How to Gracefully Turn Down a Job Offer (and why it matters)

There are  few things that are as exciting professionally as receiving a job offer. After getting your resume put together, applying to the role, doing a few phone interviews and interviewing in person you finally get that payoff. The feedback is a resounding “WE WANT YOU”. It’s a fantastic feeling. But, what if you don’t want them? What if for whatever reason you have made the decision this isn’t the right time for me. Perhaps there was a shakeup at your current company that is going to really advance your career there. Perhaps you received an offer from a third company. Maybe the onsite interview left you with a bad taste in your mouth. Whatever the reason is, you have decided you will not be taking the job. But how do you communicate this to them? Maybe another question is, does it even matter? Since you don’t want to work there why does it even matter how you tell them.


The answer is absolutely it does matter. From this side of the table, I can tell you that when it can be a devastating to find out that someone is turning down an offer. Companies don’t extend offers flippantly, it is a big decision that has a significant financial ramifications. So when a group of people have gotten the approval from the company to extend an offer and the entire interview team decided on a candidate, it’s not great news when they say no. So back to the question, why does it matter? It matters for a variety of reasons. The first reason is because while perhaps this role wasn’t the perfect fit, maybe a new role comes out next week or two months from now. If that company ends up having your dream job opening, how you let them down regarding this job makes a huge difference on if they would consider you for the next role.


While that certainly is a possibility, to me, the more pressing concern is the ripple  effects. The fact of the matter is there are a lot of people involved in an interview and offer process. And another fact is that there is a very remote possibility that all of those people work at the same company for the rest of their lives. In fact the more likely scenario is that many of those people will end up working in a similar capacity at other local companies. And it is likely that they work at companies in similar industries and of a similar size. Now, if you burn bridges, people remember that. If you accept the offer and things go swimmingly, some of the people involved may not remember you ten years from now. However if you burn bridges that is the kind of thing people remember and the type of thing that could come back to haunt you.


The third reason you don’t want to turn down a role in the way that upsets people is that typically the people you interview with are going to be well connected. For example. In any given geographic area it is likely that many recruiters know each other and likely communicate. If you do something that really sticks out in a negative way, it’s possible that news spreads. And while maybe you don’t want this role, you certainly don’t want to damage your reputation at other potential future employers.


So let’s talk about some of the ways people turn down offers that are in poor form. I have delivered many offers in my time in talent acquisition and I have had my fair share of turned down offers. I can tell you that there is definitely a right and a wrong way to do it. The worst way to turn down an offer is just to fall off the face of the planet. I have had candidates who decided they didn’t want the job just not pick up the phone, not return any messages or emails. Out of all the ways you can turn down an offer this is the worse way. This is extremely unprofessional and will definitely limit your future career prospects if any of these people are involved. One of the other ways I have experienced people turning down an offer is they make an aggressive counter offer and when the company goes back, gets the approval, they still turn down the offer. The other way I have seen is candidates say they want to think about it, they take a really long time, wait until they reach the deadline just to decline the offer. While in some of these instances the candidate may very well be examining all of their options and it just took them every minute, it can leave a bad taste in the interviewers mouth.


So let’s talk about how to do it right. The first thing you need to do is be absolutely sure of your decision. You want to come to a concrete decision and not be swayed either way. Whether they try to offer you more money or if your former company makes you a counter, be resolute in the direction you have decided to go. The second tip is that you want to do the communication by phone. While it is certainly easier to type up an email, hit send and walk away from the computer, it’s better to communicate via phone. It is much more personal to tell them over the phone and while it’s more difficult, they will appreciate it. My last tip is that you want to make the decision relatively quickly. If you keep them waiting just to tell them know that can keep them from moving on to a secondary candidate. If you have made your decision, make sure you don’t put them in a worse position and perhaps cost them a shot at the second place candidate. However I also don’t recommend doing it immediately either. If they call you to give you an offer and you immediately say no, they will wonder why you interviewed in the first place. My recommendation would be to thank them for the offer, tell them you want take some time to think about it and then the next day inform them that you won’t be taking the role. When you do tell them, let them know while you appreciate the offer and it was a tough decision you have made the decision to not accept the offer. If they ask if there is anything they can do to change your mind, if you have already made up your mind, let them know that there isn’t and you have made your final decision. While it won’t be what they were hoping for they will respect the way you handled the situations.


So there you have it. That is how you gracefully turn down an offer and why it matters. Now if you want the job but they tell you they have decided they don’t want to offer you the job check out this blog that will help you navigate that situation Smart things to do when you don’t get the job!. If you have any questions or comments I would love to answer them. Thanks for reading!

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