Thursday, August 6, 2015

Anyone seeing offers get reneged on?

About a month ago, the Wall Street Journal's Lindsay Gellman wrote about new college graduates reneging on accepted job offers: 
In May, Michael Armstrong of Southern Co. called two students he’d recruited from a Southeasten public college to wish them a happy graduation and fix their start dates in the fall. The calls went to voice mail. Then the emails came in. 
Each student thanked him for the opportunity, but declined the jobs they accepted months before. Other, better jobs had simply come along, they wrote, leaving Mr. Armstrong, campus recruiting lead for the Atlanta utility, with spots to fill. 
One of the strongest graduate hiring seasons in recent memory has had an unpleasant byproduct for campus recruiters, who say their college hires are jilting them at the last minute. The trend has vexed hiring managers, flustered students and left colleges torn between helping graduates get ahead and staying in the good graces of companies that recruit on campus. 
“We want to believe that an accepted offer is an agreement,” said Gordon Miller, who retired last month from his role as senior recruiting manager at Procter & Gamble Co., where he has observed a rising number of students reneging on offers. Students who back out after accepting rationalize that they’re “looking out for their best interest,” he said. ( Scott Isenhart, who currently heads P&G recruiting in North America, said he hasn’t noticed an uptick in students backing out of offers.) 
Turning down any job offer, much less reneging on one, would have been unthinkable for most college graduates a few years ago, when post-grad employment was harder to come by and many fresh graduates went underemployed or jobless...
I don't think I've heard about any reneging on job offers, but I have heard as least one story of a candidate turning down a job offer because they wanted another position. Readers, what's this B.S. chemist job hiring season been like for you?

(I presume that Ph.D. chemist-level hiring sees very, very few offers get reneged on - chemistry is a small field, and people have long memories. I'm a champion grudge-holder*, and I'll get other people are as well.)

*something I'm trying very hard to work on, I note. 

39 comments:

  1. I agree, in an earlier era this would have been (almost) unheard-of, and I wouldn't do this myself (such are the limits of having an ethical code, of sorts).

    Starting around the early 2000s, though, I noticed that many job aspirants would get "hired" only to have their prospective employment postponed indefinitely ("hiring freezes") and sometimes eventually terminated. Sometimes the not-quite-employees would be left dangling for months. This happened across several industries, with "reputable" companies.

    Earlier this year I've heard about one industry with 'furloughs' - we're not firing you, we just don't have any work for you and we're not going to pay you. Some of those guys have gone months waiting for the head office to call with work - others of a more pragmatic nature just filed for unemployment and/or started looking for other work.

    Turnabout is fair play, I reckon. It's emotionally satisfying when what goes around comes around.

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    1. To me, turnabout implies that this company has done something to this employee. Unless you're working with a much more expansive definition of turnabout than mine, this sounds like preemptively reducing the level of trust in the hiring process.

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    2. As you can see from the other comments, that ship has sailed. (Perhaps this forum is not representative of people just out of undergrad, though.)

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    3. "... this sounds like preemptively reducing the level of trust in the hiring process." Hiring freezes leaving new employees in limbo for months somehow don't "pre-emptively reduce the level of trust in the hiring process?" Asking potential employees to contribute uncompensated work - sometimes involving significant expertise and time - and then ditching them, doesn't "pre-emptively reduce the level of trust in the hiring process?" Failing to contact unsuccessful job applicants (who after all, have taken the time, energy, and sometimes expense to apply for positions at these companies) doesn't "pre-emptively reduce the level of trust in the hiring process?" How about mouthing off about how you can't get good people in a nation of 325 million, or you can't find employees with skill XYZ, or can't find people who can do basic math - and then admitting you're not hiring anyway, does this not "pre-emptively reduce the level of trust in the hiring process?"

      Like Anon 8/7/15 2:05 PM notes, "that ship has sailed." The employers were navigating, and the applicants were marooned.

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  2. In all honesty, these companies don't usually care about the well being of their hires or have their best interests at heart. So why should the hires stick with a less lucrative offer? I understand that it is easy to romanticize "loyalty" to an employer or to appeal to your internal ethics about employment decisions, but in all honesty, most companies do not in any true sense care about their employees. They typically do not offer jobs and benefits out of the goodness of the corporate heart. It's all motivated by dollars in some way or another. So, while it sounds like these people lack integrity or ethics or whatever you might call it I'd say they are not doing anything a company would do to them.

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    1. Though I am sure my intent was clear, here is my correction
      they are not doing anything a company wouldn't do to them

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  3. The prior comments pretty much capture my feelings as well. I've never done this and I probably never will. I was asked to do it once and I didn't. I very sincerely wish I had, I ended up hating the company that I had initially committed to and left on bad terms. But I had an opportunity to do something similarly unethical afterwards and I still didn't, despite my experience. I suppose I'm a sucker.

    The comment about turnabout is completely on point. When I've turned companies down for positions I was offered I always did it over the phone. But when I wasn't offered the position after the interview, I was sent an e-mail. So while my first instinct was to think these students were cowardly to not even pick up the phone and send an e-mail instead, companies have treated me with the exact same cowardice, and I'm betting they've done it to scores of other people too.

    TL; DR: Payback is a bitch.

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    1. You got e-mails? It seems I mostly have gotten rejection e-mails from New Zealand companies (and very consistently at that - every single job I've applied for at a NZ company that I've been rejected for, I've gotten an e-mail, generally short, sweet, and to the point). American companies generally won't even bother with them. As for the very few I ever have gotten from American companies, over half of these don't even make sense (my favorite: "we have decided to focus our attention on those candidates that completed the application") or contain outright lies (e.g. "We have no openings at present.").

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    2. Let me clarify. After an on-site interview, if I wasn't selected for the position I was notified by e-mail.

      In cases where my resume didn't even make it past the initial screen I've only received e-mail rejections a small fraction of the time. Of note, Broad Institute and Cubist Pharmaceuticals were exceedingly efficient in this. Broad sent me a rejection e-mail mere hours after applying online. Cubist made sure I got the point by sending me a rejection e-mail, then re-sending the same e-mail several days later.

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  4. The harsh words from a former P&G recruiter are laughable. P&G will not share details of an offer until after it is accepted.

    Ironic that they are laying off tens of thousands and still are going full steam on wining/dining interns/coops/new grads. Out with the expensive, in with the cheap. Even more ironic is that several of their recruiters 'retired' in the past couple years.

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  5. I find it amusing that not a single commenter thus far, including myself, sympathizes with the companies. These companies have made it abundantly clear over the past several years that they only value loyalty when it suits their own interests. You reap what you sow. Perhaps MBA programs should start teaching their enrollees how to think more than a quarter in advance?

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    1. When companies can do what they want, their explanations run to "Because we can." When they no longer have the whip hand, then they have to rely on qualities of character that they have spent the rest of their time devaluing and ignoring to attempt to get people to act in their interests. I shouldn't be surprised at the hypocrisy, but....

      When The Patriot's History of the United States called this "The Age of Entitlement", I think that perhaps they were right. I'm pretty sure my reasons for deeming the name accurate are completely different than theirs, however.

      I'm pretty good at grudges - when I got my credit card limit decreased to almost nil because the bank dropped my address change on the floor, I paid it and sent them their card in pieces. I will probably do something similar when my cable contract is up (they canceled my rebate card five weeks after it was issued, "because we can", roughly.). I don't think they'll care, but I do, and I'm tired of being taken for granted.

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    2. That sounds about right. Given the complete lack of loyalty from many companies, there's absolutely no reason employees should feel compelled to keep their current position when a comparatively better fit for them comes a long. Frankly, if companies really want to keep an employee, they can surely come up with a set of incentives to ensure that happens.

      Anecdotally, I know of a few companies that threw out lowball offers to potential hires when the local market was filled with qualified candidates who desperately needed jobs, then began complaining when the employees left for greener pastures after a year of employment. Loyalty is a two-way street.

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  6. During the last economic downtown, several of my colleagues' kids who graduated from law school had their job start dates postponed for 6 months to 1 year. (These deferrals were at major firms too.) Suffice it to say that their kids were scrambling for temporary work to start remunerating their student loans while slumming with their parents. So much for the "empty nest"...

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  7. I wholeheardedly agree with the sentiment expressed by other commentators. I don't feel a particular "loyalty" to the employer anymore; having said that, I do however feel loyal to my immediate boss and our overall supervisor since they had gone out of their way to hire me and keep me on inspite of huge division wide budget cuts and job losses.

    Another reason is like CJ mentioned, that chemistry is not a large field, and especially so if you work outside of MA or CA and would not want to jeopardize my personal relations over potential salary hike by switching jobs.

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  8. I, too, have little sympathy for the companies themselves...while not something I'd personally do, you really can't blame someone for watching out for themselves, when the companies certainly won't.

    I see how this could still be disappointing on a personal level to someone operating as a recruiter, who might not have much to any say in the overall company policies. The individual could still value honesty and ethics, without that being reflected up the food chain.

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    1. I'm reminded of a quote from the Godfather, "It's not personal Sonny. It's strictly business."

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    2. From Point of Impact: "Hugh wouldn't want it to be personal." "F&%k Hugh, it's always personal."

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    3. Hap, I didn't know you read Stephen Hunter novels as well!

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    4. As a fan of "The Godfather" (the novel), I feel that it's a shame that this paragraph from Michael Corleone never made it to the movie: http://bit.ly/1MatpzR

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    5. Yeah, I just pulled Point of Impact out of my paperbacks box a couple of months ago. I don't know why I started reading Stephen Hunter's books, but I like most of the Swagger books I've read; I also like Pale Horse Coming (which is sort of a Swagger novel). I've no interest in reading his Jack the Ripper book, though (I wouldn't mind reading his newspaper stuff). I wonder who'd win a Bob the Nailer/Jack Reacher cage match.

      I guess more on topic, the other quote on this I like is from The Daily Show's Earth (The Book); "Anybody who said something was "just business" had just f----d or was about to f--- you over."

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    6. That book (POI) is amazing; so many memorable scenes.

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    7. "Let's see who's got the stones for close work." Is pretty good. Also "I deal in lead, friend."

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    8. I have a sneaking suspicion that "I deal in lead, friend" actually is from something else...

      https://youtu.be/9GE9P56tK4o?t=29

      Close enough for me. The Magnificent Seven predates The Godfather by almost a decade.

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    9. It might be, but the antagonists in Point of Impact also did - they may have been styling themselves as their heirs in lead or paying some other homage. I think the book was published in 1994 or so, so M7 was enough time in the past for everyone involved (other than me) to know it wasn't original with the characters or author.

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    10. Hunter was also a Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic for the Washington Post, so he ought to have known the reference.

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    11. Perhaps so. On the other hand, I just dug out "The Longest Day" a few nights ago - I'm sure I must have seen it at least once at some point, but the whole movie was totally new to me - and I'm not a professional movie critic (someone who by comparison must have seen hundreds if not thousands more films than I have).

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  9. Another (fairly underhanded) tactic that a handful major companies are using is to interview months before the rest of the pack and make offers not much after (with a 2 week acceptance window)...while I'm theoretically against reneging on job offers, trying to tie applicant's hands also seems to be acting in bad faith.

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  10. At the rate some companies seem to hire and fire people, I don't see why the employee should act any differently than the companies do. I personally would hate to do it, but I can see why some people wouldn't think twice about it. I've heard a few stories about companies firing long time employees only to hire a newly graduated, cheaper one right away. Saves them money and the task is still completed. I'd hate to burn an employer after saying yes, though. Perhaps I should try being less ethical.

    And people are getting rejection emails? I've applied to five jobs at least and have heard nothing from them. They don't seem to make it obvious as to who to follow up with either. If I didn't get the job I'd love to know so I know to keep looking, rather than sitting there wondering if I got a job I was excited about.

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  11. Not chem, but I turned down big pharma recently. Salary was average and HR were pushing very hard on everything but. I will go and work for a start-up.

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  12. “We want to believe that an accepted offer is an agreement...”

    Uh, since when has P&G owned anyone's draft rights?

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  13. Any corporation that does not think that ANY employee (prospective or otherwise) can/will jump ship at a moment's notice is simply not in the 21st century. If the corporation wants an acceptance agreement binding, they need to be willing to pay for it - a signing bonus - as it were. Once the money changes hands then it's an employee-employer relationship and a non-compete would be easier to enforce.

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  14. The employment agencies are the worst at this IMO. I had one from an employment agency and one from an actual company. The employment agency wanted me to accept the offer within 24 hours, they told me they could not even wait 48. I ended up accepting (because that's what a year of PhD unemployment, living with the parents will do). I got a call from a company that I really wanted to work for less than 48 hours after I accepted the offer from the employment agency. The company allowed me two weeks to make my decision. Yes, I called the employment agency and told them I would no longer be accepting their offer.

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  15. I've heard of the opposite happening, where a person accepted a job offer from a company, only for the company to rescind the offer some time later before the person started work, usually due to hiring freezes, budget cuts, upcoming layoffs, etc. If a company can do it (take back an offer of money to be paid in exchange for labor), why not an employee (take back an offer of their labor in exchange for money)?
    This all reminds me of a time 20 years ago when I worked at DuPont. There was a town meeting where employees were told that they should be aware that career transitioning (i.e. layoffs) would be a feature of life at the company. Someone asked then why so many of the benefits and promotion policies were tied to seniority. The CEO responded that they still expected people to spend their careers at DuPont long term. The cognitive dissonance was astounding.

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  16. I once had a company get upset with me for reneging on a temp-to-hire offer for a permanent offer elsewhere that paid twice as much. Not surprisingly, the company I went to actually values its employees. Because I am treated well, in order for me to leave my current position, there would have to be a MUCH better offer, or a change in the corporate culture. My loyalty is not automatic; it must be earned through respect.

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    1. I do have a question about all of this. I am newbie to trying to get a job. In what I have seen in my experience is that the company usually takes their sweet time on making a decision. At first I thought applying to a few jobs would be enough but I quickly learned my lesson. Needless to say in the meantime I was applying to as many jobs as I could. So while I was at an on-site interview I had other companies wanting to schedule phone screenings with me. It was very tempting to answer the phone from another company while on an on-site interview. Then the company takes a while to get back to you after the on-site interview. In the meantime you may have gone on another on-site interview and the first company wants to offer you the job. In my experience the company that offered me my first job said I had less then a week to accept the job. Well when you have no job, and they say you have less then a week to accept the job, even two weeks to accept a job is not long enough IMO, what are you suppose to do? Not have a job lined up? After seeing this website I decided I would have to accept everything that was even remotely close to what I wanted to do. As the title of the website states: What's the job market like for chemists? Dude -- it's always bad.*

      How bad is it? How the heck should I know? Quantifying the chemistry job market is what this blog is about. That, and helping chemists find jobs."

      And then how can we have loyalty when a company no longer offers a pension plan? A pension plan was designed for loyalty so when the companies got rid of a pension is there really any reason to be loyal? Also when are you officially hired? After they sent the offer letter to me the company told me they can rescind the offer at anytime? I still do not have my start date at company X and I just keep on going to the job interviews. I see it that until I get my official start date I will have to keep on looking.

      Thanks

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  17. Anon 9:29PM on August 7: Yes, this happened to me. While in grad school, I interviewed for a job and was to begin working after my dissertation defense. The week before my dissertation defense, I had a meeting with some people there (in fact, this felt like a second interview - after I had already accepted the offer). I found out later that week that the offer was being rescinded. This was late 2008 so things were bad. Luckily, especially considering the time, I got an offer soon thereafter through a connection my dissertation advisor has. I think things worked out much better for me in the end, though it didn't feel like it would when this happened.

    Regarding the ethics of turning it around, and backing out of the agreement as the employee, the problem I see is what CJ mentioned parenthetically at the end. In other words, although "companies" (as an entity) show little loyalty these days, the companies are still a collection of individuals. Some of these individuals have long-term memories (especially for those who have hurt them in some way). In other words, to back out you have to consider that you will incur the wrath of individuals: hiring managers, recruiters, HR... The "company" may not remember you doing that, but those individuals will. Just like I remember which company retracted their offer to me.

    (Obviously, I'm not arguing that companies as a collective deserve loyalty or even what the ethics of employment are per se; this is if nothing else a matter of practical concern based on human nature, as I see it).

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    1. That is the problem. Your reputation is always on the line and there are only so many bridges you can afford to burn in chemistry.

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