Your search succeeded: You found the right job, accepted the salary proposal and agreed on a start date. And then… another company makes you a better offer.
While some people might tell you the better deal always wins, you’re actually in a delicate position. The manager who hired you has stopped interviewing candidates, and is certainly planning for the day you’ll start work. If you back out of your commitment, there’s every chance that others in the IT world (and what a small world it is) will hear about it, and that’s not a good thing to have following you around.
Do you have any options? Though many people argue that you’re honor-bound to follow the commitment you’ve made, others say reality is a lot more nuanced.
If you find yourself in such a situation, the first order of business is to evaluate whether the new offer is truly the better one. This is about more than money, suggests Lisa Stotlar, a career counselor at CareerGenerations in Palo Alto, Calif.: Yes, you have to think about the dollars involved—but also consider the new boss, the work itself, the future of the company, and how everybody might react if you try to reopen the offer.
Some people will decide right off the bat that they can’t go back on their word. Others will believe they owe it to themselves to at least have a conversation with the original employer. If you decide that’s the course for you, tread carefully.
- Be Frontal. Remind the company that you’d been conducting an active job search and had conversations going on with more than one employer, Stotlar said. Acknowledge that the situation is awkward, and have a clear idea of your desired outcome. Bear in mind that the company may not be able to match the other offer. As Stotlar notes, some employers may understand your predicament. “They may say they misread the market and be OK with the conversation,” she said. “They may be able to sweeten their offer, and you might take the lesser offer because it just feels like a good fit.” Whatever happens, strive to make the solution look like a win-win. “Companies want to feel special, too,” she observed. “They want to feel like they’ve been ‘selected.’”
- Don’t Play Games. When you open the conversation, be ready to come to a decision quickly. Know your bottom line in terms of salary, as well as any other perks you might want, such as working from home or flexible hours. “I’ve seen offers reneged when people have [gone] too far,” Stotlar said. “You wouldn’t want two companies to get frustrated and both walk away.”
- Avoid the Situation in the First Place. The best way to keep out of trouble is to keep all parties informed. Let employers know that you’re talking to other companies and whether any of these conversations are at advanced stages. When you accept an offer, tell other companies promptly. If you think others may be coming close to making an offer, by all means let them know you’ve got something on the table to try to move them along, suggests Elizabeth Lions, a career coach in Dallas and author of I Quit! Working For You Isn’t Working For Me. But do that before you’ve gone ahead and agreed to go to work for someone else. “Manage your job search,” she said. “Get offers to fall at once, so you can decide.”
When you have the discussion with the original company, bear in mind that businesses have a certain amount of pride at stake. As Stotlar warned: “If you play this like, ‘I’m just going to take the highest bidder,’ you could walk away with nothing.”
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