James Brewster
James Brewster
Managing Director: Birmingham Private Practice

Articles From the Team

Can I decline a job offer after signing the contract?

For all the recruitment aficionados out there, you probably know the short answer to this: it's of course, yes.

Why?

Despite the fact a contract of employment is a legally binding document, employers want to acquire people who want to work for them, so it’s highly unlikely they'll go to the expense of taking you to court once they learn you don’t want to work for them. They're more likely to take it on the chin and make an exception to the agreement. 

For the not-so-familiar on the dos and don’ts (and often clandestine ways) of the job market, perhaps you're surprised to learn you can decline an offer after signing on the bottom line?

It was only this week that a junior lawyer asked me this question. Their immediate concern was that because they'd signed the paperwork, they were legally bound, so they could be sued, hung, drawn and quartered - all that for reneging a decision. It's true, the employer you're turning down might not speak to you again, and they might put pins in a voodoo doll, but I suppose this is understandable. Even so, if the reason(s) for a change of mind is framed in the right way, there's a good chance everyone will remain friends. Just be aware of the possible consequences. There could be some fallout, but it won’t be life-threatening.

Firms are aware of the competition

The legal jobs market is competitive, so firms know there's stiff competition. They often assume they're up against their neighbouring firms; jostling for the same candidate. As an example - a very real scenario is this: you’re a mid-level real estate solicitor with a personality. You can interview well and you're looking for a new job in Birmingham City Centre. It’s realistic (and logical) to assume you'll end up holding multiple offers of employment - all for you to consider; especially as most of Birmingham real estate practices are currently looking to recruit. In an ideal world, it'd be possible to run each interview side-by-side so that you can compare like-for-like, team-to-team, firm-to-firm, and offer-to-offer. Unfortunately, this rarely happens.

A typical scenario and possible solutions

So, what do you do if one of the firms you’ve interviewed at (Firm A) offers you a very good job and a deadline of five days to make a decision (because there's another candidate in the pipeline who they'll lose if you don't get back to them quickly)? In isolation, the job is one you're happy to accept. The only reason you'd decline it is if your top choice firm (Firm B) also offers you a job. Firm B is the firm you’ve dreamt of working for since leaving law school, and who you're due to meet the following week. How do you make sure you 'get your cake and eat it?'

At this stage, some of you will be thinking: "easy - try and bring the interview with Firm B forward!" But what if it’s impossible to move it? OK, then why not "take the job with Firm A but still attend an interview with Firm B." Isn’t that a bit disingenuous? How about: "Delay giving a decision in order to clarify details on the paperwork; ask for more money; ask to go for a beer with a member of the team.” Isn’t that giving Firm A false hope? The reality is there's no right or wrong answer and as recruiters, our view will vary on how a candidate can best manage multiple offers. It's best to treat these type of scenarios on a case-by-case basis as each situation is different. There's no rule book to recruitment!

What to explain if you change your mind:

  • That your decision's not personal; give some context to your decision
  • Make it clear you didn’t continue to send out your CV after accepting their offer
  • Make it clear that you were considering a few options alongside each other and in isolation, you were more than happy with their offer
  • Make it clear that it's not all about money
  • Make it clear that whilst you're declining this particular offer, you don't want to burn a bridge as they're a firm you respect and you can see yourself working for them at some point in the future
  • Don’t do it over e-mail, pick up the phone. If they want to discuss your decision, engage in a conversation, be gracious and provide them with clarity
  • Don’t go 'radio silent' on them, this is a sure way to annoy people and you'll definitely burn that bridge! 

For more information contact James Brewster at BCL Legal.

Disclaimer: the above blog doesn't constitute legal advice. The above is based on our expertise as legal recruiters and it reflects day-to-day dealings and common practice for job seekers.

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