your next move

‘Can I Back Out of a Job Offer a Week Before My Start Date?’

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Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

Dear Kimberly,

I am a psychology postgraduate fresh out of college. I had applied for this one job a while ago, the recruitment process for which continued to drag for more than two months. Since I desperately needed a job to relocate to a different city, I decided to apply to another place. However, I still held out hope for the first place I applied to, since it was a job I was more interested in.

The second place I applied to accepted me almost immediately and I accepted the offer, treating it almost like a backup. I have not yet signed a contract with them, but this job is supposed to begin in one week.

In the meantime, the first job I had applied for has almost completed the recruitment process and, from the look of things, it seems highly likely that I will get an offer from them in a few days.

My question is: Is it unprofessional and highly unethical to back out from the job offer I already have when I am so close to my start date? Also, is it possible for me to back out of this offer now?

Regards,
P

Dear P,

It’s never too late to back out of a job offer. However, there may be consequences.

During my time working in university career services, we dealt with many scenarios like this when working as the intermediary between students and employers. Many employers would rush to force students who completed a junior-year summer internship to sign a letter of intent, committing them to return after graduation. Students who signed these letters were not supposed to participate in any on-campus recruiting activities the fall or spring of their senior year because they already had a job offer.

However, many students would still opt to participate in recruitment if there was another company they were more interested in. If they succeeded in obtaining their desired offer, the student would rescind their acceptance of the offer they’d received after their internship. Every university and employer handled this situation differently. Some students would have to write a letter of apology and would be removed from all future recruitment activities. Some were banned from returning as an alumni recruiter for one to two years after graduation. Other students were flagged by the company they rejected so that it would be hard for them to get hired there again for a number of years. Some students dealt with no consequences at all.

The point that career counselors would stress is that you never know what connections you may burn by rescinding your offer acceptance, especially so close to your first day of work. There may be connections from that company that you see again during your next job search — and they may (or may not) remember what happened.

Despite all this, I want to stress that you did absolutely nothing wrong by applying for another job! I always recommend applying for multiple jobs and interviewing at multiple companies, because you never know what will happen. As long as you would be comfortable working in the role that you are applying for, APPLY! It’s unreasonable for a company, especially one with a two-month-long interview process, to expect you to wait on them for an offer.

Before rescinding your acceptance of the first offer, I do recommend that you get a formal offer letter from your desired company. There’s a big difference between an actual offer and an offer that is highly probable. If they don’t seem to be in a rush, I recommend sharing that you have another offer on the table with a start date that is around the corner and you wouldn’t be comfortable turning that offer down in hopes of possibly getting an offer from them. There’s no need to share all of the details. Keep it short and sweet.

Since the timeline is so tight, I do want to reiterate that you’ll want to get this offer in writing, formally sign it, and return it to the company. While verbal offers are nice, they aren’t binding. I wouldn’t want you to have to start your job-search process all over again because you rescinded your acceptance in anticipation of another offer that didn’t pan out.

Career and leadership-development expert Kimberly Brown helps readers make sure their next move is the best move, here, every other Wednesday. Have a question for her? Email yournextmove@nymag.com (and read our submission terms here). Listen to the Your Next Move podcast here.

‘Can I Back Out of a Job Offer a Week Before My Start Date?’