How to gracefully decline an accepted job offer

Ghosting employers is an unwelcome trend, say recruiters. Here are better ways to handle changing your mind.
How to gracefully decline an accepted job offer

A surprising proportion of professionals are backing out of job offers after accepting them, according to research by global staffing firm Robert Half. Some are even “ghosting” employers — suddenly withdrawing communication with no explanation.

But while ghosting may have become common practice in dating, it is not acceptable for finance professionals who have received a job offer, recruiters warn.

The survey also showed that 28% of US professionals have reneged on roles they have already agreed to move into.

The main reasons: receiving a better offer (44%); receiving a counteroffer from their current employer (27%); and hearing bad things about the company after accepting (19%).

Los Angeles-based Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half, said that the way management accounting candidates handle such situations can affect their career prospects.

“Having cold feet is understandable; ghosting an employer is unacceptable,” he said in a news release. “Even though it may seem easier to avoid an awkward situation, transparency is always the best policy during a job search. If you have a change of heart after accepting a position, be honest with the hiring manager.

“Explaining that you have changed your mind about a job offer won’t be good news, but the employer will appreciate your communication and candour.” Here are three pieces of advice from Robert Half for people considering backing out of a job offer:

  • Read the fine print. Robert Half recommends candidates who think they may have cold feet read the fine print. If you have signed a formal contract, make sure there are no stipulations about reneging on your offer.
  • Do not procrastinate. Be direct and tell the hiring manager, recruiter, or HR professional as soon as possible once you have decided to decline the offer.
  • Make a graceful exit. Apologetic and professional communication by phone or in person is often the best way to handle the situation. Do not inform an employer by text or email that you’re not taking a previously accepted offer.

Marcus Williams, a London-based associate director for finance and marketing at recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley, said that typically people back out of a position if they get a counteroffer from their current employer.

Candidates may also back out of an offer because they are confident about receiving another, better offer or a counteroffer. Or, the candidate may feel less certain about making a change — perhaps because of issues such as Brexit — and prefers the cautious choice of staying with the existing employer.

“People are still interested in looking for jobs, but at a time of uncertainty, it has to be very attractive for people to move,” Williams said. “Top candidates typically aren’t looking for a job actively. We usually find them through search and selection, and they may have several offers at a time.”

Juniors harder to handle

Some generalisations about generations — and some data from Gallup — have led to the notion that more people backing out of job offers is due to the number of Millennials in the workforce.

But Singapore-based Akansha Agarwal, principal consultant, commerce finance, at Robert Walters, said: “I wouldn’t generalise and say Millennials back out more. But it is more difficult to manage candidates with five or less years’ experience.

“In mid- to senior-level roles, it becomes easier because there are fewer jobs in the market. But for roles below manager level, it’s about moving fast and closing as soon as possible.”

Other factors behind backing out include the candidate receiving offers with more money, counteroffers from existing employers, spouses not being happy with the move, and getting cold feet, said Agarwal.

Beware poor advice

UK-based Lee Owen, a senior business director at Hays Accountancy and Finance, said the main reason he has seen for finance professionals backing out of job offers is that candidates are poorly advised to do so by their recruiters.

“They might receive an offer for a role they like but are not 100% sold on it,” he said. “Instead of putting the offer at risk by appearing indecisive, they may think they can accept it but continue to interview for potentially better opportunities.”

Once candidates accept an offer, he said, it is recommended that they keep their word.

“Retracting your acceptance can often damage your reputation with the company and everyone involved,” Owen said. “If you do have to back out with valid reason, do it as soon as possible. Remember that, when you withdraw after accepting, you are costing the company as they have potentially lost other candidates.”

Professionals who are torn between offers should consider what factors about a job they are not willing to compromise on, said Owen. This could include location, progression opportunities, salary, size of the team, or other factors.

But whatever they decide, honesty is always the best policy, he said.

— Tim Cooper is a freelance writer based in the UK. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at