How to Gracefully Decline a Job Offer

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

You’ve been interviewing for a job and now it’s paid off with an offer. But what if you want to turn the position down? There are lots of reasons why that might happen. Maybe the salary is too low, even after you tried to negotiate, or maybe the manager seems awful or the work itself isn’t what you want to be doing, and on and on.

If you’ve decided to decline an offer, here’s how to do it while still preserving the connection for the future.


First, know you will not burn a bridge just because you decline a job offer.

People often get nervous about turning down job offers, as if they’re going back on an obligation they incurred when they first applied. But applying and interviewing for a job doesn’t bind you in any way to an offer if you get one, and employers realize that. It’s routine for employers to make offers that are ultimately declined — just as it’s normal for employers to turn down applicants — and you won’t burn a bridge by professionally declining to accept a job.

There are some employers out there who respond with outsize disappointment or surprise when a candidate rejects their offer … just as there are employers who react poorly when you ask for a raise or quit your job or otherwise engage in normal workplace transactions. That reveals a problem on their side, though; it’s not because you somehow erred in daring to reject their offer. Reasonable employers are well aware that candidates have other options and that interviewing is not an implicit promise to accept a position (just as their interviewing you isn’t a promise to hire you).


Tell the employer as soon as you’re sure of your decision.

Once you’ve decided not to accept their offer, let the employer know right away. Sometimes people don’t feel urgency around doing this (figuring, for example, that if they said they’d reply by Friday there’s no need to say anything until then, even if they made up their mind on Monday), but putting it off can inconvenience the employer and even other candidates. The company probably has a second-choice applicant who they need to get back to, and that person may have their own time constraints in play. So once you’ve made up your mind, let the employer know.


It’s okay to decline the job in an email, but a phone call is better.

People turn down jobs via email all the time, so if you want to go that route, the world won’t implode. But the more gracious move is to call and speak with the person who would have been your manager (assuming they were the one who interviewed you), even if they emailed you the offer. That person is probably at least somewhat emotionally invested in you now that they’ve offered you the job.

That said, timeliness is most important, so if reaching someone by phone would add days to the process, go ahead and send an email. Just add a note like, “I’d hoped to connect with you on the phone, but wasn’t able to reach you and didn’t want to delay the process.”


You should give a reason, but it can be vague.

This might seem unfair, since employers turn down candidates all the time without offering a reason why, but it will help to preserve the relationship for the future if you give some explanation for your decision. Your reason doesn’t need to be a comprehensive account of your reservations about the job, though! It’s enough to say something like, “Thanks so much for considering me, but after a lot of thought, I’ve decided to decline and focus on roles that are more in line with the work I’m hoping to do.”

Or, if you have a reason that’s easily explainable in one or two sentences and that is not insulting (i.e., not: “You seem like a terrible manager”), share that! For example:

• “Ultimately, I think we’re too far apart on salary. I’d need $X to leave my current position, and I know that’s outside your range.”

• “I’ve given a lot of thought to relocating to Chicago, but have decided this isn’t the right time for me to move.”

• “I hadn’t realized until we talked how much admin work the position is responsible for, and I’m really looking to focus on program work.”

• “I’ve decided to accept a position with a different company.”

It’s possible that your response could spur the company to try to find a way to address your objections. In some cases, you might be open to that — such as if they suddenly increase the salary offer, or say they’d be willing to let you work remotely if location is the issue. But if they offer something that won’t change your mind, it’s fine to just say, “Thank you so much for your offer. It’s not exactly what I’m looking for right now, but I really appreciate you trying to make it work.”

A related note: If your reason might help other candidates or existing employees, try to share it if you can. For example, if you’re turning down the offer because the health insurance is terrible, the parental leave is non-existent, or they refuse to allow any remote work just on principle, letting them know that’s why you’re not accepting might help persuade them to change those policies. That’s especially true if they get the same feedback from multiple candidates. If you’re willing to share, you could be doing a social good.


Thank them for their time.

When you turn down the offer, say something like, “I really appreciate the time you spent talking with me about the position, and I hope our paths might cross in the future.”

If you really liked the company or the manager and think you might be interested in working with them in the future, try, “I’m really impressed by the work you’re doing on X and would love to find a way to be a part of it down the road, even though the timing (or salary or so forth) didn’t work out this time.”

Find even more career advice from Alison Green on her website, Ask a Manager. Got a question for her? Email

How to Gracefully Decline a Job Offer