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Declining a Job

I declined a job offer yesterday. A job offer made by a friend at my insistence. Early on in the proceedings, I was very eager to join up, but as details became evident - including the state of their offices, their pay structure, the hours they wished me to work, and so on, it became exceedingly clear that moving from my current job to the offered one would be a mistake. I sent this letter yesterday evening (the name John is fictitious):


After much consideration, I've decided to decline the offer made by John for a software development position.

I could list the many reasons why I have decided to decline, but instead, I'll point you to some useful articles that may enable you in the future to get top-quality developers (yes, like myself).

Really, read the whole darn site.

I wanted a six month guarantee, and instead I got only a vague "satisfactory" wording in the offer. I wanted to work only five days per week - I was told I'd be working six. At that point, I make more per hour with my current job than I would with your pay. I was told that I'd see a raise after 30 days - the offer letter said 60. I was told I'd be developing on my own hardware in a room with no barriers and four or five other people. On that, I'll quote from an article above.

Put yourself in the job candidate's shoes. Company number 1 shows you a big crowded room, with a bunch of desks shoved in tightly, lots of marketing guys shouting on the phone next to the programmers and a bunch of sales jocks shouting tasteless jokes. "You would sit here, in this cubicle with Doris from Accounts Payable." Doris has a whiny, high-pitched voice and self-affirmation notes to herself pinned up on the dividers. The half-height cubicle they show you is completely lit by a fluorescent light which is on the fritz.

Company number 2 shows you through a quiet hallways, shows you a sunlit, plush office with a window, big plants, a door that closes, a nice Aeron chair, the smell of fresh-brewed coffee from the espresso machine in the kitchen, cool mahogany stuff and Ansel Adams prints, and says "this would be your office." There's a patio outside for lunch when it's warm and a lounge where people meet for afternoon tea. Doris is nowhere to be seen.�All else being equal, which job are you going to take?

Thank you again for the offer. I'm sure I could have made a great positive influence. Unfortunately, I've decided that taking this offer would have a great negative impact on my income, quality of life, free time, and sanity.

Their office was a single room, oddly enough, with a desk for a marketing person or two right there. Fans and other equipment were noisy as heck. I was being asked to use one of my own machines for work. I was being asked to work in a salaried position, and six days per week with long days. Doing the math, I realized that my hourly rate was somewhere around $16/hour. Sorry, no.

Of course, John's wife didn't take too kindly to my letter:

wife: you tend to severly overestimate your importance, dude.
erik: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
wife: severely, excuse the mispelling
wife: misspelling, it is early
erik: no, i don't.
erik: But thanks for the advice.
wife: you're an asshole. why is is so hard to be respectful? you pushed john for a job offer. then you get one, and you act like an asshole when you decline
wife: you were not the most qualified candidate
erik: it was a lousy offer
wife: are not
wife: more qualified people have applied and accepted, fool
wife: just don't bother us anymore.
erik: well, they're more desperate than i am
wife: neither of us are in any mood to deal with you.
erik: Awwww, then stop messaging me. Duh.
wife: you're delusional, buddy
wife: goodbye
erik: not really.

And so it goes. Did I "push" John for an offer? I inquired a few times. Heck, for that matter, so did the wife. If he's comfortable working in such poor conditions, more power to him. Taking this job would have meant that I'd give up my current job (which has nice accommodations) as well as my other two jobs (freelance and Freshly Squeezed Software) which have the best conditions (my home, of course)! It'd mean giving up all three incomes.

Apparently, it also meant giving up these "friends," at least temporarily. Why people are incapable of separating business relationships and personal relationships is beyond me.

Update: "John" later added:

Exactly what did you expect the reaction to your letter to be?

That was the most disrespectful thing anyone, especially someone I've called a friend, has ever done to me. You ask for a job offer and I got you one. If you didn't like the offer, you could have sat down and talked with me about it. What exactly were you thinking when you wrote that? Hmm.......I could respectfully turn down this job offer from my buddy John, or could I sit behind my computer and pen a hateful email about how taking such a lousy job offer would make me crazy, poor and generally very unhappy. Why would you do such a thing? WHAT WAS THE GOAL OF THAT LETTER? I'm stupefied.

Oh well.

21 Responses to "Declining a Job"

  1. I can't believe you turned that offer down! That company is clearly going places! You're mad!

    OK, sarcasm mode off now 😉

  2. No no, I think they're going somewhere. Somewhere big. I just don't want to put up with what's required to get there.

  3. Hopefully you'll never learn the lesson about burning bridges the hard way, when you really do need John. This is a good example of why it's always best to just keep mum, especially during an exit interview or when turning down a job. You could have got the message across here without insulting the company directly. You aren't going to be able to get them to change so why bother?

  4. Yeah, I'm not sure what your motivation was here. They've got a screwed-up office and the company's completely disorganized, sure. But I don't see why they need to be lectured on software engineering process by someone who doesn't want to work for them, either.

    Here's what you say, for future reference (hell, if you'll give condescending advice, you might as well take it):

    Dear John,

    Thanks for the opportunity to interview with your company. I was happy to meet your employees, and I think that you have a great product and a terrific future ahead of you. However, I have reluctantly decided that this is not the best opportunity for me. I thank you again for your time and hospitality, and I look forward to watching your success.

    Yours in a not at all smarmy, self-satisfied, stuck-up way,


  5. Erik, I've been reading your blog for a while. I have to say that I'm a little surprised in your letter. You come off as a very smart and successful guy, and as was pointed out by the comments above, a letter like this is quite likely to burn your bridge with this company. Which as much as you might never want to work for them, that does not mean that they will never be useful to you somewhere down the line.

    It's evident that your letter made a wrong turn somewhere, because the wife of 'john' got so offended, i dont know of her involvement, but i would never want to be approached like that. Even if you know your skills are above par.

  6. The wife is someone with whom I've worked before, so that she got offended is not unusual. She was CCed on the email.

    The job offer was disrespectful. I told John what I'd wanted, and he said "we'll do that." The job interview and offer itself completely contradicted many of the things I said I'd require to switch from my current job, and the whole process was terrible.

    I burned some bridges there, you bet. It felt good in a way. In the same situation with another company, I'd have not done the same thing, hell no.

    So, a mistake. Not a whole lot to do now but learn what I can, get my CDs and keys back from John and the wife, and move on with my life. 😛

  7. Erik,

    I've been lurking on your blog for a few months now, enjoying what you've had to say. But frankly the letter you sent this guy (and his wife) shocks me. It's been quite awhile since I've read anything so arrogant.

    I get the sense that you're admitting it's a mistake but still saying it was an OK thing for you to do. I'm not sure that's the case. I don't want to preach at your or anything, and obviously you've got no reason to listen to me since you don't know me, but as many others have said, I think you needed to tone it down quite a lot. I'm only making this response public since you made the story public first.

    Obviously you were trying to help this guy and his company by giving them a critical appraisal of their workplace and the process you went through, but it seems to me that the last place you'd want to do that is at a friend's company. Save that for the corporations you don't know, not the ones you do. Your friends are worth more than any business relationship ever will be. They took it personally because you meant it personally. If it was purely business you wouldn't have CCed his wife on the email (unless John's wife works at John's company).

    Even if you can honestly think you're above an offer, you're never above being respectful when you turn it down. Your attempt to teach them something was completely fruitless because of the way it was delivered.

  8. Safety blanket? No. The wife was CCed because she's part of the business.

    I went a bit overboard - probably not as much as some people might think - and paid whatever consequences there were to be paid. I had already anticipated those consequences, so that they've come to reality is no surprise.

    Anything that needs to be said has been said already.

  9. Getting a low ball job offer sucks, so I can see your point about that. But decent programmers here in South Florida are a dime a dozen because they are all out of work. I dont know what your current job is, but this could have been a nice saftey blanket for you if something in the future happened to your current job.

  10. Erik,

    I too am a long time lurker on your blog. I work for John's company, not really, but in a sense. Its funny cause it is my friend and his wife that also work there. Admitedly I've forced concessions, I go to school full-time right now, but other than that the hours can be crazy the entire process is last minute ad-hoc (we are an ad agency that specializes in websites). I have to say that burning bridges isn't a good thing, but sometimes it is the best way to get that seperation and move on with life. I say more power to you. I wish that I had not taken this job, but now I can't just jump ship, cause that would be worse for my friend and fellow co-workers. I wish I had stayed where I was, making less money, but with a lot better work enviroment. The worst thing is that my current boss has said that he doesn't care about burning out his employees, where as my old boss was fine with paying me to spend all day learning new techniques and practices.

  11. Everybody who really knows Erik should be used to his strong wordings... To kiss someone's ass is not one of his top priorities.

  12. Erik -- I think this email shows a lot about your character. If you didn't give a shit about your friend, you could just say no. Saying "No, and here are the reasons why" is a lot better for his company long term, even if he's mad now.

    Good luck.

  13. After reading your blog for a while, it is painfully obvious you have a rather high opinion of yourself. Whether that opinion is misplaced or not would required getting to know you outside of this small pond of a blogsphere and dealing with you in real life.

    And, yes, we don't know very many of the specifics, just what you have written here. So, look at this from our POV, if you can.

    You asked for a job from a friend. He provides you one. It doesn't live up to your expectations (in fact, some apparent lying is occuring.) Fine. You are well within you rights to turn the job down. But you should be polite about it. If he wants details, provide them to him one-on-one ("the numbers on paper were different than the ones out of your mouth" etc.)

    Afterall, you were the one with your hat in your hand asking for a job to begin with. To be blunt, you did come across as a complete prick based solely on whatl you have posted.

  14. I wasn't really asking for a job. I didn't need another job. I have three right now. I asked if he could beat my current situation. "Hat in hand" is an entirely wrong way of putting it. John knew he had a hill to overcome (my current situation) and continued to assure me that he could overcome it. The offer was woefully short of meeting let alone overcoming it.

    I do have a high opinion of myself. I'm a smart guy. Should I go into anything in life thinking that I'm not worthy of being there? I'm good at what I do, and I'm passionate.

    I'm also extremely hard on myself. You don't see that side very often, not on a blog anyway, but it's there, and anyone who knows me well at all has had to try to get me, at times, not to be so hard on myself. I'm honest and blunt, and never moreso than with myself.

    I've taken myself to task for not saving the email for later review, but I'll also stand by what I wrote as what I was thinking at the time. I'm not one to dwell, and I'm certainly not skipping away from this without having learned anything. I don't know whether it says a lot or nothing about me, being public with both my successes and my failures, but this is a bit of both, and you can take from that what you will.

    I've already taken much from this.

  15. If I ever have an office, it's going to be run like Joel describes (Joel on Software is an excellent read for those of you in control of an office at the moment). Pay really well, work really hard and play really hard.

    Congrats on the tell-off... Everyone needs one once in a while. Now just don't write something similar to Steve Jobs 😛

  16. I, for one at least, agree with Erik. I mean, sure, he could have easily just said "no" or he could've been more polite, and that would be that. However, it sounds to me that really, the company straight out insulted him. Say all you want about high opinions and arrogance, but I bet every one of us had expectations from job offers, and if they fell far below, we were offended. Hell, I've been offended by job offers even whilst unemployed. There is a certain minimum I expect, and if I've already laid that out for the company and they refuse, why should I bother to be polite? Its an insult, and I'm actually pretty surprised Erik's letter is as calms as it is. I can imagine myself in a similar situation yelling something like "you prick, you said you'd give me X and now offer X-10, what gives?"

    So lay off 😉

  17. erik,

    my quick comments on your letter:

    1. You can't help someone that doesn't want to be helped. (Criticism given to one who hasn't asked for it is never taken well in my experience). That doesn't mean you should have given it, just that you should have known that it wouldn't be received well (and perhaps you did know that before you sent the email).

    2. It really is better to take the moral high-road, if you will, and to remain respectful and gracious through all steps of the job offer phase, even if you decide at the first meeting that you'll never work for the company you're interviewing with... Even if they do insult you with their offer and promises, it is most likely always smarter to play the 'respectfully declining and wish you best of luck' card than the one you played... I say this because a) you never know what's around the corner tomorrow, and you just might need that relationship you've developed with the interviewers and b) it's just more professional.

    3. I dig that you wrote what you wanted to when you wanted to, and for that I respect you, but... it's not the way I'd have done it.

    All of that being said, keep in mind, we're two different people, and I don't know the full situation here, so I'm not passing judgement, just trying to pass on a bit of my advice. Keep being you my friend, you'll go far. Just a little more polish, and you'll go very far, I'm sure.

  18. You forgot to add to your letter that "past instances where I proclaimed a fondness for your company were fraudulent," or perhaps "you appear foolish in the eyes of others."

    Hey, don't let the bastards get you down. You did what you did, for the reasons you did. Nobody can read your blog and pass judgements on what you did.

    Stick it to 'em!

  19. Hey -- if you want to burn your own bridges, that's fine. Trust me; I'm someone who speaks his mind also. However, where *I* try to draw the line is where my actions affect others for whom I care.

    What left a bad taste in my mouth is what little respect you showed your friends. They are still there and they are probably paying the price for your ill-advised letter. I doubt that your friends were trying to screw you. The offer letter was most likely not the result of *their* actions.

    But hey – that’s just my opinion.

  20. Recommended reading:

    Charles Miller - Real names, please.

  21. I think the "you sux0r" comments are actually really useful here, because they're drawing out more of the reasons you felt it was appropriate to send an email such as that. I've quit my share of jobs before, and while I've usually been careful to send the,"I regret, blah blah, best of luck," resignation notice, I've always been honest in the exit summary. They often look very similar to your email above, and people who aren't directly involved usually wonder what the hell happened to piss me off. 🙂