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Lately one of my relatives got joining offer letters from two software companies. Both had the joining dates of two months later.

The relative had chosen one company but decided to inform the other about the not joining their company only at the end of two months.

I know this is not ethical, but I wish to know whether there are some potential risks involved if you decline the other offers too soon, and your joining date for the chosen company is after two months?

What is the appropriate practical behavior in this situation?

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    possible duplicate of What is the best protocol for courteously declining a job offer?. Nothing wrong or unethical about declining a job offer, it's the method of declination that matters. At least in the U.S. anyway – kolossus Apr 19 '13 at 6:43
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    @kolossus It is NOT a duplicate. Here I am not talking about rudeness or politeness. I am talking about the "risks" involved we we reject one offer too early, and the other offer has the joining date of two months later. – Aquarius_Girl Apr 19 '13 at 7:16
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    Potential risks, you don't give them a chance to make a counter offer until it's too late. – Rhys Apr 19 '13 at 8:18
  • I do not under stand what risks there would be. If you are not accepting that position then why would you not tell them that? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 19 '13 at 16:59
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I'm certain it varies by company and location, but most job offers I've received have had two dates:

  • A joining date - the day they want you to start
  • An answer date - they day they want an answer

In my experience, both are up for negotiation.

The goal of the company making the offer is to get an answer quickly enough that it will not cause chaos in their staffing plans. I've had everything from a "Can you tell us TOMORROW????" to "Take 2 weeks and let us know".

I'd say that if you don't get such a guideline, it's professional to ask when they'd like an answer by to clarify the situation. It can be a win or loose in either direction - the candidate can really mess up the company's staffing plans, or the company may move on when they don't hear a yes or no in a reasonable amount of time - so it's good to know what they think "reasonable" may be.

The impact on the company

Most times a company doesn't know or care what other offers you have in hand - they are pretty self-centered and just want an answer. Waiting a long time and then answering is annoying either way.

People say "no" all the time, and how you say "no" does matter. The more time and effort the company has put into hiring you will have a lot to do with how they take rejection. In particular, there's an intangible "pain in the rear-end" factor. For example, these to cases are very different:

  • You did the standard interview process, they flew you out, wined and dined you, and make an offer later. You said "no" pretty quickly - a day or two later - based on issues that were clear in the interview cycle. Outcome: mostly not a big deal, they knew the risks before they wined and dined you.

  • You did the standard interview process, it was a couple of drives into the local office, and meetings with a bunch of people in the team/department. They made an offer. You and the HR rep spent the next two weeks negotiating a wide and complex set of details about the offer, causing them to make numerous special exceptions to standard policy. Every time you communicated, you expressed your enthusiasm and excitement at the opportunity. Then you took a month to decide only telling them when you got a better offer. Outcome: You are probably on the "pain in the rear-end" list and they won't be quick to accept a resume from you.

I made these two examples to demonstrate a point - while sometimes companies will spend a serious amount of money recruiting for positions that can't be filled locally, they do that knowing the job pool (case 1), and they are taking a known risk. When you take massive personnel time from busy people (case 2) - you are are tapping a different resource, and one that will likely stick with the humans who had to deal with you. Particularly when it seemed like a go, and they had to do a lot of management decision making, you've upped the "cost" higher than simple dollars, and you'll be remembered unfavorably.

The impact on the candidate

And early acceptance is usually fairly low risk. Employment law varies - but a good faith offer is often something that holds up in court. Particularly a formal, written letter with a start date. There can be odd cases - like applications requiring heavy background checks, where a conditional offer is made - and usually your potential employers will advise you.

Certainly, it's no fun having an offer be retracted, but in my experience, it's unusual in a stable company.

I'd say a bigger risk is being spectacularly rude. People are social creatures, and they remember outstanding rudeness. I suspect that if you work in an industry with a very big pool of people that aren't tightly connected, the rudeness matters very little. But in a specialized skill, small working community getting a bad rep is a real minus. It'll follow you. For example as a digital security nerd-manager, I was really surprised at a cross-company, cross-industry local exec ed program to find that I had a 1-degree of separation (a friend/colleague of mine was a friend/colleague of the other attendee) with about half the people of a 20 person program. I had no idea my modest network extended so far, and was really, really grateful that ALL of those connections were friends, not enemies.

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If you have a firm offer and you accept that offer then a contract exists. I would wait until the contracts have been signed and accepted by both the candidate and the employer.

What you want to do is avoid not having a job if you reject the other. So if you wait until you've agreed to join one company, and they've accepted you, then you don't run the risk of rejecting one offer only to have the other one cancelled.

Of course the one you accept could end up as being cancelled, but chances are that they will have to give you some notice and thus salary.

  • I definitely agree with "Waiting until the contracts have been signed" or at least "Wait until you have a formal written offer" - treat the job you're about to decline as your current position: decline it at the same time you would give your notice in to a current position. – Jon Story Nov 27 '14 at 13:16
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If you have a signed and accepted offer letter, you are in the clear even if the start date is 2 months out. So there is no risk in declining the other offer early, however there are benefits in doing so. There is absolutely nothing wrong with declining an offer if it's done "properly". Properly means (among other things) "not stringing the other party needlessly along".

The result that you want it is "Hey, this is a good candidate, but it just didn't work out this time. Let's keep them on file and try again in two years" rather than "This person is indecisive and wasted everyone's time and effort for two months before chickening out at the last minute"

The only potential risk could be that the first company may rescind the offer but

  1. That's rare
  2. It's a sign of unethical or disorganized company that may be in financial troubles, so it's not the great place you thought it was
  3. There is nothing you can do to protect yourself (other than doing all the thorough research which you should have done before accepting the offer anyway)
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    Were do you get your statistics that it is rare? If there is none then please don't give advice that is based on speculation. – Rhys Apr 19 '13 at 14:33
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I find it rather surprising that the other company didn't demand a response to its offer sooner than the joining date.

Maybe I'm going to far in speculating about the motive for that, but it suggests to me that they actually didn't need to know whether your relative would join or not. Perhaps they have a continuing recruitment process, your relative wasn't expected to fill a particular role that needed filling at a particular time, and while they'd quite like to know in advance who is starting when, they don't actually need to. So it's not worth their time to chase people up for prompt replies to offers.

As such it's an ideal offer to keep in hand just in case the first one falls through for any reason (or something like this happens: Reducing the salary after job offer?). The practical thing to do is to hold it open as long as the other company doesn't mind, and perhaps a little longer.

I'm not even certain that it's unethical. Once you accept a job the honourable thing to do is inform everyone else, but that's because you're almost certainly going to be doing the first job and therefore unavailable for the other offer(s). It's unethical to deceive someone by appearing to be considering their offer when in fact you cannot take it. If you have genuine doubt about the first offer really materializing, such that you need an insurance offer, then you aren't "almost certainly" unavailable. You've accepted something, but whether that thing really is a job remains to be seen, so I think there's at least a little ethical leeway. Of course, the most ethical thing is to be open from the start: "thank you for being willing to wait another two months for a response: this is very generous of you, and useful to me since I have passed interview at a company for a potential role that is very attractive to me, but as yet is not certain to exist". Naturally that would raise a lot of eyebrows, and might not be the thing most likely to keep the other offer open, but it's honest!

It's only when the other company starts following up asking for a response that you have a practical issue to consider, which is how much ill-will you'd be generating by dodging their phone calls (or other avoidance behaviour, but I'll use phone calls as representative). You don't mention this happening, and there's no way to say what the practical costs are of doing what your relative did without knowing how many and what kind of phone calls were being dodged. The other company is very unlikely to hold a grudge before first calling at least once to ask for a decision. Recruitment tend to be active when they don't like something, since passive-aggressive sulking goes over people's heads in that context.

Assuming some dodging of phone calls, the practical calculus says that you're playing a small chance (of the first offer failing to materialize) of a large benefit (taking the other job without having to start your job search over again) against a certainty of a small cost (someone in your industry knows you've messed them about) and a small chance of a large cost (someday you might want something from that same person).

The greatest unknown (to us reading this question) is the chance of the first job failing to materialize. If the first offer was from a potential startup company that doesn't yet have funding, and there's no job if it doesn't get funding by the join date, then the practical calculus is very different from if it's a routine recruitment by a large stable firm. I don't think it's possible to say that one choice or the other is of practical benefit always.

One thing that is not really practical is to keep the second offer just in case you change your mind about the first. If you've accepted the first offer and you aren't expecting any new information to come in, then you shouldn't expect to change your mind. Back your own decision by declining the other offer immediately. It's not a smart move to plan on spending two months second-guessing yourself.

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