I Turned Down a Job Offer and They Hired Me Anyway

What is the craziest thing you have ever said or done at an interview and still gotten the job? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Gil Yehuda, president of Yahoo Employee Foundation, on Quora:

The craziest thing that ever happened to me at a job interview was that I declined a job offer, and as a result I got the job.

This story goes back a few years: I was interested in a particular job, and read the description carefully. I saw it had five job specifications, covering a wide range of skills in my field. I thought they might need two people to do the job they described. After some good phone interviews, I was invited to a full day of on-site interviews. First, I met with the hiring manager, and then with a few people related to the group. The last interview was with the recruiter.

The first interview with the hiring manager (CTO-ish role) went well, but it had a strange moment near the end. We spoke about the job and then he asked if I had questions. I asked about the five items; they were diverse, so I wanted to know which one was the most important part of the job. He looked at the job spec sheet and answered that the fifth item was the essential job, and the other four were much less relevant. I asked, "Why is the most important part of the job listed last?" Usually a list like this would have the most important item listed first. Moreover, the first and fifth items implied a very different skill profile than the others. He seemed annoyed at me for asking the question, and reiterated that item five was the job; the rest was not as important.

The next five interviews went very smoothly, and things were looking promising. When each interviewer asked if I had questions, I asked the same question, out of curiosity: "If you and I asked the CTO which of these 5 items is most important for this job, what do you think he'd say?" Each one answered that the first item was the primary job. Then I said, "I actually asked the CTO, he said number five was the essential part of the job. What do you think that means?" Their reactions were very interesting. One said "No, I meant number five." Another said, "Oh that's not right, I need to meet with him and correct this." Fascinating, indeed! Seemingly, I revealed a disconnect between the CTO and the team about the job.

The last interview was with the recruiter. We clicked. We had a frank conversation about the company and about the issues I uncovered. She told me that the feedback on my interviews was positive. She did not have a good answer about the role clarity, yet they still wanted to make me an offer. The truth is, I really wanted (needed) this job. But I said: "I'm sorry, I don't think I can take the job if the company doesn't know what the job is. You need to figure out what you want before you make an offer. I don't think anyone could succeed in a job where the very role itself is in dispute."

She responded that the reason they wanted to make me the offer was that I was the only person to see what was going on. It was a new role, and they didn't fully understand the requirements themselves--but apparently I read the situation in a way they were unable to see themselves, and that's what they needed. They wanted me to take the job in order to help figure out what the job should be.

She asked me what salary range I was looking for. I thought, "This makes no sense. Yes, I want the job, but the risk of failure is high since the job was ill-defined. Given the risk, how will I know if they are serious about having me figure this out for them?" So I said, "If you make me an offer I can't refuse, then I won't be able to refuse it." She came back 15 minutes later with an offer I could not, and did not refuse. No regrets, either.

I would like to acknowledge coaches and mentors who provided me with guidance and sound advice in my various job search activities over my career. In particular, thank you to Dan Shepard at the Essex Partners Senior Executive Career Management and Transition Coaching firm and Mark Newall, SVP at Keystone Associates, for showing me how to think more clearly. My trust in your advice has paid off in multitudes.