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Decline an offer - and it's taken personally?

Here's an interesting turn of events.

I was offerered a 'lead' job with a small place, with a nice salary bump.  Everything looked good, except it had the characteristics of a 'death march' - i.e.: "we're planning on hiring x people in the next 12 months, but for now, it's just you." 

I thought long and hard on this.  They were looking to make a decision very quickly but I bought myself a weekend and did my due dilligence on the decision.

In the end, having heard this story several times before, and it never having worked out, I decided to politely decline while thanking the owner for the opportunity.  The exchange went something like this:

Me: "Thanks for the offer, unfortunately without a firmer commitment to staffing this project I am concerned that I will not be able to meet the demands necessary for proper execution of this position"

Them: "I thought we were clear on this.  It seems you are just not ready to be a lead developer."

After that I politelty wrapped up the call quick-like and felt a strange nausea mixed with relief.  Nothing like a veiled insult from the CEO to make you feel good about a tough call.

Sassy
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

You made the right call. Imagine what it would have been like working for this guy, and 6 months down the road its still just you and no new staff.  You're way behind, gasping for air, and he says "guess you're just not cut out for the position of lead developer".  Yeah, right.

You got the legitimate last word in: "take your lead position and (politely) shove it". What more needs to be said?

hoser
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Veiled?

Kalani
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Sassy,

I think you did a perfect thing.

I am running into the problems which you have stated...Was told help was on  the way...help is no where near.  I'm the lone developer of a national based application all tiered up.  I am your local coder, dba, trainer, documentation junkie, networker, etc etc...

Each day is worse and worse..to the point that I wish I have never taken the assignment.

Of course the fingers are pointing at me...it's all my fault right :-(...

What a pity to work with project managers who don't know squat about software.  I'll be quite honest, but to me nowadays, the CS junkies who are project managers can do it all...they understand business, accounting, math, IT, and how to treat people.  They also understand one main thing:

What is possible and reasonable, and what isn't.  That's the missing link :(.

Sigh,
Jon

Jon
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=veiled

I guess it wasn't so veiled, really.  He could have called me a "poo-poo head"

Sassy
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

"I thought we were clear on this"

That's management speak for, "I gave you your orders, now why aren't you marching?" It's another intimidation technique. The person on the other end was more upset because you saw through their charade than actually having you decline.

They'll find someone with low self-esteem to take it lying down. If they snap-to when given an order before even being hired they're fodder for far, far worse on the inside.

Had it been me, I would not have been able to contain my laughter on the phone.

old_timer
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Hey Sassy, great move.

I once accepted a position I shouldn't have, and later paid the price dearly. I was a happy sorta-lead developer and was offered a Product Manager position, which I accepted. I did not have enough experience (or talent?) to pull it off (only 3 years in the business), and when they had to make compressions, I was the first to be let go. Stupidest. Carrer move. Ever.

MediocreDev
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Old timer is da bomb!  I love his posts!

booya!
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Old timer rocks.  MediocreDev, are you being sarcastic, perhaps?

Sassy
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I think he was trying to challenge you in the hopes that you'd say "Oh, yeah?  I am SO ready!  I'll take that (crappy) job, and I"ll show YOU!!"

Good move in not taking it.

www.ChristopherHawkins.com
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Wow, nice to hear all the support.  I really wracked my brain on this one.

I personally think that this is simply the result of one of my peeves with small, private companies in general - owners that get too emotionally invested in their company!

Sassy
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I sometimes wonder if that's not a tactic people (stupid people, but I guess they're still people) use to try to get you to stay in the case of resignation/accept in the case of an offer.  In my own case, I'd worked as a good employee, moved up the ranks a bit, but always a professional relationship ...  The minute I resigned it was "how can you do this to ME, blah blah blah ...

My mother used the same technique sometimes ... called a "guilt trip".

<sigh/>
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Small business owners love to throw the "how could you do this to me" at you when you resign. 

When you are working for them they are only concerned with getting as much as they can out of every employee.  This means little or no raises, no reviews unless demanded, poor benefits, and cramped work space. 

And when you resign they wonder why, and make up their own reason that allows the poor work conditions to continue.  "He really wants to go back to school", "He doesn't like programming", "He wants to work with his friends at that other company".

senkodemayo
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I thinl it was Jack Welch who said (something like) "It's Friday and you got paid so we're even".

Also works for the employee - "It's Friday and I got paid so we're even".

MT Heart
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

No dilemma. The CEO of that company sounds like a f*ckwit.

TheGeezer
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

MT Heart -- if everyone took that view, there would be a lot less bitteness about being laid off, and a lot less angst about leaving a position for something better.  It's exactly right.

To the OP, the only thing I would have done differently is perhaps not given a reason at all.  Something like:

"Thank you very much for the offer, but I have decided to decline.  I wish you the best.  Good day."

The "without a firmer committment to staffing" line might have been interpreted as some sort of sleight, whether intended or no, and provoked the reaction you got.

AMS
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I actually didn't give a reason at first.  The owner asked me for one.

Sassy
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Sassy, you did the right thing. That whole time pressure thing was just another tactic on their part. There's no reason they needed you to say yes right away.

The "lead developer" thing was definately a sleight, and whoever said it is an ass. They'll get their death mark "lead developer" and you keep your sanity. Good call.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I always insist on being allowed to think about an offer overnight.

Always push back a little bit.

...
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

BTW, the "we plan to hire additional staff 'in the future'" is code for "once you earn their salaries, then we'll decide to either hire you some help or spend it on an executive retreat. Or the owner might buy a boat, which he'll let you spend the weekend on once or twice, for which you shall be eternally grateful"

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Also beware of vague talk about a "Java version" or "Port to C#" when hiring on to a company using technology that was getting old when they designed the product back in 1986.

I have done this THREE TIMES. You might think I would learn.

frustrated
Tuesday, August 10, 2004


> "It's Friday and you got paid so we're even".

I was working for GE back then. That was actually an excerpt from a company ""motivational"" video, if you can imagine that.

Welch took over as CEO in the early 80s and he set about trying to change the company personallity which was more crusty and stodgy than anything you could imagine. His first act was to cut the staff at corporate HQ by about 1/3. Then he turned to his VPs and told them to do the same starting at the top and work their way down. Boy did they ever.

One thing he started for all the rest of us was a process called Work-Out. The idea was to break out into small teams to study some aspect of the work environment like paperwork for purchasing or stocking stationary supplies. But that wasn't all. We were told to question everthing and during one of these sessions the employee team could ask any question and management had to answer without the typical evasion dance.

There were things like 3 levels of parking priviliges which was a caste system that had existed for almost a century. We got that eliminated by challenging managers to answer why they thought they were more in need of closer parking spaces. Soon afterwards the senior VP and I were parking in the same lot. There were tons of things like that.

So at many of the Work-Out sessions Jack Welch himself would show up and he always had a video crew to tape his comments which were distributed throught the company for all see, to prove the process was working. One guy, a machinist or plumber or whatever, in a city where blue collar jobs were being cut drastically, challenged Jack Welch on why he didn't think the company owed the community and the employees for their long standing loyalty and dedication.

That's when he dropped into truth-teller mode and said there was no loyalty owed by the company or by you. You were free to go at anytime because if you had been paid on Friday, you and the company were even. East for him to say.

old_timer
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

What is the point in answering?

The catch-all answer to any WHY? question is "Personal reasons.". How many bosses want to get into personal anything? (esp. male bosses)

The CEO insulted you because your statement had insulting undertones, at least it was insulting in his/her insecure world. Think of it this way. The CEO told you "the plan" You later questioned "the plan", which is tantamount to questioning “the man”.  That puts him on the spot and in defensive mode. So you are surprised that they fought fire with fire?

I agree with your ultimate decision, but leave them guessing and wanting more. Maybe the CEO would call you in a few weeks, and offer you more money or better benefits. Before you laugh, it happened to me once.  The hiring dude said that he hoped that the personal reasons had gone away, blah, blah. Too bad it didn't, which was a shame, it was a lot of money.

Despite what many think, at some price, most (some?) of us would be willing to accept the cash for a death march. At least you know what you are dealing with. And predictability is worth something?

--
ee

eclectic_echidna
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

dunno, ee.  He asked, I answered honestly.  That's as good as I can do.

Sassy
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I just accepted a job at a company where:

1) Because an in-person interview was difficult to arrange, they accepted a videoconference interview, which stretched policy (i.e., they were willing to be flexible about policy when it made sense).

2) When they made the offer and I said I'd like to think about it overnight, they said "no problem", even though it was plain by that point that I wanted the job.

3) They discussed the challenges of the job as an opportunity to explore new areas, not in terms of "it's tough, but if you're tough, you can handle it" (i.e., they didn't try to pressure me with flattery).

4) Because of personal expenses incurred that won't be reimbursed under company policy, which was made clear right at the start of the interviewing process, before I incurred them, my manager offered some 'between you and me' pseudo compensation (implying again that flexibility in dealing with employees is perfectly fine).

That's how a company should behave in hiring: flexibility where reasonable, upfront where flexibility isn't possible, and generally treating the possible employment as a relationship between an entity and an individual, not as an opportunity to be a slave.  Anything less is cause to doubt the company and work environment.

Justin Johnson
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Maybe the guy got angry because you hit him on his weak spot. It wasn't because you were questioning his claims, but because you were exposing his empty dreams for what they really were. ("we're going to grow this year.")


Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Justin - I'd just be wary (perhaps you've been there forever and are very happy, in that case, disregard!), as what other policies are they willing to stretch?  Maybe it's pervasive and the "rules" really don't mean anything.  That can be REAL trouble too.

<sigh/>
Tuesday, August 10, 2004


I think you made the right choice, although I probably wouldn't have given the reason you did.

I hate to burn a bridge with anyone because you never know what the future holds. I would have just politely declined and said that the timing wasn't right for me right now.

Bah
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

"Justin - I'd just be wary..."

That's a good point, that too flexible policies can mean no policies.  In this case, a friend already works there, and speaks highly of it, so I have independent confirmation that it's a good place to work.  And, they weren't totally flexible, but where they weren't flexible, they were clear up front on things they couldn't bend on, before it became an issue.

Justin Johnson
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

It's very interesting to hear these viewpoints stating that I insulted him.  To be honest this scares the hell out of me, simply because I never would be able to percieve myself as being insulting in a case like this.

I was as honest as I could be with this man.  I let him know I was gracious  for the opportunity, I thanked him.  I did my best to keep it short and sweet.  He asked me for a reason, I answered truthfully. If the bridge was burned as a result, perhaps it was not due to insult, but due to the character of this man?

Sassy
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

"It's very interesting to hear these viewpoints stating that I insulted him."

When people here say you insulted him, they mean "he was insulted by what you said", not "you said something insulting".  In other words, he was offended, but you weren't offensive.

That's the nub of why people are saying you did the right thing avoiding the job, and his reaction confirmed it.  It was a bad deal, and he was insulted when you called it a bad deal, which confirms that he was trying to screw you (deliberately or not).

Justin Johnson
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I see.  Still, I hate to burn a bridge.

Sassy
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Sassy,
  Some bridges are on fire when you get to them.  You can get burned trying to put it out or you can let it fall and take another route.  Your choice was the correct one.

Unfocused Focused
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Got paid on Friday so you're even ... unless you're a CxO who screws up, in which case you get a severance package that continues to pay you for 500 Fridays.

The minions are supposed to take the disruption of a layoff as a non-event and they should feel glad for the privilege of having worked for the company, while the executives who are often already millionaires just can't survive without a fat severance package. Even when the reason they are being let go is due to their own screwups. Hypocritical bastards.

T. Norman
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

with hindsight, a quick line about lead developers need developers to lead or something might have been fitting.

i like i
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

> There were things like 3 levels of parking priviliges which was a caste system that had existed for almost a century.

I worked somewhere like this in the early 90s. There were insane rules like 'people with a personal space in the upper carpark of the head office can park in the visitor's spaces in other offices, but people with a personal space in the middle carpark can't'.

The most insane thing was that once I needed to have a cheque written because they couldn't do something by invoice in time (only having a few weeks). I drove to the head office across town to get the cheque. The manager of the cheque writing department was there, but the cheque writers (both of them) were at lunch. He was most offended when I suggested that he wrote me a cheque himself 'I don't do that, I'm the manager!'

Harvey Pengwyn
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I had this situation. I went for a job with a smallish company on a good salary and lots of promises that the company was going places.  They made me an offer and I asked for a few days to think about the terms and the risk of moving to a small company. They withdrew the offer with a statement along the lines of 'timewaster'. I thought 'lucky escape'. If they don't want me to think about my decisions, I don't want to work there.

Three months later their office was boarded up.

The company I work for now, which was small once and now isn't, takes the attitude that anyone who we make an offer to now is good enough to get an offer in future too, if they turn it down. We also know that our successful candidates are good enough to get offers from more than just us. Respect doesn't cost much.

WoodenTongue
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Sassy,

I understand your concern about burning a bridge, but I'm starting to see that sometimes you can't avoid it. _One of my friends_ (yeah, that's it) works for a small firm that is, for all intents, a sole proprietership. Recently a developer quit after seven years of loyal service to pursue a consulting business on his own. He did everything "right", making no criticism of the company, and simply stating that he was ready to move on to a new challenge. But the owner was still pissed, and seemed to take it as a personal rejection. There's no logic to it, but the owner is the king of the hill, and you either deal with it, or take your ball and go home. If you take away anything valuable from your experience, let it be greater confidence in your business instincts.

Rob VH
Wednesday, August 11, 2004


Regarding "bridge burning"....

I think what a previous poster was getting to was to avoid giving a reason that highlighted a problem management had created. No guarantees this won't offend them, but it lessens the chance.

Besides, no matter how polite or well-intentioned you are, most managers aren't going to respond well to someone implying that their organization has a problem and that's why you aren't going to come work there.

That's effectively what you said. There was nothing insulting in what you said, but understand that only the most honest and open person in the world is going to accept that without getting a little defensive.

Imaging you go to hire a house-keeper, and they come by to look things over and then say "I really appreciate the offer, but I'm sorry. Your house is just too messy for me."

If you're like most people, your first thought is going to be "You're a house-keeper! This is what you're *supposed* to deal with!" Then your likely to feel a little embarrassed that someone just criticized how you keep house.

Bottom line: I wouldn't beat yourself up over this. You didn't do anything wrong and there are some people that will be offended simply because you didn't do what they wanted. This guy could have been one of those and would have been insulted no matter what. On the other hand, maybe you've got some more experience in this area!

John Diller
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I agree that this guy seems a bit like a shithead, but his behavior isn't surprising.  He's just putting out spin, and demanding you accept it at face value--ie, a huge problem (understaffing) is actually an opportuntity (more staff to come, honest!).

If he hires anyone gullible enough to buy that rhetoric, he'll get exactly what he pays for.

call_a_spade_a_spade
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

"On the other hand, maybe you've got some more experience in this area!"

Unless we're talking about women, then no, I've been pretty good about not insulting people trying to give me a job.

Sassy
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Most decent managers - OK there aren't many - aren't so stupid as to think that they or their companies are perfect. If they can't take feedback, they're career roadkill.

Goes for employees too. (You know who you are . . . )

WoodenTongue
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Looks like you framed it in terms of "I don't know if I can get the house as clean as you would like it, unless you can guarantee availability of more cleaning materials" rather than "P.U. you can't expect me to touch this pigsty until you fumigate it first."

The former is a reasonable statement of feasibility that you would expect any professional to make. The next time this guy gets a builder in to make him a conservatory using nothing but a bent drinking straw and a dead bee, he'll probably get a similar answer, so he'll just have to get used to it.

Fernanda Stickpot
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Yes, I basically thought I phrased it as "I'm not going to be able to do the job to my own expectations" specifically to avoid the insult issue.

I think this is probably the 3rd time this guy has heard this.  When I began spoking to him he said something like "I'm having a really hard time finding people who really want to be lead developers and take on responsibility". 

Sassy
Wednesday, August 11, 2004


In my experience, when you challenge people (take them out of the comfort zone), they often find reasons to be offended by what you said.

My only bit of help is that you can be careful how often you challenge people.  Thus if you ...

Afirm Affirm  Affirm Affirm Challenge Affirm Affirm Affim

You are much more likely to be taken seriously than if you do the opposite.  So pick your battles, and when you've been proven right a few times, you can increase the ratio.

Another thing to do is to give the person a reason to believe you that they respect.  Don't appeal to your PHd in Operations Research if the owner of the company is a high school dropout. :-)

Often the best way to do this is a mutual, well-respected aquintance introduces you and essentailly says "listen to Matt H. about (subject), he's an expert."

I don't see how you could apply either of those in this case.  Perhaps you could have asked for hiring authority, given certain dates and salary ranges.  When the answer was "no", that gives you a less-offensive exit ...

But, yeah, insecure people get offended a lot.  You do the best you can and forgive yourself when you need to ...

www.xndev.com (Matt H.)
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I'm not at all surprised that the CEO of a small startup would get pissed off by a candidate declining a good offer. It cost a sh*tload of money to get a person through the recruiting process, and it sucks when they decline at the last minute.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't decline an offer if you don't like it. But the reaction is quite understantable.

genius
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Total time from inital contact to declining the offer was 6 business days.  Total face-to-face meetings: 2, 1 hour each.
Total phone time: 2 calls, maybe 30 minutes total.  5 email correspondence: 15-30 minutes.

He initially tried to rush my decision, I asked for another 2 business days to condisder.

So all in all, total time expended was perhaps 5 hours.  I'm sorry, but this process didn't cost him sh%#t.

Sassy
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Also should note this was not a startup company. This was a non-software company with an offshoot software product.

Sassy
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

You also have to count the time spent interviewing and otherwise evaluating the other candidates that got turned down.

Still, that doesn't give them the right to act like an a-hole.  That guy's actions proved that it is not a place you would want to work for.

T. Norman
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Ok, so if I go to look at a new car and there is a nice shiny salesman. He spends an hour with six potential buyers of his cars. We get to the nitty-gritty and he won't give me a free tank of fuel and on balance, I don't like the deal. I say 'OK, thanks for your time, I'll pass'.

Now here are three potential responses. Imagine you are the sales dude . . .

1) No, thank YOU for your time sir, and we'll be here if you change your mind.

2) Ok, well <laughs> its your funeral.

3) You B*****D, you've wasted my time. Do you know how much this suit cost. Do you know how much that damn chair cost. Do you know how much your test drive cost in wear and fuel. Do you know how much that coffee you just drank cost. You've stolen my time and if you ever come back in my showroom again I'll have the mechanics work on your ass with crowbars, now **** off and never come back.

Which of these will be the best for your business ? Eh ?

The cost of recruitment is the recruiters problem. For the candidate, it isn't an issue. Even if they put you in a five star hotel for a week and send you champagne every day for breakfast, that is not your problem and you should never, ever make it a consideration.

WoodenTongue
Thursday, August 12, 2004

^

Agreed.  He's likely ruined any chance of getting Sassy (who is clearly "capable" in the company's eyes) if and when this magical staffing increase does happen.

Burning bridges works both ways, eh?

indeed
Thursday, August 12, 2004

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