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  • Case Study: When a Student Reneges on a Job Acceptance

    Organizational Structure
    A student talks with her counselor about changing her mind on a job offer.

    TAGS: case study, ethics, principles

    Scenario: A female minority student accepts an offer with Company L that has a strong partnership with Gnaw Bone Institute of Technology (GBIT), the student’s university. This company is also committed to increasing the diversity of its work force, and hosted recruiting events and made donations targeted to diversity student organizations. However, after she learns that the company has a poor reputation for women and Hispanics, she relaunches her job search and is offered another position by A Incorporated. She informs Company L that she has reconsidered and is withdrawing her offer acceptance in favor of accepting an offer with another company. Company L is livid, a representative contacts the GBIT career center director (CCD) and demands that the career center take action.

    Questions: Which of the Principles for Ethical Professional Practice are relevant to this situation? What follow-up, if any, should the CCD consider with the employer and with the student? How much information should the CCD share with Company L? Are there broader implications to this situation, of which the CCD should be aware and consider further action?

    Principles: This scenario potentially affects all five of the overarching Principles, including the following:

    Practice reasonable, responsible, and transparent behavior by clearly articulating and widely disseminating the organization’s policies and guidelines.

    Act without bias when advising, servicing, interviewing, or making employment decisions

    Ensure equitable access without stipulation or exception relative to contributions of financial support, gifts, affiliation, or in-kind services, and by proactively addressing inclusivity and diversity.

    Comply with laws in a timely and appropriate way if complaints of non-compliance occur.

    Protect confidentiality of all personal information related to candidates and their interviews, and their engagement with services, programs, and resources, as well as student information related to professional plans.

    Analysis: While the scenario lays out several issues, more information is needed to assess which Principles are in play and what approach to undertake with the student and employer representative(s).

    With this situation first being communicated by the employer, there is wisdom in initially following up with an employer representative to gain a better understanding of the specific circumstances associated with this case. For example, were there changes made to the original agreement with the student? Did the terms of the offer match what was communicated to the student during the interview process? Is there an overarching concern relating to the work environment or the overall vitality of the organization? Were there patterns in the student’s behavior after the offer was extended that troubled employer representatives? Were there other students who reneged on their accepted job offers? If so, is there a frequency or trend with this occurring among GBIT students? Is there a possibility that this situation will impact GBIT’s relationship with Company L?

    We know that an employer’s interpretation of circumstances relating with the student’s decision to withdraw a previously accepted offer may differ from the student’s side of the story. Using a non-judgmental, listening-based approach to inaugurate the discussion with the student will likely yield the best results. Among probing questions to consider include the following: What was it about the student’s experience with Company L that led her to interview with and accept a job offer?

    Did information surface that troubled her about her Company L offer acceptance? What was the timing and source of that information? In what ways did she investigate the Company L opportunity before and after the offer? What were the circumstances relating to the student interviewing and ultimately accepting an offer with A Incorporated? Did A Incorporated play a significant role in her decision-making?

    Options for Resolution: Among the veteran CCDs who have met with students reneging on job offer acceptances, many will share that no two circumstances are alike. Nevertheless, career centers often standardize what learning tools will be applied to students as a result of their decisions. Responses can be found on a continuum with categories that include no action taken, a frozen online account until a meeting with a career services representative takes place, an apology letter to the employer, a frozen account for an established period of time, removal from the campus interview program, or official student conduct proceedings that may be applied by student judicial offices.

    Some career center actions are applied based on the reasons for the students’ decisions. When personal life circumstances or significant challenges from the employer affects the position accepted, career centers applying learning tools won’t likely be relevant. In the case where students may be gaming the process with full knowledge of the negative impact on others, substantial teachable moments may be seized upon in an attempt to affect future behavior.

    Other Considerations: What level of communication is important and appropriate between the career center and employer? While getting a full sense of the circumstances relating to this scenario is an obvious objective, can the career center be helpful in addressing a broader concern? For example, there may be expertise on campus to help the employer address concerns among its employees in their workplace that represents diverse populations. If Company L has trouble competing for qualified talent on campus, what role can the CCD or another career services professional play in helping the company formulate a better strategy for recruitment success? Certainly, tight offer deadlines can increase offer reneges. Also, a long delay by Company L in extending full-time offers to successful interns can result in students questioning how valued they were by the company. Ultimately, the students may move more quickly to accept an offer with a competitor.

    Can the relationship between Company L and GBIT be seriously damaged by this situation? If so, whom else on campus should be notified and consulted regarding these circumstances. If other campus stakeholders are involved, apprising them of the NACE Principles and career center guidelines should be considered.

    Posted June 2017.

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