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Recently I was on a job hunt. I applied for several positions, one of which was at Company A.

Simultaneously, I heard through an old coworker that Company B, where I used to work as a consultant (I was well liked there and left on good terms) needs some resources.

I contacted my ex-manager at Company B and told him I was currently on the job hunt (and disclosed that I was indeed interviewing at other places), and would be interested in coming back to Company B as a full timer. He said he would be happy to try to open a position for me and extend an offer.

After that, I received a great offer from Company A.

If the offer from Company B is good, I can handle turning down the offer from Company A without feeling too awkward - it was an open job application and these things happen.

However if the offer from Company B isn't that good and I'd rather go with Company A. If this happens I will feel as if I wasted Company B's time and basically spit in the manager's face by making him jump through hoops and still rejecting him. I feel like this would be a burned bridge with him for sure, and I admire him greatly.

What's the best way I can turn down Company B in this situation?

Issue Update

Thanks for all the help - even though I'm only allowed to pick one best answer, all of the answers helped guide me. I had a phone conversation with the Company B boss where I said I appreciated that he made me a generous offer but I received another offer that was too good to refuse. He (of course, being a professional guy) said he understood.

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    You have to decide which is more important to you: money or burning a bridge with your old boss. No two ways around that. – Jane S Nov 12 '15 at 4:21
  • Is there a way to do it apologetically enough that he won't hate me? I realize going to Company B after turning them down this time is gonna be impossible. – Sevag Nov 12 '15 at 4:27
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    Not really. `I'm sorry, but I had this offer that was just too good to refuse from Company A.' It sounds contrite, it is contrite. But really, it's up to the boss at Company B how he'll take it on board. Only he knows how he'll react. – Jane S Nov 12 '15 at 4:29
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    @JaneS As a manager myself I humbly disagree. I think all people are different and your mileage will always vary and it's hard to put a black and white label on how somebody is going to react to this. Personally I don't expect somebody to settle for a role just because they've approached me, I think it's just like any other application process. Note that I do rarely disagree with you, you are VERY knowledgeable and I hold you in very high regard. – Michael A Nov 12 '15 at 4:59
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    @Codingo Thanks, and no need to apologise for disagreeing with me! Perhaps I didn't make myself clear enough (which is my own fault if I didn't), but it is up to the manager. To quote myself, "Only he knows how he'll react." :) – Jane S Nov 12 '15 at 5:01
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Until and unless he actually extends an offer, no harm no foul.

If he extends an offer that is not "good enough", you tell him the truth, that Company A made you a great offer, and you feel like you can't turn it down. This gives him a chance to up the ante. He doesn't need to know you already had Company A's offer in your hands when you first called him.

He knows you're talking with other companies. He knows he's in an auction. He knows he can lose the auction. This is how the game is played.

  • Well the offer came and salary wise its comparable to Company A, but honestly there's no way for Company B to up the ante since the technology at Company A is more interesting. So basically Company B has no hope. Also maybe I was unclear but I did not have Company A's offer when I first reached out to Company B. – Sevag Nov 12 '15 at 14:29
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    OK, if you did not actually have Company A's offer in hand when you reached out to Company B, then what happened is that you interviewed them both in good faith, they both made offers in good faith, and Company A won. This happens all the time, and it is nothing to worry about. No harm, no foul, pick up the flags and let's play some football. – John R. Strohm Nov 12 '15 at 18:30
  • I chose this answer because of this sentence: "He knows you're talking with other companies. He knows he's in an auction. He knows he can lose the auction. This is how the game is played." In fact he called me yesterday, and I reiterated, saying, "Listen, I hope I won't seem ungrateful and I appreciate what you did for me but another company gave me an offer I couldn't refuse", and he said he totally understood and that he knows I have to pick what's best for me ultimately. – Sevag Nov 13 '15 at 12:50
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Treat this just like any other application process

I feel if you handle this professionally that bridges won't be burnt too badly. They'll be unlikely to create a new role for you again, but it shouldn't hurt you chances of applying to open opportunities they advertise for in the future.

If the offer isn't to your expectations then I would be upfront and honest with them. This is just like any other job application process and if they are professional about this then I don't think they're expecting you to just settle for whatever terms they present to you.

How to reply

I would reach out to them with something like

Thanks x,

I greatly appreciate everything you've done to put this together for me. In my hunt for work I've also been offered a position at y that I think would benefit me because of list terms and reasons.

Do you think you would be able to match this at all? I really enjoyed working with you in the past and I'd love to do so again if you can meet this offer.

Regards,

you

  • Your advice is good but I disagree that it's like any other process as it seems like the manager at Company B might end up creating a role specifically for the OP (and likely expend political capital in the process). The OP did disclose that he's interviewing elsewhere so the manager should be aware that hiring the OP is not a sure thing so if I were the OP I would reinforce that message throughout the process to avoid burning a bridge. – Lilienthal Nov 12 '15 at 10:08
  • One other point: matching an offer is a negotiation on pay or benefits, generally not the job description so if the OP feels like Company A offers more room for growth or is a better fit for his profile then you can't really ask B to "match" anything. Also note that if B does end up matching the offer, you basically can't say no at that point without damaging the relationship. – Lilienthal Nov 12 '15 at 10:10
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    @Lilienthal Fair call - my point is more that he shouldn't treat it too differently (still pick the best role!). Poorly phrased! – Michael A Nov 12 '15 at 10:10
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    It sounds like I should, like normal, pick what's best from me and politely decline other offers. I should just be prepared that Company B and my old boss there may be a little bit frustrated with me after the fact - but that's beyond my control. – Sevag Nov 12 '15 at 10:30
  • @user82172 Yes, that's the general idea behind my answer. The very best of luck to you! – Michael A Nov 12 '15 at 12:06
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Compiling an answer from the comments, no there is really no way to do this nicely. You have to decide for yourself what is more important to you: money or burning a bridge with your old boss. There isn't any way to get around that if you reject his offer.

You could say something like:

I'm sorry, but I had this amazing offer from Company A that was just too good to refuse. I'm really sorry for messing you around, but I just didn't expect them to offer what they did.

Yes, it sounds contrite. It is contrite. But really, it's up to the boss at Company B how he'll take it on board. It probably will burn the bridge, but only he knows how he'll react to the rejection of the offer.

  • Since your old manager said he would try and make a position for you, it's very possible that he would have a hard time creating a position for you, with respect to budget. Company A has a open position to fill, and budget for the position. Company B wasn't looking for someone, and would have to dig up the money for your position. – LexieLou Nov 15 '15 at 23:51

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