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How to Decline a Job Offer

angry woman with bad attitude giving talk to hand gesture

It is a truth universally acknowledged that someone applying for a job must be in need of a position. But in work, as in love, not just any match will do. Sometimes, something clicks and sometimes, you just don’t mix with those you interview with. And sometimes you just don’t want to spend 40 (or 50 or 60) hours a week at a company whose reviews are poor, and include phrases like “if Dante thought up a tenth circle of hell.” It’s not easy to say no, and you may feel like you’re back in seventh grade when you first discovered what it was like to be someone’s crush and had to say no to them. But at some point, you will likely have to turn down a job offer.

It can be hard to have the confidence to be choosy, especially right out of college or early in your career when you’re feeling under a lot of pressure to start being successful. But if you take the time to find a place where you have good chemistry, it will really be worth it in the long run. There doesn’t need to be an obvious deficiency with the job for you to decline an offer. Sometimes a job is a bad fit for purely personal reasons. Maybe you’re having second thoughts about an hour-long daily commute, or moving to Charlotte. Maybe you don’t care that much about marketing new kinds of plastics.

When you do need to turn down a job offer, you need to be sure to get it right. The guiding principles of turning down a job offer are threefold: employers are a) professionals, b) people, and c) people who know professionals. Follow these 4 tips to say no in a classy and thoughtful manner.

  1. Be as prompt as possible

Try not to rush your decision, but once you’ve called your parents/checked your bank account/consulted your ouija board, and you’re sure you want to reject the offer, let the company know as soon as possible. The sooner they hear back from you, the sooner they can make an offer to the next person on their list. Otherwise, you’ll cause them a major headache, and that’s not how you want to be remembered.

    2. Use tact and be respectful

If you’ve seen the phrase “BNBR” around online, it means “Be Nice, Be Respectful.” This employer chose you and you need to respect that. Don’t be snide, and don’t take the opportunity to spew criticisms of their workplace, even if that’s what’s on your mind. One great way to show respect is to make a phone call rather than simply send an email; it makes it more personal, and gives you a chance to demonstrate sincerity instead of risking your text being misinterpreted. (If your primary method of contact with the employer has been phone so far, you really need to make a call to let them know.)

   3. Provide a clear reason, without getting too specific

It is acceptable to simply say that you have decided to accept another offer that better aligns with your long-term career goals, or that you’re changing your plans due to personal life circumstances. Of course, you never want to give a reason that’s false, but you may not be able to accurately give your reason for declining the offer if it could be construed as offensive. It may be appropriate to say where you will be working, especially if it’s not a direct competitor, but don’t be rude about it. Don’t say for example: “Your offer was OK, but Goldman Sachs made me the best offer of all time!”

   4. Maintain the relationship

The company thought you were worth extending an offer to; they clearly value you, and you don’t want to throw that away. Keeping in touch can hold the door open if you ever rethink working with them. And especially in today’s increasingly fluid career paths, you never know where your recruiter could end up.

It’s never fun to have to make rough decisions, and never fun to disappoint anyone. But if you follow these guidelines, you can still make the best of having to turn down an offer. And finally, don’t forget to congratulate yourself. Having to turn down a job offer is a pretty great problem to have. You’re doing great, and the right place for you is out there somewhere. Keep searching and good luck!