|  July 14, 2014

How to turn down a job offer (without burning your bridges)

Getting a job offer after a long search is incredibly exciting. By the time you’ve gotten to the offer stage, you’ve likely had opportunities to learn about the job, the compensation, the team, your manager, the office environment, and many other things that will ultimately factor into your decision.

So what if after weighing all of those things you realize you’re not going to take the job after all? Maybe you just didn’t click with the people, or the role doesn’t seem challenging enough, or you’re holding out for your first choice company… Whatever the reason, figuring out how to turn down a job offer (while keeping relationships in tact) can be challenging, especially since you’ve been nothing but enthusiastic until that point.

While it’s going to be a difficult conversation, I think the best approach is to be direct, honest, diplomatic, and gracious.

turn down a job offer

To start let’s talk about being direct. Once an offer is given, the company is hoping you will be the one to fill the role. In fact, they may be counting on it and not even have other candidates in the mix. The longer you stall your decision, the more the relationship is going to suffer. If you know you’re not going to accept the offer, don’t wait until the last day possible to share the news. Be direct and get it over with even if you’re dreading it.

Sometimes this isn’t possible, particularly if you are waiting on information from another company before deciding on the offer at hand. You have to look out for your best interest first so if there is a compelling reason to wait a bit longer, then go for it.

Next, being honest, yet diplomatic. There is a legitimate reason why you’re not accepting the offer and as long as it’s not offensive in some way, you should share it. When you do, I always think it’s good to show that you’re being really thoughtful about your decision (saying things like “it was a really difficult decision” or “I spent a lot of time thinking about the role”) before sharing why you’re ultimately not taking the job.

Sharing your reason will help the team as they continue on in the recruiting process. Just like candidates want feedback on why they didn’t get the job, companies want to know why they’re not getting their top candidate.

Needless to say, there are some times when honesty is not the best policy. If you think the company has a horrible culture or thought everyone you interviewed with would be miserable to work with, I’d recommend going with a more vague reason.

An important note: If you’d actually like to accept the offer but something is getting in the way (compensation, the person you’d report to, vacation time) always try to negotiate before throwing in the towel. You would be surprised about how flexible companies are willing to be if you are truly the right candidate for a job.

Being gracious (for me) is the most important thing. As a former recruiter, I know how much effort it takes to bring a candidate through the interview process. It’s hours of scheduling, meetings, and gathering feedback. In a more robust interview process, you may have spoken to many employees at the company.

Thanking the people you met with for their time and simply saying that you appreciated it really goes a long way.

Now for a question lots of people are curious about. Can you turn down an offer by email or do you have to call? My opinion is that while a phone call is usually best, it depends on your relationship with the company and the recruiter. The more time you’ve spent with a company and built that relationship, the more I’d recommend the phone option.

If you’ve mostly corresponded via email and have only met/talked to the person on the other end once, an email should be sufficient (still keeping in mind the points above).

Have you turned down a job offer? How’d you approach it and how did it go? I’d love to hear some of your experiences in the comments.

Photo by Katy Silberger

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