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Is it OK to decline a job offer after verbally accepting it over the phone (no contracts were signed)?

Would this make the human resources manager angry, due to the time he/she has taken to interview me, and perform the background checks?

A new job I have been offered involves working directly with management and has higher pay, rather than a general floor worker that I was offered before.

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    Location would be useful here. I'm no US citizen, but I've heard that in California verbal agreements are binding. So unless you're living in that area, you should be fine. They won't be happy about it, but at least it's not binding. – Edwin Lambregts Dec 29 '16 at 12:20
  • The only thing we really said was: HR Manager: is this OK with you? Me: Yes, absolutely :) – Debbie Williams Dec 29 '16 at 12:24
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    Welcome back Debbie. Have you searched the site for questions related to this? It's a common question and has been covered extensively before such as here. Also have a look at the linked/related questions on that questions and this question. – Lilienthal Dec 29 '16 at 13:40
  • Just curious, is it the same manager mentioned in this question a few days ago? I burst out in laughter thinking of the HR manager receiving a card and chocolate followed by a rejection few days later. – Masked Man Dec 29 '16 at 14:00
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    Seriously just take the better job. You have to think of yourself because others won't do it for you. – Gilles Dec 29 '16 at 15:52
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I actually disagree slightly with @Joe Strazzere here, on the 'anger' part. I believe the legal part is correct, that most locations there is nothing binding until / unless you sign. Also, I don't believe many places would actually enforce even a written offer acceptance if no money has changed hands (most locations in the US actually require money to change hands for a contract to be enforceable). My company does not count someone as 'hired' until they are through Day 1 inprocessing, and we don't count them as 'offer accepted' until paperwork is signed. Further, many companies don't even do the background check until after you're hired, but have the offer stipulate something like "subject to background investigation"

As a hiring manager, I'll tell you that the degree of irritation over any declined offer (whether before or after the acceptance) is directly proportional to the fill-ability of that position and the number of irons I have in the fire.

If I'm doing a 'massive hiring' for a 'floor level position', and one guy backs out because he got a better offer before he started working for me, I might have a brief moment of 'what the hell, dude?' before moving on to the next candidate. But no anger, and certainly no grudges. I probably wouldn't even remember you six months later (not that you're not memorable, my friend, just that we're talking about a situation for a standard floor job, which implies low barriers to entry. In those situations in the past, I've had 10-15 applicants for every offer acceptance, possibly more. ) "There are more fish in the sea" as it were.

I'll tell you that conversely, I would feel pretty bad about someone taking my entry level job if they were qualified for and had been offered a more advanced position elsewhere, and I found out about it. Hell, I've had folks tell me six months or less after being hired, "Hey, I am really overqualified for this, and I have job X offered to me" and I wish them luck, exchange contact info in case they change their mind and try and keep in touch with them on LinkedIn, etc. There's no point holding grudges, and it's a lot easier to build animosity doing something you're not satisfied with.

  • I think it is important to note that this answer is primarily geared for lower paying, high turnaround office positions. In my experience, once a person has achieved a certain professional level (where the cost to find the right person increases), the "on second thought" type of behavior can get you blacklisted from a department if not an entire company. – DanK Dec 29 '16 at 16:45
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    @DanK That's especially true with niche positions as well, even at the entry level. As Paul said, it's all about how many irons are in the fire, as that's directly corollary to how much you're "screwing" the company by backing out. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Dec 29 '16 at 16:51
  • @dank depends on your definition of lower paying. I'm currently interviewing skilled and sometimes niche folks in the low six figure range,USD. – Paul Dec 29 '16 at 20:03
  • Thanks @Paul and Anoplexian for your reply. To give an example, the recruiter said during the presentation that they currently employ around 400 people in the same position as me, and also when they asked what day I could come around for the interview, they mentioned that there was multiple 'recruitment' days to choose from :) – Debbie Williams Dec 30 '16 at 2:28
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Is it OK to decline a job offer after verbally accepting it over the phone (no contracts were signed)?

It's okay legally, in most locales and in most contexts. (Check with your local Department of Labor to be sure).

It's okay for you, but not so okay for the company you are stiffing.

Would this make the human resources manager angry, due to the time he/she has taken to interview me, and perform the background checks?

Most likely the hiring manager and perhaps HR rep would be angry. You would likely be angry if they hired you, you quit your current job and then were told "we changed our mind".

The real question is: do you care what others think about you and do you care about your professional reputation?

  • Thank you so much for that detailed reply. I'm honestly just really torn between them, the first job which I already said I had interest in is just a standard 'floor' role (they did a massive hiring process)... The second is quite an exclusive role working with management. – Debbie Williams Dec 29 '16 at 13:09
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    In the end you need to do what's right for your career. You need to decide whether the opportunity is worth annoying folks. If there really is that much difference between the two, and your declining note says so (without giving any more details than you have here), I don't think a reasonable manager will really blame you. – keshlam Dec 29 '16 at 15:45
  • To add on to this: I did this once (agreed verbally, backed out when I got another offer before I signed any paperwork) and the HR rep was obviously irritated, saying they had spent a lot of resources on hiring me. I made a question about how to handle this scenario, which you may find useful: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/22884/… – 2rs2ts Dec 29 '16 at 16:44

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