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Can You Decline a Job Offer After You’ve Accepted It?

By The ZipRecruiter Editors

Accepting a job offer is exciting—but what if you have to decline the offer after you have already accepted it?

People do a lot of research before and during the job-hunting process to land their dream job. But did you ever imagine that, once you accept a job offer, you might need to decline it? 

Whether or not you were excited when you accepted the offer, things can change. Perhaps you received a better offer from another company. Maybe you unexpectedly found out that you have to relocate across the country to care for an ill family member or for your partner’s job. 

There are many reasons for turning down a job offer, and sometimes it just makes sense to do so, even after you’ve accepted it. Regardless of your circumstances, it’s natural to feel some anxiety about handling your situation. After all, you don’t want this rejection to tarnish your future opportunities.

Here’s how to reject a job offer after accepting it:

1. Review Your Acceptance

Before you can take back your “yes” to a job offer, you need to know whether any legal issues might arise.

Did you sign a contract or an employment agreement?

If you did, then you might want to find out if you’re 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 an 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 likely quit.

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 offer, the company that hired you hasn’t done anything wrong.

In fact, the company’s hiring managers have already put time into you during the interview process and the internal candidate feedback sessions when they chose you for the job over other candidates. As far as they know, their search for an employee is over.

Appreciate their time and the fact that refusing the job offer means they may have to start the hiring process all over with new job seekers.

3. Explain Your Situation

After expressing gratitude for the job offer, briefly explain why you now have to turn it down.

Give the hiring managers clarity about your decision. The company deserves at least a little bit of context as to why you’re backing out of your acceptance.

So, whether you received a better offer elsewhere or your circumstances changed, explain why you’re changing your mind.

Be aware that if your reason for reneging is a better offer elsewhere, the hiring managers may try to negotiate the offer 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

While people do back out of offers, you might want to stall the offer if you think your circumstances might change. Backing out of an accepted offer can have consequences. Consider that rejecting a job offer you had already accepted might impact your professional reputation.

For example, you may have a hard time getting a job in the future with the company you rejected, even if your circumstances change.

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.

Approaching the conversation with respect and civility is key to maintaining as positive a relationship as possible with your almost-employers.

When Is It Too Late to Back Out of a Job Offer?

You should always think strategically before backing out of an offer. If the option is available, try renegotiating instead of reneging.

Once you decide that a job simply isn’t for you, it’s best to back out as soon as possible. But when is it too late? The answer is never. 

Sometimes people rescind their acceptance of an offer because they absolutely have no choice. A great case in point is if you need to relocate and can’t possibly work for the company from your new home. Even if you find out that you have to move a day before you’re supposed to report for work, you have no other option.

But even if you made a personal decision that backing out is best for you, there’s no real deadline. For example, say you decided the company doesn’t have your desired work environment, or another company made you a much better offer at the last minute. In these cases, if you won’t be happy, you’re not doing any favors to yourself or the company you’re backing out on by sticking around. 

While backing out in the 11th hour can be an unpleasant experience, if you feel it’s the right thing to do, it’s never too late. 

Decline a Job Offer With Professionalism

The mode of your recent acceptance influences how you ought to communicate your rejection.

If you have 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.

Rescinding an Accepted Job Offer Sample Letter

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.

Unfortunately, I am unable to proceed with the job. [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.

Best regards,

[Your name]

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, but 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 regret having to decline this opportunity. I want to stay connected via LinkedIn, and I hope we cross paths again.

It’s for the Best

Even though you know how to decline a job offer after accepting it, doing so is never a pleasant experience. To remove some of the anxiety, remind yourself that you’re doing the right thing. It might be challenging to get out of your situation now, but you and the company will be better off in the long run.

The ZipRecruiter Editors

At ZipRecruiter, our mission is to connect employers and job seekers with their next great opportunity. On the ZipRecruiter blog, we use insider experience and data derived from our AI-driven jobs marketplace to provide advice and insights on topics such as the job search process, interviewing, and labor market trends. Start your job search or post a job today and connect with us on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn!

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