When a Student Reneges on a Job Offer – An Employer’s Perspective

Kayla Villwock_Kayla Villwock, Intern Program Manager, SAS
Twitter: @KaylaRenee8
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaylavillwock

Hello NACE members, followers, and all! This is my first post as a NACE blog contributor and I am thrilled to be a part of the team. So how did I get here? I guess you can call it “being at the right place at the right time.” While volunteering at the registration booth at the NACE 2014 Conference, I was approached by a couple of NACE employees to be interviewed on my experience at the conference. At the end of my interview, they said “Hey – that was pretty good! Would you like to write for the NACE blog?” And well… here I am!

Ever since this moment I have been noodling on my first blog post. What would make for a good topic of discussion for both employers looking to hire from the university-space as well as career services professionals? I was drawing a blank. In my former role at NetApp (now at SAS), I often interface with career services professionals and it was through one of these conversations that I was enlightened for this post.

Last week during a pre-fall recruitment season planning call, one of my career services contacts mentioned her concern over an increasing trend at her university. She has noticed that more and more students were accepting offers of employment to then decline at a later date for a more appealing opportunity. I reassured her that this is happening at many universities and explained that employers were definitely feeling the effects. Based on this conversation, she asked that I create a brief write-up on the  impact of an offer “renege” that could be shared with students at the respective university. I then thought “I bet many universities would like this kind of information to share with their students.” And voila – my first blog post idea.

So, I want to share my thoughts on how employers are affected when a student accepts a job offer and then declines at a later date. The goal of this post is twofold: 1. To provide a resource for career service professionals to help students understand the negative impact and consequences for making the choice to back out on an offer of employment and 2. To begin a dialogue from industry and career service professionals on other challenges with this issue and discuss potential resolutions. I welcome your feedback and comments and have listed some discussion questions below. I look forward to hearing from you regarding this ever-popular issue as well as other topics as I begin my journey in the blogging world.


-Kayla Villwock

When a Student Reneges on a Job Offer

1. Employers are missing out on great talent.

Campus recruiting has become fiercely competitive, especially for certain technical majors. It is now the status quo for employers to have most of their full-time entry-level job offers out in the fall before students head off for Thanksgiving break. Several university career centers have even set an ‘earliest deadline date’ by which employers must abide in order to limit the pressures of early deadlines on their students. When that deadline hits, it is understood by employers that most of the highly sought-after talent from the best universities will have already accepted an offer.

Now what about the other companies who may not be as early to the punch? These companies may get on campus in the spring and come in contact with a student who has already accepted an offer. One thing leads to another and next thing you know, a student is put in a tricky situation. The rockstar student decides to decline the original offer from Large Corporation A and go with XYZ start-up (just as an example). Large Corporation A is now in a pickle. They have an opening to fill, it is late in the season, and most of the ‘top’ students have job offers. Company A will likely reach out to the runner up candidates for the opening, only to find that they have accepted other jobs. At this point, it is likely that Large Corporation A will have to ‘settle’ for a student that is not as good of a fit as the original hire. This leads to unhappy recruiters, disgruntled hiring managers, and worst of all – a loss in confidence in hiring students in the first place.

Students: Think about this. When you accept a job offer, you may be filling the ‘dream job’ of one of your high-potential classmates. Keep this in mind as you are considering accepting an offer. If the role is not in line with your career wishes and goals – be patient and do not accept in the first place. There is likely a job out there that would fulfill all of your wishes. Likewise, there is probably someone else out there who would be ecstatic to have the job that you are unsure about accepting.

2. Recruiters and hiring managers have a loss of morale.

Imagine completing a Sudoku puzzle – a highly complex puzzle with pieces that must align in order for the puzzle to all fit into place – and then having a new one appear before your eyes and having to start all over again. Recruiting to fill an opening is often times like this puzzle. There are many moving parts to ensure you hire the right person into the right position. Recruiters keep a running tab on their openings – every position filled is one step closer to the end of the quest to fill them all – which in some cases is 100+ positions. When they are nearing the end of their mission and then they have to ‘re-do’ the puzzle, it is disheartening and quite frustrating.

The recruiters aren’t the only ones who frustrated by the decline. The acceptance of an offer by a student is followed by great excitement from the hiring manager. They quickly begin anticipating the arrival of their new hire. What work can they take on? Who will be their mentor? What new skill sets will they bring to the team? When they receive a decline after having done all of this planning, it is a huge disappointment. Sometimes it even causes anger – and rightfully so. They have to have to start reviewing resumes and begin the interview process all over again. The interview process not only takes up the manager’s time, but the time of their team members on the interview team. And time is money. All of this leads to a loss in morale from both the recruiter and hiring manager for finding the next great student to fill the role that has re-opened.

3. Positions go un-filled.

Many times a renege comes at the tail-end of the recruitment season – around April and May. At this time of the academic year, very few students are still searching for jobs. Recruiters spend a great deal of time spinning their wheels to fill the opening, and often the effort does not end in finding a good fit to fill the role. In this case, the position can go un-filled. In some cases, the budget set aside for the hire will be allocated for other purposes. This can have a great impact. Final hiring numbers are lowered which can in turn effect the following year’s hiring numbers. When managers have the opportunity to hire again in the future, they choose to open the new positions at a higher level to avoid going through losing headcount again. Ultimately, positions going un-filled does not help build the business case for hiring students.

What are the potential implications to a student for declining an offer after accepting?

1. Employer black-listing

Certain employers will keep a running list of names of student reneges – a ‘do not call’ list if you will. Even if it is not documented in this way – recruiters will remember. If a student was given a job offer, they were given one for a particular reason – because they stood out amongst the crowd. During the interview process, the recruiter sees the student’s name come through emails, looks at their resume many times, and talks about the candidate often with the hiring manager. All of this repetition leads to memorization. Therefore, when the candidate’s name comes up again in the future – it is tied to a negative experience that the recruiter will not forget. Consequently, the student’s choice that they made back in college could inhibit the opportunity of working with the employer in the future.

2. Loss of career services alumni privileges

Universities value their corporate partnerships greatly and do not condone students accepting an offer and then declining at a later date. They understand the impact it has to the companies and do not want to take the risk of having the respective companies stop recruiting their students. This being said, universities are putting their foot down on the trend of student reneges and are doing so through their career services center. Certain universities are denying access to job boards and career placement services if a student reneges on an offer and they find out about it.

3. The world is smaller than you think…

In an era of social media and virtual connections, the world has become very small. Many university recruiters, especially in similar industries, rub shoulders at recruiting events and communicate on a regular basis. They speak about and gather additional information in regards to the students who decline after accepting. LinkedIn makes this especially possible. In more than one occasion, I have heard of students declining a job offer after accepting due to ‘personal reasons’ or to ‘travel abroad’, to then have the recruiter see on LinkedIn that the student has accepted a job at a highly-acclaimed employer within weeks after the decline. This creates an impression of poor morals and can burn more bridges than the initial renege itself. If a student must make the decision is to decline after accepting, it is much more acceptable if there is a truthful and understandable reason behind the decision.

In end, everyone plays a part in ensuring that this trend does not become even more apparent in the university recruiting and career services world. Students must consider the negative effects and implications of making a decision to renege on an offer. Career service professionals should be a guiding voice when counseling students through their career decisions. And lastly, employers should be considerate in the recruiting process by giving a reasonable amount of time for an offer deadline so that the student can make an educated, well-thought-out decision in the first place.

For more information on NACE’s guidelines for career service and recruiting professionals, take a look at NACE’s Principles for Professional Practice.

NACE members will find a student-directed version of this article for your website in NACEWeb’s Grab & Go.

I want to hear your thoughts.

What do you believe is the root cause for the increase in offer reneges?

Has your organization done a study to analyze the root cause of the increase in offer reneges? If so, what were the findings?

Career Service Professionals: Are you penalizing students for declining an employer’s offer after having already accepted? If so, how?

Employers: Do you have a ‘black-listing’ process? Are you seeing any other adverse impacts due to student reneges?


11 thoughts on “When a Student Reneges on a Job Offer – An Employer’s Perspective

  1. Re reneging on offers:
    I was recently lecturing on salary negotiations in Hong Kong, at HK-University of Science & Technology (HK-UST), a Top Ten in the World program, as they have on every banner on campus. They have a very different system for offers and acceptances there. They don’t really negotiate much for salary, some, but not as much, but they do have very different cultural norms. Some students accept every single offer made to them, while recruiters are trying to get students to SERIALLY accept only one, that is, when they get a better offer (or an offer they like better), they accept the new offer and release the old acceptance. So at least you know when you lose a candidate. The idea that an acceptance would be binding was, if you will excuse the term, totally foreign to them. Just for the record HK-UST is a global school, with students from all over the world (lots from Europe), not just Asia. All instruction is in English, local language is Cantonese, national language is Mandarin.
    This new generation (in America) simply does not feel compelled to abide by the rules of the game. We may be in a period of transition toward the practices and norms that look more like what I saw in Hong Kong. Is that possible?
    Anyone else with comments about how they do offers and acceptances at undergrad and grad level in other places in the world?
    Just for the record, I, personally, believe that students should play by the rules, whatever those rules are, but that is a separate issue from my points above.
    Eager to know your thoughts and experiences,
    Donald Asher, author and speaker on careers and higher education

  2. I generally agree with what you said about rescinding offers being a waste of time for recruiters,hiring managers. Also burning bridges early on in your career is not recommended, however I have to share one of the many situations intern turned full time employees at many large companies might face. Consider this :

    I plan to graduate by next summer, so I’ve decided to get some industry experience under my belt by interning at a big Fortune 500 company. My internship is going good, I’m able to deliver on time, I like my job as an intern, I like my team and colleagues. Last day of my internship and my recruiter says would you like to come back as an employee ?

    I’m excited, being broke through college, I see a big figure($$$) on that offer, I’m just overwhelmed with emotions. My manager has made me an offer, however I have not heard a word about my future role as an employee. What will I be doing , how will it impact the company, what are my options at picking something else.Your hiring date and the last day of your internship are almost a year apart and your hiring manager may not have a clue on what needs to be done. I leave with an offer and probably and an educated guess that my future role will be similar to what I did as an intern ??? Now comes the surprise, the recruiter says you have one,two,three or at best four weeks to accept this offer.

    I get back to school, well most of my friends haven’t landed a job, school has kicked in, courses are taking their toll on my ability to think beyond that offer. Is that something I want to pursue as my first job ? Most interns don’t have enough informations to make that decision as hiring managers have not done a good job of explaining that. Fine I sign it.

    In your senior year, you have heavy challenging courses,research, projects that define your degree. You go on a study abroad program or collaborate with different professors,teams,departments on projects. Meet college students probably going to academia, research, start ups. All or most of them have a clear idea of they are going to do at the new job, at least more clarity than you.

    With time, your research interests can change, even 3 months at school is enough to change that. Your offer no longer aligns with your priorities. You probably land an offer better or equal to your old offer, however the new hiring manager has given you specifics.

    Often your intern project is not very appealing to you after you graduate. Intern projects are usually some piece of work the hiring manager did not want to delegate to a regular employee. In six months since I graduated, not once has my recruiter or hiring manager contacted me explaining what I really will be doing.

    As interns recruiters and hiring manager take good care of you. Free food,corporate housing, events with fellow interns, your having fun, getting paid all thanks to your hiring manager and recruiter. Shouldn’t they be more vocal with you now that you are out of sight and you will be an employee? Shouldn’t you have regular conversations with the future employee ? More often than not, in big companies this is rare. Recruiters and hiring managers act surprised when that offer gets rescinded.

    Just a perspective, I’m sure it’s not applicable to all. Please forgive any typos 🙂

  3. I agree with the observations about the negatives that an employer experiences when we get a decline of a previously accepted offer, particularly when it occurs late in the spring. Employers can design their process to avoid unduely forcing a fast and early decision date for former interns. This takes away one of the probable causes of the scenario we are discussing. At my company, we typically make offers to interns by early September and then allow them enough time to visit with other potential employers at a fall career fair. I want the student to be confident that they are accepting the right position. When a student offered in September, then decides in Apil to reneg, it is usually clear that they continued shopping. Employers expect Career Services at schools to emphasize that accepting an offer is entering a contract, and that students should honor that. Career Services offices can ask students to consult with them about their offers and how to evaluate the offer before deciding to accept it. This can mitigate and reduce the frequency of these incidents. If the student has a legitimate concern about the company they accepted with, or about that industry, they should seek input before the decision date. Yes, there will be real world reasons why a student must change a decision, for good reasons – but these should be few in number.

  4. When I attended college, there was an out of town company that would recruit students out of my college. This company has a great reputation as an employer and really takes care of it’s employees and I even interned there one summer and saw it for myself. Well, being that my college is a commuter school in a large city, students are reluctant to relocate as a consequence, there were students that accepted this out of town company’s offer only to renege in favor of a local offer. A few recruiting seasons of having multiple students renege and now that out of town company no longer recruits out of my alma mater.

    One of my friends who accepted the offer and still work at this company explained the consequences to the company when people renege. When someone accepts the offer, the company makes all sorts of plans in terms of what group they will be a part of, what project they will work on, and budget is allocated towards their employment. Reneging ruins all of this. My friend also revealed that students from other universities would have a student renege about once every three years, but at our alma mater, it was several every year so they stopped recruiting there. It’s a shame that our future fellow alumni will have any opportunities with this great employer because of the selfish actions of our peers. Unfortunately these are people who I know personally and one didn’t even tell the company that they were reneging, they just didn’t show up the first day.

    Reneging is a part of the recruiting process and there is no avoiding it for any significant company, we’ve had people renege on my current employer and people have reneged on a job acceptance to join us. These people may have burnt bridges but these were experienced hires. When you’re a student reneger, you not only burn a bridge for you, you also help burn the bridge for those behind you.

  5. I know this is an old blog post, but I will still add my two cents. As a student in his senior year in college, I can tell you if I get a better offer, I will certainly take it and drop out of my current one. The fact that companies do this to so many people and treat us employees as just another stat on their sheets, I could care less on how it affects them. I watched as both of my parents were laid off as I grew up and we had a hard time getting through things. So why do I as an employee get a negative annotation when I drop the ball for an employer, yet they can do the same thing and it doesn’t matter? As the younger generations grow up I know things will be changing even more than they currently do. I understand fully the consequences that will occur if I renege such as the loss of access to my university’s career site, but none of that matters. I have barely used it in the first place and already have had 15+ interviews, with many of them calling me back. Companies are willing to get rid of employees to look for better ones at any point, so I will do the same when I’m searching for a company. Now that being said, I will make sure to call the company and explain the situation. I’m not going to leave the company hanging and I can guarentee you they would know by the end of this year; I’m graduating in May. This stuff is a two way street, and when a friend of mine recently had an offer canceled by an employer, I knew that if I had the chance for a better opportunity for myself after graduation, I would take it.

  6. Sorry but I don’t agree at all with the notion that a “renege” is somehow a terrible thing for a student to do. Employers have created a situation that’s pretty difficult for many college seniors to deal with. Unfortunately most of the college recruiting happens in the Fall. As one who has tried to recruit in the Spring I can tell you that most of the students already have jobs and are not interviewing at that point. So students either get offers from their summer internship or they get offers in the Fall. Each company has a different timeline but most require you to respond at some point. Most students at this age have a pretty tough time trying to figure out what they’ll do after they graduate. Some are considering graduate school. But the grad school applications aren’t even due until February or so. So pity the poor sole who is considering grad school but has to respond to a job offer much earlier. This situation is totally created by employers getting a little too ambitious with their recruiting.

    At my company, we’ve taken a slightly different approach. We make offers to former interns, usually at the end of their internship or in the early Fall. We give them very generous timelines to decide — more like three months rather than three weeks. We want them to explore all of their opportunities and conclude that our offer is the best one for them. It’s really a percentage game. We know that not all of them will accept so we actually offer more positions than we think we really need to fill, fully expecting some to move on to other things. And we are not unhappy if someone calls up after accepting and says they would really like to go to grad school. We will even offer to write them recommendations if they want. While some truly talented students wind up turning us down a surprising number wind up coming to work for us. My advice is to give these students a lot of time to make their decisions and count on a certain number turning you down. In the long run, everyone will benefit.

    • Hi Sam – Do not apologize, I certainly agree with the notion that employers are causing some of these pressures being felt by students. And I also concur that there are some situations where accepting an offer then declining is completely understandable (like the grad school example you provided). This article is more to explain what happens on the back end when the decision is made to renege to provide for more education on the topic.

      Deciding on their offer is a very difficult decision for students and I agree that employers need to be understanding of this and allow them the time needed to fully review offers and decide what is best for them. Look for another blog from me shortly that gets into more of this detail, but I certainly agree that this is something employers, career services, and students need to work together to understand.

  7. Interesting blog post, lots of good comments. As a recruiting manager for a Global 500 company I just had a student renege on an offer. The corporate disruption is not a huge issue for us being such a large company, but it is just bad practice. All of the points in the OP are valid but what really hits me is that the point about basically stealing someone’s dream job and then throwing it in the trash. We probably won’t fill the position and we will be OK, but the fact is there was someone else out there who really wanted that job and they have settled to work for a lesser job because the position was filled during recruiting season.
    Our company gives a generous amount of time (9 weeks, and extensions are always granted) for the student to decide and we prohibit rescinding offers. Recruiting circles do talk and while it is terrible for a student to renege an offer, it is equally reprehensible for an employer to rescind offers. Those companies are known and there are serious consequences, both formally from the universities and informally through word-of-mouth. @John (2015), I understand completely how you feel, but this is just plain incorrect. There are negative consequences when employers don’t treat their employees and recruits with respect. You don’t fully understand what a “better offer” is. You may think you are doing yourself a favor but this attitude will not get you very far. You “could care less on how it affects them.” but don’t you understand that companies are just made up of real people? If you don’t care about what happens to your company, your work family, how do you expect to be respected as an employee from management. I was like you a few years ago. Now I see this attitude all the time in students and you know what? We pass them up for $$$ jobs because of this exact entitled attitude. /endrant

    It’s not that reneging is the worst this possible but it IS important to understand the consequences so students take a more effective approach to job hunting, and companies too need to analyze their own offer process to prevent this situation. The post does a good job breaking up some of the back-end effects of reneged offers. Like Sam, we have found that making offers in good faith with plenty of time is much better both morally and statistically. Furthermore, if your company is consistently having it’s offers reneged it is probably an indication of some wrong with your company or job offers. Certainly more internal review is needed as opposed to “prohibit students from reneging on our offers”.

    Apologize for typos the comment box is impossibly small!

  8. Pingback: Offer Deadlines for Students | The NACE Blog

  9. I do not necessarily agree with this post because we live in a capitalist economy. Employment is often at-will where the employee is free to leave a company at any time and the company is free terminate the employee at any time without cause or reason. If you look at the financial meltdown of 2008, companies laid off thousands of workers even though the companies had received billions of dollars in profits from their labor. There were workers who had worked for companies for 30 years that were laid off. As the saying goes, “you cannot have your cake and eat it too.” Working for corporate America, there is no obligation of company loyalty. Companies have created the societal construct where money comes first and the rights of the worker come second. So why is it it a bad thing if a worker looks for better opportunities and turns down an offer he has accepted for more money as opposed to a company laying off a worker who has put 20 years of his or her life into company without any pension or retirement?

  10. This is a great article, what is missing is the charge for employers to provide a fair compensation that matches the prospective candidate. I’ve had masters level colleges re-enter the workforce, only to be offered bachelors level compensation. I’ve also seen masters level jobs posted as bachelors level with “masters preferred,” which is also very unethical. Many students or alumnus wouldn’t “jump ship” if the offers were fair and competitive . It is a two way street.

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