Making the decision to renege on a job offer is a difficult and delicate situation. You don’t want to pass up on a more suitable opportunity due to committing to another, but you also don’t want to damage your reputation and burn bridges with employers.
Here we explore what you need to consider beforehand, the potential consequences of reneging on a job offer, and how to handle the situation with professionalism so as to maintain your reputation.
What options should I explore before deciding to renege on a job offer?
Consider why you want to renege on an offer; is the other offer going to address all your career concerns that this one won’t? Will the second offer give you short-term gains over helping you in your long-term goals? And which is more important to you?
Remember that any short-term gains may not be worth the potential long-term consequences.
Weigh up the pros and cons of both offers and choose the one that most aligns with why you took to the job search in the first place. You can find some helpful tips on deciding between two offers here.
What are the potential consequences of reneging on a job offer?
Before you decide to renege on a job offer in order to accept another, it’s important to understand what potential consequences you face.
Worrick Fortune, an OfferZen Account Manager with experience in supporting multiple companies navigate hiring software engineers, speaks to the potential effects reneging on a job offer can have on you, the employer, and possibly the other candidates that didn’t receive the job offer.
How could reneging on a job offer impact my software engineering career?
Your professional reputation and the relationships you build are invaluable in your software engineering career. When you renege on an offer, you are risking your reputation within and beyond your network.
You could be perceived as someone who lacks reliability and loyalty, which are traits hiring managers want in a potential employee. You also run the risk of tarnishing your relationship with the employer (and anyone else involved in the hiring process) for any future collaboration.
Since the tech industry is closely-knit, reneging on too many offers can damage your reputation in the long run. Worrick says:
“Word spreads quickly, and employers may become wary of extending offers in the future if they perceive a pattern of reneging.”
Before deciding to renege on a job offer, consider how it may limit any future career prospects. It may not be worthwhile going back on your word for short-term gains considering the potential consequences.
Potential legal implications
Although it’s usually unlikely the employer will take legal action against the employee for reneging, it is something to consider when you’re deciding on taking another offer.
In South Africa, the Netherlands and Germany, accepting a job offer, even if accepted verbally, constitutes a legally binding contract between the employer and the employee. If either party goes against the specifics of this contract, such as reneging on the offer, the other has ground to take legal action.
Before you decide to go with the other offer, it may be a good idea to seek out legal advice to make sure you’re protected. It’s especially important to keep these legal implications in mind when planning how you’ll inform the employer.
The interviewing process is lengthy and effortful, and it requires a lot of company resources. This is why reneging on a job offer can come across as a disregard for the employer, hiring manager and anyone else involved in you securing the job.
When you accept a job offer, you’re making a commitment to those involved. Going against this commitment can break the trust others have placed in you.
“Ethical behaviour should guide our decisions, not only for personal gain but also with consideration for the impact on others.”
Worrick encourages candidates to consider the impact their reneging on a job offer will have on all those involved in making it happen. Besides respecting others and the impact your actions may have on them, you also don’t want to damage your reputation in the long run.
When you’re interviewing for a role, it’s highly likely you’re interviewing alongside other candidates. In accepting the employer’s offer, the other candidates that have worked hard throughout the process can no longer consider the opportunity.
“By reneging, we undermine the efforts of others who may have seen the job as their lifeline or a step towards their dreams.”
According to Worrick, reneging on a job offer denies other candidates an opportunity they’ve worked hard for. It’s important to consider this impact when deciding whether or not to renege on an offer.
How can I handle the situation professionally if I decide to renege on a job offer?
You’ve weighed up the pros and cons, and you’ve decided that reneging is still the best option for you. Here is how you can handle the situation professionally.
- Contact the hiring manager as soon as possible to arrange a phone call
It is best to break the news to a hiring manager over the phone, showing them that you are professional and taking this situation seriously. Breaking the news over email is not a great idea as this could be considered unprofessional and disingenuous.
In your phone call with them, be clear and concise about why the other opportunity will be better for you in the long run and why you’re in a situation that means you’ll need to renege on their offer.
It may be that you were under pressure to find work or you received this offer unexpectedly. Whatever it is, be upfront about why you’re in this situation. You may not get their understanding, but you can try to give them details that emphasise it has nothing to do with their offer or the opportunity.
Apologise for any inconvenience and highlight that you are grateful for their offer. Be prepared for negative feedback and try to remain courteous - remember that the people involved put a lot of effort into the hiring process and they may be disappointed. Some of them may be less likely to give you sympathy at this stage. However, by remaining professional and courteous, you show the employer that you have no ill intent and that this was a difficult decision to make.
- Reach out to anyone else involved
Consider everyone that was involved in the process of you securing the job offer. Did one of your friends or acquaintances make a referral? If so, reach out to them to apologise for causing any inconvenience and explain why the second offer will be better for you in the long run. Own up to your mistake in accepting the first offer.
Did you go through a recruiter or a job search platform? Reach out to whomever you had contact with, such as the recruiter or your OfferZen Talent Advisor and apologise for going back on your word. There will likely be some repercussions these individuals will need to manage and it’s courteous to own up to any inconvenience you’ve caused.
Owning your mistakes is a great opportunity for career growth, and everyone involved will appreciate that you’ve done so. Again, don’t expect to receive positive feedback from everyone, but still take the time to acknowledge what has happened.
Is there any way to avoid situations where I might need to renege on a job offer?
To avoid reneging on an offer for a more suitable opportunity, take time to think about an offer carefully before accepting. It’s important not to rush to accept a job offer. Rather evaluate it from all angles and take time to think about it to ensure it’s the best option.
Speak to friends and family, a mentor or people you trust and who understand your career goals to help clarify if it’s addressing what you’re looking for. And once you’ve made a decision to accept an offer, closing the loop with other employers is key to not distract yourself from the offer you just accepted.
It can be difficult if you’re in a hurry to secure a job, but it’s worth taking your time to think about it and preferably having all of your job offers on the table before accepting one. In which case, you can try to delay getting back to the employer by letting them know that you’re waiting to complete other interview processes. Keeping the employer informed is your best approach. It showcases your intention to give them an answer but also to complete all the processes you’ve engaged with. These are traits that would impress a hiring manager, thus preserving your professional reputation.
If you have reneged on a job offer, try to reflect on the process; what led you to accept the offer in the first place, and what made the second offer more appealing? Decipher where you didn’t think things through as well as you could have, or how you could have better related the offer to why you were looking for a new job in the first place. This reflection should help you avoid a similar situation in future.
- Evaluating a job offer. This chapter from our Job Search Guide for Developers includes key insights on evaluating job and counter-offers, as well as how to decide between two or more offers. It also provides tips and templates for negotiating terms, accepting or declining an offer, closing the loop with companies you’ve engaged with, and resigning from your current job.
- 4 Steps to Get The Full Picture of Your Developer Job Offer
- How to Negotiate a Job Offer That’s More Than Just the Money
- Lessons I’ve learnt to navigate counter-offers like a pro