How to Turn Down a Job Offer

Our suggestions for saying no, while keeping up good relations.

Published: Nov 2, 2018

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Barbara had what seemed like a simple decision to make.

She had just received two qualifying offers from prospective employers, and they each provided a very similar benefits package. The difference? One came with a much closer commute. For Barbara, who had a young family at the time, that time in the car weighed heavily. But after multiple rounds of interviews with the prospective employer she wanted to turn down, Barbara (whose name has been changed) felt stuck. She didn't want to burn bridges with the hiring manager, in case she ended up picking the wrong company.

It's a tightrope that many workers face at some point in their careers: A person may want a new job, but the one offered to just doesn't work. Maybe it's the pay, or something as slight as the smell that wafts through the hallways, but how do you turn down that offer while still ensuring you remain in good standing with the person or people who interviewed you? Below, some tips on how to say no and stay in the fold.

"It's not you, it's me."

Denver-based career coach Jennifer DeWall thought she had found the perfect position for a client. Then the offer came in-at an astonishing $30,000 less than her current pay. Her client turned down the offer, explaining that while she appreciated the opportunity, she couldn't afford to take such a pay cut.

The clearer you can be about why you have to decline an offer, the better. If it's due to compensation, state it. If it's because of the lack of vacation, that's fine as well. As long as you're clear about your reasons, you're focusing on things that will help the company understand how to be more competitive, DeWall says. And by making it personal to you, you prevent the conversation from turning into a comparison of offers. Instead, you've set a bar the company has to reach if they want you to seriously consider their job.

Pick up the phone.

It may sound old-fashioned (and obvious), but breaking the news is much better over the phone. If you email, you can't always control how the recipient interprets the tone of what you wrote. It's easy to unintentionally come off as sarcastic or insincere. And to avoid any confusion, it's also best to talk directly with the hiring manager or the person who offered you the job.

Worried you'll forget what to say? Career coaches suggest writing down a few talking points before making the call. Your cheat sheet will keep you on subject, hitting the specific reasons you have to decline the offer.

Circle back around.

It sounds weird: Why stay in touch with someone you just said no to? But career pros say you'll create opportunities for the future, giving the person another chance to engage with you, says Rebecca Fraser-Thill, the career coach based in Portland, Maine, who helped Barbara with her job search. She suggests waiting a month or two after you decline the offer before reaching out again. That will allow them time to make the hire they need, but you won't have become an afterthought.

How to handle it? Begin with a little flattery, but in a sincere way. The conversation can be as simple as commenting on something the person shared on LinkedIn. If the company has a significant victory-such as a large new client-then a congratulatory email can go a long way as well.

After Barbara turned down the job offer because of the commute, she stayed in touch with the hiring manager, forming a relationship via LinkedIn and email. That came in handy recently, when Barbara's new company hired the hiring manager to be her direct supervisor. By then, their relationship had grown-making for a seamless transition.

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