A Contingent Offer

It was a beautiful fall in Blacksburg…but I was quite nervous…my senior year in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech was now underway and reality was setting in fast…I had to find a job.

I had racked up a massive $11,000 in loans for school from my Mom and Dad – I was expected to start paying it back right after graduation to help pay for my 5 younger siblings to go to college. On top of that, I was engaged to be married in July. I needed a job – I really, really needed a job.

I was nervous. Although the market for new engineering graduates was strong, I was unsure about my job prospects because…how do I say this delicately…I had not exactly distinguished myself academically.

There was not much I could do at this point to change my grades in Calculus or Thermodynamics…so I focused intensely on my job search.

I signed up for the usual campus interviews – but after the first round I was disappointed. I only received 2 invitations to visit plant sites for second round interviews.

My first visit to a company in West Virginia did not go well. A week later I received The Letter – Thanks but no thanks…dinged!! I was getting very nervous. I attended a “how to interview” session at the career center, where I learned I needed to sell myself and be confident – even though I was not.

On my trip to “Acme Chemical” in early November the interviews seemed to go much better – I was not that crazy about the company, or the job or the location….but I needed a job and was hopeful. In the meantime, my campus interviews had turned the corner – I had scored 4 more company visits after Christmas.

The Letter arrived from Acme…I opened it with caution – it was an offer! A very good offer – $17,800 a year! I was so excited….until I read further.

It was a “contingent offer” – contingent upon a position still being open at the time I decided to accept it. Huh??? I was quite confused. I called HR – they were going to hire 4 engineers and they made 7 offers. The first 4 to accept the offer got the jobs –and the other 3 would no longer have offers.

What?!! I had 4 upcoming interview trips with companies and locations I liked better than Acme. I did not want to accept this early offer and miss out on other potential choices. At the same time I really needed a job and $17,800 was a good offer. The job was OK, the location was not that bad…a bird in the hand; it was a real dilemma.

I decided to call Dad. At this point I had emerged from my “independent and confrontational teenage years.” But I could not say that Dad and I  were close; it was the first time that I remember turning to him for advice.

I explained my predicament.

Dad answered without hesitation, “Accept the job.”

When I started to explain that would preclude other options, 
he interrupted me.

 “No – it doesn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“Accept the job – a contingent acceptance – contingent upon you not accepting another job someplace else.”

“Can I do that?”

“I don’t see why the hell not!”

“But what if they get angry and withdraw the offer?”

“Then I am not sure it is a place you want to work anyway.”

It was brilliant – my Dad was becoming smarter every day. I felt this huge burden had lifted.

First thing Monday morning I called up Acme and told them “I accept…” But when I added my conditions they were not happy. They said I was being “impertinent.” (I didn’t even know what that meant!)

They explained they did not accept my acceptance….they had recruited at the School for 10 years, and they were going to let the Dean know about my little stunt.

My cute plan had backfired; I was feeling sick again.

The next day I was summoned to the Dean’s office. I was fairly certain it was not because of my stellar academic performance.

The Dean was a scary man. He carried a permanent scowl on his face like Miss Gulch (Wicked Witch) in the Wizard of Oz.

“Mr. ____ – Acme has been recruiting here for years – I understand you accepted their offer contingent upon not accepting a job someplace else?”

“Yes sir, I did. I did not mean to be disrespectful but…”

“Excellent. They have no right pressuring my students. I let them know that either all 7 offers stand or they won’t be welcomed back.”

I walked out relieved and with a small measure of renewed confidence.

I ultimately had 4 job offers. I accepted a job someplace else and started calling my dad more often.

4 replies
  1. Beth Robinson
    Beth Robinson says:

    That’s a fantastic story on multiple levels. (admittedly my original attention was enhanced by my being an engineering grad from Virginia Tech) Hearing both your Dad’s idea and the Dean’s response was also illuminating. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Andrea P. Howe
    Andrea P. Howe says:

    I completely agree with you, Beth. When I tweeted about this yesterday, I said “Great story from guest-blogger Walt Shill of Accenture about the highs and lows of a daring move.” It’s a great illustration of having the courage to take risks and to stand for what matters to you. And your humor and candor, Walt, make this a delightful read–not just an informative one.

  3. Chris
    Chris says:

    The scene was set by the employer who played their own agenda right from the off. “We want four guys from any of these seven – first come first serve.” That pretty much told you what it would be like working for that company. You’d have been no more than the hired help from day one – their behaviour demonstrates attitude.

    There’s no problem stating at the start that you want committed people, people who want to join your organisation before other options. After all, who wants employees to accept you because their real ambitions were turned down by other companies before they got to you? (The real loves of my life turned me down, so I thought of you rather than stay single – want to settle down ans get married?)

    I think you have to be open and honest on both sides from the start. If you are not certain, say so. If you need more convincing, say so. If an employer doesn’t want you to be truthful and basically play them along rather than express your thoughts – what does that say about their ongoing culture?

    That was a really throught provoking story Walt. Got some more please?

  4. Sarah Agan
    Sarah Agan says:

    Walt – I love this story.  Two of the values at our firm are “Boldness” and “Stand for Something.”  Thank you for sharing a powerful example that embodies both of those values.  Is it fair to say that things have worked out OK for you?  🙂


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