|  February 22, 2017

How to turn down a job offer

Sometimes you’re going to get to the very end of a job search process, receive a job offer, and not be sure if it’s the right move.

If you’re in this boat right now, don’t panic. Accepting a job offer and starting a new role or career path is a big deal. If your gut is telling you something feels off, listen to it.

After thoughtfully analyzing your offer, if you decide to turn it down, that’s completely okay. While the company you were interviewing with may be disappointed, you have to do what’s right for YOU.

Now, there is a right way and a wrong way to handle a situation like this. You want to end the process on good terms and keep relationships strong. Here are my tips on how to turn down a job offer without burning bridges.

Don’t delay

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. For example, if you are waiting on information from another company before deciding you don’t have as much control, but if it’s possible, be swift.

Go for phone over email

By the time you’ve gotten a job offer, you’ve likely spent a significant amount of time with the company. 

I feel strongly that you should turn down the offer through a phone call vs. over email. It shows a certain level of respect and an acknowledgment of the relationship you’ve built.

I know it’s uncomfortable, but pick up the phone and share the message directly with your primary contact at the company (generally the person who gave you the offer).

If you absolutely MUST send an email (only if it’s not possible to get in touch via phone) I do prefer that over ghosting. 

Be gracious

Thank the recruiter (or your main point of contact) for the time they spent coordinating your interview process and getting to know you. Thank those who interviewed you for their time.

Let them know that you really appreciate the offer and it was a tough decision for you. Basically, show that you put a lot of thought into turning them down. You don’t want to make it seem like you were just interviewing at the company for the hell of it.

Be honest, but also diplomatic

Just like you would want a reason for being turned down for a job, a company will also want to know why you’re not taking their offer.

This is not an invite to bash them or share all of the red flags you picked up on, but instead an opportunity to share some insight behind why a different move is right for you at this point in your career.

Sharing your reason for declining may also help the team as they continue on in the recruiting process. Your feedback might help them adjust the role, their approach, or their process for the next group of candidates.

Keep the door open

Even if you have no intention of ever working at the company, people move around constantly. The recruiter or hiring manager that you interviewed with might be working at your dream company in a few years.

Tell them that you’d love to keep in touch and then add them on LinkedIn so you can keep track of their career path going forward.

A script you can use

In case you’re having trouble putting all of this into words, here’s a script you can use:

  • Hi [contact at company ], I wanted to have this call to follow up on the offer you shared with me [timeframe]
  • I really appreciate the offer and all of the time you and the team have spent with me throughout the interview process. I have genuinely enjoyed getting to know everyone.
  • I’ve given this a lot of thought and have decided that at this time, I won’t be able to accept. [add your diplomatic reason here]
  • This was a very tough decision and I would really like to stay in touch for the future.

I know this can be a difficult conversation to have, but how you handle this situation really matters and shows professional maturity. Don’t avoid having this conversation because you’re uncomfortable. Addressing it thoughtfully and respectfully will serve you better in the long run.

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