How can I properly reject a previously accept job offer?
April 1, 2007 3:32 PM   Subscribe

How can I reject a previously accepted job offer in an acceptable fashion that won't burn bridges?

Last December, I received a tentative job offer for a federal agency that was dependent on receiving a security clearance. The position was to start in the summer. During the semester, I was given a chance to interview with a prestigious private firm, which went well and resulted in myself receiving a much better offer this past week. I wish to accept this new offer, and don't really know how to tell the federal agency that I've changed my mind.

Technically, I was offered a 'tentative job offer' (their words). I haven't submitted the security clearance paperwork yet, so the actual offer itself hasn't been given. I'm also not sure on how business etiquette would work for this situation.
posted by Darke to Work & Money (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You should not worry too much about burning bridges with anyone. Burning bridges in situations like this actually requires some pretty bad behavior. The fact that you're even concerned means you'll probably be fine. Just be honest, but tactful, and they will understand.

Just tell them (either on the phone, or in email) that since you last spoke, another offer has emerged, and you intend to accept it. If you'd like to, you could tell them that it was a difficult decision, as you feel that their organization/team/selection of soft drinks in the employee kitchen is exemplary, and that you very deeply appreciate the offer and are not turning it down lightly. You don't need to give specific details, or any details really, on why you're accepting this other offer.

Any person who would hold this against you professionally is a jerk and won't get very far, in my opinion.

If it makes you feel a little bit better (I know that this can be hard), just think about it if the tables were turned. If this company happened to meet a candidate that they thought was more appropriate for the position, or if they found something in your security clearance that gave them pause, do you think they would even break a sweat? In my experience with many prospective employers, you'd be lucky even to get a phone call.

Congrats on your new job, by the way!
posted by pazazygeek at 4:17 PM on April 1, 2007

Dear Contact

Thank you for the opportunity to interview with this exceptional government department. I really appreciate the experience, and value the time that you and your team gave to me during this process.

However, in the interim period between interviewing in December and now, I have been offered another position that commences sooner, and I've accepted this position.

Please cancel any further application procedures for me in this role, and thank you again for the opportunity to participate.

Yours sincerely


Really, I'm sure they have heaps of people withdrawing their applications because of the time that it takes. It's no biggie. The biggie is when you've been shown round the office, they've painted your cubicle puce to suit your tastes and you sms them on the morning you were due to start to tell them that your grandmother died and you have to move to Finland to take on your inheritance.
posted by b33j at 4:19 PM on April 1, 2007

I think you have nothing to worry about. You haven't been offered a job and you haven't accepted an offer. If something came up on their end (a funding crisis, say), then I'm sure they would have no qualms about gracefully pulling the plug. You are giving them plenty of notice to find a new candidate so this is only a small inconvenience for them.

Just be honest and simple. Something like "I am sorry to inform you that I will no longer be available to consider your offer for employment this summer." If you like, you can go on and say "I have decided to pursue an opportunity that recently arose", but I don't think that's necessary And then finish by saying "I am very sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you, and I wish you success in filling the position." You can also offer to give them a few names of potential candidates, if you have any friends who might be suitable.

on preview, what everybodye else said.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:25 PM on April 1, 2007

I do think it is valuable (if only for your own self-pride) to mention your acceptance of another job offer in your communication to them, if only to demonstrate that your change of heart was in no way connected to potential nanny-gates that might emerge in the course of precessing your security clearance application.
posted by misterbrandt at 4:49 PM on April 1, 2007

I'm also not sure on how business etiquette would work for this situation.

A tentative job offer is worth exactly the paper that it's printed on. I understand your desire to do the right thing here, but it's important to remember that you do not yet have a job offer from the government. You certainly haven't accepted one.

First, make sure you have a real offer from the private firm (this will be in writing, will include salary and supervisor information, a start date, and will include a place for you to sign and return the offer letter, which is how you formally accept it).

Once you have your offer, call your contact at the government agency. Tell them that between the time you interviewed with them and now, a firm offer has come your way in the private sector, and that you have accepted it. Thank them for their time and for considering you for the position.

This sort of thing happens all the time. Don't worry about it at all.
posted by toxic at 5:21 PM on April 1, 2007

I had accepted a tentative job offer with a three-letter agency, and started the background check process. While this was going on, I kept trying to calculate how I would support me and my family at $43,000 a year and moving to Washington DC without relocation assistance.

After we came to the conclusion the only option was a cardboard box out at the end of the train line in Virginia, I called the HR specialist who I had been working with locally and said "I'm sorry, but, I cannot move to Washington for $43,000 a year" and she said "I understand. Keep us in mind in the future!" and that was it.
posted by jeversol at 5:22 PM on April 1, 2007

I've just turned a job offer down on receiving the written offer, having accepted it verbally but getting a better offer from my current employers in the meantime. I found this tricky, but mostly because it's likely that I will apply for posts in the same team in the other organisation in the future, so was particularly concerned about offending them. If you're expecting to stay with the private firm for a while, it sounds like this won't be a big issue, especially given the size of federal agencies - what are the chances you'd deal with the same people again if you did apply?

As others have said, I wrote a letter explaining I'd been offered another opportunity, that it was a difficult decision, and apologizing. I haven't had a response yet, but if there's anything noteworthy about it I'll let you know.
posted by paduasoy at 5:37 PM on April 1, 2007

Seconding jerversol. Just call whoever you've been in contact with and let them know that you got a better offer in the private sector. Government agencies are used to this. They won't hold it against you.
posted by donajo at 10:12 PM on April 1, 2007

If the private job doesn't work out, what will you do? If you would fall back to the federal job, then I would tell them you don't want to continue with the application at this time.

It sounds as though you are looking for a first job on graduation. Everyone recruiting from that pool can expect to be trumped by a later better offer. Yes, personal integrity matters, but I don't think any potential employer would expect you to forgo a hugely better offer. This would impact far more on a small outfit that was waiting, holding a position specifically for you.
posted by Idcoytco at 2:05 AM on April 2, 2007

I'm reading this a bit differently than the others, and depending on the agency, I wouldn't be surprised if they were pissed. It sounds to me like you have an offer if you get your security clearance. I think it's good that you haven't started that process (big bucks), but bad that for over three months they've thought they had that position filled. It depends on how much they wanted you personally, how much of a hardship starting the hiring process over will be, etc. In some federal offices that would be a big problem, in others it wouldn't. (This is all to say, it's not necessarily no big deal, and it is possible you could burn bridges.)

If you don't think you'll want to work with these people again, it's probably fine.

In any case, just call/write and nicely apologize. I know this is stressful, but just get it over with and you'll forget about it soon. It is absolutely true that if there was a glitch with your clearance, or funding problems arose before you started work, your offer would be rescinded, so don't worry too much about harming the office.
posted by Amizu at 5:46 AM on April 2, 2007

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