Turning Down a Job Offer

By the end of any job search, receiving the perfect employment offer can be a welcome and rewarding experience.  However, sometimes you will receive a job offer that is not the right fit for you. This article will suggest some ways to turn down a job offer with grace and professionalism.

Before the Offer

Being prepared to respond to a job offer requires a clear idea of what constitutes the right match in a job opportunity. You need to know what your ideal job looks like before you get to the offer stage.

“Doing a thorough self-awareness inventory up front can help you avoid having to turn down a less than perfect offer later in the process,” said Katie Pakenham, Service Manager and Director of Candidate Experience at Commongood Careers. 

It is important to make sure you are asking the right questions throughout the process, particularly about those aspects of a position that could be deal-breakers. “Candidates should think about the hours, amount of travel, and benefits they want before pursuing a position,” said Allyson Biegeleisen, Director of Client Services at Commongood Careers.  “They need to make sure that they absolutely understand what the organization would expect in these areas if they were hired into that position.” 

At any stage in the process, if you realize that you would never take the position if it were offered to you, no matter what the offer looked like, respectfully withdraw from the process before an offer is made. Organizations will invest a great deal of time in assessing your candidacy, interviewing you, and checking references; if you knew well before the offer that you would not accept the position, they will feel frustrated and perceive that time as wasted. 

Declining a Job Offer Gracefully

Remember that turning down a job offer is about maintaining, not closing, a relationship. Declining an offer gracefully can make a world of difference to your reputation and can improve your network. On the other hand, turning down a job offer in a disrespectful or unprofessional manner can do serious harm to both. 

“Performing well in a hiring process anywhere, regardless of whether an offer is given or not, can be a great asset during a job search,” Biegeleisen says.  She has even seen situations where a hiring manager has shared with his or her network a great candidate who declined a job offer. 

When you need to turn down a job offer, make sure you do it promptly; this usually means no later than a week after the offer was extended.  Remember, the organization is hoping and expecting that you will say yes.  If you say no, they will be set back considerably in their search. The sooner they know that they will need to re-invigorate the search, the better for the organization. 

“People sometimes avoid contact when they decide they don’t want the job because they want to avoid conflict,“ said Biegeleisen, “but avoiding saying anything is much more inconveniencing and much less respectful to the organization than communicating your decision.” 

Placing a prompt phone call to the person who offered you the position is the best strategy for declining an offer. In addition to being prompt, it is important to communicate your decision in a clear and honest way. You should be prepared to offer an explanation for your decision, but there is no need for lengthy excuses. “You should find a genuine way to tell the organization what you like about the position and the organization. You should make sure the organization knows that its time was well spent and that you were invested in the process until the end,” Pakenham said. 

While a phone conversation with the person who made the offer is the ideal way to communicate your decision, sometimes it is impossible. In this situation, a voicemail or email can be appropriate, but it’s still best to try to follow-up in a phone conversation at a later date. 

After declining an offer, make sure to follow-up with everyone you met with or talked to from the organization. This will be an important part of communicating your appreciation for the time the organization took to pursue your candidacy and can help you to build your personal network. Remember, you never know when one of these people, or one of their colleagues, will be hiring again.  Commongood Careers has seen candidates who declined one job offer be hired by that same organization for a different position at some point in the future.  Just because this offer isn’t the right fit, it doesn’t mean you should close the door.

If you are declining of offer because of salary issues, there are a few things you can do to show that you are still interested in supporting the organization.  For example, you can open your networks to the organization, perhaps suggesting someone you know who might be a good fit for this or other positions. Offering to volunteer some time to the organization also shows your dedication to a common mission and can make the interview process a successful networking experience, despite having to decline the offer. 

Using the “No” as a Learning Experience

Turning down a job offer is never an easy thing to do.  However, knowing exactly what you want in advance and communicating honestly with the hiring organization throughout the job search process can help you avoid ever having to decline an offer. Of course, if turning down the offer is the only option, you should take the time to understand why you had to turn it down and how, in the future, you could be more prepared to recognize that the job was not the right fit prior to receiving an offer.  While difficult, when done with grace and respect, declining a job offer can help you expand your personal network as well as gain valuable skills in communication and insight into your ideal role.


This article was written by Commongood Careers and is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

For more information about nonprofit and socially entrepreneurial careers, visit Commongood Careers at http://www.commongoodcareers.org

facebooke twitter linkedin

Uncommon talent working for the common good