I can’t say it any other way: Don’t renege on a start-up offer once you have accepted. If you only knew what the true reaction inside the company was to your decision, you wouldn’t do it. By declining an offer you’ve already accepted, you are burning a bridge, scorching a whole section of your network, and doing irreparable damage to your reputation.
Most candidates don’t truly appreciate the effect that reneging has on an offer. They think, “It’s not that bad. They’ll find another candidate quickly. They’ll understand.” Maybe if the company is IBM and role is entry-level, but not for any role of significance in a start-up. In order to properly appreciate how the company reacts, you need to put yourself in their shoes.
Imagine that you just finished your job search after interviews with several companies. You had three different offers and just made your final decision. You sent in your acceptance letter, set your start date for two weeks out, graciously declined your other offers telling them you’d found your dream job, and you’re now heading to the beach for some down-time with family before you start the new job. Bliss, right? No more interviews, no more searching, no more negotiating. You. Are. Set.
Then imagine two days before your start date you get an email from your new employer saying they would like to take back the offer. In that email they said how much they loved you, but a “dream candidate” came their way last week and they just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hire her/him. They had to pull your offer but hoped you would understand. “You’re a fantastic candidate. We’re sure you’ll find another job soon.”
You’d be outraged… incredulous. You would tell every single one of your friends what a terrible, awful company they were. You would join GlassDoor with three different accounts just to write three different scathing reviews. You would go out of your way to tell anyone who was considering joining that company how terrible they were. You would never ever forget.
That’s how the company feels. Really.
In the rare times we’ve seen candidates renege, it’s because they felt they had to accept an expiring offer before they could finish interviews with their ideal company. If that happens to you, talk to the company with the expiring offer and ask for more time. Tell them you owe it to everyone involved to complete the process, that you would give them the same respect. Not only is it true, but it allows you to make a decision based on fit rather than one based on pressure.
Is it ever acceptable? No, it’s never acceptable… but it can *sometimes* be understandable. As I said before, if the company is large and the role isn’t significant, the blowback will likely be minimal. Unfortunately, the start-up community (specifically in Austin) is small and tightly knit – news of your renege will ripple throughout the company and even beyond which could have a lasting effect on your reputation. The key is helping this well-connected community understand your decision thoroughly. For example, if the other opportunity is truly a “dream job” – one that everyone can look at objectively and say “wow, you really have to take that” – then you might be able to pull it off without causing too much damage.
The key is to do it gracefully and respectfully. Communicate the situation, in person, before you’ve made your final decision, tell them why you are making the decision and how terrible you feel. Allow them the chance to convince you otherwise and allow them to see that you’ve put a tremendous amount of thought into this. Make it hard for them to hate you.
Oh, and NEVER do it in an email.