Question

I’ve been working for company #2 for two weeks. I had interviewed at company #1 as well, but I thought nothing was going to happen there. It now turns out that I have a much better offer (and benefits) at #1, so I’ll take it. I know I’ll be burning my bridges, but I still want to approach this the best possible way. What do you suggest?

Nick’s Reply

better job offerThis is one of those situations that cause pain. There is no win-win.

A company deserves that a just-hired employee will stay put. It also deserves the employee’s full attention and motivation.

Likewise, an employee deserves the most money and the highest-quality job that the market offers. If you’re going to be distracted and less motivated when you choose to stay for “ethical” reasons, then you’re not being ethical at all.

Integrity vs. more money?

Some will argue that you are obligated to your current employer because you accepted an offer and made a commitment. That’s integrity, they will say. And they are partly right. But they’re also party wrong, because it depends which foot this shoe is on.

I will point out that companies find themselves in the same quandary when they downsize because of sudden financial setbacks. Even recently hired employees get summarily terminated. In that case, it can be argued that integrity dictates no one should be fired — the company should suffer the financial loss and deal with it. Yet the conventional wisdom is that you can’t expect a company to compound a financial reversal by continuing to pay employees it cannot afford. No one’s happy, but “it’s a necessary financial decision.”

There is no win-win outcome. The fired employees are hurt and the company’s reputation suffers damage.

A better job offer… or your reputation?

Money is how our culture measures our success at our work. Like it or not, that’s the standard. It’s not crass. It’s reality. But so is pain and so is reputational damage. Unless you can demonstrate a more compelling measure of your success than money — e.g., the work at company #2 is more satisfying than the work at #1 — then you must act rationally and switch to the better offer. And be ready to accept a ding to your reputation.

Employers face the same choice and pay the same price.

If you’re jumping around for a marginal difference, then I say stay put. The other offer must be compelling.

What’s the best way to quit for a better job offer?

Now to your question. How do you handle this the best possible way? Look your boss in the eye, express your regrets and resign. You are under no obligation to disclose the details — just your regrets.

How to Say It
“I took this job after careful thought — it was what I wanted. But another, unexpected opportunity that is a better choice for me just surfaced. I can’t ignore it. I deeply regret that I must resign to pursue it.”

The only way you can try to avoid burning the bridge is to be honest and to take full responsibility for your actions. It’s good if you can leave any work you started in good condition, and offer to do anything that might help with the transition. Still, odds are high your boss will never talk to you again. You must deal with that. (Beware of other issues with Parting Company.)

A warning: Under no circumstances should you use the new job offer to leverage a salary increase at your current job. If you did that and I were the manager, I’d kick you out of my office.

If your ethical nature really needs to be sustained through this, you could return the salary you were paid for those two weeks.

I hate situations like this. They require an awkward choice, and there may be real reputational consequences. That’s the price. Be ready to pay it and move on.

Have you ever had to choose between a job you just started — and a better deal that suddenly appeared? What did you decide? How did it turn out? How would you advise this reader?

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41 Comments
  1. I’ve been on the receiving end of this situation three times in my 40 year career as a manager. It sucks but is understandable. Good advice.

  2. I wish I had this problem, as I’m currently navigating a tough market after my whole department got laid off.

    However, I had to take a moment and say, from a long-time reader and lurker, that I liked your idea about offering to return the salary paid. I don’t think any company would follow through because of labor law/s. It’s an outcome I had not considered, and I’m always appreciative when someone shows me another way to not only think outside the box, but to say, what – there’s a box?! ?

    • @Shayna: Glad you enjoy Ask The Headhunter! Thanks for your kind words. As for returning the salary, as others have pointed out, there’s probably no way they can accept it. But offering makes a point.

  3. Returning compensation paid would mean the candidate worked for free which would put the employer at odds with labor laws. So no, don’t return your checks- they can’t take them back, anyway.

    An employer would be more concerned about losing momentum in getting a new hire up to speed, trained, filling a vital position, having been informed of proprietary processes/technology and the disruption of a false start with the new hire. The top guns will be more concerned about all this than the two weeks pay that went into a black hole.

    While working in the Executive Search business all these years I have come to hear of such a situation on a few occasions. In those instances, the first company knew the second and the executives at both companies knew each other. There were no hard feelings and when the candidate explained the reasons for leaving, the losing companies encouraged the hired candidate to take the ‘better’ job. In each case these were VP/SVP positions.

    So it’s not automatic that the losing company will resent you. You went in like a professional, go out like a professional.

    • VP/SVP leaving in a few weeks? Wow!

      Doesn’t that burn bridges unless (a) something was terrible in the company which was not apparent when interviewing so one is ok with burning the bridges, or (2) something dramatic changed in personal life?

      • The executive market is small. In any given industry there are perhaps 500 people. Once you factor in specializations, everyone knows everyone else or at least knows about everyone else. It is not uncommon for an executive recruiter to know all CXOs and SVP in their industry!

        So I’ve believed burning bridges at the level is not advisable. Thoughts?

  4. Nick’s reply is wonderful!

    I’d just like to consider focusing entirely on the money part of this ignoring any other concerns including burning bridges or your reputation, to make my point easier. Companies large enough to pay six-figure salaries know what they are doing. They know what the going market is for skills, and what they are willing to pay for them, and what prospective employees will be happy with. Given that, it is in the company’s best interests to offer a higher salary. However, there is absolutely no guarantee you are now set on a higher salary trajectory for your entire tenure with the company. So one company might be offering a 10% more in salary, knowing that they will make up for this by not being as generous with the raises in the new employee’s second and third year of employment. In other words, the higher salary offered to join will flatten out. It is very easy for an employer to do this, because few people will leave a job after a year if they don’t get another big increase. Especially if the management is skilled in explaining the reason for the disappointing increase in the second year. Usually if the employee remains after the second year of disappointment, they can throw the employee a small bone the third year and now they have reset the employee’s expectations for future compensation.

    In summary, I wouldn’t leave the job because of a higher salary offer because there are real risks with doing that, even if you are simply after the money. I should mention, there is nothing wrong about going after the money, but you have to look at the big picture. When you do your research if the other company has a history of much higher compensation than its competitors that needs to be taken into account as well.

    I’ve had discussions where people like to say “all things being equal…”, but they never are truly equal. Create a spreadsheet and compare the two companies, but compare everything. Not just the money, and list additional rows of things that are important to you which may be commute times, remote work options, brand recognition of the company or its products or services you will be working on. Then go through and rate their importance to you personally on a scale of 1 to 10. Then look at it and do the math to see how they compare. It will be obvious which one is best for you.

  5. What is this nonsense about integrity? We live in a world of constant layoffs and companies that don’t even tell workers sometimes when they are laid off – employees find out when they can’t log on to work or their password won’t let them in the door. Funny how employees are supposed to have integrity but many companies dont.

    You do you. Go to the job you want most because it’s your life and no one else is paying your bills.

    • Ellen,

      Agreed. As the lack of integrity has become the norm embraced by employers of late, it seems irrelevant. Let’s not pretend ethical behavior is part of the current attitude.

      • I would love to of stories of where HR ,”did the right thing.” On any specific function of HR. With details so it will be real. Along with the company name. Bet there won’t be many. Won’t be any!

    • @Ellen: HR likes to sell one ethic but abides by another (in most companies). It’s all about acting ethically and professionally… until they ghost you.

    • @Ellen: I agree with you. Far too many employers show ZERO integrity or loyalty to employees. If profits come in lower than expected or required, employers don’t hesitate to start fi ring or laying off employees. If they find that they can outsource an entire department to another state or country because the labor will be dirt cheap, they’ll do it without so much as batting an eye. Employees are expected to understand that “it’s just business, not personal”. Therefore, it should be “just business, not personal” if an employee gets a better offer elsewhere and quits.

      I do like Nick’s comments and suggestions; as usual, he provides much food for thought. I will add that if the original poster works in a field where everyone knows everyone else, then s/he should consider what leaving after 2 weeks will do to his/her reputation, especially if the OP is younger and planning to work for decades. If the OP is closer to retirement, then perhaps it doesn’t matter as much.

      If the shoe were on the other foot, and let’s say the employer suddenly needed to fire or layoff employees. Do you think the employer would care about the newest hire? Do you think the employer cares about its reputation? Or let’s say that the OP’s boss gets a call from his old college roommate, telling him that his son will be graduating from college in a couple of weeks and needs a job. Most states (49) have at-will employment, which 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, as race gets the highest level of protection). So if the boss wants to give his old college roommate’s son a job, he’ll fire OP.

      I’m sorry to say it, but today, employees are not rewarded for loyalty and integrity, and employers certainly don’t model the kind of behavior, respect, integrity, and loyalty they demand from employees. OP: You have to do what is best for you. Re-read Nick’s comments and give them serious thought, then think about your situation and consider there’s no guarantee that things will work out perfectly at employer #2. Good luck, and congratulations on getting two job offers!

  6. I once left a job four weeks before I started. Just had a chat with the hiring manager. I left the industry and the geographical area altogether, so it wasn’t hard to explain.

  7. Never tell them where you are going. Never.

    Other big factors are the people you work with, your boss, and the company as a whole and their track record. Is there a future path there for you, if that is a concern? What about your tasks and the budgets? More than money, these are important to your day to day.

    • @Dee: I agree, and this is very important. Never tell them where you’re going. It’s rare, but I’ve seen the old employer make a call to the new one in an attempt to nuke the hire. The possibility is pretty remote but if it happens the consequences are huge. You can always say, “I’d like to keep that confidential for now but I’d be glad to get in touch once I’m settled in.”

      • In the mid 80’s I decided to move on due to the bad behavior of the bank (Now known as US Bank) I was with. I accepted an offer and was then badgered by my “manager” who wanted to know where I was going. I refused to reveal so he proceeded to call around Mpls. to find out. No class till the very end ?.

        • Woah! Unethical bank behavior? The stuff that people see prison time over?

          You were very smart in not disclosing and continuing to refuse disclosure. Where you are going is not their business. Tell your mama and papa, husband or wife, but no one else.

          Also avoid exit interviews. HR will try to draw you out. Say you’ve got a communicable disease before submitting to one ;-) If you can’t, as in they’ll withhold a check or benefits, make it as non-committal as possible and compliment everyone, even your lousy boss.

          Don’t update your LinkedIn right away either. Let it sit for maybe 2 to 3 months before you list the change.

  8. You should have mentioned not to take any step until you have the offer in writing. And even then…I accepted a job, gave my notice at my old company. The new company has a reorg, fired the guy who Hired me(!), and rescinded my offer.

    • @Jim: Excellent advice. Even if you follow my suggestions here, there is virtually no way to guarantee an offer:
      https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/16175/exploding-job-offer-get-it-in-writing

    • How do you prevent a situation like this? Short of working two jobs for a couple weeks, is there anything at all you can do? If you did that you could join the new place and then quit your old job, but it’s unlikely one could pull this off for any serious period of time and both employment contracts might explicitly prohibit this.

  9. Absolutely do NOT accept an offer from employer #2 unless you find your job with employer #1 was misrepresented and is a serious problem you need to escape. Be mindful that an employer who waits to extend an offer until after they learn someone is off the market, stands a good chance of having impulsive and mercurial and reactive and dysfunctional management. There is a chance that they could be just as mercurial in deciding to change their minds and terminating you. If you decide to go with employer #2, be sure to insist upon a contract with a reasonable severance amount. Explain your reasoning for demanding this. Absent such an agreement, you’d be crazy to accept the offer from employer #2. (saying all this as someone who learned this the hard way)

    • I sense the situation here is that things are going well with Employer #1, but Employer #2 is much more attractive, for reasons not fully disclosed here. Employer #2 also may not realize that our person is off the market–it’s only 2 weeks. Let me put it this way–if the offer from Employer #2 is ideal, leaving at 2 weeks is a non-event. It doesn’t rate being on the resume and only his state will know from earnings and UI. There are usually things that aren’t in the narrative that our questioner will have to evaluate. One company may be a lot better than the other, though that is rare. It should never be all about $.

      I bolted from a contract with a global consulting group after 3 weeks because the work was poorly transitioned, management support was absent, the person I was replacing ghosted me, the demands were way beyond the hours, and the rate was well below market. 2 weeks later I was on board with a contract paying 55% more that lasted for a year.

      • FYI, I believe ‘reputation’ is much overblown. People who adore you and worked with you for years forget your name within a week or two after you leave. Again, our questioner needs to get the offer in writing with salary, start date, benefit package, etc. Offer to make a smooth transition, but I suspect if he goes to company #2 5 minutes later his laptop will be bricked.

      • As one of my clients found out the hard way, omitting Employer 1 from the questioner’s resume can be grounds for immediate termination at a later job. Don’t risk it.

        • Do you mean omitting from a job application? Then yes, depending on what is asked of the applicant, ommisions or misrepresentation can cause termination, depending on the level of offense.

          However, a resume is usually a summary of your career. I’m over 40. I only have about 25 years of experience on my resume. No one wants to see a resume with non-relevant jobs in one’s distant past, as an example.

          If I had a job for only 2 weeks, I’d omit from a resume but include on a federal job application. I might or might not include on a non-federal job application, depending on the fine print.

          Then again, even now I’m second guessing myself. I’d have to pray on this to determine if this would be unethical.

          • If the job is within 15 years, no matter how short the tenure, it must be mentioned on both one’s resume and job application. (Usually, if people have reason to want to hide a job on their resume, the same reason will argue that they should hide it on the job application.)

            Jobs older than 15 years are a different situation. Such experience is usually not assumed to be relevant. Consequently, they don’t need to be mentioned in detail but can be either listed or referred to with a line “Older position descriptions available on request.”

            • LOL. Is that a law or just your opinion?

              A resume is NOT a legal document.

              I’ve left jobs within the last 10 years off because i determine the relevancy and more importantly, it’s MY document and I get to decide what goes on it.

            • If you have to mention it, mention it as a short term/consulting contract. With all the layoffs and snap reorgs going on, you can say you were hired then the position was eliminated in a reorganization.

            • @Tim: I don’t agree at all. The only exception is if you sign an application that clearly states you are listing ALL employers. Otherwise, as someone noted, there’s no law about withholding such information.

              As a practical matter, it’s best to list all jobs, but in cases like this I would not think twice about omitting a 2-week “job.”

  10. The employer may act like it’s the end of the world that you’re quitting. It isn’t. In fact, they are better off not having an employee who doesn’t want to be there.

    Thank company #2 for hiring you and move on to the job you really wanted.

  11. People seem to forget that all 50 states are “AT WILL” employers and that “At Will” works both ways. It is not just meant for employers being able to fire someone without cause. It also means an employee can leave anytime they want, even with zero notice, for any reason or no reason at all.

    Stop acting like employers are Gods.

  12. @ Ellen: While we determine what does and does not go on our resumes, employers can and sometimes do act on our omisions. A client of mine was fired from his dream job for not listing a job on his resume that he held for less than three months, even though we had signalled that his job list was incomplete by using the heading RELEVANT Professional Experience.

    • @Tim: I’d love to hear the details of that story. If a candidate I placed was fired for not including a 3-month job on the resume, I’d fire the client. The employer has a duty to perform its due diligence during the interview/hiring process. I’d love to know why this omission was material and why it overrode the decision to make the hire. Something is wrong here, and it’s not all on the new hire.

      • @Nick: You are absolutely right that something was wrong, and it wasn’t all on the new hire. What happened was this: My client (call him Carl) was a security professional and a good one. He had previously been hired for a senior security job at a large company where he found himself working for someone who was not a security professional and who had zero interest in addressing the company’s vulnerabilities.

        Rather than precipitating a conflict, Carl resigned. For some time thereafter he found great difficulty getting employment, and after he finally landed another job, he traced this difficulty back to the fact that his boss in his previous company was badmouthing him on reference checks. So when he came to me a couple of years later with the possibility of applying for his dream and capstone job, he wanted to leave the problematic company off his resume.

        To that, I said, “Fine, but we need to tell your prospective employer that your resume is missing some details, so we’ll use a “Relevant Professional Experience” heading instead of the normal “Professional Experience” heading. This shows your prospective employer that you are omitting at least one job, so they can’t say you lied on your resume. You can honestly call the position irrelevant because you made no impact in the short time you were there, and you left voluntarily in a professional manner. So that company has no legitimate issue with you.”

        Armed with that resume, Carl got his interview, aced it, and got the job. A few weeks later, however, his somehow employer found out about the missing company and fired him for “lying on his resume.”

        Ever since I have recommended to my clients that it is safer to put all their jobs (within the last 15 years) on the resume. If a similar situation to Carl’s recurs, I suggest using “Confidential Employer” for the organization’s name and leave explaining the reasons for confidentiality to the interview.

  13. “A warning: Under no circumstances should you use the new job offer to leverage a salary increase at your current job. If you did that and I were the manager, I’d kick you out of my office.”

    I think I did that accidentally once.

    I was underpaid at job #1. I asked about it and was told there was no big gap. Yet when we went to supposedly uniform salary bands the following year, I was given a 20% raise. A year or two later I got a “perfect” annual review – not possible to score higher – yet no raise to go with it.

    So I started looking. I was introduced to a small startup (job #2) that was just starting to hire people for salary rather than stock. Figuring there was opportunity for growth, I joined for the same pay as at job #1. (I was the first employee there to work for a salary with relatively minor stock options – I was also the first employee there to not become a millionaire when the company was bought by a Fortune 500 company.)

    When I gave my notice, job #1 offered me a $10,000 raise to stay. I turned it down because I had already accepted the offer. (Years later, I learned other reasons accepting would have been a bad idea. For example, I would have painted myself as someone who was ready to jump ship.)

    Anyway, at job #2, I was thinking that making the commitment to pay a salary was a big and scary thing – it would have been for me if I’d been starting a business! So to reassure them I was a desirable hire I told them about the counteroffer and that of course I didn’t take it.

    Shortly after that, they increased my salary by $10,000 to match, but that was the only raise I got as job #2 for the next 5 years. Overall, this stunted my career. It wasn’t until my next job – working for a good boss at a bad company – that I got my compensation caught up.

  14. @ Dee: It’s an avoidable risk trying to pass off a short-tenure job as a contract position. While many companies respond to reference requests only with dates worked, some give details and a conflict with what a jobseeker says and what the former employer says could block an offer.

    • Funny how I’ve been told exactly the opposite. Trying to position and explain a short-term job, particularly a contract, gets you ruled out before the conversation even happens. I won’t put it on my resume. If they get to the reference check, I can then work it in.

  15. I was once a member of a team where we hired a new guy and after about a week, he resigned to go to another employer. Our manager said he was disappointed but if he really wanted the other job he should go there. We found another guy quickly and brought him in.

    If you are the manager on the receiving end of a resignation, you don’t have to be a jerk. And being a jerk won’t get the guy to change his mind and keep working for you.

  16. Hi Nick

    This is a challenge for the employee, but also Nick many companies today have a 3 or 6 month probation period and many companies then use this as a way of getting key people hired then getting their knowledge and expertise only then to advise the employee that they did not meet expectations within the probation period.

    So it follows that the company is also therefore on probation and if the employee decides that the company did not meet employee’s expectation and gives notice that’s fair – right?.

    Another option is for the employee to go to the Hiring Manager of Employer #2 and advise that Employer #1 has made an attractive offer to join, then Employer #2 will have 3 choices
    1. Not address the pay gap and risk losing the employee and then the cost of the time lost to find a replacement
    2. If a recruiter/Headhunter was retained then see if the runner-up candidate is still available and work of the recruiter’s guarantee
    3. Negotiate to retain the newly hired employee

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