Can I accept the offer from the first company and then — if I do get an offer from the second — back out?

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Q: I’ve been unemployed for quite some time and was recently offered a job. But I have also been short-listed for another job elsewhere. I would much rather get the latter position, because it is in a better location and offers better experience — though each job is probably good in its own way.

The problem is that Company A wants my decision soon, but Company B won’t have made up its mind before that deadline, because its position doesn’t start for several months. But I think Company B would let me know before the job at Company A actually begins.

Can I accept the offer from the first company and then — if I do get an offer from the second — back out?

A: Think about the worst case here: You turn down the offer you have, the one you were waiting for never materializes, and you remain unemployed. Pretty bad.

For that reason, I’d advise taking the job you’ve been offered. Don’t obsess about how that shortlist will play out: Setting your heart on an offer you may not get undermines you more than anyone else. You’ve indicated that the position has its good points, so focus on them — and the fact that your worst case just got way better.

Now, suppose that Company B does come through with an offer that you prefer. Will breaking the news to Company A be unpleasant? Yes. Might that organization be upset with you? Sure. But is all of that likely to be worse than restarting your job search from scratch? No.

I’d argue that this holds true even if you’ve actually started the job you’ve already been offered. Maybe that sounds rude. But let’s face it: Employers tend not to worry about seeming rude if a hire made with the best of intentions isn’t working out. So if the other job comes through, be as classy and professional as you can about breaking the news to the first company. But focus on your future.

And who knows? If you go into Company A with the right mind-set, maybe you’ll discover that you like the gig, and you’ll have to let Company B down easy. Could be worse.

Submit questions to Rob Walker at