Handling Offers | The Careers Service Handling Offers – Oxford University Careers Service
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What constitutes an offer?

An official offer of employment comes in the form of a letter or document inviting you to accept a specific post. It should be signed by someone in authority, eg: a director or manager of the organisation. Until you receive something of this kind in writing, you have not been made an offer, so do not make any decisions based on a verbal agreement alone. People sometimes return from an interview feeling that they have been promised a job, only to find themselves disappointed when they are later formally rejected.

A formal written offer should include the following information:

  • Your name, and the name of the employing organisation
  • The date of the offer
  • The job title and department/location
  • Salary
  • Period of notice required for either party to end the contract
  • Your start date (or it may state that this is negotiable)

It may also include:

  • your hours of work
  • your holiday entitlement
  • details about pension schemes, bonuses, salary reviews, company car schemes and other benefits
  • if there is any information you feel you need before accepting the job, telephone or write as soon as possible. Some organisations will invite you to their premises after making an offer, so that you can have a look around and chat to other employees before making your decision and this is a good opportunity to clear up any lingering doubts you may have.

For information on employment law, see the UK Government website.


The offer may be conditional upon a number of things:

  • Satisfactory references from your nominated referees.
  • A satisfactory medical examination, because of the nature of the work or as a means of meeting the requirements of the company’s pension or health insurance scheme.
  • A specific classification of degree. This could be a requirement of the employer or an associated professional body, if professional training is part of the job. If you don’t get the stated grade –  don’t assume that all is lost; contact the employer to discuss the situation.
  • Satisfactory completion of a probationary period – the time should be specified.
  • Acceptance by a given date.
Making a decision

A common problem for finalists and graduates can be the timing of offers. The employer of your dreams may be running later than expected in completing its selection process, but you have an offer from another, less preferred organisation. Should you cut your losses and secure the offer you have, or take a risk, turn it down, and wait for the one you really want? If you find yourself in this situation, the following tips may help.

  • It is worthwhile going to see a careers adviser to discuss the situation and re-examine your options.
  • Do try to think beyond starting salaries and look at the total package being offered. Firm A might offer you a generous joining bonus, but Firm B might offer better training.
  • If your preferred employer is slower at responding/making a decision than others, contact them and ask how far they have proceeded with your application and when you are likely to hear of their decision.  You may also wish to let them know that you have another offer ( you don’t have to mention that company name) but emphasise that you are still keen on interviewing with them.
  • Contact the employer who has made you the offer, and ask if they are prepared to extend the acceptance date.  If the company insists on your making a decision very quickly, you might ask yourself whether you want to work for an organisation which is pressuring you to make a hasty and ill-informed choice. Remember, however, that you can’t stretch their patience forever – they need to know your decision, so that, if negative, they can offer the position to someone else.
  • Don’t accept an offer that you feel unhappy about. You have successfully secured one offer – you can do it again.
Multiple offers

If you are fortunate enough to have several offers, and there appears to be little between them, you may need to revisit your original list of needs and reflect these against the current offers in terms of location, company culture, approach to training, how you felt at interview, and so on. It is probably worth trusting your instincts, but you will still have time to do some extra research, if it will help you to make a better decision. Again, talk the situation through with a careers adviser if you can.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the responsibilities, pressures and demands, both intellectual and physical, of each job? Does the work that you will be expected to do conflict with your values?
  • Will you be given training? Few employers expect you to be 100% effective from the start, and most expect to train you while you are working for them. What form will the training take? Who pays the fees? Is study leave given where appropriate?
  • Will the work style suit you? Speaking with people at the organisation and Oxford alumni on the Oxford Careers Network or contacting them via LinkedIn can be very helpful when analysing this issue.
  • What will the salary be? How much of your salary will be commission or performance-based? Are there shift allowances or overtime payments? Are there any fringe benefits? What are the opportunities for promotion and salary increases?

Remember that if you accept a job, and later, once in work, find you have made the wrong decision, all is not lost. Applying for other jobs in the light of this experience, and with a greater knowledge of your needs, will usually result in a positive outcome. After all, if you were successful in being offered a job which you did not, in retrospect want, you should be able to obtain the job that you really do want, and to which you feel your skills, experiences and values are best suited.

Accepting / Declining offers


Write to thank the person making you the offer, mentioning any reference number they have given you and enclosing any information that has been requested. You should also mention the date of the letter, and quote the full job title and the starting date, if stated. Do not forget to say that you wish to accept the offer, and that you are looking forward to starting work with the organisation. Keep a copy of this letter, the contract or any other documents you have received as part of the offer. As the word ‘contract’ implies, if you accept the offer, you are making a legal undertaking. You should not accept a job with the intention of rejecting it later, if something ‘better’ turns up.

What if I do accept an offer, and then later wish to reject it?

A contract is a legal document, and you should never sign such a document with the intention, however vague, of reneging on it at a later date. It is possible, although unlikely, that an employer may take action against you for breach of contract if you do so.

If you do find yourself in a position where you feel you would like to reject an offer that you have already accepted, it is incumbent on you to advise the employer straight away – preferably by telephone. Delay will only make the situation more difficult, as the organisation may wish to offer your place to another candidate as soon as possible.

Be honest, and explain your reasons for now rejecting the offer. Organisations prefer to employ those who are genuinely motivated, and you may find that they will appreciate your honesty at this stage. The alternative, after all, will be for them to have taken on someone who is disaffected and likely to resign soon after starting work.

Bear in mind that recruiters do talk to each other, companies might merge at some point in the future and human resources staff do move between companies. In other words, be polite and apologetic, and try to leave the organisation with a positive impression. You never know when you might come across these people again in your career!

Reneging on an offer is something to be avoided if at all possible. Word can sometimes spread, and you don’t want to acquire a bad reputation, before your career has even started. You are strongly advised to talk the situation over with a careers adviser before taking such a step.

Declining an offer

If, after serious thought, you decide that the job is definitely not for you, contact the employer, ideally by telephone (confirming afterwards in writing) and politely let them know your decision. It’s worth remaining on good terms as you might find yourself working with or even applying to that organisation again at a later date. Try to inform them as soon as possible, so that they can offer the job to someone else.

This information was last updated on 05 September 2017.
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