In an employer’s market, receiving more than one offer is a good problem to have. But if the timing is off, if the second offer is better than the one you’ve just accepted, you’ll find yourself in a truly sticky situation. Taunee Besson, career transitions expert and President and Principal Consultant at Dallas-based Career Dimensions can tell us how to navigate this very situation, when your reputation may be on the line. — Maurice Gilbert
For the last four months you’ve been riding a job-search rollercoaster 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 for you
- Make a career decision based upon information you can trust because you’ve thought about it well before the 11th 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 the elements in your ideal position by using percentages for each one to total 100. You may arrange them in a simple rank order, or develop a point system, scoring each variable from one to 10.
|Elements you want||Percent Importance|
|Challenging work||20 %|
|Opportunity for advancement||20|
|Fairly Balanced Life||10|
|Excellent benefit package||10|
|Elements you want||Priority Ranking|
|Opportunity for advancement||2|
|Fairly Balanced Life||5|
|Excellent benefit package||7|
|Elements you want||Ranking 1-10|
|Opportunity for advancement||9|
|Fairly Balanced Life||6|
|Excellent benefit package||3|
When you get your first offer, you can apply any of these methods to evaluate it versus your ideal job. If you have multiple offers, set up a table to compare them with each other and your ideal job. This analysis 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 UnitedHealthCare, “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.”
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 $5,000 to $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 counter offer, 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.”
Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979, which works with individual and corporate clients in career change; job search; executive, small business and life coaching; college major selection and talent management.
“One of the smartest minds in the career field,” according to Tony Lee (VP of CareerCast Operations at Adicio and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal’s Online Vertical Network), Besson began writing for the Dallas Times Herald in the early 80s. Having read several of her columns, Lee asked her to contribute regular articles to the Journal’s National Business Employment Weekly (NBEW) as well. Since then, she has been a triple award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com and Senior Columnist for CareerCast.com, as well as WorkingWoman.com and Oxygen.com. At Lee’s request, Besson authored five editions of NBEW’s Premier Guide to Resumes and three of its Premier Guide to Cover Letters. She has also written articles and/or been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money and Yahoo among others.
Taunee has worked on community nonprofit boards and committees for over 30 years including Girls Inc., Women’s Center of Dallas, Girl Scouts and Dallas Women’s Foundation, The Volunteers of America and Mortarboard, among others. She was a member of the Leadership Dallas in 1987 and Leadership America in 2003.Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.