I turned down a job offer but now I want the job

A reader writes:

I have been unemployed for the past 4 months. I rejected an offer for employment a month ago. I recently saw that the job that I applied for is now being reposted. What is the professional etiquette in regard to me contacting the employer to review potentially joining them? I was clear on my reasons as to why I rejected the offer (after 4 counteroffers between us). But now as unemployment continues to dry up and no offers have come forth, is going back to them a bad idea and can it be seen as unprofessional?

It’s not unprofessional, no, but it’s probably going to be greeted with some skepticism, for a couple of reasons:

1. They’re going to worry that you don’t really want the job and that you’re just taking it because you’re starting to feel desperate — and that you won’t be satisfied with the salary and that you’ll leave as soon as you find something that pays more. Or that down the road you’re going to push for a significant raise that they’re not prepared to give you.

2. You’ll look like you don’t have a good idea of what you’re worth. You negotiated fairly hard, it sounds like (four counteroffers), and ultimately turned down the offer over money, which implies that you didn’t think it was a fair offer and that you could get more elsewhere. Coming back to them now is basically an admission that you were wrong.  There’s not anything wrong with that — in fact, it can be the best way to come to terms with a salary that you originally thought was too low — but it has the potential to make things awkward.

Neither of these are necessarily prohibitive factors, however. You’ve just got to be aware of them, so that you can navigate the situation effectively.

Your best bet is to approach it head-on by saying something like this:  ”I saw that you’re still hiring for the X position, and I wondered if it could be worth talking again. I’ll be frank — a few months in this job market have educated me on how salaries have fluctuated. While we couldn’t come to terms on salary earlier, I’m equipped now with a better understanding of where the market is, and I think we could reach an agreement we’d both be happy with.”

Be aware that they’re going to have the upper hand here — you’re essentially saying, “I made a mistake, and although I turned you down before, now I want the job and hope you still want me.”

They may decide to pass. Or they may not. But as long as you handle it professionally (which includes being gracious if they turn you down), you don’t really have anything to lose. So if you think it’s a job you’d be happy in, give it a shot.

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