Sending follow up letter to the job I had to back out of - help or hurt?
November 15, 2012 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Backed out of a job under duress. Thinking of sending a follow up letter to perhaps explain the circumstances and perhaps soften their perception of me. Good or bad idea?

I applied for a job in March/April of this year. It was for a teaching position in my dream city and would start with the new school year (late Aug.) I have been teaching for 13 years in the same place, which is also my hometown. I don't like where I live, but became more rooted as I bought property, put in more years at my job, and was dealing with aging parents. However, I had not planned to move unless I got the job, and mainly wanted to see if anything would come of it.

Since it was a teaching position advertised in March, I always believed that if I got the job, I would know in advance to prepare to move, ideally, a good portion of the summer. While I waited in anticipation I did a few things to prepare such as decluttering my house, and working to sell one of my homes (I had planned to do this anyway). I did not hear from the school until June for an interview, which was also the same time my dad died. In fact, I almost declined the interview as I was not sure what I could handle, however, I ultimately went, and it seemed to go well. However, it was not clear that I was a top candidate or that I was even being seriously considered for the job. I did use my summer to do as much decluttering and getting rid of things as I could. As time passed, I felt less and less like anything would happen, and if it did, I was getting dangerously close to the start of the year, and likewise, it was going to become less and less ideal to make a move. Eventually, I heard from them, at the near end of July to say that I was not going to be picked. I was sad, and spent time lamenting, etc., but knew that a move at that point would have been hard. Two weeks later, however, they called and offered it to me. I was greatly torn. I had been wanting this for so long, but at this point, I only had a small window of time to move. We were able to negotiate a small bit of extra time, but the total time from offer to start date, was 20 days, and since the move was 800 miles away, at least 2 of those days would include driving there.

In the following 2 weeks, I worked like crazy to pack up my house, find a tenant, and find a place to live in the new place. I had a small moving budget and could not afford to hire full service movers, though I did manage to get some cheap help and began making a dent in what needed to be done. However, even with the best of intentions, I was not getting anywhere fast, and was spinning my wheels trying. I did investigate a lot of options, such as renting my place furnished temporarily, renting a room in new location temporarily, etc. and had done lots of prior research on moving companies places to live, etc., but in the short time line of 2.5 ish weeks, things were not coming together very well. I was very nervous throughout this time and there were several days I could not get out of bed. I stopped eating/sleeping and was operating in sheer panic. At this point, to leave on time, meant leaving without a lot done, and trying to work things out from a distance.

At the end of the two weeks, I contacted the school with my concerns. What were my options? Ideally, since I had just agreed to take the position, I thought they might allow me more time, or, worst case, allow me to rescind my agreement, no harm done. The teachers union contacted HR on my behalf who was very upset and said that if I backed out, they would blackball me. They would allow one additional week, but that was it. This added more fear to my already highly nervous state of mind. Blackballing meant they would tell other schools about me and I would not be able to be hired anywhere else in the future. After this, I became very ill and almost despondent. I saw my doc who offered anxiety pills, but also suggested waiting to start the new job, bcs I was in such a poor state mentally. I was not sure a week would really help at that point and began to fear that if I went out there and had any further difficulty, that they would fire me and I would be in a strange city jobless. I did not want to tell my new job about the anxiety issues. Instead, I spoke to my prospective supervisor the weekend before I was due to start. I reiterated the problems I was having without specifically saying anything about the panic. She seemed frustrated, and said that she could not keep holding the job for me and needed my decision by the following day.

So, I wrote a letter to her/HR asking to be released from the position. I could not, in that moment, fathom getting there in time to start, and more importantly prepared to start (mentally). I did not hear anything back from them, and saw the position reposted the same night. After my initial feeling of relief after the situation was behind me, I started to feel great regret, and it has plagued me for weeks. I have had a few people in my life suggest that I write a follow-up letter. A letter to explain what happened in greater detail and offer additional apologies. The hope is that the letter would soften their perspective of the events that lead up to me backing out, and perhaps lessen the chance of blackballing. However, from a legal perspective, although IANAL, it seems that less is more and that the letter may only re-stir the pot. I am not sure what to do?

Clarification point: I was able to keep the job I already had because my resignation was not effective yet.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The people in your life are wrong and, the last thing an employer needs is a letter full of sad situations and apologies from someone who, effectively, doesn't even work for them. It will not soften their perspective of you, rather it will paint you as the sort of person who writes a long letter full of sad situations and apologies to people who neither asked for the information, nor need to know this information. I mean, blackballing sucks, but I don't think this story you just related is going to get you out of that. In fact, it could just make things worse as any doubt they had about you being a person with out-of-control personal issues would be completely eliminated and they would have hard proof, in your own words, that you can't do your job because of ongoing issues. An potential employer only cares about your personal issues as far as it keeps you from getting a job. Especially when it is a job as infamously high-stress as teaching.
posted by griphus at 2:27 PM on November 15, 2012 [27 favorites]

If you must write a letter, all it should say, in as few words as possible and with no exposition whatsoever, is "I got my shit together and I can report for work and do the job with no interference from my personal life."
posted by griphus at 2:30 PM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

"Blackballing meant they would tell other schools about me and I would not be able to be hired anywhere else in the future."

That doesn't actually happen. There's no mechanism for it to happen. It would be illegal in some US states (I presume you're talking about the US based on the school year calendar).
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:31 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

griphus' post is brutal but totally on the ball. Sending that letter is not going to make anyone's life better, including your own.
posted by Jairus at 2:31 PM on November 15, 2012

Less is more, and do not re-stir the pot.

You expressed your concerns and they know why you backed out. Getting organized, getting moved and starting a new job in 20 days was a lot to ask, and in the end you couldn't do it. If they choose to blackball you over that - well, you know what they say about people you don't want to work for anyway.

But I think you feel guiltier about the situation than you should perhaps. I say again, what they asked was a big deal, and there is no shame in not being able to do it. You gave a cautious yes, tried to follow through, and backed out as soon as you knew you were "failing" right? That was the right thing to do. Be kind to yourself and praise your professionalism (and make a mental note to be even more cautious with your yesses next time.)

If I were you I would use this year to organize your life to be able to be more flexible in the future (if you want), and apply for other jobs. Maybe though, just not in that district.
posted by dness2 at 2:39 PM on November 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

Forget it and move on. Seriously. And ignore their threats, they won't happen. (I do think you got a clear indication there that they aren't people you would want to work for. I.e., this sounds like it was definitely for the best.)
posted by bearwife at 2:41 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, though, you need to be more realistic in your planning in future. If you had said you couldn't start in 20 days, they could have just moved on to the next candidate (the same way they moved on to you from whoever had previously been offered the job). Biting off more than you can chew is a horrible professional habit; I've been on both sides of that situation, and it's terrible for everyone.

This seems like a strong wake up call to you to work on your anxiety management and risk assessment skills. As far as that school is concerned, you're an annoying person who made their life difficult at the worst possible time. You need to find a way to be OK with them thinking that about you, because that's what you are from their perspective. They've moved on and you have to, too.

If you are really concerned about the "blackballing" thing, ask the teachers' union for a recommendation of a lawyer who's familiar with teacher/school system disputes in that state and/or municipality, and invest a couple of hundred bucks in a consultation with that lawyer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:41 PM on November 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

Don't write a letter. No one really cares.

You can't convince them not to blackball you, if in fact anyone really does that. (I have my doubts.)

My concern, and something for you to work on is that you had very unrealistic ideas about what it would take to sell your house and move.

I think you have a better understanding of this, but in the future, I recommend becoming more "field-marshall" in your approach to this.

One thing that stuck out at me in your narrative was that you didn't have enough money to actually move. That's an issue.

When they offered the job to you with only a couple of weeks to move, you should have declined saying, "Oh darn! I'd love to have worked for you, but with so little time before the start of school, I wouldn't have the time to make the move. I'd love to be considered for openings next year."

So plan now. I assume you still want to move. If so, put yourself in a position to do so NOW. Continue to get rid of crap. Put property on the market. Very little falls together in the last minute.

Live in an apartment, keep most of your stuff packed, save up the money to move. Only then, when all your Ts are crossed and all you lower case Js are dotted, can you begin to apply for positions.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:49 PM on November 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

I think you handled it fine - maybe bit off more than you could chew - but, really, I think your prospective employers behaved quite poorly and I'd be happy to not be working for them.

Ultimately, it sounds like poor timing all-round. You will now know more for next time.
posted by heyjude at 2:50 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't write the letter, but stop beating yourself up about this also. You tried your best, and also some of the blame is on them for jerking you around and taking so long to respond to you, telling you that you didn't get the job, and then giving you such a small window for taking up the post once they did decide to give it to you. Also they were probably really frustrated by the time they offered you the job because they must have had one or several other people lined up who fell through, so even the amount of frustration they expressed about you was not entirely down to your actions.

Take a few months to decide whether you really, truly want to move, and if you do, then do as Ruthless Bunny says and get ready before you start applying. I highly doubt you'll be "blackballed", by the way, and any employer who would say such a thing is not really one you'd want to work for anyway. Tell yourself you dodged a bullet and look towards the future and decide what you'd really like.

All of this may make you take another look at the life you have and learn to appreciate it, or it may make you more determined to move. You'll know in a few months when the dust settles from all this, and then you'll know what you need to do.
posted by hazyjane at 10:28 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

This all happened like a month after your dad died? I don't think you need to email those people. But I would cut yourself a lot of slack.
posted by salvia at 11:51 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would recommend writing a very short letter, something like "i would like to inform you of my deep regret in having to rescind my job acceptance. This was my dream job but unexpectedly my father passed away during the hiring process. In my grief i was not able to handle the move nor communicate this at the time. I am hoping to be considered again in the future.


posted by saraindc at 12:44 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree that it would be very inappropriate to write the letter.

I did just want to pick up on the fishiness of all this:

- First they interview you in June.

- Then, you get a rejection from them at the end of July. That's at least a month between interviewing and hearing back from them. A whole fucking long time to not get back to a candidate they've interviewed, to the point where you were actually assuming you'd been rejected. Correctly, as it turned out, but I'm not impressed with them right off the bat. And I don't want to hear any "but it's the [public sector | schools | academia | banana straightening industry] and they always take aaaaaaages" - no they don't. After two weeks at the most they should have at least contacted you to say "hey, we're still doing the background checks on our candidates and this is why it's taking so long" or whatever.

- Two weeks later, despite having rejected you, they call you back to offer you the job. What happened with the winning candidate in those two weeks? Did somebody else reject the job because they saw a red flag? Were they rejected because the school tested them with an unreasonable demand that they couldn't meet?

- They made the hiring process so leisurely that you only had 20 days to start, and then it was all on you to pull off the move. What if you'd been in a job where you had to give the standard month's notice? They caused the time crunch, you did your best to pull it off, and you notified them in good time that you were worried you wouldn't be able to make it. Why is it all on you to be flexible, and not on them?

- Threatening to blackball you for even asking the question? What does your union say about this? That sounds like an absolute bunch of shit. If they're saying stuff like this to you, I think I know why they're having trouble hiring people.

- If you were their second choice, why don't they have oodles of other candidates that could replace you at a moment's notice? Is it imaginable that they could only find two people out of the bazillion that must have applied? I get that they may be facing time-consuming background checks and if it works like CRB in the UK, they can only do this with successful applicants. But still, if they had lots of good candidates that would mean they were put out for only a few weeks.

For the record, I think you could have handled this differently and been prepared to move without emptying and selling your house first. A friend of mine did this and has been moving piecemeal. But then she does only live three hours away, whereas in your case it's two days.

I also think that if you're a teacher it's odd that you don't have a mindset of taking a lead a bit more. As it is, you're desperate about being punished like a naughty child. You're an adult, and you're a professional, and nothing in your outward behaviour has been less than adult and professional regardless of what emotional turmoil you were going through (and it's obviously considerable, with the death of your father!). So you haven't actually done anything wrong or embarrassing at all.

If you sent any kind of explanation for all this, though, you would be grovelling in a way that would undermine all the professionalism you've shown so far. Don't do it.
posted by tel3path at 7:20 AM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seconding tel3path; this sounds like they are disorganized, advantage-taking assholes that use emotional terrorism to bully. Don't worry about what they think!

Talk to your union and demand an explanation, because they should have seriously stood up to the school and told them that blackballing is not only illegal (defamation, anyone?) but immoral and an asshole thing to threaten someone with when they strung you along and pulled this petty bullshit. Do not even bother yourself with trying to make these petulant jerk-offs see your side, because they don't have one whit of care for anything but themselves.
posted by dozo at 8:59 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Save your letter writing and explanation-making for a future employer who asks about the situation. Don't hold your breath. My guess is you'll never be asked.
posted by John Borrowman at 9:51 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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