How to Turn Down a Job Offer You Already Accepted

After a long and trying search, you were finally offered a job, which you eagerly accepted. But then things changed. Maybe another company called with a better offer, or you decided to go grad school, or your partner accepted a dream job in another state. Whatever the case, you’re going to have to turn down a job you already accepted. Bummer.

turn down job offer already accepted

If you find yourself in this predicament, there are a couple of things you can do to help that awkward conversation go more smoothly.

Can You Turn Down A Job You Already Accepted?

In case you’re worried, yes, you can absolutely turn down a job you already accepted without any legal ramifications. United States labor law employs an employment-at-will doctrine. With very few exceptions, this doctrine means you can quit your job at any time and for any reason (or no reason at all). The flip side is that employers can fire employees at any time and for any reason, so long as it isn’t illegal (e.g., as a form of discrimination).

The only reason this wouldn’t hold for you is if you already signed a contract, at which point you have to follow it.

Also, if you’ve already started work, you should give the customary two weeks’ notice before leaving as a sign of good faith. If you’re new enough, the employer may just let you go, but we recommend offering all the same.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Of course, knowing you can have the conversation doesn’t make actually having it any easier.

To ease the tension, here are some tips you’ll want to use:

Know what you want. Don’t turn down the job if you aren’t 100 percent certain. Take some time to consider what you want, how you plan to get it, and whether this job offer is a help or hindrance. The last thing you want is to second-guess yourself after you’ve turned down the job, so do the soul searching beforehand.

Sooner, not later. Tell your would-be employer that you won’t be taking the job as soon as you know you won’t be taking it. Remember the company will need to fill the position—a position they thought they filled. Whether that means contacting other candidates or starting the whole search over, they’ll want to start the process immediately.

Be honest, not personal. You can be upfront about why you’re turning down the job, but don’t be rude. If you’re accepting a better offer, don’t use this opportunity to shame your would-be employer for not being generous enough.

Know how much you want to say. You don’t have to provide a reason if you don’t want to; you can simply decline the job. If you are going to provide a reason, know what details you’re comfortable sharing before you start the conversation.

Be thankful. Thank them for the offer and opportunity. It’s just good form.

Be prepared for a counteroffer. Your would-be employer may offer you more money, a more flexible schedule, or something else to keep you on. Again, knowing what you want before you speak is the best way to prepare.

And the consequences. If you follow the above advice, most companies will understand and wish you luck, but some may take it personally, especially if you accepted a job from the competition. If this happens, understand that you won’t be getting any more job offers from this company in the future and be prepared for that.

Considering your would-be employer’s position is important. They will likely need to start the job search over, so be gracious and let them down gently. But above all, remember that you need to do what is best for you. This will be better for both you and the company in the long run, as resenting the job will only lead to poor work and a strained relationship. Even though it will difficult, turning down the job will be the best thing.

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