Accepting a job offer can be exhilarating—but what if you have to decline the offer after you have already accepted it?
Don’t feel bad if this happens.
Here’s how to decline a job offer you already accepted, as advised by experts:
Table of Contents
- Try your best to exit as diplomatically as possible
- Scenario 1: You’ve received a competing offer that you prefer
- Scenario 2: Circumstances have changed
- Scenario 3: You’ve had second thoughts
- Be 100% honest with everyone
- Do it over a phone call
- Send them peers who might be interested
- Make sure this is what you want to do before you decline the job offer because you can’t change your mind again
- Remain professional and respectful
- Maintain an air of professionalism
- Be honest, professional, and grateful for the opportunity
- Always sign the second contract before saying no to the first offer
- The decline letter should be polite and courteous
- Tell the truth
- If you have a story that you can share, do it
- Apologize and let them know you were simultaneously interviewing at other places
Global Management Expert | Director, Fresh Results Institute
Try your best to exit as diplomatically as possible
As a professional, you definitely don’t want to burn bridges. The world is interconnected, even more interconnected in the professional world where almost every fragment is delicately interwoven in one unified corporate ecosystem. You don’t know when you would need your current employer down the line in your career path.
Therefore, if you must turn down a job offer you had already accepted, you must adopt best practices and try your best to exit as diplomatically as possible without ruffling too many feathers.
Of course, there are techniques to turn down a job offer you have accepted courteously, techniques so amicable that the employer (you are turning down) will like you enough to ask about your availability if a senior opportunity comes up.
Dissect the contract for any legal consequence
How do you achieve this? The first step is to dissect the contract for any legal consequence.
It is more fun watching a judge on a movie than facing her in real person. Improper termination of a job offer can get you to court for sure! Therefore, before you turn down any job offer, rigorously study the contract to see if there are explicitly stated legal consequences for such action.
Agreed, some contracts may be stashed with legal jargon. In that case, where you are not too clear on what the contract spells, you can consult a lawyer friend.
Most contracts will give you a time span within which you can turn down the job without consequence. In some other contracts, you must give the employer a heads-up notice within a stipulated timeframe.
When you are convinced there are no legal wars to be fought; you can now reach out to the employer. Yes, this is the harder part.
Ask yourself what alternatives you are willing to accept
Indeed, some employers can cherish you so much that would counter your preferred job (for which you are turning down their offer) with a more delicious proposition. Therefore, you must be prepared for all possibilities before you reach out to the employer.
What rates or responsibilities could this employer offer you that could cause you to have a rethink about your decision to turn them down? If the employer asks you what conditions they could provide to make the position more attractive for you, feel free to earn your mind.
Would you want a convenient remote work setting? Would you need Fridays or weekends totally off? See if you can still possibly iron out conditions with them. In the situation where your decision is personal, you can let them know as clearly as possible without unnecessarily divulging sensitive details.
Of course, you dare not sprinkle any dishonesty in when explaining your reasons for turning down their offer. If you got a better job, tell them candidly.
They may necessarily not be elated with it, but the crux is you are telling them the truth. Don’t garnish the truth by any means; what you should rather garnish is your expression of the truth. You need a fair lump of diplomacy here so as not to sound as abrasive or provocative.
Two words: “thank you.” They can do an incredible amount of good despite being so brief. You need to be thankful when you turn down an employer’s offer. Nowhere in life is any individual happy to a miserable reject. The same applies to your employer.
Yes, you must venerate their offer even if you decline it. Make them see that you value the offer as an exotic opportunity that you unavoidably have to turn down. Make them feel you cherish ever being considered for that responsibility.
When necessary, emphasize better on how thrilling it was with them. It must not be a heart moving (and tears-invoking) Steven Spielberg rendition, but at least beam a fair light on the positives of your experience with them.
CEO & Career Coach, Terry B. McDougall Coaching | Author, “Winning the Game of Work: Career Happiness and Success on Your Own Terms“
Sometimes a candidate may decide to turn down a job they’ve already accepted because they’ve received a better offer, because circumstances have changed, or they’ve had second thoughts.
Here are some examples of what to say in each scenario:
Scenario 1: You’ve received a competing offer that you prefer
“I want to let you know that though I was very interested in joining your firm, I have decided to decline the offer because I’ve gotten a job offer for a role that I feel is a better fit for me. I appreciate your interest in me, and I wish you the best in finding a candidate for the position.”
Scenario 2: Circumstances have changed
“I want to let you know that since I accepted the offer, some circumstances have changed in my life that precludes me from being able to take the job. My wife has recently been promoted in her job, and given our family’s situation; it doesn’t make sense for us to make the move for me to take the role. I appreciate your interest in me, and I wish you the best in finding a candidate for the position.”
Scenario 3: You’ve had second thoughts
“I want to let you know that I have decided to decline the position. I’ve had some time to think it over and while I enjoyed meeting everyone at your company, [give the reason for not taking the job.]” The reasons could be something like “the timing is not right for me to leave my current role,” “Upon further thought, the focus of this position is taking me too far from my interest in [whatever].”
Overall, it’s critical to emphasize your appreciation for the time and attention they took with you throughout the recruiting process and express your regret for inconveniencing them.
Despite feelings of discomfort, if you have any doubts about taking a job, it’s much better to decline it than to take a job that you have misgivings. It’s better to endure the momentary discomfort than to take the job and live to regret it or quit the job a few months later when it’s too late for the company to choose another candidate.
Product Manager & CoFounder, inPerson | Podcast Host | Author, “Experience Over Degrees: The Blueprint to Get You the Job Your Degree Doesn’t“
You’ve worked hard all summer, stayed late, poured yourself into your final presentation as an intern, and alas, HR pulls you in on your last day and offers you a full-time job! You’re ecstatic; you call your mom, you’re headed back for your senior year with a job in hand. Congratulations!
You’re now back at school, and the fall career fair comes around. You say to yourself, “I’ll go just to network,” end up meeting a recruiter you vibe with, say yes to an interview, and a few weeks down the road have another job offer in hand. But oh wait, what about the other offer? You know you’re keen on taking this new one, so how do you turn down the old one but keep your reputation intact?
Not everyone’s reputation may stay intact. You may get blacklisted. Fortunately, through my own experience and through hearing the many stories of peers, readers, and listeners, it’ll all be okay. At the end of the day, companies should want you to make the best decision for yourself and end up where you’ll be happy. They don’t want someone who’s taking a job out of guilt as they know you won’t last long.
Be 100% honest with everyone
You may feel the need to tweak the narrative at times and tell a white lie or two. Don’t.
These are humans on the other side and although it’s in the professional realm, treat people like people. They’ve put time into your growth journey, do them a favor and be honest with why you might be going with a different company, it may even help them improve their offering, so this doesn’t continue to happen to them. If they’re a smart company, they’ll listen.
Do it over a phone call
Yes, we love to shoot off quick texts and emails, but it’s like breaking up with someone. They put the time into the relationship; the least you can do is make the breakup a little personal and respect it. Start it with something like:
“Hi Sam, I wanted to call you personally to update you with my plans for after college. This isn’t easy for me to do because of the time and energy you’ve put into my journey, but I do need to be honest with you and myself, I think I’ve found another company where I’d be a greater fit.”
Don’t dance around it. Get to the point and give them the respect they deserve.
Send them peers who might be interested
At the end of your call, ask them:
“I understand this might put stress on your hiring goals for this recruiting season, I still greatly enjoyed getting to know you and your company, would you find it valuable if I sent any close peers of mine to you who are interested/who I think might be a great fit based on what I’ve learned?”
They might say no, but you’re showing that you understand the difficult position you might be putting them in.
I turned down a job using the three tactics above with one of the three largest defense contractors in the world and still got to interview the CEO for our podcast down the road.
It’ll be okay.
Managing Partner, Summit Search Group
Declining an accepted job offer requires a lot of tact to avoid burning bridges. While it is rare, it’s something I’ve experienced a couple of times in my work with employees.
Make sure this is what you want to do before you decline the job offer because you can’t change your mind again
I had a candidate do this in one instance—he declined the job, then contacted me less than a week later to say he’d changed his mind and wanted to accept it. By that time, we had already offered the job to our second-choice candidate. Even if we hadn’t, that indecision made us second-guess his commitment to the job, and we wouldn’t have hired him unless we were in a bind.
That said, here are three tips for declining an accepted job offer:
Tell the hiring manager as quickly as you can once you’ve made the decision.
It’s ideal from a legal standpoint if you turn down the offer before you sign any employment contracts. Even if you already have, though, the faster the company knows, the higher the chances they’ll be able to pivot to another candidate without needing to start their search all over. The less inconvenience you cause the company, the fewer bridges you’ll burn.
Do it in writing.
This does two things. First, it provides a paper trail of exactly when you notified the company of your decision. Second, it helps keep any emotion out of the conversation by providing a layer of distance. You’ll be able to edit and refine your message before sending it, and the hiring manager will have time to process it before responding.
Explain your reasoning in as few words as possible.
An explanation of some kind is necessary, but you don’t need to go into detail. The explanation of why you’re turning the offer down should take up no more than a paragraph in your letter. Also, this isn’t the time to air grievances about the job you’re turning down. If another company offered you better pay, benefits, etc., don’t go into those specifics. A simple “I’ve received a better offer with X” is an appropriate catch-all.
Hiring Manager | Founder, Modernesse
Remain professional and respectful
It is first essential to recognize that candidates should do everything they can to avoid this situation. It does put employers in quite a bind when a job offer is declined after being accepted.
If you do find yourself having to reject a job offer after accepting, the most important thing is to remain professional and respectful. Let the employer know as soon as possible of your decision by sending an email.
Here is a draft template that I would recommend:
Hello [HR rep/recruiter],
I regrettably must inform you that I can no longer accept the employment offer from [organization]. [Short, concise reason for the change]
I understand this change may be challenging for [organization], and this was not an ideal sequence of events.
If there is anything I can assist with, please let me know.
You do not have to provide a reason for your change of heart, but it would make the situation easier for the employer to understand if you provide a short explanation. You certainly want to try to stay in good standing with these individuals, as you never know who you may work with in the future.
Manager of HR, ResumeLab
Declining a job offer you’ve just accepted can feel uneasy at best and downright guilt-inducing at worst. Still, things don’t always work according to plan, and a more tempting offer can show up as you sent in the paperwork accepting the offer. Well, c’est la vie. We get it, so there’s reason to beat yourself up about it. Instead, remain proactive, assertive, and polite.
It’s essential to inform your prospective employers of your change in direction without going too in-depth into the reasons why. We’ve all changed our mind or found something better, so rest assured that no one is going to hold this over your head. Lastly, we’d much rather you do a double-take and decline a previously accepted job offer than show up whilst daydreaming of what could’ve been at the other place.
A simple, direct, and courteous example such as the below does the job just fine.
Dear (first name of the hiring manager or HR rep),
It is with great regret that I must inform you that despite my recent acceptance of the job offer, I will not be joining your organization after all. Frankly, while I was genuinely excited about the role, a better opportunity presented itself, and at this juncture of my career, I believe that it is a better fit for my skill set.
I’d like to thank you for your time and consideration. I sincerely apologize if my change has caused any inconvenience and wish you and your team the best of luck moving forward.
(First and last name)
Senior HR Manager, IronMonk Solutions
Maintain an air of professionalism
I’ve always recommended the idea that job candidates should write a thank you letter after a job interview. In the spirit of that, to decline a job, you can write a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ kind of letter.
In the letter, you can mention that you’re so grateful to have received the opportunity and state the reason you have had a change of heart. As long as you kill them with kindness and maintain an air of professionalism, you’ll be able to decline the job offer in a diplomatic way, and perhaps stay on good terms with the employer should you ever revisit an opportunity with them.
Below is a short example:
Dear Mr. Smith,
I wanted to take the time to say thank you so much for your job offer. I really enjoyed the interview process, and I enjoyed learning about the company. I’ve come to the realization that accepting this opportunity would make it challenging to manage my work/life balance, and the daily commute would simply be more than I can realistically handle.
I just wanted to say thank you again for your time, and I wish you the best in filling the position.
Founder and Editor, TestPrepGenie
Be honest, professional, and grateful for the opportunity
The best approach to this is to be honest, professional, and grateful for the opportunity. Most bosses would understand your reasoning if you could only tell them about it. You can either send them an email about the situation or give them a call. A call is usually preferred when dealing with these things, but if you’re more comfortable with an email, that should work fine.
Here’s a template you can use if you need to reach them out via email:
Hello (Name of Employer),
Before everything else, I would like to thank you for the opportunity you have given me.
Unfortunately, I will have to retract my acceptance of your job offer. I have been offered a position in another company which, to me, seems like the more practical choice. I have decided to accept that offer instead.
I hope you find someone else to fit this position. Once again, thank you for your time. I wish you all the best, moving forward!
With my best,
Bottom line: Keep your emails straight to the point, and avoid divulging too much unnecessary information (like your new company name or even an overly specific reason as to why you’re retracting your acceptance). Always show your gratitude and wish them luck to end on good terms.
Chief Marketing Officer at Better Proposals
Always sign the second contract before saying no to the first offer
This is not a situation that you want to be in, but sometimes, it happens. If you receive a better offer before you even signed a contract for the first one, it’s fine to say no.
The only bit of advice I have: always sign the second contract before saying no to the first offer.
That way, you have one option in the bag. Just email the company and say that although their offer was more than fair, you had to accept another one because it had something more that you wanted. Take your time and write a thoughtful email, thanking them for their time. They will most likely be furious at you in any case, so try to make them understand.
Founder and CEO, DocPro
The decline letter should be polite and courteous
Strictly speaking, from a legal perspective, once the offer has been accepted by the candidate, there is a binding legal contract (unless one can show no consideration has been provided by the company). Thus, the candidate needs to take due care when withdrawing of the acceptance so that the company will not hold the candidate to legal liability.
The decline letter should be polite and courteous, first thanking the employer for the offer but unfortunately, must decline the accepted offer due to a change of circumstance. The reason given should be discreet, even if the original offer did not meet your expectations, and you have received a better offer subsequently.
Inform the employer as soon as you have made the decision to decline the accepted offer. Do not wait until the last minute (just before you are scheduled to start) before informing the employer, as they would have made HR arrangements for you, and it would be very inconsiderate to do so.
From a legal perspective, the less time there is between the acceptance of the offer and the revocation of acceptance, the harder it would be for the employer to show that consideration has been made for the employment contract and thus less likely to hold you to any legal liability.
CEO of Mailbird
Tell the truth
Declining a job offer under any circumstances can be uncomfortable. However, once you’ve already accepted, that can make things a little more complex.
What I have always appreciated from anyone I’m potentially going to be working with is honesty. Tell the truth. Explain if you’ve received a better offer or found a nicer fit for your skillset.
The reality is that many people in human resources can smell an excuse a mile away. And perhaps you may find that your paths cross again for another job opportunity down the road. So, look them in the eye (or send a very personally charged message), and just explain what’s happened.
You may have heard this old saying a time or two, but honesty really IS the best policy.
HR Manager, LiveCareer
I once received a phone call from a man who a few days before accepted our job offer. He was honest with me and said that another company offered him a position in Norway, where he and his wife dreamed of moving to after their honeymoon.
His rejection wasn’t what I planned, and it didn’t match my goals for that quarter. I couldn’t be upset, though, because this applicant did everything right. As soon as he could, he called me, stated a good reason for his decision, and thanked me for the offer.
The way he handled the situation left the door open if his status changes in the future. We connected on LinkedIn, and I’d be happy to consider him for any future openings. If you treat others the way you want to be treated, declining a job offer after accepting it isn’t the world’s end.
Co-Founder & CEO, Ignite Visibility
Apologize and let them know you were simultaneously interviewing at other places
I have had three different candidates decline a position after I have offered it to them. It is very rare, but it does happen. From the employer’s perspective, it does put them into a tough spot, especially if they are hiring out of immediate need.
Before accepting a job, it is a good idea to be as committed as possible and check off all the other opportunities. That being said, if you decline after accepting, the employer will be OK with it, as they will be happy you did it now rather than later.
The best way to go about doing it is to apologize and let them know you were simultaneously interviewing at other places. If you want to, you can give them the option to counter, but it does risk annoying them a bit. Overall, you can just let them know you are sorry, you have another option that you are moving forward with, and you thank them for the opportunity.