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How to Decline a Job Offer You Already Accepted

Lauren Hamer

Professional Resume Writer, Career Writer and Career Coach


When you think about it, turning down a job offer is not the worst position you could be in. If you’ve been lucky enough to consider multiple job offers, well, then you’re lucky enough. 

But sometimes, things change between accepting the offer and your start date. Maybe you’re having second thoughts? That’s actually more common than you think. Below, we’ll explain how to decline a job offer you already accepted in a way that doesn’t burn bridges and keeps your professional reputation intact.  

Why It’s Important to Decline an Accepted Job Offer Professionally

With the Great Resignation and the many reasons people are leaving their current jobs, there’s a war for talent — one companies are fighting aggressively to win in order to maintain their competitive advantage. So, if you must turn down a previously accepted offer, don’t wait to let the company know. Your decision will set them back, but they’d rather you let them know before you begin the onboarding process, so they can restart their recruiting process as soon as possible. 

Be clear in your communications. Tell them you’ve considered the offer carefully, but have decided to pursue other options. (See our job decline email templates below.) More importantly, approaching this conversation with a relationship mindset rather than a transactional one will ensure you don’t sever any lines of communication permanently. 

How to Turn Down a Job Offer You Accepted

It’s tough to walk away from a new opportunity. We’ve all got bills to pay and careers to build, after all. But not all job offers will meet your expectations long-term. And that’s okay. Whether you’re fielding multiple offers or simply don’t like the terms of the job offer, there are many reasons to turn down an invitation to start a new gig. Some reasons include:

Job Offer Letter
  • You don’t like the terms of the offer (i.e., pay, benefits, start date, etc.)
  • You don’t see a potential path for advancement
  • Your commute is too long or the travel requirements are unmanageable 
  • You are worried about the culture and whether you’ll fit in with your boss and colleagues
  • You uncovered additional information that makes you question the culture, financial stability, or another aspect of the job
  • Your family member accepted a job that requires relocation
  • You accepted a better, more competitive offer 
  • You decided to stay in your current role
  • You have a family emergency
  • Your gut is telling you to move on

Think carefully about the pros and cons of rejecting any job. This kind of notice is usually final, so make sure you won’t regret your decision later. No matter your reasons for reconsideration, it’s important to deliver your notice quickly and respectfully.

Is it Unprofessional to Decline a Job Offer after Accepting?

The reasons stated above prove that declining a job offer is, actually, a pretty common thing. Luckily for you, it’s not considered unethical or unconventional. However, with that being said, the key to declining a job offer is to do it with tact and respect. 

Don’t make a habit of rescinding your acceptances. Your paths may cross again later, and when they do, you’ll be glad you parted ways professionally and with grace.

How to Decline a Job Offer You Already Accepted

woman tearing contract concept to depict how to decline a job offer you already accepted

Take a Moment

Again, declining an offer at this stage is usually a final decision, so take a breath and make sure this is what you really want before opening up your email browser. While it’s not a good idea to wait too long to deliver the news, there are instances where taking a moment is beneficial. For example, stalling the process and pushing out the start date could be a more effective tactic if you’re still considering this offer or waiting on additional offers. 

Read and Address Your Legal Contract 

If you’ve already signed an employment contract, tread carefully before declining. Read the offer top to bottom to ensure you won’t face legal repercussions. Some companies might enforce a time clause for giving notice. Others might require you to work for a certain number of days to abide by their notice to terminate an employment agreement.  

Consider enlisting the help of an employment expert, lawyer, or human resources specialist if you’re unsure of your rights at this stage.

Express Gratitude

Extending a job offer takes a hiring manager countless hours of internal reviews, contracting, and administrative work. A little gratitude can go a long way in softening the blow for a company that thought they had their next great star ready to go. 

Convey a sincere and genuine “thank you” to all involved in the hiring process. For added measure, tell the hiring manager one thing you loved about the company or appreciated during the interview process. They’ll be glad to know they did all they could to hire the right person. 

Be Honest and Diplomatic

Construct a clear, concise message that lets your employer know you’ve changed your mind but are thankful for the time and effort during the process. Additionally, be sure to be honest when conveying the reason for declining. There are few things that will damage your reputation more than being caught up in a lie that you didn’t even have to tell.

Having this conversation on the phone will feel uncomfortable and your palms might sweat. Still, this is the most professional method of communication to use when declining a job offer you already accepted because you’ll be able to communicate with emotion rather than send a robotic-sounding email. 

Give an Acceptable Reason for Declining

Most hiring managers will appreciate clarity. Provide the company with context they can use in their efforts moving forward. If you received a better offer elsewhere or your circumstances changed, explain why you’re changing your mind. There’s no need to go into the details of your family emergency or your spouse’s reasons for relocation. A concise, high-level explanation will do just fine. 

Expect a Counteroffer

Decide beforehand whether offer adjustments could sway your decision, especially if your reason for rejection is because of a better offer elsewhere. The company invested in you as much as you invested in them, so don’t be surprised if the hiring manager tries to draft a more enticing offer for you to reconsider. Define what alternatives you are willing to accept — if any — and put your negotiation cap back on, just in case.

Declining a Job Offer Professional Sample

Here are two sample email templates to give you examples of how to decline a job offer you already accepted.

Example 1: You’ve accepted another offer

Dear [name],

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take the job offer I previously accepted. I’ve been given another opportunity that focuses more on [people management], and it is one I simply cannot turn down.

I know my change in decision is inconvenient (read: frustrating), and for that, I sincerely apologize. While this is unusual, please know that this decision was not made lightly. 

Thank you so much for your time and efforts over the last few weeks. I loved learning about all the great work the team is doing and the future projects in play that are sure to solidify [company’s] rank in the [industry].

I wish you the best moving forward. 

Warmly, 

Example 2: Your priorities have changed

Hi [name],

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me over the last few weeks. I loved learning about all the great work the team is doing and the future projects in play that are sure to solidify [company’s] rank in the [industry].

While I’m honored to receive this offer, I will, unfortunately, have to decline. [Give a short, honest reason explaining your decision (i.e., relocation, differing career goals, staying put at your current company, etc.]

It’s been a pleasure getting to know you and the team, and I hope we cross paths in the future. Would you be open to connecting on LinkedIn so we can stay in touch? 

Thank you again for your time throughout this process. I wish you the best moving forward. 

Warmly,

Frequently Asked Questions on Declining a Job Offer

Is it Unethical to Decline a Job Offer after Accepting?

No, it’s common for candidates to change their minds after accepting a job offer. Just make sure you communicate your decision as soon as possible. It’s better to cut ties before your start date than it is to receive your onboarding paperwork, set up your work accounts, and decide to leave only a few days into the role. This leaves the company in a tough spot, likely burning bridges and leaving a bad taste in their mouth.

How to Decline a Job Offer for the Second Time

If your company puts forth a second offer to counter your rejection, take time to consider it. This is a sign the company really thinks you could succeed in the role. Compare the first and second offers carefully. If they’re vastly different, ask the hiring manager why the second offer is more competitive than the first? This might signal they’re desperate to fill the role.

You’ll need to weigh your options here. If you feel you must decline the second offer, communicate that you regret having to decline the job offer again, but you’ve decided to take your career in another direction.  

How Do You Turn Down a Job Without Burning a Bridge?

The keys to turning down an offer professionally are to communicate with timely tact. Don’t wait. Express gratitude, give context, and part ways amicably. This will help you leave the networking door open without severing any professional ties. 

Conclusion

Navigating a job search with grace is hard, and making the tough decisions that align with your goals takes courage. If you find yourself in a position to decline a job offer you’ve previously accepted, know that you’re not alone. There’s a way to handle this professionally. Be steadfast in your decisions and keep all doors open. It’s a small world — who knows when you’ll meet again?

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