Step 1: Show your appreciation.
First and foremost, it’s important to thank the hiring manager for the offer and for their time. Yes, interviewing potential candidates is part of the job, but this person likely spent several hours reading your resume, trolling your social media profiles, and sitting down with you for interviews. They also may have gone out on a limb to talk you up to other people at the company.
Especially if you’ve spent a lot of time interviewing or the job offer is from a company you’d consider working for in the future, it’s right and respectful to not leave a hiring manager in the dark about why you’re declining the position. That said, there’s also no need to go into detail about the red flags you saw in your would-be boss, spill about the amazing perks at the job you did accept, or moan that you’ve spent the past week agonizing over your decision.
You can elaborate to the extent that it makes sense—for example, at one point, I had been referred to a company by a friend and gone through three interviews before getting an offer and felt that I owed the hiring team a thorough explanation. I expressed how much I enjoyed getting to know the group and why the position was so interesting to me, but shared that I had another offer that would ultimately point me more in the direction of my career goals.
But if the position seems terrible and the only real reason you have is that you’d rather stand in an unemployment line than accept it, a simple, “It’s not quite the right fit for my career goals at this time” will suffice.
Reasons to Decline an Offer After Accepting
Why do candidates have second thoughts after they have said “yes” to a new job? This situation can happen for several reasons. After you’ve thought about it some more, the position might not seem as good as it did when you first accepted the offer.
Perhaps a family emergency has changed your situation, or you have gotten a dream job opportunity that you just can’t turn down. Given the length of the hiring process in some circumstances, you may have rethought your objectives and decided to shift your career course.
Do keep in mind that it’s not just you. A Robert Half survey reports that 28% of candidates backed out after receiving a job offer because they accepted a better offer (44%), received a counteroffer from their current employer (27%), or heard bad things about the company (19%).
How to Turn Down a Job Offer You Accepted
Think it through carefully. Before rejecting the job offer, be 100% certain you do not want (or cannot take) the job. Once you turn down a job you previously accepted, there is no going back. Declining may also negatively impact your chances of future consideration for positions at the organization. Therefore, think carefully about the pros and cons of rejecting the job.
Read your contract. If you have already signed an employment contract, read through it carefully to make sure there will be no legal repercussions to rejecting the job. For example, some contracts say that you have a specific window of time during which you can reject the job or that you have to give a certain number of days’ notice.
Don’t wait. Let the employer know as soon as you realize you no longer want to accept the position. The sooner you let the hiring manager know, the sooner the employer can start looking for your replacement. He or she will appreciate your swift communication.
Be honest, but tactful. Let the employer know why you changed your mind, but do so without insulting the hiring manager or the company. If you realized that you don’t think you will get along with the other employees, simply say that you do not believe you would fit in with the company culture.
If you found a job that you are much more interested in, explain that you were offered a job that is more in line with your skillset. Do not say anything negative about the company.
Be concise. No matter your reason for rejecting the job, keep your explanation brief. You do not want to go into all the details of your family emergency or why another job is a better fit for you. This is a case where too much information isn’t necessary.
Express gratitude. Be sure to thank the employer for the opportunity to meet and to learn about the company. If there was anything in particular you liked about the company, say so.
Know your bottom line. The employer might try to negotiate with you to get you to come on board. Before speaking with the hiring manager, decide what your bottom line is. Would you stay for more pay? Better benefits? There are some benefits and perks that are negotiable. If you do opt to negotiate, know what would entice you to accept.
Choose the right form of communication. Speaking with the employer directly (either on the phone or in-person) is the best strategy because it allows you to explain yourself more clearly and increases your chances of maintaining a positive relationship with him or her. You should then follow up the conversation with a letter or email confirming your conversation.
If you are nervous about speaking with the employer directly or if you are worried you will not be able to fully explain yourself over the phone, you can send a formal letter or email message to them.
Learn from this. In the future, try to avoid situations where you accept and then reject a job. For example, for your next job offer, you can ask an employer for more time to decide. You might also work on your negotiating skills if you felt you did not get the salary or benefits you wanted. Remember, you don’t have to say “yes” to every job you’re offered. And you don’t have to accept right away. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for time to think it over.
Try not to let your excitement about a job offer cloud your judgment when you’re evaluating future roles. Think carefully about the pros and cons of any job offer, negotiate a contract you are satisfied with, and then say “yes” (or “no”) to the job.
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