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TL;DR: I declined a job offer under somewhat unique circumstances, HR person called me unprofessional and unethical for rejecting their offer. Was I?

I had changed jobs about 7 months ago. At that time I had interviewed with startup A and startup B. Startup B made me an offer first, so when startup A made an informal offer, I politely declined their offer and joined startup B. I was not given a formal offer letter from startup A, and I never signed anything at this point.

4 months into my new job, I started feeling that it wasn't working out, so I started looking out for another job. After searching for 2 months, I reached out to startup A again, and asked if they were still hiring. When asked why I was changing my mind, I explained it was not working out, so HR said they would check if they had an opening, and came back with a formal offer a week later, with a designation usually given to employees with 4-5 years less experience than me, but I was very desperate. I told them I intend to accept the offer formally by sending them a confirmation email, within a day or two.

I was then contacted by an enterprise company I really wanted to work at. I told the recruiter that I was about to accept an offer with another company, so they sped up the interview process and made me a significantly better offer.

So I told startup A that I found a better offer, and I would not be accepting their offer. I also apologised profusely over phone and over email. But the HR from that startup was really angry at me, and called me unethical and unprofessional, and accused me of "using" their offer to get better offers.

Did I do anything wrong? What constitutes accepting an offer letter? Telling them that I intend to accept the offer in some time, and actually accepting it are two different things, right?

How could I have handled this situation better?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Masked Man, Chris E, Michael Grubey, gnat, Mister Positive Jul 24 '17 at 11:51

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Until you have confirmed in writing that you have accepted the offer, you haven't accepted the offer. Just like an offer doesn't exist until it's in writing. A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on. – Jane S Jul 22 '17 at 2:40
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    @geekgawd probably not, some people will just get angry when things don't work as they like, even if others didn't do anything wrong. – Sarge Borsch Jul 22 '17 at 6:02
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    If you told them you'd respond in a day or two, and you took longer (which I assume you did), that's obviously a bit unprofessional. Asking for a day or two to consider it would be a (slight) improvement above telling them you intend to accept it. – Dukeling Jul 22 '17 at 9:05
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    The HR person sounds crazy. Be glad you dodged that one. – DCON Jul 22 '17 at 13:12
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    @MisterPositive Thanks, but my comment isn't complete enough for an answer, and at this stage anything I wrote wouldn't be appreciably different from any of the existing answers :) – Jane S Jul 24 '17 at 12:11
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Was it unethical to reject the job twice ?

NO

Could I have done anything to handle the situation better ?

I don't think so. You declined a 1st informal offer. Nothing wrong about that, it happens, no big deal. When you declined the second offer, you apologized profusely over phone and over email.


My 2 cents:

So, I reached out to the bigger startup again, and asked if they were still hiring. [...] I told them I intend to accept the offer formally.

That's why they were upset. Because they thought they had a deal. But, as @Jane-S nailed it : until you have confirmed in writing that you have accepted the offer, you haven't accepted the offer. Don't count your chickens before they're hatched is a very useful advice they forgot :)

From their POV, your move looks like you used their offer to get better offers. Even if this was not intended, they'll think so, and there's nothing you can do about that. More than often, people don't like to be proven wrong, and get upset. Forget them and move ahead...

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But the HR from that startup was really angry at me, and called me unethical and unprofessional, and accused me of "using" their offer to get better offers.

This is called drawing conclusions based on facts not in evidence and would border on slander had it been said to anyone other than you.

The offer process is a business transaction no different than buying desks or printer paper. If one party doesn't find the other's terms acceptable, they're free to walk away. Yes, it takes some work on the company's part to vet candidates and prepare offers. Having some of them turned down -- for any reason -- is a cost of doing business. And being business, they shouldn't be getting their shorts in a knot over it.

Some HR people live in their own world and don't reflect the rest of the company, but their job is still to be the company's representative during this process. In this case, they've done a poor job of it and you should consider the possibility that you've dodged a bullet.

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    Would the downvoter care to comment on how this answer could be improved? – Blrfl Jul 22 '17 at 18:38
  • "dodged a bullet" seems a bit extreme to me - the HR guy is human too. – cst1992 Jul 23 '17 at 20:45
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    @cst1992 I can see your point. However, the HR guy expects candidates to bring their "A" game to the table and candidates should expect him to do the same. I don't get a do-over interview if I don't represent myself well because I was having a bad day. If HR represents the way the rest of the place behaves, the fallout from getting tangled up with them could have a lasting impact on OP's career. That's why I chose the bullet-dodging analogy. – Blrfl Jul 24 '17 at 13:21
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Unethical? No. You are not honor bound to accept their first offer, or second or even tenth.

Was it rude? Yes. You were the one that reached out to them months after your first refusal. It generated some more work for them. So some of their outrage is based on that. But then again, they low balled you in return. They knew you were in a hard spot and used that as leverage. I'm assuming the position paid less as well as the junior title. I am also assuming that the second offer was lower than the first. So their over reaction is really towards having to pay fair market price for someone of your experience whom they obviously feel they need in that role.

Unless that HR person was a friend or acquaintance that reached out their neck or pulled some strings for you. Which you made no indication of.

There is no real way you could have handled it better. It should go without saying, do not reach out to them a third time though. That bridge is burned, even though it shouldn't be. Human emotions affect business dealings all the time.

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    I think that the OP didn't really want to work for Startup A as a first choice and was doing so purely out of compromise. The people at A knew this and tried to take advantage, but it backfired on them. But then, maybe they didn't take advantage. It was a startup after all. – cst1992 Jul 23 '17 at 20:50
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    How is it rude to not accept an offer? Whoever reached who first, it's an offer and you can accept it or not. If they offered him peanuts, would it be rude to accept it/ – ypercubeᵀᴹ Jul 23 '17 at 21:51
  • @yper it's rude to waste someone's time and effort when you made the request. That's like asking your friend to prepare a dinner, then after they make it, bail because someone else made a better one. But I also pointed out how they are taking advantage as well. The rudeness is a wash. – cde Jul 23 '17 at 21:54
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    @cde no, it's not a split second decision, of course. But it's their job after all. Do HR think that someone who is looking for a job, is looking only at one place? Hadn't they ever an offer rejected because the candidate had received another one? – ypercubeᵀᴹ Jul 23 '17 at 21:59
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    @cde most likely this is what happened on their side. On my part, I reached out to them in desperation, after months of job hunting. They did offer me a lower designation, but it was the same pay, although the pay was much lower than what some of my peers were making. I am not sure if they went out of their way to hire me; I don't think they are running a charity where they created an opening out of thin air just to bail me out. – geekgawd Jul 24 '17 at 15:14

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