Handling Job Offers: Accepting and Declining

Congratulations, you’ve been offered a job! Now, how do you say yes (or no)?
The gradsingapore Team
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The thrill of finally receiving a job offer after a gruelling process of job search is one of the greatest moments in your life because it means that you’ve lived up to the employer’s expectations, and you’re wanted. It also means security and the start of a journey towards your dreams.

So, you say yes – no second thoughts, and that’s the end of it. Easy, right?

Except no, not really! Many applicants think that accepting a job offer is as easy as “Yes, I accept your offer”, but there’s a lot more to the process than you think. Accepting a job calls for another round of formal processes, and you’ll have to be aware of what goes on to ensure that you’re on the right track!

Your job acceptance can be complicated by other factors as well, such as your discovering that the particular employer or position isn’t quite suitable for you after all, or disagreeing about the hiring terms and conditions. In this case, you’ll need to practise proper etiquette for declining a job offer to make sure that you don’t burn any bridges.

Read on to find out more about what goes into a job offer and how you should respond to it.

How offers are made

In many cases, the recruiter will make a job offer to you through an email or a phone call, informing you that they’re “very happy to offer you X position.” However, job offers – whether conditional or unconditional – are not considered formalised until they are produced in writing, i.e. an offer letter; and it will normally contain a copy of the terms and conditions of employment.

This document acts as a binding contract once you sign it, so make sure to go through the printed details thoroughly and check that everything is as you’ve discussed with the recruiter (usually during your second or third interview). Look out for:

  • Job title
  • Salary and benefits (including travelling, phone, and entertainment allowances)
  • Additional incentive compensation
  • Employee education
  • Probation period
  • Notice period (the length of time between tendering your resignation and the actual time you stop working)
  • Hours of work
  • Holiday, sick pay entitlements, and insurance
  • Starting date

In some cases, the recruiter might hand you the letter during your second or third interview. If this happens, don’t feel pressured to sign on the spot. If you need some time to go through the document, ask if you can take some time to read through before you get back to them. Most employers will understand and won’t mind giving you the extra time needed.

When things aren’t clear

Some of the details in the offer letter can be quite technical, and you should be nitpicky about the specifics as you go through the document. If there is something that you don’t understand or that is different from your agreement made during an earlier discussion, be sure to clarify with the employer as soon as you can. This includes salary matters and comfirming your job location.

If you’re applying into a graduate programme or scheme, check if your offer is conditional on gaining a specific degree classification. This means that you’re temporarily accepted, and will be confirmed only when you achieve a particular result/degree. Make sure to iron this out with the recruiter before you sign your acceptance: what if you missed out the specified degree level? Some recruiters may be willing to overlook this if they were impressed by your interview performance.

Accepting the job offer

If everything goes well, and you’re keen on the job, then go ahead and sign your acceptance on the contract. Generally, that will be sufficient, but in some cases, you may be asked to put your acceptance in writing as well. This will require a short acceptance letter or email, mentioning that you’re formally accepting their offer to join the company. If you find that you need help with this, feel free to refer to your career advisors for assistance.

Think you’re done after you’ve sent your acceptance and offer letter out?

Almost there, but not quite yet! Don’t forget those who have helped you along the way, such as your contact who recommended you to the job in the first place, and your referees. Nothing too long – just a simple thank-you note/email mentioning your acceptance will do. If you want, you can also ask for further advice on how you should prepare to enter the organisation.

Declining the offer

In the off-chance that you think that the job is not suitable for you, then you will have to decline them properly – and this calls for a letter expressing your intentions. Don’t just ignore any job offers if you’re uninterested in them; recruiters won’t know that you’re declining their offer. Instead, they’ll only think that you’re being rude for leading them on. On the contrary, responding will help prove your integrity as a responsible job-seeker (and employee!).

In your email, make sure to thank the recruiters/interviewers for their time and tell them clearly that you’re unable to accept their offer. Explain your reasons too. Recruiters deserve to know after all the time and effort that they’ve invested in you. Be honest and polite about it, and always keep your tone professional. “I don’t think your offer is good” is definitely a no-go!

Again, don’t forget the network contacts who’ve helped you up till this point. Send them a brief email to inform them of your decision as well, and thank them for their assistance and guidance all this while.

If handled properly, job declinations can become a good networking opportunity too! Some recruiters may be impressed by your sense of responsibility and keep you in their circle of contact.

In some rare cases, the recruiter may call you back for a round of re-negotiation. This will be up to you to accept or decline, depending on the reasons why you rejected the job offer in the first place.

Getting a job offer even before the job hunt!

Sometimes, you may be given an offer before you even start on your job hunt, especially if you’ve been interning over the years and have impressed your (ex-)employers (well done!). Most recruiters will understand if you want some time to attend other interviews to compare your prospects, but do not drag their job offer on for too long without getting back to them. This is just plain rude, and will only spoil their good impression of you. Don’t neglect your responsibility to contact them once you’ve come to a decision, and be tactful about the way you juggle your (multiple) job offers!

Other don’t-dos

Take note also of some actions that are considered unethical by recruiters – make sure that you don’t do these:

Sign and accept multiple offer letters that you receive, and not turn up at work on the first day.
Delaying your response to your multiple job offers for a long time in order to compare your prospects, but not informing the rejected recruiters after you’ve made your decision.