In the October 21, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker gives back a job offer:
I had an offer for a great new job a few weeks ago. Before accepting, I had to resolve some issues regarding my relocation. The company was great during this time and worked with me to make it agreeable for both of us.
Here’s the dilemma. It was taking longer than expected to resolve my personal issues. I felt uncomfortable delaying my start date further, so I returned the offer letter. Two days later, my personal issues were suddenly resolved. I called the company and said I was now free to take the job, but they were lukewarm and said they might want to consider other candidates.
I’m left with no job because I resigned my old job of 10+ years. The new company had remarked on numerous occasions that they would not pull the job offer from the table and I was free to work out whatever issues I had.
Although I felt I was doing the right thing by letting them move on, I feel somewhat betrayed by their treatment at this point. Did I handle this wrong?
First: Never, ever, ever resign a job until you have accepted another.
But there’s more to this: Please read When should I tell my boss I’m resigning? It’s too late, but please remember this next time, and I repeat it for everyone else: Never, ever, ever resign a job until your new job is nailed down tightly.
Now to your main question: If anyone should feel betrayed, it’s the company. You made a decision that forced this company to deal with the situation in a way they didn’t expect.
You rejected an offer that was left wide open to accommodate you. When you returned the signed offer, you terminated the hiring process. Now, they quite reasonably want to turn to other candidates. I’m afraid you may have damaged your credibility with the company. (See Do what you say you’re going to do. This company gets credit for doing it right.)
The better choice would have been to let the deal sit on the table until they withdrew it, while you tried to resolve your personal issues. I realize you were trying to be considerate about this, but in the end you hurt your own position, without giving any real benefit to the employer.
At this point, all you can do is go straight to the hiring manager and make a clear commitment. (See Do I have to say it?) If you don’t act, then nothing at all happens. Offer a firm start date; something the company can bank on. I think this is worth a shot. But don’t be surprised if they look at you like you’re crazy. In that case, apologize and move on.
For more about how to handle job offers, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers, which includes these sections:
- The company rescinded the offer!
- Non-Compete: Did I really agree to that?
- Am I unwise to accept their first offer?
- Can I use salary surveys to goose up the offer?
- The bird-in-the-hand rule of job offers
- Juggling job offers
- Give us the pay stub
- Vacation Time: What’s good for the goose
- How do I decide between two offers?
- How to decline an offer
- Does a counter-offer include pay-back?
- Am I stuck with this non-compete agreement?
- How do I ensure the job offer matches the job?
- How to avoid a “bait and switch” job offer
The lesson in all this is that a company is perfectly capable of looking after its own interests. It was indicating its strong interest in you by keeping the offer open and giving you the time you needed. You should have kept the offer.
Would you give back a job offer? It’s one thing to decide to reject an offer. But to return it? How should this reader have handled an awkward delay? Now put yourself in the employer’s shoes — what would you do?