Career Etiquette: On Backing Out of Offers

Career Administrator

The job/internship search can be very stressful. Admittedly, there might even be times when it’s tempting to accept the first offer that comes along just to have something squared away. However, this can lead to a potentially career-damaging behavior known as reneging, which is the act of backing out of a job/internship offer that you have already accepted, usually with the intention of accepting a different offer. While reneging can be easy to do, especially when a seemingly more desirable offer comes in, the impact it can have on your career path may be difficult to undo.

Why You Shouldn’t Do It

While it is legal to renege from an offer, this does not mean that is a wise course of action (Zhang). To convey the full implications of reneging, writer, Roxanne Hori from, uses the comparison of dating and marriage. “In both settings,” she says, “You are meeting people and looking for the right match.” She then continues:

At some point when dating, things get serious and eventually lead to a proposal of marriage or long-term commitment. Once you make that commitment, both individuals expect the other to stay true to the commitment.

Therefore, accepting an offer for a job/internship can be viewed almost as seriously as “saying, ‘I do’” to a marriage proposal. You have made an agreement, whether verbal or written, to commit to a certain role for a certain duration of time. If the thought of leaving someone at the altar seems cringeworthy, then consider what happens when someone reneges from an offer. According to the online career resource, themuse, the hiring process can be long and taxing for an organization. The many parts that go into it (starting with advertising open positions, to reviewing applications, to interviewing candidates, and finally extending offers of acceptance) require the expenditure of valuable time and resources from the employing company. To renege on an offer would, not only be completely disregarding the amount of work it took during the first round of hiring, it would also mean that the employer has to start another round of the same grueling process.

For this reason, some organizations might become more intolerant towards candidates the companies had previously extended offers to, which were then reneged. Danielle Wilder, the Director of Human Resources at Shelterhouse reveals that some employers might even blacklist such candidates, meaning that they would not consider people who renege from offers for future positions within the organization. She explains, “We want to be someone’s first choice, not their rebound or fallback.” Additionally, even if a person is not too disappointed about not working at a specific company anymore, other job opportunities can still have the potential of being jeopardized. Hori, quoted above, relates this experience:

I know someone who reneged on one job opportunity to take another position. The day he showed up to work, he found the company no longer wanted him because they discovered he had reneged on a competitor. The feeling was he simply could not be trusted.

How to Avoid Reneging in the First Place

One of the best ways to stay away from the potentially harmful behavior of reneging is to avoid getting stuck in the circumstances that might make the act seem tempting to do. Even though the job/internship search can be quite stressful, this doesn’t mean that it has to push you into a corner and accept whatever first offer comes along. Instead, after receiving an offer of employment from an organization, try asking for more time to consider the offer before making a decision. Often times, companies are fairly willing to grant such an extension because they usually understand that a candidate might be deciding between multiple offers. According to Lily Zhang from themuse, one way to do this effectively is to first thank the employer for the offer, then ask about potential opportunities to speak with others at the company to learn more about the culture that can help inform your decision. She goes on to explain, “Most companies will appreciate that you are interested in doing the due diligence to make sure you are a good fit--and you can still maintain a safety net without setting yourself up to burn bridges.”

Additionally, when deciding between current and potential offers, make sure to practice good decision making skills to avoid making any rash decisions that can harm your interests or that of your prospective employers. Check out this step-by-step guide to see how you can make the best choice for your circumstances.

With that being said, there can be situations when reneging is legitimately the only option that can be taken. Such extenuating circumstances can include long-term family emergencies or personal health issues, etc. (Zhang). Another situation might be that another position opens up within the organization that extended the offer that might be more fitting for your career interests. In all these aforementioned cases, honesty is truly the best policy. Clearly explain why you would like to withdraw from the accepted offer to the employer as soon as possible. For help on how to best approach this conversation, see a career counselor during Open Office Hours in Newcomb 170 or make an appointment on Handshake for Bryant Hall.

All in all, reneging from an offer when such an action can be avoided in the first place can be labeled as bad career etiquette. So unless this option is truly the only legitimate option in a specific situation, it is best to avoid it altogether for fear of incurring any potential damage to your career path before it even starts.


Can You Renege on a Job Offer? | Lily Zhang | themuse

Reneging on a Job Offer: When ‘I Do’ Becomes ‘I Don’t’ | Roxanne Hori | Bloomberg

Is Reneging on a Job Offer Okay? | Danielle Wilder | LinkedIn Pulse

Knowing What's Involved in A Career Choice | UVA Career Center

See Also

Students should know there are pitfalls to reneging on an internship offer | PennState Smeal College of Business

Why Reneging on an Offer is Bad for Your Career Mojo | Claire Klieger | University of Pennsylvania Career Services