Can You Quit A Job Before You Start?

By Gerald Walsh ©

Some time ago I had this question asked of me:

Last week, I accepted a job offer with a new employer which I had planned to start in three weeks. I have now just received an offer from another company. This was the offer I really wanted to get. The money is better, there is more room for advancement, and I like the people more. How would you recommend I handle this situation? How would it look if I quit before I started?

What would you do?

One thing is certain: this is an awkward situation and unfortunately there is no clear-cut answer on what to do. But you can be assured you are not the first person who has faced this situation.

This happens reasonably often and employers, while disappointed, are hardly surprised when new hires change their mind before they start, especially if there is a long gap between the hiring and the first day of work.

In contemplating what you should do, what you are balancing is a moral obligation to the first employer who offered you the job in good faith (which you accepted) versus the practical reality of the second offer – which is a better one for you in all respects, including money.

You will have to judge whether it is better for you to “stick to your word” and keep with the first offer or go with the one you have determined is better for you.

If you do decide to reject the first offer, the respectful way to do it would be to meet with the first employer in person, carefully explaining what has happened and why you changed your mind.

Most employers will understand if you explain that the second job fits better with your long-term career plans.

You should also apologize, or at least acknowledge, that your decision to change your mind has caused some inconvenience to the company.

It would also be helpful if you were able to offer some sort of solution to the problem you helped create, such as  recommending someone else who might be good for the job.

Remember, your reputation is on the line here and you never know when you will run into this person again.


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 15,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.