You spend most of your time on a job search hoping for an offer, but sometimes you end up wanting to turn a position down. Maybe the salary is too low, even after you’ve tried to negotiate it, or maybe the boss seems like a hopeless micromanager, or maybe the role doesn’t focus on the areas of your field you’re most interested in. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided it’s not for you, and now you need to turn it down.
Here’s everything you need to know to decline a job offer gracefully, while still preserving the working relationship for the future.
1. You will not burn a bridge just because you decline a job offer.
People often get nervous about turning down a job offer, like they’re somehow not holding up their end of a deal they made when they first applied. But applying and interviewing for a job is in no way a promise that you’ll accept it if it’s offered to you, and employers know that. Candidates turn down job offers all the time — just as employers turn down applicants all the time too — and you’re not going to burn a bridge by politely and professionally declining an offer.
That said, are there some employers out there who do react badly to rejected offers? Sure, there are some! But there are also employers who react badly when you ask for a raise or need a day off or otherwise advocate for yourself in very routine ways. It’s a sign of deep dysfunction on their side, not an indication that you’ve erred in some way. (In fact, it’s a sign that you were right to turn down the offer, because they’re showing you that they’re not an employer that adheres to conventional norms or respects candidates’ and employees’ autonomy.)
2. Tell the employer as soon as you’re sure of your decision.
Once you’ve decided that you’re not going to accept the offer, call or email the employer and let them know right away. Don’t put it off, because that can cause a real inconvenience on their side (which can then turn normal disappointment into frustration that you didn’t tell them sooner). Plus, they probably have other candidates on hold who would be delighted to receive the offer once you decline it.
3. It’s okay to decline the job in an email, but a phone call is better.
People do 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). That person is probably at least somewhat emotionally invested in you now that they’ve offered you the job.
However, timeliness is more important than connecting on the phone, 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.”
4. 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 you’ll come across better and 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 a few other roles that I think 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 far 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 that position is responsible for, and I’m really looking for a role more focused on program work.”
• “I’ve decided to accept a position with a different company.”
It’s possible that your reason 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.”
5. 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.”
Order Alison Green’s book, Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, here. Got a question for her? Email email@example.com. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.