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I verbally (and via email) accepted an offer and was told background checks etc. would take two weeks, and when they were done the contract would be issued - I haven’t signed anything legally binding to the best of my knowledge, unless the line ‘I’d love to accept the position’ in an email counts.

In the meantime I’ve been offered a position I prefer, not from a new application but one I made well before I was offered this role.

I’m not looking forward to writing that particular email, but I think I do want to turn down the offer I originally accepted in favour of the new company.

But first I wanted to know what the repercussions of this might be - I guess I’ll be blacklisted by that first company, but I think I can live with that.

Since they’ve paid for background checks etc. do I have any obligations? If not any thoughts on how others would phrase this would also be very much appreciated - it feels incredibly awkward to say ‘I got a better offer’ but that’s what it comes down to.

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    Are you in the USA? If so, then 99.99% of the time, an offer letter is not a legally binding contract. Additionally, any fees the company has paid to onboard you are their costs of doing business, not yours. You may or may not burn bridges at this company, but send your intention to decline their offer as soon as possible. Be professional, courteous, and thank them for the opportunity nonetheless.
    – joeqwerty
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 14:53
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    Is the title really correct, as you also mention "via email"?
    – puck
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 19:57
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    yeah, you say verbally but then said via email, so it was both spoken and on email?
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 23:06
  • "In the meantime I’ve been offered a position I prefer, not from a new application but one I made well before I was offered this role." Did you sign the contract? Do not reject the other offer until you sign the new contract. Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 5:53

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first an important thing:

How do I turn down a verbally accepted offer?

I verbally (and via email) accepted an offer

You accepted the offer in writing. Today offers are accepted via website, email, scanned documents and snail mail.

was told background checks etc. would take two weeks, and when they were done the contract would be issued.

Even if that offer was in writing, it was still an offer with conditions. You can fail a background check. You can complete a background check and if they are uncomfortable with some parts of it you can be rejected.

In the meantime I’ve been offered a position I prefer, not from a new application but one I made well before I was offered this role.

It doesn't matter when you applied. I have seen offers take days, and others take many months to work through the process.

As long as the offer is contingent, you have an obligation to your self to keep looking, and applying, and interviewing.

when they were done the contract would be issued.

If the contingent contract didn't specify things like work location and pay, then those missing items could be used by you to reject the final offer letter after the background check is completed.

Since they’ve paid for background checks etc. do I have any obligations?

Any fees you would be responsible for would be specified in the original contract offer. It also could have been addressed in the background investigation forms you filled out and approved.

any thoughts on how others would phrase this would also be very much appreciated - it feels incredibly awkward to say ‘I got a better offer’ but that’s what it comes down to.

Make the email quick, simple and polite. There is no reason to provide details, because you aren't starting a negotiation.

The big question is when do you send it. The answer is as soon as you know that you will not be working for them. But when do you know?

If that new offer letter is just that, an offer letter, it is too early to tell the first company. If that offer has contingencies then you don't have a 100% solid job. You can fail their background check. Their check can be delayed and you could be waiting for months. There can be other contingencies: customer approval, getting a new contract, and so on.

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  • Where did you read that the offer was conditional on background checks? Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 14:38
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    @DJClayworth first sentence in the post. OP is waiting for background checks and the contract is not being issued until they are done. That implies they may not issue the contract at all if they don't like the background check.
    – Seth R
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 14:48
  • Thanks for this detailed response! I’ve actually only been offered the role via email, without any formal letters - it was just the manager asking if I’d accept. And my written response was ‘I’d love to accept the role’, there’s been nothing more detailed or formal than that - I’m guessing that means I can drop out with no particular repercussions then!
    – user13948
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 9:18
  • @user13948, You're in a pickle, and I don't have an answer for you. But in the future, do not accept such tentative offers. For instance, you could have simply said: "Yes, I plan on accepting this offer, but please know that I need a contract in hand and all the final details worked about before I'm able to formally accept this offer." In other words, do not accept non-binding offers too quickly. If they believe they have you locked in, and that you've stopped looking, they're likely to place you on the back-burner or reduce some of the benefits/pay they were planning to give you. Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 0:44
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Convey your intent clearly and at the earliest.

But first I wanted to know what the repercussions of this might be - I guess I’ll be blacklisted by that first company, but I think I can live with that.

If you do not intent to move forward with the offer, convey your intent clearly and at the earliest. Not moving forward with the offer does not mean you'll necessarily be burning bridges. Being prompt, straightforward and thankful for receiving the offer would mean you could still leave on good terms. This will also help save any unnecessary efforts on both sides.

How do I turn down a verbally accepted offer?

Get in touch with the recruiter at the earliest and convey your intent of not wanting to proceed with the offer. Don't forget to be thankful for receiving the offer.

Since you have not consented in writing, it would be better if you convey the intention verbally (preferably the same way you consented i.e. over phone or in person) and do not send anything in writing at the moment.

It's needless to say, but since you have not consented in writing or signed any papers, it will be safe to assume the offer is not binding in any way or form.

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  • "it will be safe to assume the offer is not binding in any way or form." why is that safe to assume? Verbal contracts are a thing
    – Aida Paul
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 11:07
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You are, essentially, quitting before your first day. You can't do so without burning some bridges. All you can do is be polite and understanding.

"I'm really sorry about this, since I would have loved to work with you. But I just received another job offer that I really can't turn down, so I need to withdraw my acceptance of your generous offer. My deep apologies for the inconvenience this causes you."

If you like, you can explain why you can't resist the other offer, so they can see why you made this decision, but be careful. If it's something they could theoretically match, this may come across as last minute negotiation, and that may be considered obnoxious. "They offered me 15% higher salary" I'd leave unsaid. "It's in Boston and I have lots of friends there (plus it being a large city and a center for our industry, which Poughkeepsie isn't)" is better, though these days it could be taken as trying to demand permission to work remotely. "It's a chance to work with some technology I'm really excited about", or to try being involved in a start-up, or something else that the previous offer just doesn't have is hard not to be sympathetic with even if annoyed.

But the explanation is optional. It may take the emotional edge off your breaking the agreement, it may not. But they've job-hunted too, they know these things can happen. It's just part of the process, which is sometimes as frustrating for employers as for candidates.

And the sooner you tell them, the less money they waste on bringing you on board, and the sooner they can start considering other applicants. Maybe their second choice is still available, and if they move fast enough they can grab him/her. If you delay telling them, they might lose that opportunity. So do it NOW.

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  • Good answer. I like the second paragraph as it is precise and to-the-point. The third paragraph is also cool as it is diplomatic and helpful. Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 20:02
  • They probably don’t care why you have to take back your acceptance of the job. At the maximum, just say you’re accepting a job, you can’t pass up.
    – Donald
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 16:12

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