gracefully turning down an offer

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A reader writes:

I’m a programmer currently working on a contract basis, but have an invitation to move to a permanent position when the contract ends. It’s a good company and good offer, but is missing two things: variety in projects I’d work on (they make only a few products, all related) and senior employees I could learn from, and so I will be turning down the offer and continuing to do contract work, which fits both my temperament and my career development path. However, I know I will eventually want to settle into a permanent position, and I could easily see myself returning to my current employers at that time.

My first question: Is this an okay explanation to give my manager for turning down the job? I plan on shortening it a bit and taking out what could be considered an insult to their other employees, but otherwise telling to whole truth.

My second question: What’s an appropriate time table to do this? I’d like to give them as much time as possible to look for a replacement and transition my responsibilities to someone else, but don’t want them to feel I gave the offer anything less than full consideration.

My third question: Is this an okay explanation to give potential future employers as to why I turned down the job? I would like to be able to tell people that I received an offer, but would then have to explain why I turned it down, especially since contracting will be more risk for, at best, a bit more money. Talking to potential employers, I would focus on the lack of growth opportunities.

My fourth question: Is it kosher to ask my manager for a recommendation? Does it matter at all that I already have a recommendation from my first boss at the company, who left partway through my contract? What about the fact that this manager is temporary and will revert to a non-management position some time after I leave?

Yes to all four questions.

You want more than that? Okay, first, yes, that’s a great explanation to give. Understandable, doesn’t insult them, and leaves the door open for returning at some future point as long as you can explain why what you’re looking for has changed. Frankly, you could even tell them now that you’d be open to that — “I think you’re a great company to work for and I’d love to come back someday after I’ve had other experiences.”

Second, on the timetable for telling them: I’d tell them as soon as you’ve made up your mind, assuming you don’t risk them shortening your time with them as a result. If your only reason for stalling is that you want them to believe you’ve given it enough consideration — I think you’re overthinking it a bit there. They just want an answer so they can plan.

Third, yes, it’s a fine explanation to give to prospective future employers — as long as they have variety and senior employees, the two things you said the offer lacks. You don’t want them thinking, “Hmmm, we don’t have a ton of variety, so will he be dissatisfied here?” Make sure to explain to them why they don’t need to worry about that.

And fourth, yes, if the manager can speak to your work and will say glowing things about you, definitely ask if she’ll be a reference for you. It doesn’t matter that she’ll later revert to a non-management position; companies will care about the fact that she managed your work at the time you were there, which is what matters.

Good luck!