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I've been interviewing with a staffing agency for many of their open positions that they have told me about. One recent one was a contract-to-hire role and they asked if I was okay with that. I stupidly said "yes" not thinking about the ramifications of health insurance, potential that I don't get hired after the contract, the fact that it's hourly (not salary, which I prefer) etc. It turns out that I am being offered the job, but don't want it due to the reasons stated.

How can I minimize bridges burned with this staffing agency? Many of their positions seems great, but I am regretting telling them that I would accept a contract position.

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    Mind enhancing a bit how you said "yes"? was this an email? spoken? Welcome to The Workplace BTW :)
    – DarkCygnus
    Jan 25 at 19:05
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    @DarkCygnus Thanks! It was over the phone with staffing recruiter. They just told me it was contract-to-hire and the hourly wage. But after receiving the formal offer letter, I realized that the health insurance from the staffing agency is very poor compared to my current job and there's no guarantee that I get hired after a year.
    – Rob
    Jan 25 at 19:13
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    Thanks for clarifying. It seems that the phone call was a bit informal and fast. But you later received an email with the actual offer and then you realized you didn't like it
    – DarkCygnus
    Jan 25 at 19:15
  • Don't reject this out of hand if everything else about the job is good. If they are paying you enough then you can sort the other things out for yourself. You can always buy supplemental health insurance, and they should also be paying an hourly rate that compensates for the fact of not getting paid time off. Jan 25 at 19:26
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    Not an answer but perhaps helpful. Staffing agencies health insurance is often bad enough it doesn't qualify as coverage which makes you eligible for subsidies on the health insurance exchange. Income limits for subsidies are much higher than I personally expected so depending your situation they may be worth looking into.
    – stoj
    Jan 26 at 15:08

6 Answers 6

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How can I minimize bridges burned with this staffing agency?

After your clarification in comments I think this is no situation you should be much concerned about.

They quickly mentioned the job via phone call, where they gave you very few details. You gave a preemptive/unofficial "yes".

However, you then got the actual offer via email, which had more information and for which you realized it was not what you are looking for.

Given these things, I suggest you reply ASAP to that email the agency sent, politely indicating that after reading the contract and thinking about it you rather not take it, as you seeking for a job where you get health insurance and preferably not an hourly wage.

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    I agree with this. You said yes on a preliminary basis, but after receiving more details the offer isnt something you are interested in. Just explain it as such.
    – Nicolas
    Jan 27 at 15:46
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    To emphasize the last clasue, consider spelling out what an acceptable offer would look like. Jan 29 at 1:50
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How can I minimize bridges burned with this staffing agency?

Apologize for your confusion, and indicate that after thinking it through you won't want to take any contract positions, that you want a position with health insurance and a salary rather than an hourly job.

Mistakes happen. Apologize quickly, and hopefully they will be understanding.

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    And if they're not understanding, it's on them, you handled it professionally. Jan 26 at 9:02
  • Depends slightly on whether he doesn't want anything of the sort, or whether this offer simply wasn't worth the downsides. But yes.
    – fectin
    Jan 27 at 0:49
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    Not all contract positions offer poor health insurance and are paid hourly. So "won't want to take any contract positions" is different than most of the OP's issues with the job.
    – Yakk
    Jan 27 at 21:56
  • @JoeStrazzere, that's a concern for any job. Even if you get hired full time, they might have a probationary period where you can still get let go for pretty much any reason. It's true that some employers use "temp to hire" contracts to simply get more applicants without ever actually wanting to hire, but you can't pass over every job just because there's a possibility they are idiots. People need to realize contracts and probationary periods are for them to gauge if they want to continue working for a company or manager, too. Workers have rights, too, which most workers seem to forget. Jan 28 at 16:27
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I have worked various salaried as well as hourly contracted jobs through the years. To my mind the one big difference is the rate paid, as on an hourly contract you yourself would "pay" your own:

  • retirement funding (private supplier)
  • medical insurance (private supplier)
  • paid leave days
  • public holidays
  • statutory sick leave days actually taken (guesstimate...)
  • hours in a day/week/month they don't use your services (guesstimate...)
  • ... and whatever other benefits you get in your locale when salaried

(This list is obviously dependent on the situation in your country/state.)

This is not a train smash, you just need to calculate the difference in rate you need to get more when paid hourly, than when paid salaried (both calculated to yearly, for the sake of comparing apples to apples).

Chances are, the hourly rate offered turns out to be below your salaried expectations - so just politely decline as "rate is below my expectation".

(If the two are substantially equal, then your misgiving (as stated) doesn't really hold water - you just need to make sure to find a medical insurer/retirement fund and pay the dues each month, diligently save for time off and sick days, etc.)


  • All this said, it may be a good idea to take your expected salary and calculate it back to an hourly rate (taking into account all the benefits you need to include), to have something ready to compare to offers, and when the agency asks you what your expectation is.

  • Not part of the question, but the salary/hourly tradeoff has non-monetary pros/cons that you probably want to keep in mind as well, so be sure to ask the relevant questions about them too.

For example:

  1. I have found that if a contracting house contracts you out to a third party, you may have the disadvantages of two bosses and the benefits of none (as responsibilities tend to get pushed to the other one).
  2. In such contracting roles I also got moved around (at short notice) between different clients, which can play some havoc with commuting arrangements and where you live.
  3. On the other hand, I learned a lot while working on a lot of different projects and with different people!
  4. An hourly contractor is often responsible for his own HR, tax, labor law, saving for non-working times, etc. This may be a benefit or a disadvantage depending on your outlook and circumstances.
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    This is sort of on the edges of a useful answer. It's an XY answer which indicates a few things the OP should think about. Jan 26 at 12:42
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You don't need to explain too much. The following would be totally all right.

I'm sorry, I've changed my mind. I don't want that contract after all.

I can absolutely guarantee this won't be the first time that the staffing agency have been told something like this. It's perfectly fine. Don't forget, it's not in the staffing agency's interests to cut all ties with you - from their point of view, there's every possibility that they'll be placing you in a role at some point in the future.

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  • Exactly, the OP agreed to the concept of a contract-to-hire, not to the specific job. Speaking as one who has taken a lot of contract job over the years, no decent recruiter is going to bat an eye that you agreed to a contract type then dismissed a specific job that used that contract type. The contract type is non-specific to the job, so there's absolutely nothing to bind you to take a job just because it the JD includes it. Sort of like saying you'll do C# programming, then saying no to a JD that includes it. Jan 28 at 16:32
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To elaborate more on Dawood ibn Kareem's answer

One recent one was a contract-to-hire role and they asked if I was okay with that.

How can I minimize bridges burned with this staffing agency? Many of their positions seems great, but I am regretting telling them that I would accept a contract position.

You agreed to taking a contract position, not a specific contract. You didn't burn any bridges. You said you would take a type of job, similar to saying you wanted a secretarial job, work with a specific technology, that you had some specific skills, or other generic information that any job description can include.

Even if you said that you wanted to work in a specific industry or work for a specific company, you still have the right to back out at any time, up to and including when they have a final offer. That's why it's called an offer. Heck, you can even back out afterwards in many cases (especially in so-called "right to work" states), but that's where you start to burn bridges. You didn't get that far, so there's nothing to worry about.

You didn't do anything wrong and neither did they. There's nothing to worry about, you simply didn't come to an agreement on employment terms. Simply try again.

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Here's what my reply to their offer would contain:

"Hello Company A. After careful consideration and for personal reasons, I decided not to accept your current offer. My personal goals shifted and I am no longer looking for contractor/freelancer opportunities. Best Regards, Rob."

Here's some background to that answer:

My relevant experience: I worked with multiple freelance/contract recruiting agencies, I accepted and rejected numerous offers, I worked with and quit numerous hiring agencies or umbrella companies as a freelancer.

I've had great and horrible experiences with hiring agencies, and learned that they need my skills more than I need access to their clients. As a candidate, you're nothing more than a potential profit and if they need it they will chase you to get it. Shy of taking a dump on the interview table, there's very little you can do or say in an interview with them to burn bridges if their client really wants you.

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