How To Turn Down A Job Offer You’ve Already Accepted

by | Finding A Job

Deciding if and how to turn down a job offer you’ve already accepted can feel tricky and uncomfortable.

Is it possible to turn down a job offer you already accepted? And if you do choose to decline a position you previously accepted, how do you professionally navigate the process without burning bridges along the way?

You might be surprised to learn that taking back a job offer that you previously agreed to is more common than you might imagine. Although results vary widely, several recent surveys show that between approximately 25 and 50 percent of professionals have accepted a job offer before reneging.

Keep reading to learn how to professionally take back an employment offer you already accepted.

How To Turn Down An Accepted Job Offer Without Burning Bridges

How To Turn Down A Job Offer You’ve Already Accepted

1. Slow down.

Thinking about backing out of a job offer can be incredibly stressful, particularly in the current employment market. You don’t want to make any hasty decisions about your career that you’ll later come to regret.

You’re more likely to burn bridges, as well as make a major career decision out of impulse, if you act too quickly. Consequently, you want to slow down and provide yourself ample time to weigh all your options. You’re likely to spend 40+ hours at your new job, so give this decision the energy it deserves.

2. Set a “decision date.”

Speaking of which, consider putting a date on the calendar when you’ll make your decision. While this future date might be as soon as 24 hours from now, the delay will allow you to focus on the process of thinking about your decision rather than making the actual right choice.

During this time, focus on weighing your options, rather than trying to come to the perfect outcome. Moreover, challenge yourself not to decide until you reach the decision date and instead sit in the art of contemplation.

3. Weigh all your options.

With time on your side, you want to evaluate your options, including the best-case scenario, the worst-case scenario, and everything in between.

The following reflective questions might support you as you decide whether you want to turn down the position you originally accepted:

  • What are your options? (Don’t be afraid to get creative here and name them all!)
  • What option best aligns with your short-term and long-term goals for your career and life?
  • What’s the best-case scenario if you decline the job offer? What’s the worst-case scenario?
  • What are you giving up by backing out of the job offer? What are you giving up by sticking with it?
  • Who might be able to support you through this process?

Expert tip: As you weigh your options, you’ll likely discover that you have more options than you realize, that the worst-case scenario isn’t that bad after all, and your dilemma is perhaps even a blessing in disguise.

4. Keep stakeholders in the loop throughout the process.

One of the best ways to avoid burning bridges and preserve your professional relationships is to keep your stakeholders in the loop as much as possible throughout the process.

Importantly, you don’t want to notify a new employer that you’re contemplating backing out before you’ve finalized your decision. However, if you’re in the middle of interviews and receive an employment offer, you can definitely let your recruiter know.

While not always possible, some companies can even speed up the hiring process if you’ve received a decision from another company and are only partway through their interviews.

[Read: How To Best Ask A Recruiter For An Update (With Example)]

5. Get offers in writing, if possible.

Now, if you’re considering jumping ship before your start date because you were offered a better opportunity, you want to get the new job offer in writing and ensure you understand the total compensation package before declining a position you already accepted.

Important: Don’t be surprised if a prospective employer won’t provide an initial offer in writing. Some companies will not provide an offer in writing until you agree to the compensation and have committed to a start date. Part of the reason for this practice is that they don’t want you to use the offer as leverage with your current employer or with other companies you’re interviewing with.

6. Know that you might burn some bridges.

Despite your best efforts to remain transparent and communicative, you might inevitably burn some bridges throughout this process, and some people might hold your decision to back out of an employment offer against you. There’s only so much that’s within your control during the job search. That said, you can minimize the blow by following the aforementioned steps.

Also, please keep in mind that the recruiting world is incredibly small, particularly if you’re looking for a job in tech. When possible, you want to try to preserve relationships, especially if someone put themselves on the line and referred you for the position, and avoid ghosting recruiters and hiring managers. There are few things worse for your career than simply not showing up for work.

7. Put yourself first.

Finally, while easier said than done, try not to feel bad about your ultimate decision. At the end of the day, you must put yourself and your career first.

Simply put, you’re entering a business decision and the organization would have no issue rescinding your offer if their own circumstances changed.

If you feel stuck about whether to turn down a position you initially accepted, you might ask yourself, “What advice would I give a friend, family member, or loved one in a similar situation?” You’d likely encourage them to do what’s best for themselves and their career!

What If I Change My Mind After Accepting A Job Offer?

While taking time and space to fully evaluate an employment offer before accepting it can decrease the likelihood of changing your mind after accepting it, anything can still happen.

You want to try to identify the root cause of wanting to renege on the offer and determine if it’s simply cold feet, perhaps a case of imposter syndrome, or if you really do need to entirely revisit your initial decision to accept the position.

[Read: Should You Accept A Job You Don’t Really Want?]

Is It Possible To Cancel A Job Offer After Accepting?

Yes, you can decline a job offer that you accepted, this is normal practice and employers anticipate a percentage of applicants to not show up on the first day or jump ship within their first 30 to 90 days.

Many professionals choose to decline a job offer they received because they accepted a counter-offer from their current employer, they received a better one from another company, or their life circumstances changed.

In fact, as a client recently shared during a coaching session, despite this practice being incredibly common, few professionals discuss it, which can leave you feeling embarrassed or ashamed if you decide to turn down or back out of an employment offer.

How To Decline A Job Offer But Keep The Door Open?

Communication is key when declining a job offer you previously accepted, especially if you want to keep the door open. Once you’ve made your decision, you want to notify the company as soon as possible, preferably over the phone or Zoom, followed by an email documenting your decision and conversation.

If you already started your new job and decided to leave, try to provide two week’s notice to your employer. Your notice should include all the details of your departure, including your last date and any plans to transition your responsibilities and projects.

Final Thoughts On Turning Down An Offer You Already Accepted

While you want to minimize the bridges you burn if you choose to renege on a job offer you accepted, please know that you are ultimately responsible for your decisions, and have to look out for yourself, your career, and your livelihood. You’ve got this!

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

Dr. Kyle Elliott is the founder and career coach behind CaffeinatedKyle.com. His expertise is in Silicon Valley and high-tech. As a result of working with Dr. Elliott, senior managers and executives have landed jobs at Meta, Amazon, Google, and nearly every other tech giant you can imagine.

A trusted career expert, Dr. Elliott’s words have been featured on Business Insider, CNBC, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, among dozens of other leading publications. He has been recognized as a Best Career & Interview Coach, Best Resume Writer for Silicon Valley/Tech Managers & Executives, and LinkedIn Top Voice (the platform’s highest honor).

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