This was some great advice from Thomas Wolff, one of our Associate Deans in the College of Engineering. He sent it out to the undergraduate students at MSU. I am reposting it here with his permission. --titus
Dear Spartan Engineering Students,
I am writing you today on a matter important to your long-term career. While I am certain that most of you understand the points made below, it is important that they be heard by all.
As the economy improves, more employment opportunities are coming your way (both intern and fulltime). As opportunities emerge, choices need to be made. Some of you will (have) received multiple offers of employment. This will force "tough" decisions, with some causing an ethical dilemma. There is a difference between what is ethically acceptable and what is legally acceptable.
Ethically speaking, once you accept a job offer, you should remain loyal to that commitment, even if a better offer comes along. You should withdraw yourself from other positions you are being considered for and you should stop submitting new applications. You made a good faith agreement with your employer to accept the position and this needs to be honored. Certainly, there may be unexpected circumstances that make this impossible (family and personal issues, illnesses, an unexpected move), but even in these cases, you owe it to your future employer to be timely and honest in withdrawing your acceptance. Receiving a better offer is not an ethically acceptable reason to renege on your acceptance.
If you decide to renege on your commitment (back out after accepting) to accept a different offer, there may be consequences. Before making this decision please meet with a faculty member, academic advisor, or someone from The Center for guidance. The obvious repercussions of your decision are the fact that you have more than likely "burned a bridge" with that company and with the individuals who were your contacts at that company (remember that these individuals may one day work at a different company in which you may be interested). A less obvious result of your decision is the possibility that you develop a reputation within the field. Within any employment field, there are networks and communities of professionals. These colleagues will interact during professional association meetings,conferences, professional development seminars, business deals, campus career fairs, etc. and they may talk about their experiences with you.
Finally, if you work for a company for a short period of time and then resign, don't count on using that employer for a reference.
It is also important for you to know that there is nothing in the law that requires an employer to keep a job offer open for any specified time period. However, the practice of "forcing" a decision to be made under unrealistic time constraints (within 24 to 48 hours) is considered unethical.
Our best advice, if you feel you must renege on your job offer (I am not advising this), you should make contact with the company representative as soon as possible (in person or on the phone) and explain your decision. You should follow-up your conversation with a written withdrawal (email or letter). You should also return any advances, expenditures or gifts (signing bonus) that had been presented to you.
Once you begin your job, another offer very well may come along. In this case, you need to carefully weigh the pros and cons of resigning from your current job. Even if you are not happy in your job, a good rule of thumb is that you can do anything for a year. Sticking the job out looks better on your resume, and certainly leaves your employer with a more favorable impression of you (let's not forget those references!).
Again, we urge you to consult with a faculty member, mentor or advisor before finalizing your decision. Our Career Professionals, located in the Center for Spartan Engineering can assist you with your decision.
Thomas F. Wolff, Ph.D., P.E. Associate Dean