In the July 26, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader plans to reject a job offer that might be saved.


yes-butIn Fearless Job Hunting Book 9, Be The Master of Job Offers you suggest how to decline an offer when you have two job offers — so as not to burn my bridges. I’ve got a different problem. I should decline a job offer but I don’t want to!

While I have not received an offer yet, it became clear after the final interview last week that this department is not flexible about working hours. The job is in the middle of Boston, and it would increase my commute time. I am not willing to do that for this position. I want the offer, but can I be honest about the commute time as the reason I would decline?

Nick’s Reply

I’d be frank about your commute problem if they make an offer. But if you want to avoid ending the discussion, there’s a way to finesse it.

When I want to say no to a deal, I like to take an affirmative approach. So I say YES but. If all the other terms are to your liking, ask yourself, What would make me want to accept the offer?

Start with YES

Then phrase your response to the offer like this.

How to Say It
“I’d like to accept your offer. I want the job and I want to work on your team. But I’d like to discuss the terms with you, if you’re amenable to it.”

(You’re not actually accepting the offer. You’re starting a negotiation by saying you’d like to take it. Remember that negotiations aren’t just about money! There are lots of terms you can negotiate.)

Pause and let them respond. They’ll ask you, What terms?

How to Say It
“The problem is the commute. We all know commuting in and around Boston is a big challenge. The traffic is horrible. But I can deal with it if you could make an accommodation on the work hours. I’ll of course work at least X hours per day. I want to make sure I’d be delivering the value and work you need from me – I don’t expect you to compromise on that. But can we discuss a flexible work schedule to help me deal with the traffic?”

Note that you’re not demanding anything. You are asking for a discussion. No matter how they respond, you will have given an affirmative response and a request for a reasonable accommodation. If they blow it at that point, it’s on them.

Commitment enables negotiations

The power of this approach lies in starting out with YES. This is what most of the negotiating methods I discuss in Be The Master of Job Offers are about: — saying YES that means maybe, if you’ll work with me on the terms. This tells them the main question is already resolved – you want the job. All that remains is working out the terms, which you’ve indicated you’re happy to discuss, after you’ve notified them that the commute is the issue.

Believe it or not, the most important commitment you can make to an employer is to say you want the job. That commitment puts you on good footing to discuss terms.

Try it. The worst that will happen is they’ll say no. But when you’ve indicated you want the job, an employer is more likely to come back with an alternative that’s good for both of you.

I wish you the best with this. These articles may be helpful when you’re negotiating:

When to stop negotiating a job offer

13 lies employers tell about job offers

Don’t let employers always call the shots

The Bad-Business Job Offer: Negotiating not allowed!

How do you negotiate when you want a job, but the terms are not to your liking? What would you do in this case?

: :

  1. I file this sort of thing under “The Far Point Gambit.” (For non-geek readers, this is a reference to the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation).

    The idea is to accept the job/deal provisionally, as long as reasonable requests are met. In other words, you’re trying to defuse the situation and turn the tables.

  2. Nick’s approach is also good because it fits right into the old management saying…”don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”. Also in the solution possibilities is some telecommuting, say on the really ugly traffic days, Propose giving it a try. If one is diligent, the commute time flips to productive work time. Flex hours in some jobs also is very useful particularly with global companies, which means you get work coverage in other time zones.

  3. I think this is very good advice. If the company is inflexible re telecommuting/working from home, then that’s a graceful and gracious out for both parties. I don’t blame the LW for not wanting to deal with Boston traffic or drivers. For a somewhat humorous take on it: It isn’t just Boston but the whole state (I see these behaviors while driving in Springfield everyday).

    Who knows, maybe the company would be amenable to letting LW work from home, whether it is one/two days per week or perhaps when traffic/road construction is at its worst. LW won’t know for certain unless s/he asks, and talking about it this way isn’t presenting it as a demand. LW has identified a problem and offered a solution. The ball is now in the employer’s court.

    • Just got back from vacation in MA.

      We ran into no accidents for 300+ miles to get to MA, and then hit at least 2-3 once we got over the border :)

  4. @Dave: There were two accidents on my way home from work this afternoon; the first on a rotary with 4 branches feeding into it; 4 staties, 1 ambulance with emts, rush hour traffic, and no one directing traffic to prevent another accident; the second not more than a mile down the road.

    LW has my deepest sympathies re taking the job and dealing with Boston traffic vs passing up an opportunity. LW’s health and sanity are important too. And so is being able to spend time with family or for himself that he’d spend commuting. When my brother worked at MIT, he was living in Belmont (not far from Boston and Cambridge). His apartment was 7 miles from his office, and on a GOOD day he said his commute took 45 minutes. That’s not a typo. If there was an accident, bad weather, or a Red Sox game got out, then, well….it would be hours.

    LW’s concern is legit. The links are not meant to detract from the Q&A, but for anyone not from Boston and/or MA who can’t imagine that traffic would be so bad as to give LW cause to consider not accepting a job offer unless LW can work from home/work different hours to avoid the worst of the traffic, they’re real.