Handling Job Offers: Accepting and Declining
The thrill of finally receiving a job offer after a gruelling job hunt is probably one of the best feelings. More than signalling your success, it means that you’ve lived up to a potential employer’s expectations – and you’re good enough to be offered a job. It also translates to financial security and another step 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 actually a lot more to the process than you think! Accepting a job offer means another round of formal processes, so make sure you know what’s going on to ensure that you’re on the right track!
Or maybe you’ve discovered that this particular employer or position isn’t quite suitable for you after all, or you disagree with the hiring terms and conditions. In this case, if you feel like you’re receiving the short end of the stick and unable to successfully negotiate your terms, you may decide to decline the offer. This is when you’ll need to practise proper etiquette to make sure that you don’t burn any bridges.
So, what do you expect when you receive a job offer?
Receiving a job offer
No matter the mode of contact, the recruiter will inform you that they’re “very happy to offer you X position”. However, the offer – whether conditional or unconditional – isn’t formal until it’s produced in writing.
This document acts as a binding contract once it is signed, 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 resigning and your last day of work)
- Hours of work per day or week
- Holiday, sick pay entitlements and insurance
- Starting date
In the recruiter hands you the letter during your second or third interview, don’t feel pressured to sign on the spot. Instead, ask for some time to go through the document before getting back to them. Most employers will understand and give you the extra time you need.
When things aren’t clear
Some details in the offer letter can get quite technical. Don’t let it overwhelm you; it’s alright to nitpick the specifics as you go through the document, including salary matters and job location.
If you’re applying to a graduate programme or scheme, check if the offer is conditional on gaining a specific degree classification. This would mean that you’re temporarily accepted, and will only be confirmed when you’ve achieved a particular result or degree. However, keep in mind that some recruiters may also be willing to overlook this if they’re impressed by your interview performance.
But at the end of the day, make sure that you’ve ironed out the details and employment terms with the recruiter before you indicate your acceptance.
Accepting the offer
If everything goes well and you’re keen on taking up the job, go ahead and sign your acceptance. Although this is sufficient in most cases, some employers may ask you to write 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, don’t be afraid to turn to your career advisors for assistance.
You’re not done yet though! Don’t forget those who’ve helped you along the way, such as your contact who recommended you to apply for the job in the first place, and your referees as well. Just a simple thank-you note over email mentioning your acceptance will help to show your appreciation. You can also ask for further advice on how you should prepare for your first day at the job.
Declining the offer
In the off-chance that you think that you’re not suited for the job or company, be sure to decline politely in the form of a letter expressing your intentions. This is because recruiters won’t know that you’re declining their offer and why. Instead, they’ll only think that you’re being rude for leading them on. On top of that, responding will help prove your integrity as a responsible job-seeker (and employee!).
In your email, thank the recruiters and interviewers for their time, and tell them clearly that you’re unable to accept their offer and why. 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. A curt “I don’t think your offer is good enough” is definitely a no-go!
Again, don’t forget the contacts who’ve helped you up to this point. Send them a brief email to inform them of your decision as well, and thank them for their assistance and guidance.
If handled properly, job declinations can become good networking opportunities too! Some recruiters may be impressed by your sense of responsibility and keep you in their circle of contacts.
In some rare cases, the recruiter may even call you back for a round of re-negotiations. This will be up to you to accept or decline, depending on the reasons why you rejected the job offer in the first place.
But what if you get a job offer even before the job hunt?
Sometimes, you may be given an offer before you even start on your job search, 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 don’t drag their offer on for too long without getting back to them! That is just plain rude, and will only spoil their good impression of you.
Moreover, 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.
There are other no-gos too! Take note of these actions that are also considered unethical by recruiters – make sure that you don’t:
- Sign and accept multiple offer letters, then don’t turn up for work on the first day;
- Delay your response to multiple job offers for a long time in order to compare your prospects, then not inform the rejected recruiters after you’ve made your decision.
As you take the first steps into the adventure that is your new career, keep these rules of etiquette in mind no matter what your choice will be. Good luck!