For the last four months you've been riding a job-search roller coaster of
euphoric activity and disappointing dry spells. Suddenly, your hard work is
paying off. You've received a great offer, accepted it and are getting ready to
start work next Monday. Suddenly the dark-horse opportunity that galloped out of
your life two months ago has trotted back in with the offer of your dreams.
Now what do you do? You don't want to destroy the good relationship you've
developed with your new employer or the executive search firm who found you the
position. But you don't want to reject the second tantalizing offer either.
According to Gail McDonald, a Principal of Transition Resources, Inc. and former
HRVP of Ryder System, "This situation is fraught with both ethical and
practical dilemmas. Once you've said yes to an offer, you've made a commitment.
If you back out, you risk burning bridges with the company, your industry and
career colleagues that may have long-term implications. It's far better not to
put yourself in this position in the first place."
Lay Some Groundwork Beforehand
How do you plan ahead to avoid this high-class, but risky problem? Start with
some strategic thinking to keep yourself on track throughout your job search.
It's easier to determine if you are accepting the right job when you know
precisely what you want. Before you start networking and sending out resumes,
put together a job description that outlines your ideal position. Carefully
consider the roles you want to play and the activities that use your best skills
and pique your interest. Imagine the utopian work environment where you would
be motivated to do your best work. Also consider your compensation package and
the career paths most in tune with your vision of the future. Armed with this
job description, you will be in an excellent position to:
Develop your two-minute commercial for networking
Write a resume to reflect your ideal job
Pose probing and intelligent interview questions
Thoughtfully compare opportunities with the position profile that's right
Make a career decision based upon information you can trust because
you've thought about it well before the eleventh hour.
As you contemplate the elements of your ideal job, consider the importance of
each of them. Is your role your number one priority? Or are your projects or
activities of greatest interest? Perhaps a family-friendly environment is your
key issue. Or you may be motivated primarily by the opportunity to make lots of
money now and in the future. If you think about your priorities in advance, you
will be much less likely to take a position out of sync with what you value most.
If you want, you can quantify your elements by using percentages for each one,
developing a more sophisticated point system (each one gets a score from one to
ten) or simply putting them in rank order. Then when you get your first offer,
you can apply this system to evaluate it as well. Or, if you have multiple
offers, setting up a table to compare them with one another and your ideal job
will provide a systematic approach to an otherwise subjective decision.
Stall for Time
When a first offer isn't as exciting as another on the near horizon, stall for
time. Tell your potential employer you are pleased by the offer, but need some
time to think about it. Because this is a crucial decision for both parties,
most companies want to be sure you are as enthusiastic about the "marriage" as
they are. According to Alecia Carter, Human Resources Manager for United
HealthCare, "I tell our candidates that filling a position is a two-way street.
We want someone who is excited about the opportunity and wants to stay with us
for the long haul. I would rather have a potential employee tell me she is
considering several options and needs time to make the right decision, than hire
someone who wishes she had waited for a better fit."
You can also mention the need to talk to your family. Ask for a reconnoitering
trip, if the job requires a relocation. Request a meeting with other key
management and colleagues you haven't met. Formulate some questions to clarify
areas that concern you. According to Gail McDonald, "Companies can usually tell
when you are not sure the package offered is right for you. They want to know
your sticking points. Your honest hesitancy gives them the chance to negotiate
and fine-tune their offer to be a better match for both parties."
Dave Westberry, a Partner with the executive search firm LAI, says, "It's not
unusual for a candidate to have four or five irons in the fire, especially in
the current market. Consequently, it's particularly important that he look for
a career move, not just another job. People often take positions because they
are available instead of thinking through what they really want. If a candidate
is unsure a job is right for him, it's better to wait for another. In today's
economy other options come along pretty quickly."
Before you accept the first offer, make sure it closely matches your ideal job
description. If it doesn't, keep looking unless your financial situation is
desperate. Otherwise, you will be cheating both yourself and your new employer.
If you think the company with the job you really want is close to making a
decision, tell them or your executive search consultant about your dilemma. As
Dave Westberry says, "Employers often move more slowly than we would like. If
they have a number one candidate who's considering another position, they may
put their search on a faster track. The main thing is to be truthful. This is
not a game. What aggravates companies the most are candidates who are not honest
and up-front about their intentions."
Evaluating the Second Offer
Should you get a second offer after you've accepted another, think carefully
before making your decision. As Gail McDonald points out, "You have made a
commitment and your integrity is on the line. The ethical thing to do is stick
with your original choice. Renege on your original decision only if the
position truly goes against who you are."
McDonald, Westberry and Carter all warn that rejecting your first offer after
you've accepted it may have long-term career ramifications. You may burn
bridges you want to cross later in your career. According to Alecia Carter,
"Recruiters depend heavily on the contacts and networks they build over the
years. Word gets around when someone leaves a company after a very short time
for another opportunity.
Even the company who made the second offer may question your integrity when
they find you have reneged on your original commitment. If you had no
compunction about jumping ship for their offer, will you stay with them if you
find slightly greener pastures a few months down the road?"
Given the repercussions taking the second offer might cause, be sure it is
substantially better than the first. Is a $5000-10,000 increase worth the
potential damage to your reputation? Will the projects or culture of the second
truly outweigh a job-hopper reputation? If you have done a thoughtful analysis
and decide the benefits are much greater than the risks, then make your move.
Breaking the News
"This is one of those times in your life when you must be brutally,
gut-wrenchingly honest. Tell the company making the first offer why you have
decided to take the second instead," says Gail McDonald. David Westberry adds,
"And do it as quickly as possible. The longer you wait, the worse it gets."
Alecia Carter also points out the first company may welcome your, "laying it on
the line and explaining why the other position is better for you." They may
take your declaration as an opportunity to clarify issues that concern you, or
even make a counteroffer, if money is your motivation. However, she also notes
that people who accept counteroffers rarely stay long with the company because
a hastily-proposed solution typically doesn't resolve the real issue.
If you are honest and more than a little contrite about moving to the better
opportunity, you may get away mostly unscathed. The first company may forgive
you, although it's unlikely they will forget.
A final point to ponder from Gail MacDonald, "Most people will understand your
making a single unfortunate mistake. But you only get one."