One of the perks of my job is that I am periodically invited to speak with students about their job search. I love to talk about the tools - social media and social networking, how to manage their search, helpful tips on interviewing and follow-up - the fundamentals.
I spent an hour with our engineering students this past week. At the end, I had time for a few questions and got this really good one:
If I receive a job offer and accept it, is it ever okay to decline if I get a better offer?
(I can hear all my recruiter friends groaning right now)
This is my regular HR answer: it depends.
(I can hear all my HR friends groaning right now)
Mostly, I would say no. For me, it is my reputation and my word, both of which are important to me. Despite what you may think, the world is pretty small. Chances are good that the people you spurn will appear somewhere else in your life - and they will remember your actions. Seriously.
I remember every person who called with a change of mind after an acceptance. It quadruples my work load.
However, there could be extenuating circumstances that may make it okay (not ideal but not horrible either)- situations involving family, distance, changes in relationships, things unforeseen when accepting the position.
If you have to retract on a position, please do it well. Don't just send an email. Call the person or people involved in your hiring. Do it as soon as you know that you won't be able to keep the job. Let them hear from you the whole story. Be gracious. Be honest. And apologize. That will go a long way.