Backing out of a job offer can have significant risks for you and your university. Be sure you understand what is at stake before you accept a job offer or renege on an agreement.
It's noon in the Career Center and a student comes in to Career Lab with a concern. His questions today are on a topic that has come up several times recently; Can you renege on a job offer? Reneging is a term used when a person accepts a job offer (via email, phone or signed contract) but later rejects the offer for another opportunity. With recruitment deadlines starting earlier, companies also expect earlier commitments for internships and full-time positions. When students are forced to make career decisions 9 months to 1+ years in advance, its no surprise that people change their minds or their situations change. Even during spring semesters when early commitments aren't required, hiring timelines for different companies don’t always overlap, making it difficult to make decisions without knowing all your possible job or internship options. No matter the circumstances, reneging is a serious situation that is not condoned by the Center for Career & Professional Development. We expect students to professionally and responsibility consider offers before they accept, and follow through on job or internship agreements with employers.
Is it legal?
While you aren’t guilty of breaking any laws when you renege on a job offer, it's more a question of ethics than legality. If you have signed a contract, you should review the details closely to see if there are any stipulations applied if the contract is not honored. Bottom line, once you have accepted a job offer you should not consider other offers, participate in other interviews, or apply to other positions. Accepting a job offer and continuing to engage in any type of recruitment activity is unethical.
Impacts on the University
In an effort to put the situation into a greater context, consider the effects reneging might have on the relationship between the university and the company. A colleague from another Career Center shared a situation where an employer failed to participate in their co-op program after a student reneged on a job offer. While the employer said they were understanding at the time, they never again hired a student from the program. In other words, it didn’t negatively impact the student (who went on to a different opportunity), but all future students from that university suffered the consequences of a permanent lost opportunity to work with that company. Companies put a great deal of time and resources into selecting candidates and are understandably frustrated when a student reneges, without a way to put consequences on the student, it may be the Career Center that suffers.
An employer shared a situation that played out after they made a full-time offer to an intern. The student happily accepted the offer but one week before their start date (and three months after the offer was accepted) she emailed to explain that she had found a position closer to home that was a better fit for her. Not only did this leave the employer scrambling to find a replacement and short staffed, the student also lost a positive reference from her internship as a result of reneging on the full-time offer. In addition, that student ruined any opportunity to return to that company in any role. It permanently burned a bridge with the company when she reneged.
It's also a risk that your reputation for reneging will spread among recruiters. Keep in mind that recruiters often have relationships with each other or switch companies, which means multiple recruiters may learn of your reneged offer or share the information with your new employer. This could result in a company rescinding their offer to you and affect future applications or job searches industry wide.
Thinking Long Term vs Short Term
A student was recently working with a Career Coach to discuss his situation. He had committed to a position but two weeks later an offer that had a shorter commute was offered to him from another company. In a similar situation, a second student reached out to her Career Coach for advice after accepting an offer but later interviewed elsewhere where she received a better salary offer. In both situations the Career Coach encouraged the students to weigh short term goals against long term goals. It's helpful to think about how actions today might affect your long term career path. Yes, a shorter commute or better salary has value, but is it worth the damage a reneged offer will have on your professional reputation? Are you confident you would never be interested in applying to the company again? If you back out on an agreement its likely that a door will never open for you again with that organization. If the company that provided the second offer learned you were already committed elsewhere, would they rescind the offer and leave you without any offers at all?
How to Avoid Reneging
Not too long ago while house hunting my realtor gave me some great advice that applies to job hunting as well. I had found a house that was OK, it had things I liked and a few compromises I thought were reasonable, leaving me to debate putting in an offer. She asked me “Are you going to go home tonight and continue to look at other houses online? Are you ready to stop searching for other options?” I admitted no, I would likely revisit the listings to keep checking for new options. She explained that likely meant this wasn’t the house for me, because if it was, I would be ready to stop looking for other houses. Taking that advice to your job search, if you receive an offer, you should only accept it if you can walk away from the job boards and would feel confident declining any job offers or interview offers that came later. It’s always difficult to make a decision when you don’t know how things will look later, but any commitment you make should end your job or internship search completely.
All the Wrongs to Avoid
In the beginning of February, I accepted an internship offer but I still interviewed with another company because I wanted to be ‘in their system’ so to speak. I interviewed with them on-campus and did not expect to be offered a position, but I was offered one yesterday. This offer provides more benefits and is more directly related to my field of study, but I’m not sure what to do since I’ve already accepted somewhere else. How should I respond?
Mistake 1: Don’t interview after you accept an offer, period. You are wasting a company's time, and possibly jeopardized your first job offer by participating.
Mistake 2: Don't make decisions by only considering short-term goals. Build a bridge with a recruiter by expressing your interest to return to the opportunity later (during a future summer or upon graduation). You can say "not now" instead of "no".
Mistake 3: It's rare that an employer will be understanding about a situation where you acted unprofessional for the sake of your own needs that also puts them at a disadvantage. Even if you explain why you choose to renege it will likely not change the negative effects imposed upon the employer's hiring efforts and relationship with the university.
Alternatives to Reneging
Ask for an extension before you accept an offer (to allow for more time for interviews or offers to come in)
Dear (recruiter name),
I am thrilled to receive the offer to come work with (company name) and remain interested in this opportunity. I understand the offer deadline is (date) but due to my academic commitments and hectic schedule I would like to request an extension. I need additional time to discuss this offer with my family and mentor, as well as time to fully understand the benefit details and make tentative relocation plans. Could I respond no later than (new date)?
Thank you for your consideration.
Keep the door open
Dear (recruiter name),
I would love the opportunity to intern with (company name) this summer, however I have already committed to an opportunity elsewhere. Because your organization remains a company that is well aligned with both my academics and career interests, could this offer be extended for (date in the future)? I apologize for not being available sooner, but I need to honor the contract I have already signed. In the hopes of remaining an eligible employee in the future, please advise on the possibility of being considered for employment at (company name) at a later date.
Decline the offer
Dear (recruiter name),
Thank you for the offer to interview for the (job title) position. Unfortunately, I need to withdraw from the application process because I have accepted an offer with another company. I remain impressed with (company name), and I would be very interested in applying again in the future after I have 1-2 years of job experience that would make me a more competitive candidate.
Thank you for your interest and best of luck with your recruitment plans,