Ask The Headhunter: Is it unethical to accept one job offer and then take another?

Business is business. You should accept the job best for you, advises Nick Corcodilos.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: Is it unethical if I accept job offer from company A and just a few days later turn it down, because I got a better job offer from company B and decided to accept it? I have not started working at company A yet. Thank you.

Nick Corcodilos: Congratulations on getting two job offers, even if it puts you in an awkward spot.

Rescinding your acceptance of a job offer is a lousy thing to do, but I don't think ethics have anything to do with it. It's a business decision you make using the information that's available to you at the time.

Changing your mind might affect your reputation, and employer A probably will never talk to you again. But if offer B is so much better, or company B is a better company or offers a better job, then you've got to do what's right for you and accept the consequences. (See "Juggling Job Offers.")

It's not an easy thing. What I think is unethical is if you have both offers in hand, accept one, then change your mind and take the other. But if you have only one offer in hand, and change your mind when the other comes through, I think that's a different story.

Keep in mind that employers do something similar. In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9, Be The Master of Job Offers, (pp. 13-14), I explain:

Companies often find themselves in the awkward position of laying people off when the interests of their stockholders clash with the business plan. Companies also sometimes rescind a job offer because another, better candidate has unexpectedly appeared. Likewise, an employee sometimes faces a new, better job opportunity that will leave the old employer hanging. This choice usually rears its head after several years of service. But it can also surface when a second, better offer appears right after the person has accepted a job. Is there any real difference?

This might sound harsh, but business is business. None of these are good scenarios. They cause problems. But companies do what's best for them. You must do what's best for you. Use your own best judgment. There are good and bad consequences in situations like this and learning to deal with them is part of managing your life.

Dear Readers: Have you ever accepted a job offer, then turned around to take a better one instead? What happened? Do you think this is an ethical issue or not? How would you advise this reader?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth "how to" PDF books are available on his website: "How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you," "How Can I Change Careers?", "Keep Your Salary Under Wraps" and "Fearless Job Hunting."

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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