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I am now in graduate school and accepted an offer around the beginning of December last year for a job that would start in June of this year. The offer is pretty good, but since there's so much time left between my acceptance and the start of the job, I was wondering if it was practically/ethically a good idea to keep applying/interviewing in the hopes of getting a better offer. I have already signed several forms for this firm (it's still at will employment), done a drug test, been through a background check, etc., so I imagine reneging could be rather costly for them and could burn bridges/create enemies. Since this is the beginning of my career, the last thing I want to do is begin it on the wrong foot, but I also don't want to pass up much better opportunities.

Is it a good idea to keep looking for a job after accepting an offer of employment? Is there a danger of burning bridges by doing this?

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Hi John, welcome to the Workplace SE, the Q&A site for questions about how to navigate the professional workplace. In general, we strive for questions that are more definitive. So I edited your post to expose what I think is your question. "Thoughts?" really isn't something we can answer definitively. Please feel free to edit further if my edits miss what you're hoping to target as a question. Good luck, and welcome to our site! :) – jmort253 Jan 30 '13 at 4:51
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Unless your contract specifies a settlement if the first company doesn't employ you, then it would be smart to keep looking. In the United States depending on the outcome of sequestration, and the fiscal cliff, some jobs might not be safe when June rolls around.

That doesn't mean that you should accept another job, but you don't want to close any doors that are still open until your start date forces you to close them. If something looks interesting apply for it, but don't push them to make a hiring decision. If you have already applied for a job, then don't turn down the interview.

You shouldn't be applying to find a better offer, because as you said they have already spent some money on you. They also may have told some candidates that they were not selected for the position.

What you do want to avoid is getting the word a week before your start date that the position is not available, without any other potential positions in development. In that case you would be starting over. In some professions they expect to fill a lot of their starting level positions in the June time frame, in other professions they are not linked to a time of the year.

If they don't keep their promise to you, you are unlikely to ever want to work for them in the future. If you are blatant about your job search, you do risk them discovering it. Don't apply for a job with the same company, but do keep the resume active on the resume sites. If you do accept the position with another company, do expect that they will not be willing to consider you for other positions in the near future.

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@JohnRoberts, what happens if the company that hired you finds a better candidate? They offered and you accepted a job; you should follow through on that. If the offer wasn't acceptable you shouldn't have accepted it. – Monica Cellio Jan 30 '13 at 15:39
A much better offer is a possibility, but you should decide now that unless the new offer is perfect (double the salary, can teleworker 3 days a week, fill in your list of perfect requirements...), you will turn it down. The goal is to not have an empty queue. – mhoran_psprep Jan 30 '13 at 16:14

First off - job hunting takes time and effort. You're going to have to figure out how much time you want to spend on the hunt vs. how much to spend on school, enjoying life, and personal projects. It's not binary - you can do a little job searching, without continuing a full-throttle search.

Taking the questions in reverse order:

Is there a danger of burning bridges by doing this?

Yes, quite frankly, there is. I realize that the world is a chancy place, and there have been sad stories in recent years of companies backing out of hiring very good candidates due to drastic changes in financial state between hiring period and graduation date. But there are as many cases of candidates backing out on companies, leaving companies scrambling for new candidates at the last minute.

The biggest burned bridge is calling the company after you accepted and saying you won't come because you got a better offer. Particularly when it comes many months after your acceptance. You leave a gap in the staffing plan (companies generally don't offer expecting much attrition) and you may have caused the company to expend money and time that they can't recover (background checks are the big one). The nature of the burned bridge has a lot to do with the size of the company and the vindictiveness of the individuals involved. As a minimum, realize that you probably can't get another offer at that company.

Is it a good idea to keep looking for a job after accepting an offer of employment?

I'd advise a passive, slow speed "keep your options open" type search.

In all honesty, if what you think you can get is a "much better offer" - it would have been more ethical not to accept the first offer. If what you're worried about is that the job will dissolve because the industry is likely to downsize or the company is in trouble, it's more justifiable to look.

If you're doing an all-out job search, you're more likely to get another offer, but you're also more likely to be noticed by your current future employer. Settings on job boards are really the least of my concern, because so many people forget to change their settings upon hiring that I doubt most HR people worry much about it. But if you are searching intelligently, then you've written a great cover letter and resume, and you'll stand out.

Standing out is great in the job market, but not great from the perspective of a casual search. Apply thoughtfully to jobs you think are really great (way better than the current offer) and be clear that you're being picky at the moment because you already have some great options in the works.

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Well said that nature of burned bridge has a lot to do with the size of a company. A small office hiring one new guy is going to notice a lot more when their new hire backs out than a large one that might be hiring multiple people at once. – Josh Jan 31 '13 at 17:04

I have already signed several forms for this firm (it's still at will employment), done a drug test, been through a background check, etc., so I imagine reneging could be rather costly for them and could burn bridges/create enemies.

You should never make a decision about whether or not to stay in a job based on whether somebody has spent money on hiring you. In my opinion, the cost of the burnt bridges plus the "enemies" is a price worth paying for a meaningful career move.

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Your situation is rather unusual, with the job not actually starting until some time in the future.

In general, I would say, "Once you accept an offer, stop looking." Let's face it, if you keep looking, sooner or later you will find a job that is more appealing -- whether that means more money, more interesting work, whatever. If you start job A and then get a better offer B, are you going to quit A? If you have only been at A for a short time -- or not actually started yet at all -- I consider that unethical and something that will look bad on your resume. You don't want to hop around jobs too fast. I think you should be very reluctant about quitting any professional job in less than a year, and preferably several years. (Working at a fast food place or as a cash register operator is a different thing -- high turnover is expected and accepted there.)

With the long lead time in your case between accepting the job and when it actually starts, I think a key question is how reliable this offer is. Is this really a firm offer, the job is there for you when you graduate? Or is this "we are very interested and we might consider you when the time comes"? You seem to be saying it's more (a). If that's the case, then no, I wouldn't be looking for another job. As Monica Cello said, how would you react if a company said, "Yes, we offered you this job, but then somebody else came along who had better qualifications, so we're rescinding the offer"? That should work both ways.

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