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Turning Down a Job Offer Twice?

Turning Down a Job Offer Twice?

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

A reader writes:

Here’s a situation I never would have seen coming in this market. I received an offer for a job about 1.5 years ago. Ultimately I rejected it to stay at my current employer because the compensation package as a whole was just not quite enough to allow me to pull the trigger.

Fast forward to today – my current job has lost a little extra luster due to precarious security (ongoing layoffs) and reduced benefits. I start looking for jobs and lo and behold, the same company needs the very same position. Naturally I apply, although of course I’m looking elsewhere as well. I interview with all the same people and more. And now it appears an offer is imminent. I expect it to be similar to last year’s, only this time I’d take it for sure.

Except….I also have late word of another imminent offer (or at least I think it is) that promises a significantly better package and a comparable quality of job.

Neither offer is in hand yet, but I’m already dreading the potential of turning the same employer’s offer down a second time – if it were to come to pass. I guess it’s just human conscience, but that just feels like it’s wrong in some way. But then I think I’m just following all the rules, applying and applying until I get offers in hand, and logically I can’t think of anything I’m doing that’s really wrong here. Can you? Give me some assurances that an employer, even in this situation, has to know that I’m not only looking their way!

I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong at all; you’re just dealing with a convergence of events that’s going to put you in an unfortunate situation (if having two job offers can be considered unfortunate).

My take would be different if you had allowed yourself to become a serious candidate with little intention of accepting the job, or if you’d had serious reservations you hadn’t shared with them. But neither of those things is true. Your interest was genuine, you didn’t hide anything from them, and you planned to accept an offer if you received one. And of course it’s reasonable that you were looking at other jobs as well — it would have been foolish not to, in fact, since there were no guarantees that you would get this job, no matter how promising things looked.

As is so often the case, the best way for you to handle this, if it does come to pass, is to be candid and straightforward. Tell the company that you’ve been seriously interested in the position all the way through and had every intention of accepting an offer if one came, but there’s now another offer in the mix that you can’t turn down. (Also, keep in mind that they may want to counter that other offer; you never know.) Explain that you’re worried this is frustrating for them, and that you feel terrible and hope that won’t think you wasted their time, and that that was never your intention.

Of course, a lot of people in their shoes wouldn’t seriously consider future applications from you, out of fear that they’d be wasting their time. But if you express yourself well, a really good employer will be able to read you well enough to see that you operated in good faith. Good luck!

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