Best way to reject offer in consulting?
May 9, 2019 9:40 AM   Subscribe

I work in consulting. If the firm I work with doesn't land a client, then I don't have a job. Consequently they don't "hire ahead," and wait until they land a contract until hire. This means star t dates get pushed around. I have two offers with same salary and benefits. One is remote and one is remote with some travel, all things being equal I want the remote job. Some more minor details within.

I had no job offers, and suddenly I had a tentative job offer (some travel Job A) following a background check (which got pushed through). The day after I got the "salary is fine we can offer after background check" speech and before the background I had an interview and offer within a day with the full time remote firm (Job B).

Job A asked if I could start right after the interview, etc., then pushed back the start date, then pushed it again. This was contrary to the interview when they asked me if I could start immediately. I said I'd need a retainer of some sort, and they came back with a somewhat small amount (basically two days pay).

Job B called up when I was negotiating with Job A, and of course I'm not going to count on Job A going through, same, "when can you start we want you immediately." Job B came back with same thing of wanting now 3 weeks to start.

Both are monthly pay cycles so I went from expecting a paycheck June 1 (start date early May originally from both), to now sometime in July. That's what has me a bit on edge as I just blew through my cushion with a move and did not expect to go that long without pay, but that's not really germane I guess.

Since both are client facing, they're both expecting me to be in front of the client on Day 1, and I'm sure will be scrambling to find someone to replace me. I don't have a lot of sympathy for this as neither will start me until I'm 100% billable, they're taking a risk.

So my question is this: Should I accept one and reject the other, giving them enough time to find another candidate and hopefully not piss them off? Accept both, see if one happens to get delayed again (I have no guarantees this won't happen, and I'm contract so if they don't get paid I don't)? At this point can I get more money or some other technique out of this? Like a starting bonus?

I hate to be a shark on this, but I feel as if they're being sharks. They both promised me to clients before I signed, which is their fault. This is somewhat normal in this industry though and I did say the offers looked good, but definitely did not accept.

In any case is there anything I can do to let one down easy or just expect one of them to be pissed off? I'm trying to do the right thing here but if the right thing means they'll get pissed off anyway, I might as well accept both and cancel at the last minute as both have shown this is not a big deal for them to do this to me.
posted by geoff. to Work & Money (5 answers total)
It seems like the most important thing for you is getting paid sooner than later. I would tell both jobs that it is important to you to start as soon as possible and ask them to move up your start date to the originally offered date. One of them may want to lock you up and put you on payroll so that they can guarantee your availability.

If they both say no to that, I'd accept both, and then renege on the acceptance that winds up starting later, saying, "I made it clear that start date was important to me and I asked for an advanced start date; you were unable to deliver on that but another firm wound up being able to do so"
posted by Kwine at 9:59 AM on May 9, 2019 [10 favorites]

I agree with Kwine. You need this money and it’s okay to disappoint one of them if they’re not willing to option you.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:02 AM on May 9, 2019

I agree that "contingent hiring" (what this practice is called in my industry) is bullshit. However, it's common bullshit.

It's a fine line, because what you really want to do is keep all your options open right up until you're signed-on and in place at one company or the other. They obviously don't want you to do this, and would prefer if you were doing nothing but waiting by the phone for them to call, eating shoeleather or your pets or whatever in the meantime without a paycheck.

IMO what they are doing constitutes if not exactly an unethical practice, at least "sharp practice", and you can play hardball equally in response if you want to. I think it's fine to accept an offer in principle but—as long as no money changes hands—back out if something else comes up. You belong to nobody until they start paying you.

However, if you are in a niche industry, you may also need to consider the reputational risk of doing this; it may burn some bridges which you might want to have later on.

So even though I don't think there is an ethical requirement to do so, you might want to try leaning on the hiring manager a bit, and at least trying to get an idea of how solid the prospects are. Telling someone that you have another offer on the table, but would like to go with them, isn't exactly unreasonable or unheard-of. ("Look, I'd really like to work with you guys, you're my top choice etc. etc., but I have another offer and I can't wait on an uncertain start date...") Maybe they'll say "well then go take it, seeya", or maybe they'll suddenly look at their budget and decide they can cover you as overhead for a month or so until the billable work starts. But either way, you'll have a decision and can move forward; it's better than being locked in a crappy business love triangle without being paid.

If you have any information on what the client/engagement is likely to be and how solid it is, that of course is good information to take into consideration.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:08 AM on May 9, 2019 [10 favorites]

If one firm has a better reputation, use that as a tie-breaker. Otherwise, go with which you would prefer to have.

The other one, you can say what the deal is; hey, in the meantime, someone came through with an immediate need. Hope we can do work together in the future. The nature of the job is you expect people to be pursuing multiple jobs at the same time, and that you might lose someone, which is why they staff the way they do, and then have "oh, project isn't starting yet...." things happen.

Just approach it matter of factly with them, and say "let's keep in touch - if this finishes up early and you still need someone, we can talk then.."

If they get bitchy about "but you promised...!" then you don't want to deal with them anyway, and you can say - "No, I did not, and you kept pushing back the start date, so I had to go with the immediate need."
posted by rich at 11:00 AM on May 9, 2019

If you have any information on what the client/engagement is likely to be and how solid it is, that of course is good information to take into consideration.

Yeah both have "very easy to deal with" clients. I think I'm going to accept both , I wish I could act in good faith but when I was hiring I would hire a good candidate even if they were on the bench for a period of time. Seems like this contingent hiring practice has really increased lately. I'm well compensated but I feel treated like a vendor without having the push back a real vendor would have.

My fear is that if I miss the payroll date July pay date goes into August and that's basically almost two months of free labor to them. If I wanted to have net 30 or net 90 I'd just start my own company. It is like they treat you as a vendor in ways that work out well for them but as an employee when it works out for them. But I guess that's the game and why contracting is the way companies prefer to deal with employees.
posted by geoff. at 11:22 AM on May 9, 2019

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