How to Decline a Job Offer You Already Accepted

How to decline a job offer

Theresa Chiechi / The Balance

What should you do if you accept a new job but then change your mind? Don't feel bad if this happens to you. You're not the first candidate who has said "yes" to a job offer, but had second thoughts.

Even though the employer would be thrilled to have you on board, they would prefer you to let them know before you start the job. If you start a job then quit, the employer will have to start the hiring process from scratch. That's harder than having to go back to the candidate pool to consider other applicants.

There are strategies you can use to professionally decline a job offer, even if you have accepted it already.

Reasons to Decline an Offer After Accepting

Why do candidates have second thoughts after they have said "yes" to a new job? This situation can happen for several reasons. After you've thought about it some more, the position might not seem as good as it did when you first accepted the offer.

Perhaps a family emergency has changed your situation, or you have gotten a dream job opportunity that you just can't turn down. Given the length of the hiring process in some circumstances, you may have rethought your objectives and decided to shift your career course.

Do keep in mind that it's not just you. A Robert Half survey reports that 28% of candidates backed out after receiving a job offer because they accepted a better offer (44%), received a counteroffer from their current employer (27%), or heard bad things about the company (19%).

When You Can Rescind a Job Offer Acceptance

Turning down a job offer after you have already accepted it can be an uncomfortable experience. However, as long as you have not signed an employment contract with the company, you are legally allowed to change your mind. If you've signed an agreement, depending on the contract, you might still be able to turn down the job without any legal consequences.

By turning the job down quickly and politely, you (hopefully) can maintain a positive relationship with the employer.

It's better to decline the offer than to quit shortly after taking the job. It's more expensive for the company to onboard you, then start over with a new candidate search. You also may have to explain why you quit a job you just started during subsequent interviews.

How to Turn Down a Job Offer You Accepted

Think it through carefully. Before rejecting the job offer, be 100% certain you do not want (or cannot take) the job. Once you turn down a job you previously accepted, there is no going back. Declining may also negatively impact your chances of future consideration for positions at the organization. Therefore, think carefully about the pros and cons of rejecting the job.

Read your contract. If you have already signed an employment contract, read through it carefully to make sure there will be no legal repercussions to rejecting the job. For example, some contracts say that you have a specific window of time during which you can reject the job or that you have to give a certain number of days' notice.

Check with a lawyer or employment expert to make sure there will be no legal consequences for rejecting the job.

Don't wait. Let the employer know as soon as you realize you no longer want to accept the position. The sooner you let the hiring manager know, the sooner the employer can start looking for your replacement. He or she will appreciate your swift communication.

Be honest, but tactful. Let the employer know why you changed your mind, but do so without insulting the hiring manager or the company. If you realized that you don't think you will get along with the other employees, simply say that you do not believe you would fit in with the company culture.

If you found a job that you are much more interested in, explain that you were offered a job that is more in line with your skillset. Do not say anything negative about the company.

Be concise. No matter your reason for rejecting the job, keep your explanation brief. You do not want to go into all the details of your family emergency or why another job is a better fit for you. This is a case where too much information isn't necessary.

Express gratitude. Be sure to thank the employer for the opportunity to meet and to learn about the company. If there was anything in particular you liked about the company, say so.

Explain that turning down the job was a hard decision. You do not want to burn bridges with the employer. You never know if you might want to work with them in the future.

Know your bottom line. The employer might try to negotiate with you to get you to come on board. Before speaking with the hiring manager, decide what your bottom line is. Would you stay for more pay? Better benefits? There are some benefits and perks that are negotiable. If you do opt to negotiate, know what would entice you to accept.

Keep in mind that the hiring manager may not be thrilled that you want to negotiate a counteroffer after you already said "yes" to the first offer.

Choose the right form of communication. Speaking with the employer directly (either on the phone or in-person) is the best strategy because it allows you to explain yourself more clearly and increases your chances of maintaining a positive relationship with him or her. You should then follow up the conversation with a letter or email confirming your conversation.

 A conversation in person or over the phone is the best way to personally explain and apologize.

If you are nervous about speaking with the employer directly or if you are worried you will not be able to fully explain yourself over the phone, you can send a formal letter or email message to them.

Learn from this. In the future, try to avoid situations where you accept and then reject a job. For example, for your next job offer, you can ask an employer for more time to decide. You might also work on your negotiating skills if you felt you did not get the salary or benefits you wanted. Remember, you don't have to say "yes" to every job you're offered. And you don't have to accept right away. It's perfectly acceptable to ask for time to think it over.

Try not to let your excitement about a job offer cloud your judgment when you're evaluating future roles. Think carefully about the pros and cons of any job offer, negotiate a contract you are satisfied with, and then say "yes" (or "no") to the job.

Sample Letter Turning Down a Job Offer After Accepting 

Francesa Lau
123 Walnut Dr.
Barrington, IL 60011

February 3, 2021

Melissa Peterson
Financial Manager
ABC Financial Group
456 South St.
Chicago, IL 60612

Dear Ms. Peterson,

Thank you so much for offering me the position of Financial Analyst at the ABC Financial Group. It has been a pleasure speaking with you and learning more about your company.

Unfortunately, after giving a great deal of thought to this career opportunity, I have decided that it is in my best interest, as well as the company’s, to turn down your gracious job offer.

I have recently decided to accept another position that I believe is a better fit for my abilities and skill set. I am so sorry for any inconvenience my decision may cause.

I continue to be impressed with ABC Financial Group’s role in the international marketplace, and particularly with the great work you have done as manager of the company’s Midwest branch.

I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. I hope to see you at the upcoming Financial Management Conference in October.


Francesa Lau (signature hard copy)

Francesa Lau

The Bottom Line

Check the Legal Implications: If you've signed an employment agreement, check the details before you withdraw your acceptance.

Talk to the Employer: If you can, it's better to have a conversation in person or on teh phone to explain why you have decided not to take the job.

Express Your Gratitude: Regardless of why you have changed your mind, let the company know that you appreciate the offer.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. 

Article Sources

  1. Robert Half. "Why Job Seekers Fail to Commit," Accessed Feb. 3, 2021.

  2. SHRM. "Why New Hires Quit Before They Start and How to Prevent It." Accessed Feb. 3, 2021.