Can I Turn Down an Offer I've Already Accepted?
Welcome to Career Therapy, where executive recruiter Pat Mastandrea answers questions about your career path, career transitions, and career decisions. Read this Q&A;, then email firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your own question!
I'm a marketing director who moved to a new city about three months ago for my partner's job. Since then, I've been looking for a new job (luckily, I have had the flexibility to wait for one that is a great fit).
In a nutshell, I went through several rounds of interviews with a company that I loved (let's call it Company A)—until the hiring manager dropped off the face of the Earth and wouldn't return my follow-up emails . I figured the door was closed there, so I kept interviewing other places and ended up being offered and accepting a different position—one I liked almost as much.
Literally three days later, Company A called, profusely apologizing for the delay and offering me the position. I truly think this is a better fit for me in terms of the position and company culture, and it is a stronger offer in both salary and benefits. So, basically I am wondering—can I renege on the job I've already accepted with Company B? Or will I burn miles and miles of bridges in my new city? Help!
Frankly, there is no right answer to this question, especially without knowing all the gritty details. But based on what you have described, the simplest advice I have is this: If you have verbally accepted with Company B but haven’t already signed an employee agreement, are not legally bound to the role, and have not already started and are a week into the job there, I recommend you take the position that you believe is the best fit for you .
There are two issues at play here: doing what’s best for you and doing what’s best for the company. Ultimately, though, doing what’s best for you will be what is best for the company. Any employer would want a hire who is excited to join and passionate about the company, not an employee who is thinking about the job that got away. Most likely, Company B’s second choice (because, yes, there’s always a second choice) feels the excitement and interest you feel for Company A. You’ll be a happier, more productive employee if you don’t resent your job at any point. Plus, depending on how forthright you were with Company B during the interview process, the hiring manager may already have an idea that you were entertaining other offers.
There’s the old adage: “It’s not personal, it’s business.” While true, that’s not to say there is certain business etiquette that one must follow as a common courtesy. In other words, don’t offend Emily Post. At the end of the day, you can renege on your verbal agreement and preserve your reputation if you do it with respect and honesty. Decline, with grace.
I recommend that you be upfront about the fact that this was a tremendously hard decision for you. Make it clear that you respect Company B but that another offer has come in that you simply cannot refuse—one that represents your dream job. Convey that you feel strongly that this other role is a better fit for you. Also inform Company B that Company A has made you a financial offer too compelling to walk away from as well.
Being honest and tactful will serve both you and Company A better in the long run.
I wish you the best of luck,
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Pat Mastandrea is one of the founding partners of the Cheyenne Group and is the Chief Executive Officer of the company. Prior to starting the firm, Pat ran TMP/Monster Worldwide's Global Media, Entertainment and Information Executive Search Practice. Pat's career spans 20 years in the media, entertainment and information industry including advertising agency, broadcasting, cable, direct broadcast satellite, publishing and new media.More from this Author