How to Guides Professional Development

How to Decline a Job Offer with Professionalism

turn-down-a-job-offer
Written by Kate Lopaze

When you’re on the job hunt, your focus is so fully on getting to that job offer: all of your energy goes into making yourself into the ideal candidate, and making sure that the hiring manager knows how very ideal you are. But what happens if you get to that point and the job just isn’t right for you?

1. Reasons to Turn Down a Job Offer

2. When to Turn Down a Job Offer

3. How to Turn Down  a Job Offer

4. What Not to Do When You Turn Down a Job Offer

Reasons to Turn Down  a Job Offer

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1. You couldn’t come to an agreement on compensation.

Sometimes, negotiation just doesn’t go the way you want it to go, and you just can’t compromise any further.

2. The job wasn’t what you thought it would be when you applied.

Maybe that 40-hour work week looks suspiciously like 60 hours plus 10 p.m. emails. Or the “senior” manager position appears to be much more junior than it looked on paper.

3. You learned something about the company or job during the process that turned you off.

If you find out that the company’s mission includes clubbing baby seals, or has a political bent that makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself: would I really be happy and fulfilled working here? If the answer is no, it’s time to walk away and start over somewhere else.

4. You leveraged your job offer into a raise or promotion at your current place, and want to stay put.

Or, you have a competing offer that you’d rather accept. Look at you, with your wealth of offers! If you find yourself in this envious position, it’s time to jettison the other opportunities.

5. The job would require life changes (moving, etc.) that you’re not ready to adopt.

This job would be perfect, except for the relocation to Siberia…

6. [Insert any good reason here]

While all of these are good reasons, your reason doesn’t necessarily have to fall into one of those categories. Sometimes a job just isn’t the right choice for you at this particular time, and you’re not obligated to accept any offer you get. Yes, having a job offer to reject is a very privileged spot to have, but regardless of the economy or optics, you need to make the decision that’s best for you.

The trick is in managing the bowing-out process so that you don’t look like a jerk, in case you end up re-applying for another job at the same company someday. And even if you never go back to that company for a job opportunity, people move around, so you may encounter the same hiring manager at an entirely different place. Networks are tricky, unpredictable creatures. All of this is to say: it’s in your best interest to handle this like a pro, whatever your reasons are for saying “no.”

When to Turn Down a Job Offer

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The timing is pretty self-explanatory…you can’t reject a job offer until you have a job offer. Doing it before you get an official offer reads as presumptuous. If you need to remove yourself from the running while the interview process is still playing out, use that kind of verbiage. (“Before we move any further, I’ll need to remove myself from the application process. Thanks so much for the opportunity to talk with you about the position!”)

When rejecting a job offer, you want to be prompt—let them know as soon as you come to your decision. They’ll appreciate that you were up front, and it will let them either make another offer or start the process again with other candidates.

How to Turn Down a Job Offer

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Above all, put it in writing. Letting the company know in an email or letter (even if it’s as a follow-up to a phone call or a face-to-face convo) is always the best way to go. The reasons for this:

  • It leaves a paper trail. Think of it as a mini version of a resignation letter. Once your intent is in writing and filed in your folder, there’s no dispute or confusion over whether you accepted or rejected an offer. Clarity wins, every time.
  • It removes any potential for mixed signals or confusion about whether you’re holding out for more (salary, benefits, title, etc.). The final email tells the company, “I’m not playing games, I’m just moving on. Thanks for your time!”

You should also consider a quick phone call to the recruiter or hiring manager to let them know as well, especially if you know them personally or want to maintain a professional relationship. It’s an open, friendly gesture and conveys that you know how much time and effort went into the hiring process. However, if you decide to drop the news in person or a phone, definitely follow up with an email. It doesn’t have to be too complicated. It just needs to hit these elements:

Friendly tone

Never go negative, even if you found the process or the people involved distasteful. Always be the bigger person, because you never know how information will travel or with whom you’ll cross paths again someday.

Personal greeting

“Dear sirs and madams” or just a “Hi:” are not going to cut it. Be sure to address the person who’s been handling your hiring process, whether it’s a recruiter or a hiring manager.

“Thank you.”

It’s not an Oscar speech, so you don’t need to get too detailed. Just a quick “thank you for the opportunity to meet your team and learn more about the company” is totally fine.

A reason

These don’t have to be all that specific, but you want to give them a sense of why you’re turning them down, when you seemed like such a gung-ho candidate before. Examples:

  • I don’t think this job is the best fit for me right now.”
  • “I’ve decided to accept another offer.” If you do this, you don’t need to say where, but it would be helpful for the company to know if their top candidates are bailing because other places are offering more comprehensive benefits, better hours, etc. No matter what, be diplomatic.
Reiteration of appreciation

Remember, you want the company to feel like you’re the one that got away, not the close call they had with a monster.

Nice closing

The same kind of closing you use for any standard business communication applies here. Regards, best wishes, thanks again, sincerely, and similar ones all work. No melodrama, just easy and respectful closure.

Here’s a sample offer rejection letter you can use for reference if you find yourself in this position.

Dear Scooter,

Thank you very much for offering me the position of Senior Swamp Correspondent. After careful deliberation, I’ve decided to accept another position that’s more in line with my experience and my goals. I really appreciate your time and consideration, though, as well as the chance to meet your excellent colleagues Fozzie and Gonzo. I know your team will continue to achieve great things in TV production, and I look forward to hearing about your continued success.

Best wishes,
Kermit

There are also other examples and templates online that you can use, like here and here. The most important thing is to write what feels right for you—it should be in your voice, but if you find yourself at a loss for what to say, you can stick to these guidelines and dash off a perfectly nice rejection note.

The level of formality may vary, depending on a) how formal the company is (which you’ll have a sense of from your interview and interactions with the company), and b) how well you know the person receiving the note. Err on the side of formality, but if a textbook form letter just doesn’t feel right, just make sure to hit the six points above, and keep the tone light and professional.

What NOT to Do When You Turn Down a Job Offer

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While you’re crafting your “it’s not you, it’s me” note, there are some pitfalls to keep in mind as well. Don’t even consider the following:

Using powerfully negative words like “reject.”

It just sounds harsh, so…find a nicer way to phrase things, like, “opting to pursue other opportunities” or “will not be able to accept your offer at this time.”

Taking a hostile tone.

If you didn’t get along with anyone along the way, or discovered that you really don’t like the company, this is not the place to vent that. No sarcasm, snide remarks, or profanity.

Posting about it on social media.

It’s just poor form…and if you put a company on blast after they offer you a job, you could do some heavy damage to your own reputation.

Talking smack about the company or anyone you spoke to throughout the process.

If you met with someone really obnoxious during your interview process, now is not the time to talk about it. If you have any grievances, same deal. Just be thankful you got away unscathed, and be nice as you’re walking out the door.

You’re breaking off a potential relationship here, but instead of disappearing into the comfortable anonymity of a dating app, you’re talking to people in an industry where you (presumably) want to keep working. You have to acknowledge the offer and also that you will not be accepting it. It’s not that hard, I promise! The awkwardness and unpleasantness that would result from just ignoring an open offer (and potentially wasting the time of someone following up on it) are just not the way to conduct yourself in a professional way.

With these tools, you’re ready to take the difficult step of cutting loose from the hiring process. It can be a difficult decision, but again—if the job isn’t right for you or you have better opportunities, there’s no need to draw it out. Be quick, be nice, and be firm…and you’re out and ready to move on to the next opportunity.

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