Applications / Job market

What to do if you’ve accepted the wrong job offer

Everyone hopes that it will be possible to get an offer for the dream job, withdraw from any application processes still underway and settle down to wait for a start date. Sadly it doesn’t always work out this way. What do you do when you are offered a good job and the recruitment process for the dream job is still on-going?

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This scenario is far from uncommon. The job you have been offered is good enough. You’ve worked your way through the various stages of the recruitment process and have invested time and effort into it. You have to make a decision before you’re going to find out about the “dream job”. You’re probably going to feel that your only real option is to accept the offer as an insurance against unemployment. It might be that the other job offer is never forthcoming. But what do you do if you do get the “better” offer?

Embark afresh on the decision making process between the two options

Don’t assume that the view you had of both organisations at the beginning of the process hasn’t changed. Go back over the pros and cons of both organisations, perhaps write down a list. Think about your personal priorities. If one organisation pays much more than another and you’re motivated by money that might be compelling. Someone else may be much more concerned about work/life balance or ethics so the pay discrepancy could be irrelevant. When you’ve come up with your list make sure you listen to your “gut feeling” about it. If one offer excites you and the other feels dull, you should have a pretty good idea of which organisation to choose.

Once you have decided – take action

Change start button on a black dashboard background - Conceptual 3D render image with depth of field blur effect dedicated to motivation purpose.

Nobody wants to pull out of an accepted offer. You’re going to dread the conversation with the company you’ve decided to reject. That conversation isn’t going to get any easier if you procrastinate. Failure to get on and deal with the situation is unfair on the prospective employer and other potential candidates. It’s possible that the company has lined up reserves and that when you pull out someone else will benefit and get an offer. It’s probably good to remind yourself at this point that no employee is irreplaceable, least of all the one who hasn’t started yet.

Don’t just send an email

Once you’ve accepted an offer you’ve started to build a relationship with a company. You owe it to HR to have the courtesy to phone up and speak to them to withdraw your acceptance. If this fills you with dread then stop to think about what is the worst that can happen?

You might have a very uncomfortable few minutes of conversation and you could well have blown your chances of ever working for the organisation. Nobody is going to die! You’re going to have lots of difficult conversations during your life. This is just going to be one of them.

Are there any legal implications?

Well, you have signed a contract so you might be in breach of that. Normally the employer can only take action on that breach if it has suffered a loss. It is hard to see what the loss might be. Your employment contract almost certainly specifies a notice period which is not usually longer than a month when you start. So, you could start, give a month’s notice and then leave without breaching the contract. In reality that would cost the employer a whole lot more than the cost to it if you withdraw prior to starting. It is very unlikely that the company will take action for breach of contract.

What about reputational damage?

Pulling out of an offer you have accepted isn’t exactly going to enhance your reputation but it’s important to realise that this happens…a lot. Many organisations suffer from a high attrition rate of students pulling out after accepting offers. Generally they will be able to understand the reasons for your actions, provided that you have explained these. It is better for the employer that an uncommitted potential employee withdraws before starting work. Organisations invest heavily in the training for their new graduates and worst case scenario for them would be if you left within the first year of employment when they had incurred significant costs around your employment and derived no advantage from it.

If you are going to work in a very small niche occupational area you might need to think more carefully about reputational damage but this would really be the exception to the rule.

And so?

Do what is right for you, but do it as soon as you can and in person with apologies and humility. The organisation from which you are withdrawing is entitled to expect your honesty. If you handle things in the right way you might even find that, in the future, if your views have changed a job could still be there for you with the rejected employer.

One last reminder. If you accept the “second best” job and it comes with a bursary or sponsorship and you are still hoping for the dream job then make sure you put any sponsorship money to one side.  You will have to repay it if you pull out of the job.


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