Sometimes, we can get stuck in thinking that we have to do something, especially when it comes to our careers. Maybe you’ve always been told to go into a certain field, or thought you wanted to head in one direction when your gut was pulling you in another. Take it from me — I made a major career change from national security to career coach! That couldn’t have happened, and I wouldn’t have the success and happiness I have today, if I didn’t cut myself some slack and realize that sometimes it’s okay to not do something.
Unfortunately, I’ve had clients realize this just a little too late. One in particular, Kevin, had accepted an offer at what he thought was his dream job. But just days into accepting, he was overcome with a sinking feeling that this just wasn’t where he needed to be. He came to me despondent, feeling like there was nothing he could do, since he already accepted the job.
I’m here to tell you that it’s never too late to change paths and say no, even if you’ve already said yes. In fact, 28% of job seekers said they’ve declined an already accepted job offer, and 44% of Gen Z said they regretted accepting their offers.
You might need to decline a job offer you already accepted for a few reasons. You could be like Kevin, and decide the job just no longer is what you want. Or you could be making an unexpected life change, like moving out of state, that you weren’t prepared for when accepting. Maybe another job came up just an hour too late, that you want more (44% of job seekers have backed out for this exact reason). Whatever your reason, trust me when I say that it’s possible to decline a job offer, even after you’ve already accepted. Here are a few ways to do so in a professional manner that won’t negatively affect your career prospects, and leave you in a better position to move forward.
- Be certain
I’m all for making changes in your life, but I’m also a huge proponent of being sure that you’re doing what’s best for you. If you’re going to back out of a job acceptance, you want to be 110% certain that it’s the right call. Talk it through with friends and family, make a pros-cons list — just sit with the decision for a day or two, to really let it idea soak in. If after strong consideration you still want to continue, go for it!
- Do it in a timely manner
Despite wanting to take the time to be sure about your decision, you also want to go back to the hiring manager in a timely fashion. It can be tempting to procrastinate on this, but it’s more considerate to the company to give them your decision as soon as possible. It gives them more time to replace you, and will leave a friendly door open. You never want to burn bridges, even if you’re no longer taking the job. You never know if you’ll need this company for a reference, or if your next company will ask to speak to them about why you took back your acceptance.
- Make sure you’re legally able to
The only reason I would advise you not to back out of a job offer is if you signed any type of contract that prevents you from doing so. It’s possible that you might be obligated to work for a certain length of time before you can quit the job. Even if that’s the case, I’d still recommend mentioning your intentions to the hiring manager. It may be in their best interest to let you out of the contract, rather than continue to invest time and energy into an employee that will quit as soon as they’re able.
- Keep it short
You may feel emotional about your decision, but that doesn’t mean you need to send a long, detailed letter explaining every minutiae of why you are backing out. Above all else, even when declining a job, you want to act professional, and part of that is keeping your communications brief and to the point. A phone conversation is perhaps the best way to go about declining the offer (in-person would be best, but thanks to COVID that’s not realistic for most people), but you can also send a letter if you don’t feel comfortable expressing your reasons over the phone.
Not sure where to start? Just be honest about why you’re backing out, without getting too bogged down in personal detail. And don’t forget to thank them and let them know how much you appreciated the offer. After all, the company did take time and resources to hire you — even if you aren’t going to continue, showing your gratitude is a great way to maintain professional relationships and leave on a positive note.
It can feel like a massive undertaking to decline a job offer you already accepted. But if you know that the right thing for you is to rescind your acceptance, then it’s going to be the best outcome for all parties involved. Companies don’t want employees that don’t want to be there — they’re already struggling with employee retention as it is — and you don’t want to work somewhere you won’t be happy or available. The best course of action is to always be honest with yourself, and take the path you know will lead you to success and joy.