Here’s the good news: You’ve just been offered a job.
But, here’s the bad news: You don’t want it. You’re going to decline the job offer.
Maybe you’ve already been offered a different opportunity that you’re more excited about. Perhaps you just don’t feel like a good fit with that company and want to wait to find something more suitable. Or, maybe you were disappointed with their initial offer and know you’ll never be able to compromise.
Regardless of your specific circumstances, there’s one thing that hold true: declining a job offer can be difficult for both parties. You know you need to be upfront and honest, but you also don’t want to burn bridges or tarnish your name and credibility.
“Believe it or not, even if you don’t accept a job offer with this company right now, you may wind up vying for another of its jobs down the line,” says Brie Weiler Reynolds, a senior career specialist and career coach at FlexJobs. “Being tactful with your rejection will help these folks remember you positively, which might help in your future career moves.”
Fortunately, there’s a way you can decline a job offer with your relationships and your reputation intact.
Here are six tips on how to decline a job offer with grace.
1. Choose the medium that makes you most comfortable.
The first thing you need to figure out is how you’ll break the news. Should you show up at the office? Give them a call? Send an email?
Different communication methods have their benefits and drawbacks. So, I think this is the best golden rule to follow when turning down a job offer: use the same method they used to extend it.
If they called or left you a voicemail, then it shows the most professionalism to return their call. But, if they sent the offer via email, then it’s perfectly copacetic (and oftentimes less nerve-racking!) to type out a thoughtful message for your rejection.
Ultimately, when declining a job offer, it’s up to you to consider your unique circumstances and find the method that suits you best. If you’re convinced you’ll become too panicked on the phone, for example, then a polished email is probably better than stammering through a painful phone conversation.
it’s worth noting that if you decide to turn down a job offer through a call, sending an email may be requested so the company has something written on file. Even if that’s the case, you’ll know that the email is just a formality and that you’ve done your best to handle the rejection politely and personally with a call.
2. Start with a “thank you.”
When declining a job offer, it can seem a little counterintuitive to begin your message with a sincere “thank you,” especially since you aren’t accepting the opportunity. However, it’s important to remember that they’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and resources into the hiring process—there was the initial review of your application materials, phone screenings, and likely numerous rounds of interviews.
Once an employer has determined that you are the right candidate for a spot, it’s likely they assume you’ll feel the same way, so keep that in mind when turning down a position and be as appreciative and thankful of their time and effort as you can.That investment is worthy of your gratitude, so make sure you preface your rejection with appreciation.
What This Looks Like: “Thank you so much for this offer, and for the opportunity to get to know more about you and Company XYZ.”
3. Clearly state your rejection.
Believe it or not, this is a part that’s easy to skip when you’re focused on being so complimentary and diplomatic. Too much sugar coating confuses your message, and the hiring manager is left wondering exactly what your intention is.
When it comes to turning down a job, you need to be explicit about the fact that you’re passing on the opportunity. That doesn’t mean you need to be harsh or brutal—but, you do need to be clear that you aren’t accepting the offer.
What This Looks Like: “However, I have to decline the opportunity to fill this role on your team.”
4. Give a brief (honest) reason.
You might be tempted to gloss over any sort of reasoning in favor of getting your rejection over as soon as possible. But, the employer deserves some sort of explanation about why you’re unable to accept the position. And, providing an honest reason is usually better than leaving them to make assumptions. That said, be honest, be brief, and be specific, and the people who interviewed you will probably appreciate it.
You don’t need to dive into all of the details of declining the job offer, but you should be prepared to highlight key points—whether you’ve already accepted a different opportunity, decided that the role wasn’t quite the right fit, or have decided to stay in your current position.
It also helps to mention some of the things that you liked about the company to help soften the blow.
What This Looks Like: “I just accepted a marketing role with a different organization.”
5. Provide a recommendation.
You won’t always be able to provide a referral after turning down a job. But, if you know someone else who’s currently job searching and could be a qualified fit for that open role, offer to provide their name and contact information.
Maybe that employer won’t even need it and will instead go with their second-choice candidate. However, making the offer demonstrates a certain level of care and consideration—rather than leaving them in a lurch. If you do go this route, be sure that the person you suggest is right for the position, as well as interested. The last thing you want to do is suggest someone else for the job who will then turn it down, as well. Reach out to any potential referrals before making the recommendation and be sure to discuss details with them.
What This Looks Like: “If you’re still actively searching to fill this open position, I do know someone who could be a great fit. I would be happy to pass along their contact information.”
6. Express your desire to keep in touch.
Finally, cap off your rejection by letting them know how much you enjoyed the process and that you’d love to stay connected — assuming you developed some kind of a rapport with your interviewer. Consider contacting the people you met with after a month or so to check in and potentially grab a coffee.
The important next step? Actually do so.
Send an invitation on LinkedIn so that you can keep in touch in a casual, low-pressure environment. In fact, it’s smart to do that for anyone you came into contact with during the hiring process—you never know where those connections might lead in the future!
What This Looks Like: “Again, it was a pleasure to meet you and everyone else at Company XYZ, and I look forward to staying in touch. I just sent a connection request on LinkedIn, so definitely don’t be a stranger!”
Declining a job offer will never be something that you look forward to. But, fortunately, there is a way that you can handle it politely and professionally—and make it a little less cringeworthy in the process. Put these six tips to work, and you’ll avoid damaging your relationships and reputation, and create a favorable image of yourself that leaves the door open for future opportunities.
This is a version of a post that was originally published in July 2017.
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