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Main question: When, if ever, is it appropriate for a potential employer to ask you to contact another employer (whose offer you've already accepted) to tell them you're reconsidering prior to extending a formal offer?

Particular situation: A little while back I accepted an offer to work for Company XYZ. Due to various logistical reasons, my start date is not for another few months. Recently, I was independently and unexpectedly approached by someone (let's call him Bob) with a new business proposition for me where I would join his small company in the same field as XYZ. I would be one of the first few employees of this new venture.

Bob is a former principal at XYZ whom I originally met while doing my own due diligence prior to accepting the offer with XYZ. He hasn't been involved with XYZ for many years, but due to how we met, he knew prior to approaching me that I had a relationship with them and had accepted an offer there, and I raised this issue explicitly with him in our conversations as well.

Bob's proposal was interesting, we get along very well, and it would seem to provide me an opportunity to grow professionally in a way that I wouldn't as readily be able to at XYZ. We informally agreed on rough compensation and he sent me an informal email outlining this. I then asked him to provide me with a formal offer for review as a next step.

At this point, Bob became a bit cagey and he asked me to first call up XYZ and let them know I was reconsidering my options prior to him formally extending me an offer. His stated reason is that this is for "politeness" and he wouldn't feel comfortable otherwise. I told him I wasn't immediately comfortable with this tack and would have to think it over.

Is this an acceptable approach on Bob's part to this situation? Am I doing something incorrect or ill-advised?

It seems obvious that doing as Bob suggests would immediately reduce my leverage and also create the situation where I could end up without either opportunity to consider. I'm also concerned about what it might signal about Bob's future behavior.

I didn't go looking for the opportunity with Bob and I would be able to give XYZ several months of advance notice if I did choose to withdraw, so while I would really regret having to go back on my word, I don't feel I've done anything untoward here.

What's the best way to proceed?

  • 14
    This sounds like a HUGE red flag. He may have a legitimate reason but I suspect he is getting you to dig a hole for yourself at the new place so that you "have" to come to him. Once you tell a company you are reconsidering your options it becomes next to impossible to stay and be taken seriously... they will always assume you have one foot out the door. He should not be involved in how you handle things at XYZ in any way, shape, or form and you should certainly deny his request. – Andrew Whatever Jun 15 '16 at 19:00
  • This is completely absurd. Run away, fast. – ell Dec 12 '17 at 23:37
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I understand Bob wants to not make it look bad if he poaches you from XYZ. That's because it would look bad if he poaches you from XYZ, which is what he is effectively doing.

Telling XYZ you are "reconsidering" is very likely to end up with you having no job. You have already accepted a position starting several months out. If I work at XYZ and you tell me, "actually I'm reconsidering" I very well might reconsider, too.

There is nearly no way to have this come across to XYZ as anything other than "I am shopping for the best offer, will let you know if I stick with you."

It's entirely possible Bob knows this (after all he was at XYZ and may know their policies) and wants you to say that in order to get your offer revoked and have no option other than working with him. Hard to know, easy to assume worst intent, but should raise your "red flag" awareness.

If I were you:

  • I would not trust Bob nor would I work for him
  • I would find his desire to tell a future employer, "I'm reconsidering" without an actual offer really concerning
  • I would require an actual offer prior to communicating more with XYZ

For me personally? I would find it impossible to trust someone as a boss who wanted me to do the things he is asking and was doing the things he has done.

An important question to ask yourself: what makes you think Bob will be trustworthy in his interactions with you?

However, if you value the business opportunity and are more of a risk taker? It might be worth asking him, "I'd really like to see a more formalized offer prior to telling XYZ I am no longer interested" or something like that. But you are playing with fire here if you are not 100% sure Bob can offer you a job and that XYZ will not find out and/or rescind your offer.

  • Stop calling it poaching – JHZ Jun 15 '16 at 20:14
  • @JHZ most people have no (or few) problems with someone being hired away from another company because of <good reasons>. But those same people generally will not approve of someone leaving a company and convincing someone who has accepted an offer but not even joined that company to cancel their existing job offer and join that person at a new company instead. – enderland Jun 15 '16 at 20:27
  • @JHZ What enderland said. It's also a bit unclear but it seems like "Bob" only has access to the OP BECAUSE of some connection to XYZ that they have still left open to him. Using that connection to steal away potential employees feels a bit unethical at best. – Andrew Whatever Jun 15 '16 at 20:30
  • I think that it's completely fine, and if XYZ wants to keep the OP as an employee, they should offer him or her better compensation than anyone else can. That being said, Bob is unethical due to his request that OP lie - my objection is purely to "poaching". It's just business. – JHZ Jun 16 '16 at 14:34
  • +1 and thanks for your answer, enderland. The general problem is probably of more interest to other readers. But, just to clarify, in this particular case Bob hadn't had any connection with XYZ for quite some time when we first met and I was the one who initiated that contact (as the question states, as part of doing some due diligence to evaluate my offer with XYZ). So, it wasn't a matter of Bob leaving XYZ and trying to take people with him. Maybe that clarifies things for @Andrew as well. – Charlie Jun 16 '16 at 15:00
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Pick a third option. It seems to me like Bob only wants you to contact Company X because he doesn't want to risk souring the relationship between his new company and his former one. But asking you this is entirely unreasonable for the reasons you've specified. Instead, just assure him that you'll handle this professionally. I'd advise you to go back to Bob with something like the following:

Since I haven't yet decided to accept your offer, I feel it's premature to warn Company X that I may have to renege on my acceptance of [position]. I understand that you don't want to cause any bad blood here but since I'm not due to start for # months I don't think it's necessary to alert them at this point. Please rest assured that if I accept your offer I will do my utmost to notify Company X in a professional manner.

If Bob still won't provide details unless you notify X then you should hold firm and withdraw from consideration. His offer may be interesting but it's also very risky, as all startups are. Since you don't know any firm details yet it's very unwise to risk losing the certainty of a (presumably) good position at X. If Bob doesn't understand your reasoning here then that's a giant red flag: you don't want to join a startup where the founder has such warped ideas of professionalism.

Aside from this, I'd generally recommend against breaking an accepted offer with Company X. That the job is several months away is a mitigating factor here, depending on how specialised your skill set is. You'll need to factor in the risk of burning a bridge with X as well as the potential impact on your reputation, which also depends on the size and type of industry that you're in. If this is just one instance of less than professional behaviour that's generally fine but you don't want to be known for pulling things like this.

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My supposition:

Bob has a severance agreement with XYZ that prevents him from doing exactly what he's doing: Poaching their employees. By getting you to send that email, he's setting the basis for a defense (in civil court) that you AREN'T actually an employee, but simply a prospective employee.

If he's thinking what he's doing might get him sued, later, whatever he told you he has for funding is in jeopardy. This scenario sounds dangerous. A stranger on the Internet (me) can only warn you to consider your next move carefully with this in mind. –

  • This seems like a reasonable general supposition, so +1, but I'm nearly 100% sure it's not the case in this particular situation due to other comments Bob has made. – Charlie Jun 16 '16 at 15:03

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