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Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed | Reply
If you accept a job offer from a company (sign things, turn in papers, signal your intent to join and all that) and then get another job offer from another company, is it right to renege and accept the new offer if it is better? Legally, the first offer was at-will, but how is this considered in the community? Is it common? Would this 100% bar this person from working with the first company? If it's only a tiny bit better, does that matter?


(Totally hypothetical of course)
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by cep21) | Reply
Find a fair coin and toss it :)
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by cep21) | Reply
I've been in that position.

I actually told the first company, who ask me to tell the user (employee who will become my supervisor) directly. I did exactly that. He understood. I left peacefully. After all, my resume is not that good such that my absence is a total loss for the company.

Things might be different if you're very good at what you're doing or the company has commited so much resource to accomodate you.

So my suggestion is to just ask them. If they allow it, everything's fine then. If they don't, then come back and ask here again :-).
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by cep21) | Reply
If you haven't any formal agreement, you are not obliged to take up any offer. It might not seem polite, but getting a job isn't about being "nice" to your employer.
Of course, you should be professional and it is quite acceptable to phone them up and say "I'm sorry but I've had a better offer". But getting stuck in a worse job because you were too polite to take the better job is crazy.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by d000hg) | Reply
If you haven't any formal agreement, you are not obliged to take up any offer.


When you say obliged, I hope you don't mean legal obligation because that's a dangerous advice. A contract may already be formed although there is no written agreement (probably this is what you mean by formal agreement). The other way also holds, a written contract may be considered legally void depending on circumstances (and jurisfiction), for example you signed a standard employment form where you're not expected to know what you're signing yourself into..

But IANAL so consult your own lawyer.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by amitz.sekali) | Reply
Well the other thing is that even if you have entered a contract but not yet started work, no company in their right mind would force you to work for them if you told them you didn't want to. They'd invest a lot of time and money getting you set up. So again, the professional thing is to be honest.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by cep21) | Reply
When this happens, I don't have words to describe how irritating it is. :) The hiring process is resource intensive. Once we have a candidate that has agreed to work, set a starting date, and then they doesn't start, it's problematic. At that point, we've probably stopped interviewing other candidates, and starting assigning work. It's really quite a problem.

I think it reflects extremely poorly on the individual. When something like this happens, the candidate has truly burned the bridge; they really have no chance of ever working here.

All that said, I'm sure others will say say that if you don't want the first job anymore, you're better off taking another. I would say that it's on very ethically sketchy ground. If you've agreed to do something, you should do it. You will be damaging your reputation with the first company. So, if you are working in a small market, that could affect your future. For instance, a friend of mine works in the networking hardware business in a small state in the US. There are only a handful of companies that do that kind of work, and basically all the engineers that can do the work have at one point or another worked at all of the companies. In a situation like that, my friend may not want to execute on your hypothetical because he doesn't want to move or change industries.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by dok) | Reply
At that point, we've probably stopped interviewing other candidates, and starting assigning work. It's really quite a problem.


Is it really quite a problem? (I'm probably gonna lost some bridges here.. :-)) In my experience the most additional problem is paperwork and having to call the other next available candidate that they are accepted. That's quite trivial IMO. But your mileage may varies depending how large your company is or how demanding labour regulation in your place.

The worst problem I experienced is the mixed feelings of a little betrayal (you just abandon all of our commitment), insult (I have admitted I need you but you don't want me), disappointment (it's gonna be nice working with you but you won't be working with me). In summary, I feel that the bridge they burn is of a personal level. That's why I begin to appreciate candidate who take the time and effort to reject me personally and unharshly, especially after I have personally accepted them.

As long as they ask permission to left and I allow it, I don't consider that as a lack of commitment. Yes, I will be more cautious when hiring him/her in the future and I will probably have limit on how much I'm going to like him/her, but (s)he is committed enough to ask for agreement to abandon commitment. Asking permission and I don't allow it but (s)he insist, now that starts to count as damaging the bridge. But the one way breaking of an already agreed commitment is not enough to justify burning the bridge.

Edit: Clarification.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by amitz.sekali) | Reply
You have obviously never been part of hiring someone for the US government. They bring the art of paperwork, bureaucracy, delays and expense to new heights. You know the process can't be fast when the HR department occupies several complete buildings of their own. Even after the responsible manager has decided whom to hire, it takes forever to get all the approvals and get them in the door. If they backout towards the end of this process it may easily be a delay of one or two months before someone can be brought in the door. This could seriously affect millions of dollars of contract work or grant money on a tight schedule. It is even worse if they need to go through a lengthy background investigation after being hired but before they can start to work on their "real" project.

You can't just call the next guy on the list. He probably was sent a rejection letter ages ago and has gone on to accept another offer somewhere else, has relocated, bought a house, planted a new lawn and mowed it several times.

Of course this is the employer's own fault, and the prospective employees should not have to suffer because the employer is so poorly organized.

Smaller employers would have a completely different set of different issues. Each employee may actually be important to a small employer.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by Rustyoldman) | Reply
Smaller employers would have a completely different set of different issues. Each employee may actually be important to a small employer.
It's a novel concept!
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by dok) | Reply
I'm sure it is far less common, but I have actually seen this sort of thing happen from the opposite point of view. A former employer once extended a job offer to a candidate who accepted the position and subsequently quit her existing job. Before she could start on the following Monday, another more "preferred" candidate was found at the last minute and the company decided to hire her instead. They somehow neglected to call the first person back and tell her she didn't have a job after all-- she showed up on her first day and was promptly let go. What a horrible experience that must have been! :-(
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by brogers) | Reply
I assume they hadn't already got a contract signed? It seems quite common for employers to take weeks or months to produce a contract... personally I'm very unhappy to turn up until I have a contract.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by d000hg) | Reply
I can only speak for UK law, but you don't need a signed piece of paper to have a contract, it's just a formal way of showing that a contract exists and clearly defining the scope of that contract.

If the company and the employee had agreed (even just verbally) that employment was to begin on a certain day, with a certain rate of remuneration, then a contract already exists and the company probably can't unilaterally back out of that contract without penalty (at least not legally). Signing a document merely puts beyond doubt that an agreement exists, it does not constitute the agreement in itself. This is why you are not bound by a contract signed under duress, because it is the agreement which is important, not the signed document. Strictly speaking, the employee probably can't legally back out of the contract either, but there wouldn't be a huge amount of point in the company pursuing a potential employee in court, since they don't tend to have a lot of money and there is little chance of them working for a company that's just sued them.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by StevieT) | Reply
Of course any verbal agreement is very hard to prove. But a letter offering you the job is a different story, especially if you write back accepting. I'd think in that situation you could quite reasonably expect to get paid whatever the notice period is (typically 30 days), although without a contract there is no notice period... still, I would not simply accept being told "go away, we didn't mean to hire you".
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by d000hg) | Reply
No, this was an "at-will" employment (no contract).
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by dok) | Reply
Do you also find at will employment similarly ethically sketchy? What is the difference between quitting on day -1 and on day 0?
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by rrenaud) | Reply
Here's how my ethic judgement work in this particular case.

I personally believe that ethicality on quiting while in at-will employment, depends on how much the company is willing to accomodate you. The ethic is 2 ways street.

If the company expect me to never quit while in the middle of chasing the deadline that define the company future, I would expect them to never fire me while I need money the most (for example: to cure my dying daughter). If the company expect me to never quit suddenly after so much they have invest on me, I would expect them to never fire me suddenly while I'm undergoing an important life change that assume ongoing employment with them. In short, the minimal/worst limit of my behavior is: I will do unto them what they do unto me.

The problem is, we will probably never know how a company will treat us in different circumstances. Maybe we can see similar incidents with other employees in the past, but we will probably be treated differently for whatever reason, either be treated better or worse. At the end, you can choose to be nice and expect they return the gesture, but always prepare for the worst.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by cep21) | Reply
We've been on the other side of this a number of times. Quite often the "other offer" is made by the company who's losing this employee and has now realized that's going to hurt.

This is frustrating, and it would likely hinder that person's chances of working with us in the future - but on a personal level it's hard to be mad. I think it's a fair and rational decision, unless the job market in your area is such that you're worried about burning a particular bridge.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by cep21) | Reply
New hires have done this to me twice as a manager. (At least the second person had the courtesy to call. The first one just didn't show up). I really dislike it. I think it's unprofessional and immature.

[Edit: I replied before reading the other replies. Doc really hit the nail on the head.]
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by dplass) | Reply
I may have learned something new here..

Please confirm,

I have a feeling that (for topcoders) asking for permission to turn down an already agreed offer, is still considered unprofessional and immature. Probably because the company will (without doubt) be burdened by the employee cancellation thus the permission asking is just sugar coating of unprofessional action.

By any chance you feel I'm being sarcastic, don't. I'm really curious. My perception on nature of agreement is probably different than others, that is for some topcoders, agreement must absolutely not be re-negotiable despite circumstances change (unless there is a force majeure or something like that).
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by amitz.sekali) | Reply
Pretty much. The individual may be able to keep things civil by making a call and discussing things. But, if all it comes down to reneging on the agreement because they found a better offer in the meantime, then one shouldn't expect it to be amicable. But, still, people should be respectful of others and make the phone call. Simply not showing up is really quite ridiculous. To me it means the candidate doesn't have the strength of character to make a call a face up to their decision.

It's easy to look at things as simply contracts and legal matters. So, until you've signed a contract, you're not obligated. However, that's really not how things work. Virtually all amicable business transactions are made based on relationships. By going through the hiring process, you're building a relationship with the individuals at the company doing the hiring. If you blow them off, they're bound to take it personally. They may call it unprofessional, but I'd bet at least some of what they're feeling is a personal offense.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by dok) | Reply
Thanks for the direct answer but there is one particular I meant to ask that I'm not sure you had answered, which is probably my mistake since I'm not clear enough.

For all it's worth:

In some culture, commitment/contract is very fluid. Yes, commitment should be upheld but there is no minus point for requesting renegotiation, even after the event negotiated has passed, no change of circumstances happen, and the negotiated item has been thoroughly discussed before and directly violate what has been agreed. That act of asking is still considered professional and the other party may choose to reject the new term.

In business, I or customer/vendor request renegotiation on a daily basis even after an agreement has been reached. Items negotiated can be more than just terms of delivery or payment. Price may even change after delivery has been made. Hell, sometimes even after payment occured.

This phenomenon doesn't only happen with small companies. My ex-boss had told me to calculate the cost of using almost all of his credit line in one of the country's largest bankfor only a couple of days. Strange request indeed. I later found out that the bank ask him to use up his credit just before year end and fill it again immediately after new year. This manuever is to make the bank's balance sheet prettier (to create a seemingly effective use of asset). Anyway, this request had never been talked about when credit line is granted, this is a part of an unscheduled renegotiation of credit agreement.

So it's considered normal to request permission for abandoning an agreed employment, and employer has the liberty to grant or deny such request. The act of requesting that permission itself won't be penalized. But it seems in some places, you're really discouraged to even ask for permission knowing that the company is definitely be burdened.

Correct me if I'm wrong.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by amitz.sekali) | Reply
I later found out that the bank ask him to use up his credit just before year end and fill it again immediately after new year. This manuever is to make the bank's balance sheet prettier (to create a seemingly effective use of asset). Anyway, this request had never been talked about when credit line is granted, this is a part of an unscheduled renegotiation of credit agreement.


This behaviour sounds to me like it is verging on fraud on the the part of the bank. If a bank made such a request of me, I would find a different bank immediately. I certainly wouldn't want to take any part in helping a bank misrepresent its assets to its shareholders.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by StevieT) | Reply
I had realized something about working in IT support. Ignorance is bliss. If a company decide to do something illegal or unethical, you won't face the ethical dilemma. Yes, you will probably unwillingly do something bad but your conscience won't be disturbed.

After knowing I understand enough accounting (and knowing a decision in my past..), an interviewer actually ask me a question "If the company decide to do something illegal, what would I do?". My answer is pretty long and comprehensive :-). I was accepted but end up not working there. That company is actually the one I asked permission to renege. I guess the user grant me permission since he doesn't really like the answer to his question.

Anyway, for benefit of topcoders, there is a dilemma that might be experienced by people working in IT support. Try to think about it now so you will be prepared when it happens. Are you willing to accomodate a public company doing income smoothing?
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by StevieT) | Reply
Whether this particular case is a fraud by the bank or not, is actually unclear.

At that time, the rate of government's bond is way too high (loong story). Buying that bond instead of lending to people/business, is really the best investment for bank and it's shareholders. But on the other hand, the economy at that time need serious boost by increasing consumption/spending (thus bank's lending) thus government enforce a ...strong recommendation for bank to do just that. But the economy makes lending a risky business and there simply aren't enough credible debitors.

Not that he did what the bank wanted but if he did, my boss actually would help the bank's shareholders. This bank has a conflict of interests between their shareholders and government. In addition, strictly speaking there is no law breaking at all.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by amitz.sekali) | Reply
That's true, negotiations can be ongoing. I'd don't have experience with other cultures, so I can't really comment on what all parties expectations might be. It could be that neither party is *ever* confident that negotiations have concluded, and an agreement reached. But, that is the cultural norm, an accepted.

I would say that when negotiating with someone from the US and an agreement is reached, the person from the US will expect to be done negotiating. If the other party starts again, there may be hard feelings.

I think negotiation is somewhat off from the original topic of this thread though. This discussion is about reneging on an agreement, not re-negotiating it.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by dok) | Reply
I consider asking permission to renege is part of re-negotiation whereas you don't think so. Semantic aside, cancellation of order is a common occurence in Indonesia and is considered OK as long as permission granted. The act of asking by itself won't be penalized.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by dplass) | Reply
I can see it would be really irritating for an employer, but as an employee would you really turn down an amazing job in this situation? I suppose the most professional approach when you're offered the first job might be to say "I'm also waiting for a response from company X", but that's tricky to pull off.

I only have one personal experience in this area. In my final year at university I applied to company A and they seemed interested in me, I even got an interview which went well but they kept dragging their feet. I was applying for a few more positions as graduation approached and then got a concrete offer from company B. I immediately contacted company A to tell them and the asked me to come in for an interview immediately, where they basically talked about why I should come and work for them, not company B. I informed company B who then increased their offered salary but I ended up choosing company A.
As I remember (this was a few years back) I was pretty open with both companies, but perhaps this was an unusual situation.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by cep21) | Reply
I reneged after verbally accepting a job offer because my current employer offered me a better deal (technically and financially) when I attempted to resign.

Most employers know that this is one of the risks of the recruiting process.

I certainly didn't lose any sleep over my decision.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by cep21) | Reply
As a recruiter, I would have to say it is rather unprofessional to accept an offer, and then renege due to a counter offer from your current company or a better offer from another company, but it does happen occasionally. I always try to find out if my candidates are interviewing with other companies, or if they are expecting a counter offer from their current company. I expect everyone to want to work for TopCoder because of what we are doing, but it is nice to know so we can avoid situations like this if possible. It also usually doesn't change what the offer is.

The thing you should ask yourself in situations like this is which is the better job, not the better offer (unless the new offer is substantially higher in salary of course, which can make it difficult). I see so many people take more money and not enjoy their work.

You will upset a whole bunch of people, and you will probably burn some bridges, but they will find someone else to fill that position. So, is it "right" to renege, no probably not, but at the end of the day, it's not going to hurt the company too much.

It happens the other way too, where companies make offers and for whatever reason, they have to rescind the offer. I've fortunately never had to do that, but it does happen.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by kclune) | Reply
The only reason I looked for another job was that I was fed up with working on legacy systems.

I interviewed for (and was offered) a position at a rival company. I was offered a slightly higher salary plus a quantity of (company X) bonds which could be converted to cash on an annual basis should the company hit its targets.

The downside was that I would lose 10 days paid annual leave per annum and have to spend a year in support before any possible move back into development. The position was however a move towards newer technologies.

I was asked at the interview with company X why I was leaving and what my current employer could do to keep me. I replied honestly and said that the reason I was looking to move was to gain access to newer technologies.

When I resigned (or attempted to) I was informed that the system I worked on was being replaced and if I stayed put I would be working on its replacement which would be implemented using cutting edge technologies. I was also offered a 20% salary increase. As a result I reneged on my verbal agreement to join company x.

I am much better off than I was a year ago from a technical perspective. I am sure that my bridges with company X have been well and truly burned. On the flip side I am also sure that my threat of resignation from my current company will not be forgotten should we ever need to downsize.

On a final note I work in the city of London and most software developers in the financial arena are pretty mercenary because there are so many opportunities out there. I work with a few ex defence/avionics guys and they have always left positions on good terms because their market place was a lot smaller and word of mouth spread a lot quicker.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by cep21) | Reply
Here is Joel Spolsky's advice on exploding offers (which isn't to say that you had accepted an exploding offer). I thought this would be interesting and relevant. Sorry to bring up a dead thread.

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2008/11/26.html
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by rrenaud) | Reply
Interesting, I saw this earlier today. Do other people agree with him on this?
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by rrenaud) | Reply
Thanks for the link. It gives people more tricks to deal with that problem.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by rrenaud) | Reply
By the way, very nice article!

I faced such difficult situation a month ago. I received an offer from a company X, but was waiting for company Y's answer on the interviews. I asked for two weeks to answer X's offer, but they just wanted to give me one week (I was afraid to tell them that I was waiting other offers though).
So when I arrived on my first day at X, Y called me with an offer just before I start signing all paperwork to actually start working at X.
It was a little weird, but I basically told X's HR that I had just received a better offer and politely apologized.
I think my key error was to not have told them that I was waiting for another offer, afraid that if I didn't get Y's offer, they would be pissed off about me.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by cep21) | Reply
One of the so-called seven deadly career sins is letting a company manage your career. Others have similarly commented but it goes along the same lines of any decision you make in you life that when you look back on these from the position of time you tell yourself, "I should have..." or "I shouldn't have..."

Keep in mind that another at-will decision pertains to layoffs (WARN notices notwithstanding). I'm sure that many a CFO will look more emotionally at their balance sheet than at the people who are eliminated.

Just be sure you've done your homework when comparing offers; make the decision a great one.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by deezny) | Reply
Sorry for the OT:
Funny, this guy did register for the sole purpose of making that single post and then having his account deleted? I mean, he is not click-able and the member search does not work on him either.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by supo) | Reply
Oh noes, there's a way to post anonymously in TC foruns then.

I'd suggest the admins to try to solve it, because it wouldn't be funny if these forums became something like 4chan.
Re: Ethics: Turning down job offers when you've already agreed (response to post by cep21) | Reply
I have done this before - and it has burned a bridge. However, I have never regretted it. I have had situations where I accepted a job - went through a rigorous background check, finally walked in the door months later only to find myself in a re-org. New boss, new team - one that was opposed to the very technology I was hired to work with in the first place.

You never know what's going to happen when you take a job, so I think your best bet is to look out for yourself first and foremost. Go with what you want and be open about it with the company you may have verbally accepted an offer with first.

You interview for more than one job - the company should accept the risk that an offer letter may be coming down the pipeline for you. You cannot always control the timing of the offers.

:edit: I should point out, that my reasons for accepting the other job was not related to money at all, it was the reputation of the organization and me wanting to be a part of that culture.
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