How to decline a job offer politely

Perhaps you’ve been offered another position that is better suited for you; or maybe you’ve got some doubts about the company offering you employment.

There are many reasons for why you may want to turn down a job offer, but now you need to actually do it. How can you do this without burning bridges?

Be sure in your decision

This is not a decision to take lightly. Before you go ahead and reject the opportunity, do a final gut check. Why are you thinking about turning down this job? Is there a chance you will change your mind in the future? After all, once you’ve turned it down, they will send the offer to the next person in line, and you will not get the chance again.

Keep in mind, if it’s a matter of remuneration, you can propose a counteroffer.

Once you’ve made your decision, don’t delay

Just as you don’t want to wait undue weeks in hearing back from an interview you’ve attended, it’s important that you alert the hiring manager once you’ve made your decision.

A delay could be costly for the recruiting team, and will also not be good for your own reputation, particularly if you are interested in working for the same company in the future.

Think about your method of delivery

This may be a difficult conversation, but always remember to remain professional. While many people might be okay with receiving an email with this news, it is best to err on the side of caution and at least deliver your decision over the phone.

However, if you’ve tried to get in touch via phone without any luck, you may not have any other choice, particularly if you’re thinking of their timeline.

Thank them for the opportunity

The hiring manager likely spent a lot of time considering you. They would have read your resume, looked up your portfolio, studied your social media accounts, and may have even had to argue your case to the rest of the recruiting team.

So it’s important that you thank them personally, and in a heartfelt way. Offer pleasantries where - and if - appropriate. Tell them you appreciate the time they took to get you to know you. Mention that you hope to cross paths with them again in the future.

Do you need to give a reason?

Whether or not you provide a reason for your rejection is up to you and will likely depend upon why you’ve decided to turn down the job. For example, if you have seen questionable company practices, it may not be the best strategy to mention this when discussing your reason why.

However, if you’ve spent a lot of time interviewing and getting to know the recruitment team, it can feel like the most respectful thing to do. That doesn’t mean you need to go into detail; often the best course of action is to be honest, but brief.

For example: After careful consideration,

  • You have decided to accept another opportunity that is more in-line with your career goals
  • It is not the right time to leave your current role in pursuit of another
  • It’s not the best fit for me right now

If you feel you can elaborate, do so, as long as you feel it is relevant and appropriate. But think carefully; it can be easy to burn bridges, and you do not want to offend.

Keep in touch for the future

Some industries are very small, and if you’re interested in working for the company in the future, it’s in your best interest to keep in touch, particularly if you’ve built some kind of rapport with your interviewer.

Send them an email in a month and ask how they are. If you are a part of a social network like LinkedIn, connect with them and follow their career online. Invite them out for a coffee or lunch. After all, many people have been offered jobs based on recommendation.

It’s true that these conversations can be awkward, but if you remain polite and professional, it doesn’t have to end in disaster. Think of it instead as the chance to build your network. It may be the end of one opportunity, but it’s the beginning of another - one that may lead to something better in the future.

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