A Timely Reminder: Reneging is NOT Okay

This post, one of the most popular on our blog, was originally written in 2010.  However, it remains timely today as students heading into jobs and internships have to understand that reneging on a commitment can have consequences well into their future. – Editor

Why Reneging on an Offer is Bad for Your Career Mojo

By Claire Klieger

This is the time of year when people start to feel desperate about jobs or internships and may be tempted to accept something, anything, just because it’s a job and a job right before graduation equals peace of mind. So you’re thrilled to get any offer and you say yes so your parents and friends will stop hounding you about what you’re doing after the semester is over and you breathe a big sigh of relief. I mean, ok, so it’s not your dream job but the places you were really excited about never called you back. Except…sometimes they do.

Bad KarmaOccasionally, you’ll later hear from an employer that you’re a lot more excited about that you’re invited for an interview or even that you have been offered the position. And here’s where things get difficult. You may hear from family members and friends things like, “Awesome!  Just back out of that other job offer. What does it matter now that you have what you want? Plus, if you’ve just said yes on the phone and haven’t actually signed anything, it’s not like it’s legally binding anyway.” However tempting, this is seriously bad counsel.

Despite what you may hear, employers consider a verbal acceptance as good as signing a contract. While you’re not legally obligated, you’ve made a verbal commitment and there are definite consequences to reneging on an offer:

1)       First and foremost, you can be pretty sure that you are ruining your chances of chances of ever working for that organization. Employers’ memories are long and you will forever have that figurative little black mark on your file.

2)      In addition, you may be affecting your chances of working at similar organizations. Keep in mind that most industries are relatively small and that the people you angered by saying no may tell (warn) others in the industry about you. As you can imagine, this is particularly damaging in instances where the offer came through on-campus recruiting where recruiters from competing organizations all know each other, making it much less likely that such an individual would have interviewing options with any of those organizations in the future.  In fact, we’ve even seen cases where the thwarted recruiter has called the employer with which the student is defecting to explain the situation and the new employer has pulled their offer (leaving the student with no offers).

3)      Reneging on an offer damages the Penn reputation, and as such, future recruiting opportunities for Penn students. When you renege on an offer the employer doesn’t just think negatively about you, they also think negatively about Penn. In fact, we’ve often had to do serious “damage control” with employers who had one or multiple reneges from Penn students. It may only take one instance for them to conclude that “this is just the way Penn students are” and be less inclined to consider applicants from Penn in the future.

The way to avoid being in that situation is to not accept an offer without carefully thinking it through. You should never tell an employer yes if your plan is to continue to look until you find something better. It’s not fair to them and it’s untrue to you. There are always jobs out there and it is far better to wait for the right thing to come along than to damage your own career reputation by going back on your word.

I Have an Offer! Now What?

By Barbara Hewitt

Many Penn students have begun to receive offers through the on-campus recruiting process. If you are one of these students, congratulations!  It is gratifying to see that your hard work has paid off and resulted in an offer.

Although receiving an employment offer is a happy experience for most students, it can also be stressful.  You may not be ready to accept the offer, but could be receiving pressure from the employer to quickly make up your mind. After all, recruiters usually want to wrap up their recruiting and finalize their hiring as quickly as possible. In a tight economy, employers don’t have the liberty of over-hiring, so need to manage their candidate numbers very carefully.  If they wait too long for a candidate to mull over an offer and then the candidate decides not to accept it’s likely the employer will have lost out on other potential new hires in the process.  Unfortunately, this is a case where the best path for the candidate and the best path for the employer are often not in alignment, which can make it a difficult negotiation for both parties.

Be sure to stay in contact with recruiters....

So….what’s the best way for a candidate to handle this situation? In two words, tactfully and with enthusiasm.  Given that you might ultimately end up working with the employer (either immediately after graduation or perhaps in the future) you don’t want to leave a bad impression by coming across as demanding or unreasonable.  However, the only way to get additional time to decide on an offer from an employer is to ask for it.  As most of you know, Career Services requests that on-campus recruiting employers give students until November 1 to decide on offers (if they were summer interns at the particular employer) or until December 1 if the offer was received during the fall on-campus recruiting process.  If you need the time, by all means tactfully bring up the subject with the employer.  By tactful, I mean that it is important to express gratitude and enthusiasm for the offer and try not to come across as demanding.  Indicate to the employer that you understand that they would like a response as soon as possible, but that you want to make sure that you are making the right choice and that you feel you need a little more time to finalize your plans. Give the employer a date that you think would work for you.  While you may ask for the December 1 deadline, it is unlikely that many of you will need that much time, so you might consider requesting a shorter timeframe.  Before accepting an offer, reach out to other employers with whom you have interviewed, if you have not yet heard from them.  They may still be considering you, and you should clarify your status with all your prospects before committing.  You should also check to see what their timeline is for conducting second round interviews and extending offers so that you will have a clear idea of how much time you will realistically need to finish up the process.

One of the worst things you can do is to simply stop communicating with the employer in the hopes of avoiding the discussion.  A frequent complaint we receive from recruiters is that students stop returning phone calls or replying to  emails, giving the employer very little insight into where the student is in the decision process. This is extremely frustrating for recruiters, and also demonstrates a lack of professionalism on the student’s part.

Please feel free to visit Career Services to speak with a counselor if you would like guidance on negotiating a timeline for deciding on an offer.  We are happy to discuss your specific situation with you.  While we generally suggest that students reach out to prospective employers for the initial conversation, if an OCR employer seems unwilling or unable to abide by our offer policies we are certainly happy to reach out to them to discuss the situation and negotiate on your behalf.

The HORROR of Not Having a Job Yet

By Claire Klieger

Remember getting caught up that build up to prom night fervor of “I must have a date!” because you’re pretty sure that your social future as you know it depends upon not looking like the loser that no one wanted to take to Prom? Perhaps (though probably not) even now you have the occasional Carrie-esque nightmares?

Left: Hooray! I'll be gainfully employed. Right: My life if I don't have a job offer by Thanksgiving.

For many seniors I’ve recently spoken with, it seems like the job search, especially during the OCR season, produces similar levels of anxiety. It may feel as though every person you know is telling you that you need to have a job and in a tough economy, pickings may be slim. You may have noticed frenzied-looking individuals resembling Penn students except for their oddly formal dress darting all over campus (sometimes the sea of stressed dark suits reminds of me zombies who instead of  mumbling “brains, brains, brains” chant “jobs , jobs, jobs”) or you might be in the midst of that tidal wave, yourself.

The on-campus recruiting process is very intense and it moves quite quickly –you go through all of these rounds at lightning speed and before you know it you (hopefully) have an offer and you think, wow, how did I get here? And, it’s wonderful (and safe) to feel like you have an offer and don’t have to worry about your future after graduation.

But I’m here to tell you NOT to play it safe. That doesn’t mean if you get a job offer through OCR that you’re thrilled with that you should say no because there might be something better that comes along. By all means, if getting that phone call causes you to literally jump for joy and the idea of seeing their business cards with your name on them makes  you salivate, accept and congratulations to you. However, if your reaction to an offer is more along the lines of well, it’s nice that somebody wants me; at least I’ll have a job (á la, at least I’ll be going to prom), think long and hard about whether or not you should say yes.

Again, let’s think back to those painful high school years. Were you so worried about having a prom date that you said yes to the first person who asked you even though you weren’t so excited about the offer? So, secretly you hoped that someone else better would come along and ask you. And, maybe someone did and you ended up having to crush the heart (and ego) of the person who had originally asked you. In the end, while not as drastic or ridiculous as in the film 1970s classic Stephen King horror film Carrie, there was probably lots of drama. In the job search, the stakes are actually higher. There are real and potentially severe consequences to reneging on a job offer later.

So, if you get an offer that you’re not sure you’re excited about, do not say yes just to have “something” for when you graduate. In the long run, you and your potential employer will be far better off waiting for the right proverbial prom date offer.

And the Offer Goes To…

By Claire Klieger

No, it’s not Oscar time, but the sense of anticipation or anxiety about whether or not you might get a full-time offer from your summer employer can be just as intense for rising seniors.  However, only a few industries (consulting, financial services, consumer products and technology) typically make post-graduate full-time offers almost a year before you would actually be starting in that position. This is because of the cyclical nature of entry-level roles in those fields—that it is common for people to work for two years and then leave—which allows those employers to predict so far in advance what their hiring needs will be for the upcoming year.  For this very reason, these are the same employers that often participate in on-campus recruiting, so, if you secured your internship through OCR it’s very possible your firm will be making full-time offers to some interns at some point in late summer or early fall.

Regardless of what type of organization you’re working with this summer, if you’re interested in future opportunities with your employer, there are ways to broach the topic with your supervisor. How you approach it depends on your experience at the organization and how serious you are about really wanting to work there.  Here are some tips:

1. Demonstrate your interest. Start by thanking your supervisor for your wonderful learning experience this summer. Explain how the experience has helped you realize that you are really interested in pursuing a career in… (whatever type of work you’re interested in at the organization). Then say that you would certainly be interested in future opportunities at the organization and ask if it would be possible to stay in touch throughout the year.

2. Don’t give a false impression. Be wary of giving the false impression that you would –definitely- work there if you had an offer if that’s not really the case. Avoid saying things like, “I would jump at the chance to work here full time” (unless you actually mean it—as in, if they offered you a job tomorrow you would say yes without hesitation).  The last thing you want to do is give the impression that you would accept an offer if made if you’re not sure that’s true. Remember, the working world is small and you don’t want to burn bridges.

3. Express your interest in future opportunities without committing yourself to anything. You could say something like, “I’ve had a wonderful experience this summer and I really appreciate the opportunities afforded me and all that I’ve learned.  I realize you probably don’t know what your future hiring needs may be, but I’d certainly be open to opportunities that may present themselves in the future.” Notice how I didn’t say “love” or “definitely” or “thrilled” anywhere in there?

4. If you had a negative experience, don’t push for an offer. If you know that you would never in a million years take a full time job with your employer, don’t initiate any kind of conversation like this. Instead, figure out how to focus on the positive of that experience so you can talk effectively about it in future interviews (we can help!).

Don’t Quit Your Day Job, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Mayor McCheese

by J. Michael DeAngelis

Have you ever stopped by my desk at Career Services? If you have, I bet you’ve said to yourself: “Man, that guy has it made. He’s got a nice desk with lots of little toys on it, a zillion electronic gizmos plugged into his computer and nice comfy chair with more adjustable levers than I can identify. Yes, that Michael DeAngelis must have the greatest job in the world.” It’s true – I have a really great job, one I enjoy coming to every day. Yet, unlike many of my colleagues I consider Career Services to merely be my “day job.”

Yes, much like Bruce Wayne/Batman, I lead a double life. By day, I’m your friendly neighborhood Career Services staff member, but by night, I’m an actor and a playwright. My degree and my training is in the theater arts, and I consider that to be my true career path. As many students in the arts know, it’s not an easy field to break in to, let alone support yourself in. Like many theater grads, I knew I would do whatever it took to stay afloat, even if that meant taking a non-theater day job.

But just because you’ve decided to take a day job, it doesn’t mean you have to end up working for this guy:

"Do you want fries with that?"

Here are a few tips that might help you, if you are considering taking a part time or full time job outside of your ultimate career path that doesn’t involve anthropomorphised hamburgers:

1. Try and find a job where your skills and training can be applied in a different way. For example, though I don’t typically write plays as part of my career services job, I do get to have a lot of fun writing these blog entries! This is what we refer to as a transferable skill. Your liberal arts education has given you lots of them – think about what you can bring to the table in a unique way.

2. Look for a job that will allow you to pursue your ultimate career goals. For me, Career Services is a steady 9-5 job on weekdays, which gives me my evenings and weekends to take theater jobs. Leaving work and heading right to a rehearsal or performance can lead to very long days, but also very exciting ones.

3. Be honest and up front about your goals. I don’t mean you should walk around looking like you’re going to quit the minute Hollywood calls, but let people you work with know about your “other life.” First and foremost, it’s the polite thing to do. Second, you never know what opportunities it will open up to you. Perhaps you’re in the fine arts. When it comes time to design a new company logo, you could be the first person they call! My colleagues have become not only supporters of my goals, but also my fan base!

4. Remember that your day job is still your JOB. If you are lucky enough to work someplace where you can pursue other goals on the side, it is your responsibility to be a productive and valued employee. It can sometimes be tricky, but I never allow my theater work to interfere with my day job. If you have a job with flex time and vacation days, use them to your advantage when juggling your second career. If it becomes too difficult managing a day job and a “night” job, it might be time to reevaluate. This is something we can help you with in Career Services.

There is a vast array of opportunities out there waiting for someone like you. Don’t rule out job possibilities just because they don’t fit squarely into your planned career. Stick to your goals, but don’t be afraid to explore jobs that are outside your set career plans. One day, as you’re accepting your Oscar, Grammy or Pulitzer, your colleagues will shout “We knew you when” and your blog posts will become instant collectibles! (The Collected Career Services Blogs of J. Michael DeAngelis out this fall in bookshops!)

And you’ll never have to say “Do you want fries with that?”