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I am currently job hunting and have three good offers. I verbally implied to both my external recruiter (headhunter) and point of contact (HR person) at Company A that I would accept an offer from them if they made their offer official. At one point, I even said "when I sign [the contract]." Someone at Company A (my potential boss's boss) contacted me and said "I've heard you accepted our offer. I'm excited!"

Company A sent me their official offer and it looked good. I was excited. Compensation was everything that we discussed it to be. But the contract included a non-compete agreement. I was aware that they had a non-compete agreement but I had never seen one and therefore did not know what it would involve. It's an extensive non-compete and I don't feel comfortable signing it.

I now know it was stupid to verbally accept an offer without seeing the contract. My question is this: how do I renege on my verbal acceptance without burning a bridge? I'm concerned that the HR person told others at the company that I accepted the offer.

RE:duplicates, I am aware that similar questions have been asked numerous times on stack exchange. However, I believe the following makes my question different: a potential future boss was notified of my verbal acceptance and the reneging is based on information that Company A only just provided and not on changes with my other offers.

Update: Thank you to everyone for the advice. I ended up approaching them that I was excited about the position but concerned about the non-compete. They explained that it unfortunately was not negotiable and so I turned down the offer. But the bridge has not been burnt (at least they haven't said it is) and they instead said "maybe next time." Thanks!

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    Would you still accept if they struck that clause from the contract? They are negotiable, after all. The company might be willing to change it to something more acceptable for you. – Erik Jun 1 '18 at 5:30
  • It's a hedge fund so I doubt they would remove or modify the clause. Also, I'm not worried about wanting to break the clause - for personal reasons, I'm very unlikely to want to go their competition - but I'm worried about what it says about the culture of their company. – Nikki Jun 1 '18 at 5:55
  • You knew they had a non-compete but after you saw it that caused concern about the culture of the company? – paparazzo Jun 1 '18 at 6:27
  • With the approach I've outlined in my answer, If they're really that unflexible about modifying the non-compete, then you've got what you want and they'll be the one reneging on hiring you (not the other way around). On a side-note, you may want to avoid working for any hedge fund, since I don't anticipate them being too different from each other. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 1 '18 at 8:57
  • Related: One-year non compete clause – Dukeling Jun 1 '18 at 10:42
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You don't need to renege on your offer.

If you find the non-compete overly broad, strike out parts of it, amend it to make it narrower, add a compensation clause for the duration of the non-compete, and/or add any personal project that you may have already started, etc.

Then initial your changes, send it back to the company, with a cover letter mentioning that you've made some changes because you felt the non-compete clause was overly broad and somewhat unreasonable.

Make sure to put your hiring manager in the loop. He's the one who really wants to hire you. The HR person may not feel the same way as the hiring manager does.

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    I can't remember who told me, but you should treat a contract as an "opening offer" motivated and intelligent people (and some who are neither) will often haggle over contract points. It is amazing the number of people who don't – Jeremy French Jun 1 '18 at 16:44
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    I once accepted a job offer with some contract clauses I wasn't comfortable with. I found out a few months in that most of my coworkers had negotiated changes to those clauses and the company was very flexible. I had just assumed they wouldn't be. – David Schwartz Jun 2 '18 at 14:24
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Even if you have verbally accepted the position, there is an implied understanding that it still depends on you reading and signing the contract, and accepting all the nitpicky details that will be formalized in said contract. Therefore, even if you were to outright refuse the offer after all, I doubt it would burn any bridges, except of course, for any future offers from this company. But, you didn't want to work there anyways.

However, they want you as an employee, meanwhile you would be happy to accept were it not for that non-competition agreement, to the point that you will refuse to sign if it's still part of your contract. This means you pretty much lose nothing if you attempt to renegotiate.

So simply straight-out tell them you don't like this non-competition part of the contract, and were hoping you could change it to something you would both be happy with. Then, even if your renegotiation falls through, as long as you were polite, it will extra give the appearance that you really did want to work there, except that they had some policies you couldn't agree with.

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Start asking questions about the contract, gently approach the point you have an issue with and see if there's any flexibility. Then based on that accept/reneg/decline. If you decline consider the bridge burnt.

  • By bridge burnt, do you mean that the company will never interview me again or do you mean that my reputation will be tarnished in the eyes of the people at the company that I have interacted with? – Nikki Jun 1 '18 at 5:57
  • I mean they will be reluctant to waste their time with you again given you already did it to them once (not being rude but from their perspective you will be seen as a time waster) – solarflare Jun 1 '18 at 6:11
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    Or they might see you as someone who is not a mug blindly accepting unfair contracts. Of course that might be the person they are looking for, and in that case you burnt a bridge that needed burning. And they might actually send an email one day “we have an open position, and by the way our old recruiter left” – gnasher729 Jun 1 '18 at 8:47
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You've tagged your question as United States ... Which state?

I ask because in California, non-competes against individuals are pretty much unenforceable (and frowned upon by the court system) ... except in very unusual circumstances (like you're the inventor of some breakthrough technology or something very novel in a very specific industry).

You might also want to run this by the folks over in the Legal forum ... they may have more specific information.

Good luck!

  • I live in California and therefore would be signing in California but the job is in NYC. – Nikki Jun 1 '18 at 22:36
  • @Nikki NY isn't fond of non-competes either. But consult a lawyer. – Peter M Jun 4 '18 at 12:47
  • Definitely consult a lawyer ... and check to see if the contract specifies a location / jurisdiction for enforcement &/or dispute resolution - even if it does, California law may overrule it because you're a resident of the state ... this works for many issues where you have been told that you can't do something, but California law says that your right to do that thing can't be forfeited ... Again, consulting a lawyer is [and usually ALWAYS is] your best course of action ... Good Luck! – Sharpenologist Jun 6 '18 at 16:55

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