Accepting a job offer is exciting—but what if you have to decline the offer after you have already accepted?
Perhaps you received a better offer from another company shortly after accepting the first offer. Alternatively, maybe you unexpectedly find out that you have to relocate across the country to care for an ill family member, or because your partner’s job is transferring them to a new city.
Regardless of your specific circumstances, feeling some anxiety about what to do next is natural. After all, you don’t want this act of rejection to tarnish your future opportunities.
Here’s a guide to rejecting a job offer:
1. Review Your Acceptance
Before you can take back your “yes” to a job offer, you need to know whether any legal issues might get in your way.
Did you sign a contract or an employment agreement?
If you did, then you may be legally obligated to work for the company for a given amount of time before you can resign your position. For instance, some employers require you to provide two weeks or 30 days notice to terminate the employment agreement.
Even so, communicate your situation to the company’s hiring manager. An employer may prefer to let you out of a contract rather than invest onboarding and training time into an employee who will quit at the first opportunity.
Was your acceptance merely an email or phone call saying you’d love to take the job? In that case, declining the job offer after the fact is a much easier undertaking.
2. Show Appreciation
Remember, even though you’re rejecting the job offer, the company that hired you hasn’t done anything wrong.
In fact, the company’s hiring managers have already put time into you through the interview process and the internal candidate feedback sessions where they chose you for the job over other candidates. As far as they know, their search for an employee is over now.
Be appreciative of their time, and be understanding about the fact that your refusal of the job offer means they may have to start the hiring process all over with new job seekers.
3. Explain Your Situation
After you express gratitude for the job offer, briefly explain why you have to turn it down.
Give the hiring managers clarity about your decision not to pursue the job. The company deserves at least a little bit of context as to why you’re backing out of your previous acceptance.
So, whether you received a better offer elsewhere or your circumstances changed, explain your reasoning for changing your mind.
Be aware that if your reason for reneging is a better offer elsewhere, the hiring managers may try to negotiate to convince you to stay. Decide beforehand if any considerations would change your decision to reject the job offer, and be firm in your resolve.
4. Understand the Consequences
Whatever your reason for rejecting the job offer you previously accepted, realize that there are often consequences for backing out of an accepted offer.
For example, you may have a hard time getting a job with the company you rejected, even if your circumstances change in the future.
The employees involved in your interview or hiring process may share stories about your rejection with peers at other companies where you’d like to work one day—or they may transfer to those companies themselves, and your paths may cross again.
Rejecting a job offer you had already accepted is likely to impact your professional reputation. Approaching the conversation with respect and civility is key to maintaining as positive a relationship as possible with your almost employers.
Language to Decline a Job Offer With Professionalism
The mode of your recent acceptance influences how you ought to communicate your rejection.
If you already signed an employment agreement or contract, a written letter may be required. Deliver your message in person and have a short conversation with your hiring manager.
For a less formal acceptance, a more informal method of communication, such as an email or phone call, is acceptable.
However, you approach the dialogue, feel free to use this template to organize your thoughts.
Dear [name of hiring manager],
Thank you so much for the offer to join [name of company] in the [job title] role. I was excited about the opportunity to work with the team there.
Unfortunately, something unexpected came up, and I am unable to go forward with the job as previously planned. [Give a short, honest description of why you can’t take the role.]
I would love to stay in touch via LinkedIn, and I hope our paths cross again in the future.
Sample Phone Call Script
Hello, [name of hiring manager].
First, I want to thank you for the offer to work for [name of company] as a [job title.] I was excited about the chance to join the team there, but something unexpected came up, and I won’t be able to go forward with the job as planned.
[Give a short, honest description of why you can’t take the job.]
I wish I didn’t have to back out like this. I want to stay connected via LinkedIn, and I hope we cross paths again in the future.