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Wait, Where Did Our New Hire Go?

Sue Shellenbarger (WSJ)

An abrupt change of heart after saying yes to a job can have career repercussions years later—here’s how to navigate this delicate decision

It should be any job seeker’s dream: You’re looking for a job and three offers land in your lap. Or maybe you’re not even looking and a rival company tries to recruit you.

“Congratulations. You did everything right,” career coach Teri Coyne tells clients facing such situations.

Few feel like celebrating, however. “Instead, they’re like, ‘I am under so much stress right now,’ ” she says.

More job seekers are juggling multiple offers at once, creating sticky situations for all involved. How well candidates manage them can shape their long-term career satisfaction, and their professional reputations.

Many candidates hate having to negotiate or turn anyone down. When a construction manager recruited by Brian Binke’s firm failed to show up for his first day on the job, the recruiter called the man’s home and heard from someone claiming to be his uncle that he had died unexpectedly. Mr. Binke, CEO of Birmingham Group, a Berkley, Mich., executive-search firm, later learned the man was actually alive. He just didn’t want to face the managers he was abandoning.

“He ended up staying with his current employer, but he didn’t have the guts to say so,” Mr. Binke says. “It was a lot easier to pretend to die.”

More than one in four workers say they’ve backed out after accepting a new job, according to a recent survey of 2,800 employees by the staffing firm Robert Half. While job seekers of all ages might ghost or back out on employers, it’s most common among those with two to six years’ experience, says Paul McDonald, a senior executive director at the firm.

So many recruits at one accounting and consulting firm were ghosting or reneging on hiring managers that the firm asked Lindsey Pollak to train groups of college students at campus-recruiting events on how to politely decline a job offer.

“This is the generation that breaks up by text message, so in a professional context, to have to let someone down or give bad news was terrifying,” says Ms. Pollak, a consultant on multigenerational issues at work.

One manager who accepted a job with a Chicago company texted the COO the night before he was to start, saying his current employer had made a counteroffer too good to refuse, doubling his pay and awarding him stock and a better title, says Rona Borre, founder and CEO of Instant Alliance, a Chicago strategic-staffing firm that works with the company.

For the jilted employer, the news was a body blow. “Feelings get hurt. People at companies take this extremely personally,” Ms. Borre says. Word of such reversals can spread fast among employers and recruiters.

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