Don’t Burn Bridges in Job Acceptance Process

Burning bridges

First the good news: There are more entry-level PR jobs than any other time in the past decade. And top graduates are receiving multiple job offers. The bad news: Some new hires are risking their future careers by mishandling job acceptance etiquette.

Case in point: A recent graduate received four internship job offers, but really wanted to work for another firm. Fearing she wouldn’t get an offer from her preferred firm, she accepted one of the other opportunities—and did so in writing. When the preferred job offer came through three weeks later, she immediately accepted and told the other firm that she wouldn’t be joining that team. Other candidates for the open position had already been told they didn’t get the job, so the original agency had to start over in the recruiting process.

To make sure I wasn’t too “old school” about the proper protocol here, I asked several recruiters and agency heads how they view last-minute change-of-mind decisions.

“It does happen, but to me, this is the quickest way to burn a bridge,” says Lisa Ryan, SVP and managing director of New York-based Heyman Associates. “You should do your homework before you sign an offer letter. Keep in mind this is a small world and you never know when you’ll run into these people again. Believe me, people don’t forget these things. Poor judgment. “

Smooch Reynolds, EVP at DHR International adds, “This type of decision making shows a lack of critical thinking skills as it relates to evaluating whether or not a particular opportunity is the next best career move. “And it shows the fact that the candidate has little clarity about their career direction.”

Edelman’s vice president of recruitment Travis Kessel also feels it was an unwise decision, but understands why such decisions sometimes occur. “I don’t think it leaves the best impression on the agency that she declined and she may have risked burning bridges for future opportunities at that firm,” Travis says. But he acknowledges that such decisions are indicative of the” increasingly competitive landscape for talent and firms are aggressively competing for the best talent in the marketplace at every level.” He feels she can survive the employment faux pas if she does an outstanding job that proves she made the right choice for her career long-term.

Some agency heads have stronger points of view, including one who asked not to be named who said he would never hire or trust someone who intentionally jilted another agency after accepting an offer.

Another agency leader, Kathleen Henson, founder & CEO of Chicago-based Henson Consulting, stresses the importance of fostering relationships in the rather tight-knit PR world.

“I say all the time that relationships are the currency of my business,” Kathleen says. “Since I graduated from Purdue 22 years ago, I have been planting seeds of goodwill in this industry by showing up, working hard and being passionate about the clients and companies I work for. I hope the new graduates today understand the value of establishing and maintaining a good relationship with people that are teaching them all about the PR industry – their supervisors, their clients and their co-workers. What they don’t realize is, they might be their future clients one day!”

2 comments on this post.
  1. LL:

    While I understand the opinion of the agencies, they also have to look at this from the point of view of the applicants. Employers will sometimes wait 3-4 weeks before they contact an applicant just for a first interview. In that time, the person has probably applied to many other jobs. The applicant’s life can not stop because they applied to one job. It’s not beneficial to their time or career to only applied to and waited on one job offer.

    Though the applicant could have asked for more time to ponder, that is not always given. Yes, she inconvenienced the agency, but would they want someone who didn’t really want to be there anyway?

  2. Katherine:

    As a recent college PR grad, the job acceptance process is difficult. We are taught it is so so hard to get a job right out of college that many of us feel the pressure to accept the first job offer. Like why would we turn down a job offer when 82% of college graduates now leave college without a job?

    This pressure does lead us to make rash decisions. When people are telling us how likely we are to be unemployed and we have $30,000 in student loans, it’s tough to say “yes!” to the very first offer.


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