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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. Or 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,” 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, 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.
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.
Was your acceptance merely via email or phone call? In that case, declining the job offer after the fact is a much easier undertaking.
For a less formal acceptance, a more informal method of communication, such as an email or phone call, is acceptable.
2. Show appreciation
Be appreciative of the company’s 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.
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.
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.