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Home » Blog » Say it with Grace- Refusing an employment offer doesn't have to be painful
Say it with Grace- Refusing an employment offer doesn't have to be painful
Published: Sep-07-2013


If you are a candidate--- its your right to accept or refuse any offer, to compare different offers ( though Its not a good strategy at senior levels), you can even take an offer and then discuss it internally with the current organisation and if they give a counter offer- decide to stay back if you are convinced that you will meet your career goals within the current framework.


If you were to look at this from a psychological point of view- this is one the few organisation and individual interactions where the power dynamics are more or less equal- in most other cases it is skewed in favour of the organisation. 


I have had some interesting instances-

  • I  once headhunted a SBU head from one of the top 3 IT firms in India for a client- when I asked him about the reason for his change- he said just one thing- Money !!  I  told the client that investing time in this candidate is  a risk because money as a reason can be easily matched. But they really liked the profile- met the candidate- found him exceptional- and this is the part I really like- when asked by the CEO of the firm why he wants to change- the person said- Money!! A lot of people would term him mercenary - but I appreciated the consistency and the courage to speak the truth. The hiring panel decided to make an offer - his current organisation bent backwards and matched it and he decided to stay back- he sent a nice note to the CEO, the HR head and also to me - thanking us for our time and that was it, no hard feelings!! We eventually found the firm someone really good and the organisation was  happy that they could compare their eventual hire with someone of his caliber . 


  • I once had a prospect who was going to join an organisation as Head of HR-  call me 7 days before joining - saying he was sitting with his friend from college in Shimla and they had an epiphany that if they were to start an adventure tourism firm  - the time is now otherwise he will be too old to do it. I did the only thing logical in this scenario- gave the client a headsup and told the candidate to think about it clinically, and maybe discuss it with his family on the risk he was about to take - and gave him 2 days to get back to us. He called me back saying he has discussed it with his wife and she agrees its now or never on his entrepreneurship dream - I said good luck,  we talked a bit about how he can market his new firm- (entrepreneur to entrepreneur !)- I advised him not to burn his bridges with my client and if possible meet them- he sent a nice note of regret- which was genuine and bygones! Last I checked he is still trying to get his venture off the ground- but he was genuine and I wish him all the best. 


  • The first person I placed with a new client recently calls me 5 days after the offer - saying she has decided to stay back as her immediate supervisor has put in his papers - and with her boss gone their is no reason for her to leave the current role which she finds exciting.  I wished her luck and explained the situation to the HR manager - who could do nothing but grit her teeth and then smile- saying this is the first time she lost someone to an offer to their boss!! 


While these instances were tough , and while the clients had every reason to get irritated - they did not because the communication was done in a manner which gave them a headsup and the candidates handled it with equanimity. 


But I have also had my share of candidates - who not only gave us heartburn but put the client in a quandary

  • One of my clients gave a technology specialist an offer- I thought it was lower than his expectations they said they had reached their maximum band- the reaction of the candidate- we never heard from him !! Never picked my call, the clients call, emails, SMS' , smoke signals and carrier pigeons- just no response. Now you may not like an offer, but say so , as a candidate you even have a right to say that an offer was an affront to your intelligence ( yes - I even heard that) but communicate!


  • I got a candidate for one of my big 4 clients- good pedigree, the person gave reasons for leaving his current organisation as  money, career growth and working with a Global brand on international consulting assignments. The firm interviewed the person, he went outside India - waited for him,  before his final round he had a bereavement in his family and the firm still patiently waited- while they were under tremendous pressure to hire. The HR manager and I discussed and thought he had genuine reasons for the delay - and firm even lost the back-up they had for the role. At the time of the offer - he asked for x compensation and y level- the firm gave him x + 10% and the level he asked for - and then there was silence. I called him a day back and he let slip that he has sent the firms offer to his boss - and if they can match it he will stay. And what about growth and international exposure- silence again. Now you may ask - why is this irritating and the first instance not- its because the person shifted the goal post and not consistent. 


  • I recently had an interaction with a candidate over the span of 10 months, there were delays because part of the hiring team was in India, part of it in US, and the candidate himself in the US in a different coast.  The HR Manager did a fantastic job in keeping in touch with her over this span of time, and got the expectations right and made an appropriate offer. Result- silence and 1 week later a "dear Johnny" mail which said that she needs to sort out some personal issues before taking a decision and can the organisation wait another 3 months and then she will decide . I don't know about the HR manager- but I aged considerably ! 


So how do you do this with grace 

  • Write down the reasons why you are looking for a change- and if the offer meets your expectations move! As I keep on telling my candidates who are being tempted by a similar offer and the comfort of "known devils" - there is a massive learning opportunity by just being in a new environment. 


  • Do not change the goal post-  If the company matches your stated expectations and you refuse/ or start negotiating with  another set of expectations- then the problem is you !


  • If money is the prime reason for moving out - Make sure  you make your case for an increase in the current organisaiton. If growth, learning and culture is of your liking , money is a "poor" excuse for a change.  But if you still go ahead and get a lucrative offer outside remember- 
  1. If your current organisation matches the new offer- salary negotiations done on the basis of an offer have no bearing on an appraisal rating and consequent salary revision. 
  2. If you do decide to stay back- be prepared for a "frosty" atmosphere- atleast for a while!


  • If you want to stay back or want to accept another offer- communicate. Pick up the phone and follow it up with a polite note thanking everyone for their time and the opportunity given.  This is an investment of 30 minutes but the ROI in terms of establishing your credentials is priceless!

Omar Farooq

Founder and CEO AceProHR


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