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I am on my final year of studies of Computer Science. A few months ago I had an interview and got an offer, I accepted it. Now, I got an offer from a better company and a bigger salary. Can I decline the previous company? Would that be okay? Or it's a really big dick move? I haven't signed any documents or anything, I just said I accept the offer when they called me to come to their office. I was afraid to tell them that I might seek for other companies.

marked as duplicate by CMW, Jim G., gnat, CincinnatiProgrammer, bethlakshmi Jan 10 '14 at 23:58

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Can I decline the previous company?

Of course you can.

Would that be okay? Or it's a really big dick move?

From the previous company's point of view, yes - it's probably a "big dick move".

But do you care? Even though you accepted their offer a while ago, you still have talked to other companies. Why the remorse now?

I haven't signed any documents or anything, I just said I accept the offer when they called me to come to their office. I was afraid to tell them that I might seek to work for other companies.

That was a mistake. But it's a mistake in the past. You should deal with the now.

This isn't a terribly unusual situation. Companies make "future offers" verbally to students all the time, but usually know that students are young, and things change rapidly for them.

The company will be disappointed, but won't be shocked.

If they had given you money, or had you sign a contract, the expectations might be different. But until you actually start working, prospective employers always worry that the candidate will actually show up.

You may be burning bridges with the previous company, and the previous hiring manager, but these things happen.

  • That was a mistake. But it's a mistake in the past. You should deal with the now. - you're right. But they could have at least asked me if I'd be interviewing with other companies, of course I'd say yes... – lily Jan 10 '14 at 16:39
  • Unfortunately, have to agree on that... It's my mistake obviously and I am an idiot. – lily Jan 10 '14 at 17:54
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It's ok - it's not great but a lot can change in a few months - I wouldn't focus on "better company" or "bigger" salary" but just that a better opportunity has came up and you're sorry you won't be able to take this role after all.

As you get more experienced, this could reflect very badly but I don't think it's a disaster at the start of your career.

Make sure you do tell the original company though and don't just do what some candidates do (and don't turn up on the first day). Also, make sure you tell the original company as soon as possible.

  • Make sure you do tell the original company though and don't just do what some candidates do (and don't turn up on the first day) - well, that's obvious. – lily Jan 10 '14 at 16:10
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    You'd be surprised how often candidates, especially for graduate positions, don't do this. – Michael Jan 10 '14 at 16:29
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You can always say no. The jerkiness of doing so is somewhat connected to the formality of the offer and the degree of commitment implied by it.

For example these two contexts are fairly different:

  • Candidate agrees in person to accepting the offer with handshake and the company promises to send a formal offer and the various bits of paperwork for agreeing on salary and doing all the boring new hire paperwork. But the candidate never signed a formal acceptance and/or never received the paperwork. Not particularly jerky - since so little is guaranteed about this agreement.

  • Candidate agrees and signs a formal offer letter and tons of paperwork, including all sorts of in depth, company required stuff. One industry-specific example is security clearances - they often take 6+ months to process, and companies that need them start hiring college grads very early in the hopes of getting a clearance ready before the candidate arrives. Doing all that paperwork and then bailing is pretty lame since the candidate has implied serious commitment in filling out all those forms in the first place.

In hindsight, it's totally appropriate to have said that you will still look, and also to set the expectation that until you've received and signed off on paperwork YOU don't feel that this is a firm commitment on either party's part. Then they know your expectation and there are no surprises. It's also OK to say that you want to consider your options and consider the salary they've offered before making any decisions. It's fairly standard for many candidates to say "give me 24 hours to think and discuss with my family".

What's generally not cool is to expect a company to keep an opportunity open and available for you for months on end while you investigate better offers. If that's what you intent, better to be clear that this offer has not been strong enough to cause you to make a commitment. Most companies WILL expect a firm commitment within a week or two and will assume that once you've signed paperwork, it's safe to go forward as if you were going to be an employee. That can include purchasing equipment, saving a space for you in this year's budget, reserving working space for you, and turning down other candidates.

Will be a career terminator? Probably not. It's a big world, and you may never work with the people who interviewed you at this company. In fact, when a mess occurs with a candidate, often very few of the interview chain are told since there's no real use in airing a lot of useless company gossip. But it's quite possible that the manager and recruiter will feel burned, and in most industries this is rare enough that it won't be hard to remember your name. Chances are decent, if the company has any formality to its recruitment process, that they have some paperwork around that will say "made offer, candidate accepted then rejected several months later". Which means that this particular company may not be keen to interview you for a future job, and the manager/recruiter may not be keen to interview you, even when they've moved to a different company.

  • Well, that's just perfect... :( – lily Jan 10 '14 at 16:31
  • About the only other option would be to try to get a sense of how much they've invested hiring you - that's generally not easy to do from the outside, it takes some very good networking skills and possibly help from a friend in the company. – bethlakshmi Jan 10 '14 at 16:35
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It's fine. People come and go from positions all the time. Companies are prepared for a certain amount of employee turnover. The company you are disappointing probably expects that some fraction of their new hires will not actually take positions. Just express your regrets and move on. Good luck in your first job.

  • @Joe: would it make a difference if he started, and then got a much better and left after a month? That would actually be worse for the employer. I also wonder if the first company doesn't just make low-ball offers and see who actually shows up. – kevin cline Jan 11 '14 at 4:29
  • @JoeStrazzere: you should post a different answer. – kevin cline Jan 13 '14 at 1:44

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