When to Say “No Thanks” To A Job Offer

You cannot swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. William Faulkner

When I first graduated from law school I had a successful interview at a small firm. We discussed employment terms, including salary and a start date and they told me they would send a formal offer letter. The letter never arrived and after leaving several phone messages over the next few weeks, I finally was told that the firm was not going to hire anyone new.

I still remember the devastation I felt after finally realizing that my very first job offer to practice law was never going to arrive. I had spent weeks telling everyone about my new job and had finally felt relaxed and happy after over a year of job searching. Not only was I angry at having to start the job search process all over again, but I was really angry at the attorneys who had failed to do what they said they would do. I think the worst part about it was that no one had the decency to inform me of the change, wasting weeks of my valuable time.

I assumed that people who had been in business for many years would have a basic understanding of how devastating it could be to a new lawyer to be mislead with a job offer that never materialized.

After my initial shock of my failed first job offer, I began to speak to others about it. I was shocked – and somewhat comforted – by how many people had similar stories. I realized that I didn’t need to take it personally and that I had high expectations that somehow professionals would act… professionally.

Boy, was I naïve back then.

Over time, I slowly realized how lucky I was to be rejected by my first potential law firm. At a time when they should have been on their best behavior, they demonstrated a lack of integrity, empathy and communication skills – not to mention a fear of conflict. Surely that same behavior would have continued throughout our employment relationship. I guess I had learned a valuable lesson - when a potential business relationship starts off on strange footing, it is best to say “no thanks” sooner in the process, rather than later.

A young friend who is smart, hard-working and responsible, got his first job as a college graduate. His contract states that after six months of trial employment a decision would be made as to a full-time employment offer. His six month anniversary came and went. When he pressed his boss for information he was told that he was in another six month trial period, an option not present in the contract. Now, regardless of whether he is offered a permanent position with them or not, he is prepared to say “no thanks” as he looks for another job. My friend is rightfully resentful and lacks any trust in the organization. Who wants to work in that kind of environment? Not him.

Another colleague has been interviewing for several high-level positions at law firms. One firm continues to ask her back for the “next level” of interviews, a process which has continued for almost six months. My colleague wonders how long it takes the firm to make the rest of their business decisions. She wonders if the firm has any understanding of, or interest in how their protracted behavior is impacting potential candidates’ opinion of them. How many more potential candidates are dissuaded from even approaching the firm, since news of their timing travels fast in their very small area of law?

I would love to see the research that shows months of interviewing by scads of people results in better hires than those that happen after one or two interviews with a couple of people. I have my doubts that there is much difference in the success rate between the two approaches. Fortunately, my colleague is fielding other offers and is prepared to say “no thanks” when she secures a position elsewhere.

All of these organizations – whether they realize it or not – are sending very clear messages about how they do business, how they view employees and how they treat them. They are demonstrating whether or not they can be trusted, whether they communicate clearly and whether or not they treat people fairly.

The ability to say “no thanks” takes a lot of confidence and faith – especially when one is in need of a job. To be realistic, sometimes it is the most responsible decision to take a job for financial means only. However, making a move rooted in the belief that there is nothing else available, that there is no such thing as an organization with a great culture, or any other negative belief, is a recipe for disaster. A negative mentality will produce just that – something negative.

Many people are highly motivated and energized to make a difference somewhere and to be a part of an organization that is doing something exciting.  It is difficult to let go and start the job search process again. It can be tempting to try to convince oneself to just hang in for a little while longer… over and over again. It is also incredibly tempting to take just any offer in order to get out of a stressful situation. However, ultimately, taking the wrong job at the wrong place will just result in more stress.

Saying “no thanks” instead of hanging on to something that is clearly not working is a wonderful way to allow a new opportunity to arise. There is something very freeing about letting go of a stale, negative or stressful situation – even when the next step isn’t clear – and it allows us to find a situation that is even better than we may have imagined.