a good faith effort and integrity”. I know people who actually took PTO time, and went to work somewhere else for a week or two, just as a safety net, and to make sure the employer didn’t renege on the offer, or that the employer wasn’t some toxic hellhole (that employers are very adept at masking) that would quickly manifest itself. Years ago, I worked with a guy at a steel company who did this. He took a week’s PTO, and sure enough, the place was even more toxic than the screwed up mom & pop steel company we worked for. The rub was, they found out he’d done this (not sure how), and he was instantly terminated.

      • @Antonio: “you owe a good faith effort and integrity”

        That’s a good policy.

      • @Antonio Zoli: Ha ha, and yes, I am. Born and raised here. Funny, here we’d say the same about you–you sure you’re from Missouri–you’re making too much sense (lol).

        I like your point: “you owe an employer a good faith effort and integrity”. It is good because a good faith effort and integrity are not the same as loyalty, and acting in such a way doesn’t mean that you have to harm yourself or go against your own best interests.

        A friend of mine took a job in 2018, after doing due diligence, much research, etc. The job itself was fine, but the employer engaged in such shenanigans and stuck its head in the sand when he raised issues/problems, and when he started getting written up for raising important issues, he realized that nothing would change unless management changed (and it wasn’t going to change), so he began looking for another job within a month of starting the other job. It took him a while, but he did find something else, then had to honor the conditions of contract (which he did) when he gave notice. He likes his new job much better. So he acted with integrity, but didn’t owe the other employer any loyalty. The employer lost a wonderful employee and a great person because the former didn’t act with integrity.

        I hope the LW reads all of our comments. He’s young, and new at the whole job hunting thing, and I’m glad he found this site because the advice here is better than what he has been given by his professors.

        Faculty vary. I’ve worked in academia (both at an R1 school, a small private college, and a community college as well as in town government and the private sector), and have found that some faculty are wonderful resources for their students, particularly for graduate students, while other faculty can’t match their socks and wouldn’t know when the semester begins if not for their wives pushing them out the door on the first day of classes and telling them it is time for them to go back. Career services at colleges also vary widely. At the R1 school, it was terrible–career services would only help undergraduates (any grad student who went there was told in no uncertain terms to seek help from faculty and professional staff in their programs/schools) and restricted their “services” to proofreading undergrads’ résumés, setting up job fairs. Those who wished to connect with alumni were told to contact the Alumni Office. Granted, the career services office was understaffed for a school of its size (about 30,000 students, both undergrad and grad students). At the small private college, it was much better, and they had a different mission, working directly with employers, alumnae, and students. The community college, well, the less I write about them and their so-called career services, the better. They were the least organized all across the board, and it showed. I’ll always wonder if students didn’t use career services because they didn’t know any better (a very strong possibility, and probably the most likely reason) or because their services were so inadequate due to understaffing and lack of prestige of the school. Employers who needed to hire in certain fields bypassed career services and instead went directly to deans and faculty who ran the programs that produced the graduates that they needed. So in this case, the faculty, including the many adjuncts, were more aware of job vacancies, at least in certain fields for certain employers, than career services.

  17. Generally I’m in David Ryan’s school. You made a commitment, that hiring manager thinks they’ve solved
    a hiring need. I think you owe it to yourself to try it for a year.
    But….we’re not talking about someone with working time under their belt. This is a grad, with no
    experience in the corporate world…or job hunting experience to get into the corporate world, who simply grabbed the 1st job offer. He made a mistake.

    Hiring on both sides of the table entails risk. offers and acceptances entail risk. Since he’s walking in cold. Unless you have inside information…any scenario one can offer good & bad that would deal with what could happen after starting with a company …can be applied to any of them…A B, C D etc. the writer’s choice in every one has consequences & risks.

    As a manager..I’ve had all those experiences..changes of mind, no shows, taking other offers, and acts of nature, death. An experienced manager manages to “butts in seats” not offer acceptances and has a backup candidate(s) and knows that if you think someone is a great hire…so do others and other offers will materialize. So no need to act like purity abused if someone changes their mind…especially someone just starting out.

    I also have a rule of thumb..if I think you’re good now, I’ll think you’re good a year from now especially with real world experience. Depending on how the person dealt with it and me…if I thought I found a good hire…I’d just move him/her to the back burner and keep in touch. Because when they join someone else, they will now be inside and find that all is not as expected, what was seemingly “better” isn’t. If they like to revisit joining, I know it will be an informed idea, which helps reduce the risk. The person that told them “you can never darken my door again is an idiot”. A good manager keeps their ego in check…and not take a change in heart personally. It’s not good business.

    And I have also had people turn me down, call up 2 weeks later & say they made a mistake and would like to join. And we picked up where we left off. I certainly didn’t sulk and say “I couldn’t trust him”. In fact I think I could trust him more. I gladly hired him and he was there when I left several years later.

    I think this kind of situation described has it’s own ethics. There’s a way to fire people, there’s a way to be fired, there’s a way to quit, to part company etc. And there’s a way to renege. I think the person can back off from Company A and try to salvage the bridge.
    1. The prequel to it was when getting his bird in hand to reply with a a caveat…I have some irons in the fire (be optimistic..you’ve applications..) and need to close them out before I’m in a position to accept. But that’s what I meant, that takes some job hunting experience and confidence.
    2. Failing that & having accepted, as soon as you have that offer in writing , let them know. And that you’re not playing a leverage game.
    3. Assuming you know others with your background from college, if you think any qualify for Company A
    do some quick recruiting & if any are game, offer Company A the referrals.
    4. Follow up after you’ve started your job (from your personal mail) & express regret to the hiring manager for derailing their plan, that you appreciate the opportunity & you’d like to keep in touch.
    You added someone to your network, a hiring manager, try to keep the connection.
    This in my view is dealing with it professionally.

    • Don Harkness, you’re obviously a reasonable man from your posts, and I’d wager a reasonable manager to boot. Perhaps you could share some of your insights of civil and cooperative management techniques and styles with some of these swivel d—k managers and HR drones who post on here.

      • @ Antonio, thanks for the kind words. I like to think I was a good manager, …but I was one for about 30+ years in a rather ruthless hi-tech environment. It’s an acquired skill meaning everything I ever did wasn’t stunningly correct, did some stupid things, and learned.

        I’m a Marine…and one doesn’t usually connect the dots of Marine to Management, but on reflection, they do. From the day you put on Marine boots you are positioned to lead…which is fine, but overall they drive for a meritocracy. They demand your best & overall get it.

        Which means to me..cultivate getting results..and getting results embodies trust that you’ll give it your best shot..and something Steve Jobs is quoted on…why hire people to do a job, then try and tell them how to do that job. So my core management principle is …I don’t give a shit what your bonafides are, what your work hours are, whether you like me, look like me, or I like you, just that you get the job done professionally & well. And I’ll trust you to do what you said you’d do..until you don’t. This was the hardest management thing to learn to do when someone waved their hand over my head and said “thou art a manager. Don’t micromanage!

        Which I admit fits well into the hi tech world. I expect people in my team to have my back…to understand management’s position even if they don’t want to be one…and my job is to understand their position & have their backs…inclusive of career growth & taking risks. and to the best of my ability to buffer them from corporate idiocy. Taking risks means learning to hire guided by potential and get on with the hiring. I can’t guarantee jobs, but I can do a lot to make people marketable with good projects, training ops. I also believe in objective fair treatment. And fair includes not keeping around someone not holding their own and at someone else’s expense.

        I see a lot HR derision which isn’t always fair or objective. I’ve know many really good value add HR people. Often they are put into a shoot the messenger situation, as how people are treated and managed is ultimately the responsibility of the executive crew. And all too often while espousing the value of people, the execs either are directing their HR management to execute the opposite or ignore it all together. But I’ve also been where there is no HR and that is not good either.

        I think something basic is afoot. Probably due to size. Something negative seems to happen when a viable company reaches a certain size. it becomes it’s own worse enemy. Managers arrive who can’t manage, or aren’t managing, or spend more energy fighting the company then leading their teams, or worse, butting into the work itself. At this juncture, it seems HR the function emerges and gains power. For example No HR person will ever tell a manager to hire or not hire someone, rather they introduce inhibiting & controlling policies, which are boundaries. the most common one being..education. When these policies trump a hiring manager’s hiring authority..the energy goes out the door.

        I’ve had a fair # of management jobs, especially if you count internally.
        I can’t recall once..when under consideration, by any means, e.g assessment, interviewing, performance appraising, was I ever asked about, probed on, evaluated on Management skills or track record. Technical prowess, production got the attention, perhaps quality, but how you treat people? morale? career development? at best an afterthought. I can’t prove it, this is one reason why you have dick head managers..they don’t know how to manage. If you’re lucky you worked for good role model managers and self trained.

        So as a recruiter I’d do reference checks..& if I was recruiting a manager, I asked for reference checks from former subordinates/team members. You’d be surprised at the reaction..as
        no one ever asked & it was telling if they’d struggle to get them.

    • @Don: It’s common in a discussion on a topic like this, where we’re judging the employee/job candidate, to invoke “don’t burn your bridges.” But you’ve raised an important point: This applies to the employer, too.

      “Never darken my door again” is an employer burning a bridge. As you note, that’s not necessary.

      In the end, it’s the word “integrity” that seems best for analyzing these behaviors. Integrity doesn’t mean not changing your mind. It means being ready and able to be accountable and to take responsibility for your choices and actions. The manager and candidate I have trouble with is the one that changes their mind and hides while doing it. Taking time to look the other in the eye and closing the loop candidly and responsibly is what I think it’s about. Perhaps that leaves the bridge unburned even as you walk the other way across it.

  18. Having been in a management position for a high tech company and as a current business owner I don’t generally fault people for changing their minds. In the past I’ve seen people start with a company, go through lots of hours and training only to walk out after a couple of months.

    I’d much rather you didn’t show up than have the company invest time in getting you up to speed only to quit.

    • Dennis Mabrey- I’m curious about something. In my personal experience with a handful of small local high tech companies, why is there this very “high brow” and “my excrement doesn’t stink” demeanor and acumen? I’ve had some limited business interactions through my day job, and I’ve interviewed for some positions with (primarily electronics/PC board manufacturers. I’d call them high tech) them, even though my background is totally opposite of what they produce. Like I say, these are small companies (20-30 employees), but they act like they have a big stick, or like they’re General Motors or someone like that. Just curious if you have some insight. Thx

  19. Mr. Zoli,

    This is not your own personal blog. It is helpful to make a point or two but please don’t dominate the discussion. i believe it dissuades others from joining in.

    Thank You

    • You don’t own this blog. I’ll post if I want, or until I’m kicked off. Btw, if you are triggered or dissuaded by my words, perhaps you should stick to the soft ball rainbow and unicorn HR job blogs out there.

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