Jan. 3, 2021
As thrilled as you may initially be to receive and accept a job or an internship offer, sometimes, circumstances may prompt you to change your mind. The situation is not ideal, and it's vital that you approach it carefully and professionally. Simply emailing or texting HR to tell them you no longer want the position -- or even worse, failing to follow up altogether -- is a risk you don't want to take. The unfortunate increase in cases of ghosting employers reveals lack of respect and trust, and is often the result of inexperience.
Reasons to renege on an offer include family emergencies, multiple offers and a realization that you will not fully enjoy and contribute to the new role. In all of the above cases, you want to make sure you handle the situation appropriately. Keep in mind that if you have accepted an offer and signed a contract, there may be legal consequences for going back on the offer. Be sure to carefully review the conditions of your contract before announcing your decision. If you have not signed a contract, here are four points to keep in mind if you're considering changing your mind about a job offer.
Before taking any action, stop and reflect on your reasons for the change of mind. Reneging on an offer is not only awkward in the moment, but it can also lead to negative consequences in the future, like burning bridges and severing potential relationships. If you have changed your mind because of additional job offer(s) you received, make sure to consult a trusted mentor and discuss the pros and cons of each before going back on an acceptance. Think of who has helped you secure the position you want to decline, because that person's reputation will also be impacted by your actions. You may think it's no big deal abandoning an offer for what you consider a much better opportunity but the truth is, you can't see into the future and confirm this is indeed the case. One thing is certain: Reneging on an offer has negative consequences. So bottom line, if you are going to decline an offer you've already accepted, you'd better be one hundred percent certain you no longer want the job or no longer can take the job.
“Be honest with yourself and the employer," says Kathy Bovard, director of coaching and education at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. “Although it is unprofessional to renege on an accepted offer, it does happen. Own your decision and be truthful with the company."
Once you have evaluated your options and decided that the only way to move forward is to decline the offer, inform the employer right away. Do not think that stopping communication with the employer and not showing up on your first day are appropriate actions. “Notify human resources and/or the hiring manager as soon as your decision is made," advises Bovard. “Schedule an in-person meeting or a phone call to inform them. A text or email notification is not appropriate." Although the conversation will probably be uncomfortable, it will show that you understand the situation and respect the employer's time and effort. The sooner you alert HR to your decision, the sooner they can start looking for another candidate. Although you may end your chances of ever getting a position with that employer, being honest will help salvage the relationship.
Whatever the reason for your decision to rescind, make sure you express gratitude for the offer. “Say thank you for the opportunity and offer sincere apologies for your change of heart," says Bovard. “A formal note with an apology may be warranted." You also want to emphasize how difficult it is to go back on your acceptance. Help them realize it wasn't easy to make the decision, highlight your initial excitement for the offer and point out that circumstances are making you move in a different direction. Most important, keep your message to the point. There is no need to share details about your reason, and in fact, it's often better to be concise. The more information you try to provide, the more uncomfortable and awkward the conversation will be. “It is sufficient to say that after careful consideration, you realize that this is not the best fit after all. Keep the explanation simple."
“Be professional at all times, follow through, be clear in your communications and stay positive," says Bovard. It's the appropriate thing to do. Ultimately, how you handle the situation depends on the image you want to project. Situations like this present an opportunity to start establishing your reputation as the professional you want others to see. When faced with a less-than-ideal situation, many will sacrifice their professionalism to avoid an uncomfortable conversation. Even more problematic, they may point out faults in the employer to justify reneging on the offer and not informing them properly.
“Although you may lose any future opportunity to work for the company, don't further tarnish your reputation by speaking badly about them," adds Bovard. “Word travels fast and networks are smaller than you think." That's especially the case if you are interested in working in a specific field. When you fail to properly alert an employer that you can no longer honor your acceptance of their offer, the people who interviewed you and chose to hire you will remember your name. That could impact your growth in the field because professionals often move from one employer to another, and you may end up working with a person from the company you rejected.
To avoid finding yourself in a similar situation in the future, don't accept an offer before fully evaluating it and consulting with a trusted mentor or career counselor on the terms of the offer. If you are waiting to hear back from other employers, ask for more time to think it over before you respond. Employers realize that you are probably navigating several interviews and opportunities and are often prepared to wait for your response, as long as it is received within a reasonable deadline. Reneging on an offer is not an action to take lightly and should be considered only when an absolutely unavoidable circumstance is forcing you to take your acceptance back. Otherwise, it's your reputation on the line.