6 Tips on How to Decline a Job Offer You Already Accepted

4 min read

17 Jun, 2021

Let's talk about 6 helpful tips that will get you through the process with your dignity and reputation intact.

Finally! After months of job hunting, you have an offer on the table for a software development job. You quickly accept it. You're excited, and ready to get to work!

Only... a couple of days later, you receive an even better offer from another company — one with better benefits, better pay, and (frankly) a better culture fit. In fact, this other job looks like your dream job. What should you do?

As that scenario nicely illustrates, things can change quickly. It could be a new job offer; it could be a family emergency that's just come up; or it could be the realization that the job you just accepted really isn't right for you. Whatever the case may be, the question naturally arises: If you need to decline a job offer you already accepted, how should you go about it?

Let's talk about 6 helpful tips that will get you through the process with your dignity and reputation intact.

Tip #1: Make Sure This is What You Want

First and foremost, you should be absolutely sure that you really want to decline the job offer. If you're not certain either way, then take some time to come to a definite conclusion. Once you decline an offer you've already accepted, that bridge is burned — there's no going back.

Once you've determined that you really do want to step away from the job, the next thing you need to consider is if you're willing to live with the consequences of your decision. Granted, if you haven't yet signed a contract of employment with the company, then you're not under any legal obligation to stick around. However, if you have signed a contract, then you need to pore over it carefully to find any legal ramifications from immediately quitting your job.

Some employment contracts are "at will" agreements, meaning you and the employer can part ways at any time. Others offer a small "grace period" in which you can back out of a job without any repercussions. Still others stipulate that you must give advance notice before quitting — usually (but not always) 2 weeks.

The bottom line? Make sure you can live with your decision before you cut the cord.

Tip #2: Don't Wait to Let Your (Former) Employer Know

Once you've made absolutely certain that you can't accept the job offer, let the company's hiring manager know as soon as possible. While this may be an awkward conversation, it's much better to come forward immediately than wait until after you've completed the onboarding process, and then suddenly quit.

The manager may be disappointed at your decision, but he or she will likely appreciate your straightforwardness. After all, you're saving the company time and money by speaking up: time, because they can get a head start on looking for other candidates; and money, because they won't be investing their resources in your training.

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By promptly letting the manager know of your decision, you can hopefully maintain a good reputation in the eyes of the employer.

Tip #3: Have the Conversation in Real-Time

Whether it's over the phone, in person, or virtually over Zoom, you want to deliver the news to your former employer through an appropriate channel of communication. This is not the time to write a "Dear John" letter (or email) to the company. A direct conversation allows you to explain yourself in a clear manner; it also allows the hiring manager to observe your sincerity.

Tip #4: Be Polite, But Honest

When you speak to the hiring manager, you want to be honest about why you made the decision. Of course, you don't have to give out your entire life story. For instance, if you had to decline the job offer because of a family emergency, the manager doesn't need to know every single detail of the situation. However, you should at least give a basic explanation of why you need to step away at this time.

Of course, being honest doesn't mean you have to be blunt, too. Look for polite ways to express yourself to the hiring manager. For example, if you are convinced that you wouldn't get along with other employees at the company, you could say that you've realized the culture isn't the right fit for you.

Word choice is very important in these conversations, so think ahead about what you'll say. Remember, you can express the same idea in a tactful way or a mean way. For instance: "When I look at you, time stands still" and "You have a face that could stop a clock" both express the same idea — but which one would you rather hear?

Tip #5: Be Thankful

Even though the job offer didn't work out this time, you still should express your gratitude for the company's time and attention. After all, they did select you to fill the position, showing their confidence in your software skills and work ethic. If at all possible, be specific about what you appreciated about the company. Who knows? Your gracious, positive attitude may keep the door open if you need to reapply at the company in the future.

Tip #6: Expect a Counteroffer

Finally, it's very possible that your employer may present you with a counteroffer to get you to stay with the company. It's wise to have a contingency plan in place if this happens.

First of all, you need to ask yourself if there is room for negotiation. Have you absolutely made up your mind that you're not going to work at this company, or could you be persuaded to do so? If you could be persuaded, what would be the deciding factor? Higher pay? Better benefits? A greater emphasis on work-life balance?

If there is room for negotiation, you should next determine what your "bottom line" is. In other words, what would the employer have to offer you to convince you to stay. Once you know your bottom line, you'll be in a great position to accept or decline any counteroffer on the spot.

There you have it! 6 tips for declining a job offer that you've already accepted. If you implement these suggestions, and take some time to reflect on the overall experience, then you'll grow personally and professionally — and hopefully get that dream job in the process!

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