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Written by Paul DruryPaul Drury

How to decline a job offer if you already accepted

14 min read
How to decline a job offer if you already accepted
Artwork by:Antonina Kasyanikova
No one likes being rejected. Hiring managers certainly don’t expect rejection if you have already accepted their job offer. Here is how you let them down gently.

Job seekers often overlook just how invested a hiring manager might be in them. When an applicant declines a job offer that they already accepted, it can hit them hard. 

Whilst you are looking for a dream job, hiring managers are seeking a dream employee. It might be you. They fell in love with your resume at first glance, took the deepest dive into your socials, and even started to imagine what it might be like to work with you. You even accepted their offer.

They are delighted and they are invested in you. But your situation then changes and you have to decline the job offer.   That may well come as a nasty surprise for them, so it is worth being careful about how you manage the process of rejection.

There may be many reasons. Most of the time it is because you have not fully thought it through. You read the job offer again and it somehow doesn’t excite you anymore. You start to feel guilty, but should you? Let's be real. This is a business transaction, after all.

Or it may be that you were never intending to accept this job. Why didn’t you tell them earlier? Why did you waste your time? You have definitely wasted their time. Especially if you have already accepted the job and they are getting ready to welcome you into the family.

Declining a job offer when you have already accepted it is a somewhat delicate act. Doing it in the right way is important. There may even be legal implications, although if you act quickly they are rarely binding. In any case, you owe it to the hiring manager who believed in you. Let them down gently. 

In this blog, we explore:

  • When should you decline a job offer that you have already accepted?
  • Declining an offer from a hiring manager the second time around
  • Job offer rejection email templates

Taking the time to "say no" in the right way and at the right time will not only return some job search karma your way, it will allow the employer to move on to their next candidate as well.

How to decline a job offer you already accepted
How to decline a job offer you already accepted

When should you decline a job offer you have already accepted?

There are plenty of reasons for declining a job offer. If you accepted for the wrong reasons initially, make sure you are rejecting it for the right reasons in the end.

There will always be pros and cons to accepting an offer. It is always easy to hope that something better will come along, but you have to be ruthlessly logical about your situation. You you experiences in the job search thus far to make a judgement call. Weigh up the options. What is the right way forward?

You might well be justified in getting cold feet and simply need to say “no” when:

  • You have thought about it from every conceivable angle.
  • The position isn’t the right fit for your career trajectory.
  • You are sure that there is no room for negotiation.
  • You don’t think you would get on with your future boss.
  • The salary/package doesn’t match your expectations.
  • You have doubts about the company culture or direction.
  • You back out of a job offer if a better role comes along.
  • Something doesn’t feel right. Trust your gut.

Of course, few job offers are black and white. There may well be room for negotiation. If your answer is not a hard “no” you have every right to explore the possibilities. If you are rejecting it after accepting it, make sure that there is no opportunity to tweak the conditions. Whatever you do, make sure that you are clear in your intentions this time around.

How to politely decline a job offer after accepting

Every job offer arrives amidst its own unique situation. You may have accepted the offer initially, but that doesn’t mean that your reasons for rejecting it are any less valid. Search your feelings. Every job offer rejection will be slightly different. Here are a few thoughts on how to go about it:

Don’t ghost - communicate

Employers understand that applicants will be at different stages of the recruitment process with different employers. They may be willing to wait for a while until you get clarity, so don’t ghost them if you are having second thoughts. Let them know about your situation and backtrack as soon as you decide. Keep them informed.

Your first conversation after a job offer does not have to be a definitive yes/no chat. The best employers will be prepared to wait for you to decide, so don't rush to decline if you are simply unsure and wish to wait a little.

Be aware of their feelings 

It is not enough to be polite when you decline a job after accepting. Politeness is expected. This situation calls for a different level of emotional engagement. Try to validate the hiring manager’s feelings by letting them know just how much you were interested in the role (and them). While this may be a white lie, it will help to soothe their feelings of rejection.

If you have already accepted the role, there will be a fair amount of emotional damage done, so act with as much empathy as possible. Don't overdo it though. It is also important for them to move on.

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You don’t need to share your reasons

You do not have to share your reasons for not taking the offer. You will likely feel guilty for declining the offer the second time around, but justifying yourself will not make the situation any better for the hiring manager. A clean break is best. Move on. If you do give a reason, make it as non-specific as possible.

They may feel that they already have a pseudo employer/employee relationship with you after you accept, but the reality is that until you start the first day of your contract, you are in a limbo where you can still choose another path.

Don’t dwell on the negatives

The job offer rejection is tough enough to take for a hiring manager without you sharing “constructive” reasons for the rejection. Don’t think that you are helping them. Any kind of negative comment when you decline a job offer will not go down well. Keep the letter short. Negativity will simply make them dwell on what might have been.

When you have already accepted the role, any sort of negativity cannot really be justified. Investing some sort of reason between accepting and declining will destroy your credibility. You never know who these people know.

Have a chat before you send the email

While formally declining a job offer should be done over email, any hiring manager would appreciate a phone call to let them know. This shows just how much you were engaged with the process, and it will soften the blow somewhat. You may also be able to help with their ongoing recruitment, so offer every possible assistance.

Declining a job offer after you have accepted is incredibly embarrasing, but own your decisiona nd pick up the phone. You will certainly have a weighty reason behind it, so get ready to expand a little if the employer wants some closure. This is the least that they deserve.

Avoid unnecessary negotiations

Hiring managers may try their best to change your mind. Especially if they thought that it was a done deal. If you are declining the offer, you should have already thought through all the eventualities, so if your answer is final, do not prolong the agony for them. If you do wish to explore a negotiation, be clear about what you are looking for. 

No matter how complicated your situation, an employer may well be prepared to improve a job offer if they feel that you are being genuine and that it isn't some sort of negotiation ploy.

Keep in touch

While your job offer rejection should be clear-cut to allow the employer to move on to their second choice, it is well worth saying that you would like to keep in touch. They may well not want to keep in touch in the circumstances, so don’t be offended. You will move on to your new job soon enough, but you never know how things might turn out. 

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Examples of polite job offer rejection emails

Every job offer rejection after accepting an offer will be personal to your situation. Here are some letter templates to offer a sense of tone and content. Ensure that your job offer rejection email fits your situation – take your time to tailor it. Nothing will make an employer feel worse than a rushed letter of rejection that feels like you don;t really care about how they feel.

If you’re accepting a different offer:

Dear Professor Heath,

I have taken the tough decision to turn down the assistant lecturer role. I have been offered a remote teaching position at another university that is better suited to my needs, so it is with regret that I must decline. I know that I would have enjoyed working with you.

I have always been a keen follower of your academic work and will continue to support you on social media. I hope to meet at an academic conference or symposium soon.

Sincerely, Daniel Tranter

If the role or company just isn’t the right fit:

Dear Ms. Wallace,

I have very much enjoyed exploring the opportunities at Lathwell over the past month. On reflection, there are aspects of the role that are not a fit with my desired career direction, so I need to take myself out of the running. 

I was flattered to receive the offer, but feel that the operational focus of the job may be suited to someone who is more technically minded. I will do my best to help you find the right person and enclose the resume of a previous colleague who is interested.

Sincerely, Carrie Mayhew

If there are new personal reasons:

Dear Mr. Franklin,

I appreciate your offer of the logistics manager role. Due to family circumstances that have recently come to light, sadly I have to decline. The role is no longer compatible with my situation. I very much enjoyed meeting you and hope to stay in touch.

Sincerely, Peter Goose

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Key takeaways

Declining a job offer should not be done lightly. You may wish to apologize for declining the role that you originally accepted, but unless you have breached any legal clauses there should not be too many formal issues. It happens all the time.

Do a sense check that it is the right thing for you and follow the advice above to avoid damaging potentially useful relationships.

  • Bear in mind just how disappointed the hiring manager will be.
  • Make sure that you are crystal clear about your reasons.
  • Decline the role at the right time to suit your situation.
  • Be tactful and thoughtful with the language you use.
  • Offer to keep in touch. They liked you, after all.
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