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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


    This case study, which draws from all five of the Principles for Ethical Professional Practice, addresses the following:

    • Career center development of policies/guidelines with respect to student and employer expectations for an ethical and fair recruitment process.
    • The responsibility of career services professionals to educate students and employers on ethical recruitment and candidate communication.
    • Providing both employers and students with a non-judgmental, listening-based approach to understanding the concerns of both parties.
    • The necessity for career services professionals to understand the broad impact of employer relationships within their institutions to communicate about recruitment practices accordingly.

    The Case

    Scenario: A female student of color accepts an offer with Company L, which has a strong partnership with XYZ Institute of Technology (XYZIT), the student’s university. This company is also committed to increasing the diversity of its work force and has hosted recruiting events and made donations targeted to diversity student organizations.

    However, after the student 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 XYZIT career center director (CCD) and demands that the career center take action.


    • 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?
    • What kind of information should the CCD seek to learn concerning the issue between the student and Company L?
    • What are some appropriate responses that the CCD might consider for Company L?
    • Are there broader implications to this situation of which the CCD should be aware and consider further action?

    Principles That Apply:

    • Principle 1: Practice reasonable, responsible, and transparent behavior by clearly articulating and widely disseminating the organization’s policies and guidelines.
    • Principle 2: Act without bias when advising, servicing, interviewing, or making employment decisions.
    • Principle 3: 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.
    • Principle 4: Comply with laws in a timely and appropriate way if complaints of non-compliance occur.
    • Principle 5: 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).

    What follow-up, if any, should the CCD consider with the employer and with the student?
    As the situation was first communicated by the employer, Company L, 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 with this employer? If so, is there a frequency or trend with this occurring among XYZIT students and Company L? Is there a possibility that this situation will impact XYZIT’s relationship with Company L?

    What kind of information should the CCD seek to learn concerning the issue between the student and Company L?
    We know that an employer’s interpretation of circumstances relating to the student’s decision to withdraw an 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. 

    Please note that consistency is key: Is it a common practice of the CCD to engage in such discussions with students when such a situation occurs?  If this is outside of the “norm,” it may be viewed as discriminatory by the student based on her race or gender. If it is standard procedure, then CCD can ask probing questions, such as: 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?

    What are some appropriate responses that the CCD might consider for Company L?
    Among 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 that include:

    • No action taken,
    • Freezing the student’s online account until a meeting with a career services representative takes place,
    • An apology letter to the employer,
    • Freezing the student’s account for an established period of time,
    • The student’s removal from the campus interview program, and
    • Official student conduct proceedings that may be applied by student judicial offices.

    CCDs must be mindful that any actions taken do not constitute retaliation against the student for complaining about perceived issues in Company L. In this regard, if the student has lodged good faith complaints about Company L’s treatment of women and Hispanics, the CCD should discuss those concerns with the student before taking any action. Additionally, as noted, consistency is key: CCDs must be consistent with how they handle such issues for students. 

    Some career center actions are applied based on the reasons for the student’s decision. When personal life circumstances or significant challenges from the employer affect the position accepted, career centers applying learning tools won’t likely be relevant. In the case where a student 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 of the student in particular and other students at the institution. (Career centers may wish to include “Rights and Responsibilities for Job Seekers, Employers, and Career Centers,” written by the Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee, on their websites.)

    Are there broader implications to this situation of which the CCD should be aware and consider further action?
    Considering Principle 5, 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 who represent 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.

    What level of preventative career education or programming would be necessary to reduce the frequency of students reneging on similar job offers in the future?
    Can the relationship between Company L and XYZIT be seriously damaged by this situation? If so, who 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.

    Reviewed and revised by the 2021 Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee. Posted September 2021.

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