September 20, 2010

Readers’ Forum: The ethics of juggling job offers

Filed under: The job offer

In the September 21, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I am in this dilemma and read your article about Juggling Job Offers. Yours is the only one that says to accept the first job offer, and when the second job (which would be a better offer and more suitable) presents itself, then retract acceptance of the first job offer.

However, the other articles and guidance suggests not doing this at all as it is unethical and can damage one’s reputation in a given industry. I have gone back to the first company and gotten a decision window of one week to decide. The timing is off as I need one more week for the second job’s response and possible offer.

Do I ask for yet another extension? Any thoughts?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

Sorry, but I don’t buy the ethics angle on this. As I point out in the article, if a company lays you off six months after hiring you, is it behaving unethically? No. It’s a business decision. What if it lays you off a week after you start, due to unexpected financial setbacks? What’s the real difference?

The fact is, in a situation like this, you are not making a choice between two job offers. You are making a binary choice: Yes or No to one job. While I hope the other offer comes through, I can tell you that in many years of headhunting I’ve seen most “sure thing” offers go south. Either they are delayed indefinitely, or they never come through.

I agree that accepting then rescinding your acceptance can have an effect on your reputation. But likewise, a layoff has an effect on an employer’s reputation. Still, sometimes it happens out of necessity. It doesn’t make the company (or you) unethical.

I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of rescinding an acceptance. But to behave as though the second offer is a sure thing is to put the first offer at risk. Is it unethical to continue to ask the first company—which has stuck out its neck and and made a commitment to you—to keep extending the decision deadline?

How many times will the second company need “one more week” to produce the offer, if it produces one at all?

In today’s edition a reader asks how to deal with one job offer when a more desirable one is “in the wings.”

In the wings? Sorry, but a bird in the hand is the only bird you’ve got! Decide about that, and then deal with the future later.

Am I being unethical?


107 Comments on “Readers’ Forum: The ethics of juggling job offers”
By Xaero
April 21, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Interesting read, but looking for advice. I am in a strange position and have two job offers on the table.

I accepted the first offer that came in and would really love the job, however it requires an interim security clearance be granted before starting. I was told it could be “several months” to receive this, and even then it is not guaranteed. There is a 20-30% denial rate on interim clearances.

Since accepting that offer, I have received another offer that does not require a clearance. I would prefer the first job for multiple reasons, however since I may not be granted a clearance I am considering taking the second job.

What would you do?

1. Deny the second job and hope that the clearance is granted?

2. Accept the second job and forget about the clearance issue altogether?

3. Accept the second job, and if clearance is granted, make another job change?

I am leaning towards #3. Obviously I would feel bad about leaving a job weeks or months after starting, but at the same time, there is nothing stopping them from firing me if I am not a good fit there anyways. Of course, I may take the second job and love it altogether, so who knows?

By Nick Corcodilos
April 21, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Xaero: (Are you any relation to my nemesis in Quake Arena?)

Here’s the deal: First, an offer contingent on a clearance that’s not certain is not a certain offer. If the clearance does not come through, you pay the cost of not having another viable option – especially if you let the second offer expire.

(Play this out farther: If you did not have the other offer, would you continue job hunting to hedge your bet? That is, would you pursue other offers just in case? If yes, then you clearly do not trust that contingent offer.)

Second, every choice has a cost. If you do #3 and tick off the second employer, are you willing to live with the possible ramifications to your reputation? If yes, then #3 is a viable option.

You have to make the choice and assume the costs. There’s always a cost.

By Erika
April 22, 2015 at 10:41 am

Xaero, go with #3. You do not know if you will get that clearance, and can you go “several months” without pay even if you do eventually get it? If /when you get it, you have another decision to make. If you really want the job with the clearance, go for it. Employers have no loyalty to workers. You are not ethically bound to be loyal to some entity with zero loyalty to you. Say what they would say, “It is a business decision.” Never apologize for maximizing your career options.

By marlene
May 25, 2015 at 11:26 am

I signed a teacher contract for August 2015. Four months later, I received a better offer at another school. Since I haven’t booked a flight, started working, no paycheque, no visa stuff, can I legitimately turn down the first offer siting distance, family, location, etc.?

By Nick Corcodilos
May 25, 2015 at 2:48 pm

@marlene: I think you have to do what’s best for you and your family. Employers always do what’s right for them, including rescinding offers after they’ve been accepted. I try not to be a cynic, though. Keep in mind that rescinding your acceptance may have some consequences for your reputation. But every choice has a price. Just be ready to live with it, and to enjoy the choice you make.

Usually, there’s no contract. Since you signed one, you should read it carefully to see if you agreed to any penalties for canceling it unilaterally. You may need to talk with a lawyer to protect yourself. Keep in mind that penalties are sometimes worth paying so you can move on with your life.

I wish you the best.

By Erika
May 25, 2015 at 5:30 pm

I agree with Nick’s advice, especially reading and understanding any penalties in your contract, and deciding if paying them is worth it. I do not think you should cite a false reason, or any reason, for rescinding the contract, if you decide to do so. You knew the distance and location when you accepted, and you knew you had no family there when you accepted, so that would seem extremely disingenuous. Just state that you must unfortunately rescind your offer and that you are sorry for any inconvenience. That is all that needs to be said. If pressed, say you received a better offer. It is the truth. It is a “business decision.” Companies make them all the time. You don’t need an excuse to do the same.

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Naive young grad blows it
August 24, 2015 at 9:44 pm

[…] and keep your old job and salary. The only decision to make is, which deal is best for you? (See The ethics of juggling job offers.) If the new job and offer are to your liking, then go. When you use a job offer to extort a raise, […]

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