The situation: I had been unemployed a few months. Unfortunately, my financial reserves were low. I was receiving unemployment benefits, but those would be stopped if I turned down an employment opportunity. Without these benefits I was looking at becoming homeless in a couple months.

I interviewed at one place and received an offer the same day. However, I had an interview lined up with another organization, so I told the first place that I wanted some time to think about it. The next day the first place called and upped their offer, but wanted an answer right away. At that point, I admitted I had another possibility I wanted to hear back from. They insisted on an answer, so I accepted their offer, but put off the start to the next week so that I could continue pursuing the alternative job.

This solution never felt particularly right to me, since I felt I was being dishonest. What other way might I have handled this?

  • 2
    Unemployment benefit rules vary by state and country, but when I was collecting them, the requirement was not to turn down a reasonable offer. If that applies to you, and there was something about the pushy job which you weren't sure of (other than the pushiness), then you may have been able to decline it safely.
    – Bobson
    Mar 22, 2013 at 15:44
  • @Bobson: Thanks for the comment. The offer was financially reasonable, in my area of expertise, and for a small company supporting a large, well-known organization, so I believe the unemployment people would have considered it reasonable.
    – GreenMatt
    Mar 22, 2013 at 15:49
  • Fair enough. I'm certainly not going to tell you that you should have gambled on them not objecting!
    – Bobson
    Mar 22, 2013 at 16:07
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    It will be interesting to see what answers you get to this question. The company probably had an urgence to fill the position and could perhaps have filled it with another candidate if you had turned down the offer, so what you did does seem to me quite unprofessional. On the other hand, in your situation as you describe it, I would have done exactly the same thing.
    – DeStrangis
    Mar 22, 2013 at 16:25
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    You handled it the right way. Sometimes you are in a situation where all possible choices are bad. Then you choose the least bad option. But it still is a bad option. As a rule of thumb, if someone intentionally puts me into a situation where all my options are bad, I don't feel guilty for choosing an option which is somehow bad for them too. They had an option of getting your honest answer a week later, and they decided to throw it away. That was their choice, not yours. Mar 27, 2013 at 15:14

5 Answers 5


In my opinion, accepting the offer but still entertaining the other pending offer was the right decision. You feel dishonest because you were forced into accepting the offer. However, in your situation, you did not have a legitimate choice. Accept the offer, or seriously risk homelessness. That was your choice, and you made it. That's not something I'd lose any sleep over, personally.

Think of your own career as a business. You take on additional work over going bankrupt. This is no different. Also, taking a job later that makes you a better offer is just good business sense. Give reasonable notice, do your best to hand off your work effectively, and try to be professional. This pushy company is not going to put your best interest first. You are. And you have to. Unfortunately, not every decision you have to make is black and white, but I think you did the right thing, given the options.

  • There definitely is that chance, but I would find that more likely to exist only as a fear than a reality, provided the poster has a reasonable sense of discretion.
    – huntmaster
    Mar 25, 2013 at 17:59
  • It depends on if the pushy company knew he was on unemployment. Wouldn't be a stretch for them to report it.
    – user29234
    Dec 5, 2014 at 19:08
  • Yes, the company knew I was on unemployment - it was implicit in my resume, showing that my latest job had ended a few months prior.
    – GreenMatt
    Oct 2, 2015 at 20:19

By accepting the offer while you were still hoping for an alternative to pan out, you have put a potential employer at risk. So yes, you were somewhat unprofessional. No two ways about it.

The professional way to deal with it would have been to tell them that you really did need more time to consider the offer.

Was it feasible given your financial situation? I don't know. The lines between professionalism and self preservation blur when our backs are to the wall, that's just human nature. No wrong and no right about it.

  • 3
    "The professional way to deal with it would have been to tell them that you really did need more time to consider the offer." This ignores their insistence on an immediate answer.
    – GreenMatt
    Mar 22, 2013 at 22:57
  • 1
    To do otherwise ignores the truth?
    – Permas
    Mar 22, 2013 at 23:33
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    +1 to this. The employer gave an offer. You accepted. If you back out, that's unprofessional. But you also need the job. At the end of the day, is the security of having this job available more important than what you gave up in your professionalism? That's the choice you have to make in a situation like this.
    – jmac
    Mar 25, 2013 at 5:33
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    I would add that an employer not willing to wait couple days might be considered unprofessional, too, depending on the situation.
    – yo'
    Mar 25, 2013 at 16:17
  • @tohecz No question about that. Except the question was about the employer, it was about him...
    – Permas
    Mar 25, 2013 at 16:41

In Denmark (where I am from), accepting a job offer and then not showing up is not allowed, and the potential employer can ask for an amount worth 1 months salaries as damages compensation.

Your question is how you could have handled this better. That is a hard question because it is unclear if the company could choose another candidate or if you were their only option. In the first case, I'd take the job straight away and put off searching for other jobs. You can't have a cake and eat it too. If it turned out that your gut feeling was right - that the job isn't really for you, then move on.

In the second case where it is obvious that you were their only option, you could risk playing hard ball and just tell them that you weren't ready to make a decision. But I absolutely understand if you didn't have the stomach to go down that road.

  • 1
    in Denmark is a prospective employer allowed to require an immediate answer to a job offer like this? Mar 25, 2013 at 18:29
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    @MichaelKohne: Sure, but you are not obligated to answer. :) You might however lose (some of your) unemployment benefits if you decline, just like in the case of the question author. Mar 26, 2013 at 8:45
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    In Denmark, does this include verbal commitments? Until you get a package listing the full compensation and benefits there is no possible way you could make an informed decision on the offer. I look at the OP's agreeing to accept employment merely as an agreement in principal, but its not formal until the paperwork is signed.
    – Dunk
    Mar 26, 2013 at 22:47

I think it's important for everybody to be upfront, honest and professional. Both sides in this case are at fault. However, you have the luxury to go back on your word and take the other offer with little if any punishment. The company could hire you for one day and then let you go (depends on where you live), but they would then have to pay part of your unemployment. You are at an advantage in most cases.

You asked for more time to think about it, but you really wanted to entertain another offer.

The company wanted to speed up the process by offering more money (why didn't they offer this sooner?) without telling you why they need to fill the spot so badly. Maybe they are use to candidates taking time to entertain other offers, so they try to prevent this.

The reason for filling the position so quickly may have given you some incentive to take the job. It could be as harmless as a manager wanting to get a budget submited so he can hire someone to getting staff in place because they're going to get a huge injection of venture capital.

Either way, you both started out playing a game of poker, so I don't see how one could consider the other as more or less dishonest. The sad thing is, you both may lose in the long run.

  • 1
    Getting hired is a business negotiation. There is nothing unprofessional about keeping your cards hidden. "Everybody should be "upfront and honest"??? What are you going to do, say I will offer you $10,000 but I am willing to go as high as $20,000? That is certainly being upfront and honest but is certainly not being business professional. Until the contract is signed, nothing is final. It is like having a verbal agreement with a sales rep and then finding out that their manager won't approve the deal. Disappointing...yes, unprofessional, dishonest, not being upfront...No.
    – Dunk
    Mar 26, 2013 at 22:38

Personal reaction is that there are two (and a fraction) ethical options here.

1) Take the adequate job, work it for a reasonable amount of time (a year or two at least, unless they're really bad) while continuing to investigate what else might be available, and change jobs when something that looks better comes up. When the time comes, you'll be job-hunting under less pressure, with a paycheck coming in, and you'll have more experience to put on the resume, all of which will increase your chances of getting a better job next time around. And who knows, this might turn into something more interesting; I didn't really expect to spend my whole career working for one company, but they've kept me happy enough overall that I haven't yet bailed out.

1a) If you're expecting responses from other companies, it's legitimate to say you're interested but would like to hear back from the other to make sure you don't miss an exceptional offer, so you'd like a week or so before committing. The longer you ask for the less likely they will be to agree, so this doesn't mean continuing full-scale jobhunting, just closing out the process cleanly.


2) Decide you really don't want to work for them, decline the offer, and continue hunting. If you really think you not only can do better, but will probably do better, and if your finances will allow you to pass this one up, and you're otherwise comfortable with this decision, go for it. You don't necessarily have to take the first job offered, or even the first good job offered... but you have to decide for yourself whether the odds favor the gamble. In part that's a matter of how sure you are that you'll at least get another offer that would put bread on the table before you run out of money.

Both are valid answers.

Taking a job which you don't intent to keep long enough to at least pay back the company's investment in bringing you on board is not ethical. In some situations it may be unavoidable, but I'd try really hard to avoid it.

  • Regarding 1a) As I said in the post, they weren't letting me have a week, they wanted an answer that day; and 2) Decling the job would have meant losing my unemployment benefits and I might have ended up homeless without them.
    – GreenMatt
    Oct 2, 2015 at 20:14
  • @Greenmatt: If they can't give you a few days, after however long it's taken them to go thru the process, there's something wrong. But if you have no choice, your options are (1) or compromising your ethics. I won't fault you if you go with the latter. The lesser evil is not a good, but when you're starving and there's nothing else available, tref is kosher.
    – keshlam
    Oct 2, 2015 at 22:42

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