Reneging on a Job Offer. Good Idea or Bad Idea?

“Thanks for asking me out, but I got a better offer!”

In the dating world, putting a person on standby is a reputation killer.  Most of us know people who fly by the seat of their pants, make last-minute decisions, and have commitment issues.  When it’s convenient or in their interest, they’ll seize the moment, only to renege if something better comes along.

Unfortunately, a recruiter experiences this all the time.  She might end the week high-fiving a fantastic new candidate she just hired, only to get the Monday morning email telling her sorry, he got a superior offer. 

Of course, there are two sides to this scenario:

The first is the obvious dismay the hiring manager feels about the wasted time and the opportunity cost of losing alternate candidates who moved on.

On the other hand, job seekers know that timing is tricky. In today’s hot market, you most likely have several options.  You know if you accept the first offer, the company you really like could ask for a second interview next week.  If you wait, you are gambling with losing a sure bet.   Accepting and changing your mind could be awkward, but if you get a better offer, you reason, shouldn’t you decide according to what’s best for you? 

What if you get a better offer?

Thanks to the tight labor market, you might receive multiple offers.  While this seems like a great problem to have, it can be tricky.  Lucky for you, you’ve already analyzed which of the companies meet your top job list.  Ideally, any should be satisfactory.  

But let’s be real; Company A has risen to the top of the ‘dream job’ list but is dragging its feet scheduling second interviews.  Company B has made an offer!  What to do?

In this case, your best bet is to be open and honest with both recruiters.  Let Company A know that you are really interested in the position but are expecting an offer from another company.  Would an after-hours or telephone interview be more convenient to schedule?    

In the meantime, let Company B know how much you appreciate the offer.  Ask if you could have a little more time to confirm the fit. Suggest a date that fits your schedule and then beprepared to make a decision if they cannot wait.  

If the offer is accepted, do not renege if Company A contacts you a week later.   Here’s why:

  • You accepted the offer.  Company B has put in a lot of time, effort, and money to find you and has stopped their search, so you could damage your reputation if you change your mind. Also, you probably won’t feel good about letting them down.  Honoring your commitment will help you develop integrity.   Company A will always be there for future opportunities.

If you feel you really must reject Company B after having accepted:

  • Notify the recruiter or hiring manager in person or by telephone as quickly as possible.  Email is tempting, but since the upside is all yours, be courteous and reject the offer in person.  Be honest about why you can’t accept, (not the right fit, commute time too long, etc.), and thank him for the opportunity.  
  • Using a new offer as a negotiating tactic after you have accepted is a bad idea.  A professional demeanor and gratitude for the opportunity will reduce the chances that word will get around to local hiring managers and may leave the door open for future opportunities. 
  • Most jobs are advertised as “at will,” meaning an employer and employee are free to disengage a work agreement at any time, but if you signed a contract, check with your state labor office.

While it’s understandable that your dream job may come up after accepting another offer, always practice professional courtesy so you maintain relationships and your reputation. 

You never know when you might want to revisit those connections.