Don’t Burn Bridges

by Gaby Gramont

When a job offer results in a difficult conversation, taking the high road saves relationships—and your reputation

When Johnny Paycheck sang “Take This Job and Shove It,” it became a worldwide Country music favorite and a beloved classic.

But for anyone who has actually exercised this sentiment, the reaction from colleagues and bosses is far from well received.

There are unique moments in one’s career—like turning down a job offer or resigning from a position—when it’s tempting to provide the unfiltered, unvarnished truth. But that can hurt you in the long run, by burning bridges and damaging professional relationships that may one day again be important.

Resigning from DC marketing job

As recruiters, our goal is to make long-lasting, highly successful matches between employers and marketing and communications professionals. But, job seekers are only human, and sometimes life and circumstances intervene.

When that happens, the best road to take is the high road. Here’s when:

You’re negotiating a job offer and you want more than you’ve been offered.

You certainly are entitled to ask for what you want—but it’s not OK to act as if you are entitled. No matter how skilled or competent you believe you are, the employer gets the final say on what it can—and cannot—offer you.

From the employer’s perspective, how you respond and present yourself during these negotiations says a lot about you and your ability to succeed. For example:

  • Acknowledge the positives that the employer has offered. For example: “I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with you. Thank you for your confidence in me.”
  • Do your research. Understand the marketplace and industry the employer is in, the average and median salary for someone of your skills and experience, and any perks competitors are offering.
  • Use this data to inform your negotiations, being sure to stay positive. You might say: “I consulted the Society of Human Resources salary study and see that marketing managers with my years of experience in this industry average this salary range. Your initial offer falls into the lower end of this scale. I’d like to work with you, but I would need the salary to fall into the such-and-so range. Is that something we can discuss?

You received an offer and you’re turning it down. Or… 

You accepted the job—and in just a short time, you are changing your mind.

By the time an employer has extended a job offer, it has already invested significant resources of time and money to get to this point. There are likely important projects backing up and new initiatives on hold, just waiting for the new hire to arrive. If, after all that time and effort, you decline the offer or leave shortly after your start date, an employer is only naturally going to feel miffed. They are forced back to square one in the hiring process with a limited pipeline of prospective candidates.

Here’s what you can do to make a difficult situation less so:

  • Acknowledge the difficult position you have put the company in by changing your mind at this stage. A simple apology can go a long way, such as: “I am so sorry about this, and I know it creates a very difficult situation for you.”
  • Before instructed, proactively offer to return any signing bonus or other “perks” you may have received as a condition of your hire.
  • Explain briefly why you have changed your mind, in the most positive and favorable terms possible. For example: “Your company is one I have always admired, and I would have loved working with you. However, an unexpected change in my family situation requires me to have more flexibility in my daily schedule. I wasn’t looking for a new opportunity so soon, but this one just fell into my lap.”
  • If you worked with a recruiter, don’t forget to convey the same sentiments to the person who worked so hard to get the offer for you in the first place. Your change of plans leaves them in a tough situation, too. Not only is the recruiter back to square one, but s/he also may be blamed by the employer for letting you slip away.

These are only a couple of the most common difficult conversations you might encounter when accepting or declining jobs. No matter how you approach it, keep in mind that the Golden Rule is perhaps the best rule of all. If you are honest (but not too honest), apologetic and affirming, you can come through some of these difficult conversations with relationships—and your reputation—in tact.

>> Facing more difficult conversations in the job search? Read our recent articles: “Asking the Tough Questions” and “Asking the Tough Questions: Salary

TorchLight is one of the Washington metro area’s leading marketing and communications search and staffing firms. If you’re ready to consider that next professional opportunity, visit our web site today, search our open jobs, and upload your resume


Posted in Job Search Tips