how to turn down a job offer

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A reader writes:

I know you write a lot about rejecting candidates for job offers. Do you have any sound advice for the best way for a candidate to reject a job offer when it’s not the position for them?

As always, straightforward is good. Thank them for the offer, but say that you’ve decided it’s not quite right for you. Say you hope there’s opportunity to talk again in the future, if that’s true.

If there’s a specific reason that you’re comfortable sharing — such as salary or job duties — you should. If they know what didn’t work for you about this offer, they may approach you about something that’s more appealing to you in the future.

And tell them quickly. If you know you’re not going to take the offer, don’t drag it out. Their number-two candidate may be waiting anxiously for a “yes.”

{ 31 comments… read them below }

  1. Karen Flowers

    I get this question and requests for help over this matter a lot… People may get tons of great job offers, but obviously can only choose one that works for them. But what to do to keep the door open for future career changes?

    My suggestion to everyone is a simple letter- something that would resemble a cover letter in length, and that is honest enough to let them know, sorry, another job offer was provide and is the best for my situation right now. I am eager to discuss things with your company in the future. I really liked your goals of blah and blah, and I am confident that I am a top candidate for you in making that a success.

    So please keep in touch, and in the meantime, all the best with your endeavors.

    A letter like that shows you as professional and still very open to working with them, and it leaves them with the mindset that you are THE RIGHT candidate for them… so they will most likely contact you in the future to work on the projects they had you in mind for.

    Keep it simple and professional. And if you need help – just Google me, I'm The Resume Chick.

    1. ANDY

      Please help,
      I have been made an offer of a job,offshore work,I have been doing this for years,I’m having time out as my wife is going to get her leg amputated next week,but I am away to start another job!So how can i tell this other company as they now od her leg,but they said to let them know when she’s fine then they can give me a start date,I want to say something really good to them so they will invite me in the near future.
      Please please help.
      Regards.
      Andy

  2. Anonymous

    I think the turn-down letter has to be delicately written.

    Don't say its salary if that's really not the reason. Because they may try to negotiate, and it will be obvious pretty soon that it wasn't the true reason. Then they might be irritated that they wasted their time on you, and that's the last impression they'll have of you.

    But don't give a reason that is critical of the employer either, such as lack of advancement opportunities or company culture. Such comments almost assures that you will never be considered for another position with them.

    And it is important to keep in mind, that some recipients may find it a bit presumptuous if you launch into the answer of 'why' before the question has even been asked.

    IMO, keep it brief and polite. Respectfully decline but don't give a long winded or detailed explanation. If they are interested in feedback about their hiring process or in negotiating, they will let you know.

  3. Anonymous

    Many years ago, I was looking for a new job. I ended up seriously considering and interviewing with two companies. When I decided to go with company A (still my current employer), I let company B know that there was no point in going forward with any more interviews. I was withdrawing myself from consideration.

    I did not expect the reaction I got from the HR recruiter with whom I had been working. He said that first, he was unaware I was interviewing with any other companies. (Uhm… duh?) He told me I was making a big mistake because his company was the best thing going in my state. (I'm in the midwest and applying for a position in the midwest. He himself worked in New Jersey.) Furthermore, I would regret the day that I turned them down because they would not consider me in the future.

    That confirmed to me that I had made the right decision. :)

  4. Mrs. T.

    In a slightly different quandry. There is a very good chance I will get an offer for a teaching job (less than quarter time) that I interviewed for and now really don’t want. However, my mentor and good reference went well out of his way to smooth the path. Now what?! I do not wish to offend the team or lose a reference for summer job-hunting. (Great team, just never should have applied and foolishly allowed myself to get talked into applying for a grade/class that just is not a good fit for me.)

    1. Miss J

      Mrs. T, I am in the same position as you.

      My cousin recently found out that my office is closing and asked for my resume. Thinking no harm in it, I sent it off.

      His manager and several others immediately contacted me and throughout the course of 3 days, called to discuss my background and abilities. They also continuously told me how wonderful my cousin is and the great things he has said about me.

      I was finally told about the position they were considering me for a week later at a face-to-face interview. The position is not in my field and requires 90% travel.

      Today I received an offer from the hiring manager. The process moved much to fast for me and they seemed to be trying to sell me on the perks of the job and money offered instead of the company or the responsibilities of the position.

      As previously mentioned, my cousin works very closely with those I have been speaking with, and has a strong reputation within his company. He is also extremely gung-ho about me working with him.

      How do I tell him, and the company, that I am not interested without creating an awkward situation for him?

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Be honest. Say you appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the role, but it’s not quite aligned with your field and the travel is more than you’d be happy with.

  5. Torn between two

    I have recently made a rather hard choice and I’m not 100% sure if its the right one. I live in NH and have been offered 2 opportunities in two different fields of work that I have experience in.
    One is a full time position in Boston, benefits, the whole deal but doesn’t pay quite as much. Now this manager has said that after a year, I could be at the same salary as what I am looking for. The “upside” to this offer is that I could take public transportation, obviously saving my car but adding an additional 3-4 hours to my day. The other is offering me more money but I would have to drive and (wince) its a contract position, so nothing is gaurenteed. After doing the math, I think I have decided on choice 2, because I think it will make me happier even though I will be driving my car right into the ground. I guess I am looking for some reassurance that going with my heart was the right thing and not just the stability.

    1. NicoleW

      I can give you some reassurance about following your heart…
      I am a person who has made a few big job choices in the past 7 years, always picking the most stable one. While I don’t completely regret those choices, I sometimes wish I had followed my heart instead. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about dusting off those aspirations, and today, I’m turning down a good but safe job offer to find something more fulfilling. I’m in the process of working out a reduced hours arrangement with my current job and will have time to follow my heart into the other work I want to do.

      And as a side note, I don’t think I would be able to handle adding 3-4 hours a day to my commute! I’m all for public transit, but I wouldn’t be signing up for that long.

  6. D

    Hi,

    I’ve recently been offered both jobs that i applied for. The first just offered me the job about two weeks ago and all the forms have been completed. Just after i completed the forms the second place to offer me the job rung and said i can have that job as well.

    I would now like to cancel the first job offer that i have completed the forms for and continue with the second job.

    What would be the correct way of doing this?

    I have yet to start work at the first place

    1. V

      D

      I am in the exact same boat. I wish someone had answered you so I would feel better. I accepted an offer then realized it paid much less than I thought (I had been quoted an hourly rate but later learned it was x35 when I thought it was x40, barely going to cover the cost of the one hour commute less taxes) but thought I’d take it anyway because it sounded like a good spot. The very next day I got a call from a job I’d applied to six weeks earlier, and they may make me an offer. If they do, I will have wasted two weeks of this other employer’s time, as I have been set to start next week. On the other hand, it’s a significant difference in pay and I can hardly afford not to take the other. I hope things went well for you. Although I doubt you will see this. :/

      1. Anonymous

        This is identical to the situation I am in. I’m trying to carefully compose a letter right now to the first employer, but I’m having a terrible time of it. I hope things went well for you.

  7. Anonymous

    I have a company that is moving really fast on my resume.. I interviewed there a few days ago and they want me to come in again to meet their ceo. I’m an electrical engineer (currently out of work, contract ended at the place I really want to work at) and the company that is looking at me is strictly mechanical, except for one really low level circuit board. I really don’t want the job but don’t know how to tell them.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If you’re absolutely sure you wouldn’t accept an offer from them, just tell them that you’re really looking for an electrical engineering job so this isn’t the right fit, but that you think they’re great, appreciate their time, etc. Tell them sooner rather than later so you don’t waste their time or take an interview slot from someone else!

  8. Anonymous

    I’ve interviewed with a company that’s about to make me an offer. My references have been contacted. I don’t want the position for several reasons, one being the red flags I got in the interview about a problem employee, the second is it’s a huge move.. one problem I’d be willing to overlook if that problem employee wasn’t there. Anyways, when declining, which would be done over the phone, do I mention the relocation aspect as the reason I’m not accepting? I can’t exactly say that I suspect they have a problem employee, (the same one I’d be working in close proximity with)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If you blame it on relocation, it’ll ensure they never consider you for a job again, since they’ll think you won’t relocate. If you’re not okay with that, then either tell the truth about your concerns (you’d be doing them a favor by letting them know) or don’t give a specific reason at all.

  9. Lele

    I have recently been offered a job that I have applied for twice in the past and I finally got offered the position. It is quite a distance away but I am used to driving long distance especially to be working again. I am supposed to start training on Monday and I just so happened to receive another job offer from a company I would really like to work for and it is the same exact pay. The only difference is it is extremely more convenient to my home and school. I have to take the paperwork into them today and a will know a solid start date once everything is processed. I basically have accepted two offers and I do not feel comfortable letting down the first one until I know the 2nd one is solid. Any suggestions on what I can say to delay a start date on the first offer and just figure out what to do without losing both of offers?

  10. Milly

    I recently interviewed for and accepted a job offer that was due to start in a month’s time. The job is in a different state, across the country.

    However, in the past week, my circumstances have changed. My husband who was set to start a new job in the new city, has decided to stay in our current location (I will not go into the details of my husbands employment situation here: lets just say he was previously planning to move with me and now has decided to stay in current city, for compelling reasons of his own). Going back-and-forth between the two cities is not easy: It is a 6 hour, 600$ flight and I do not want to be a weekend couple again. I do not mind being a housewife for a bit until I find a job in our current city; it is preferable than moving to the new location by myself.

    I am aware I am burning a bridge here if I turn down this offer that I previously accepted. But, I have very little choice and I feel terrible about it. I know that the new company probably banked on me to join the workforce at the said date and stopped interviewing other candidates when I accepted the job in question. It makes me feel immensely guilty. But, I cannot move to the new city next month because my marriage is more important to me.

    What are my options? My employment offer in the new city was at-will for both employee and employer. If I withdraw my acceptance, can it have legal consequences for me? How can I go about telling the new company?

  11. ss0357

    I found out during my interview a couple of weeks ago that I would be replacing a former colleague. One of the interviewers, an MD, proceeded to tell me the details of why they were letting this person go. Sounded ego-driven. The MD also made an inappropriate age related comment at the end of our meeting. I was caught off guard and shocked at his level of ignorance when it comes to HR communication and ethical practices. Subsequently the company made me an offer but I feel there are too many red flags to ignore. Many professionals say not to burn bridges and never say anything derogatory about them. Your comment in a previous post mentions that it’s okay to bring up those concerns, to be honest, that I’d be doing them a favor by letting them know. Many people say I would be committing career suicide in speaking the truth. I’m torn in how to craft my message in declining the offer.

  12. Anonymous

    I am in a similar position, I have been trying to work from home but It was not working as fast. SO I decided to apply for a a job I saw, but in my heart I do not want to do that I think I felt the pressure of everyone around me. Now they are sending me for medicals and test on Monday, and I asked them if they would be a bit flexible with hours as I need to pick up kids and everything. First they told me no, I need to work my time and have lunch. Then they phoned me and said they will accommodate it. I am not sure what it means. I have not had an offer yet. In the meantime my home work is picking up a bit, not much but it is. So is it bad to go for the medicals and then say no?
    I do not know what they will offer me, I told them what I wanted. but not sure. The job is a bit far and with two young kids, and also wanting to continue with my business.
    Another question is I know I will not stay long there. and of course they expect you to stay long, Is it bad to accept knowing that in 6 months to a year I will leave?
    Thanks
    Andrea

  13. kim

    Hi,
    I just got an email from my employer where I applied as a volunteer but unfortunately the position they were offering me was not absolutely the position i was applying for. I was applying for as an administrative support volunteer. They were offering me working in the outpatient services and based on the job description I would be dealing with patients and visitors most of the time on the hospital floor.How would I approach by writing an email? Is it okay to refuse it, as I am only a volunteer. How would I write a letter that she would not think of that I am a very choosy person. Could you help me please…I wanted her to know that I would like to volunteer because I wanna learn more on my field as a medical office assistant..

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes, absolutely you can turn it down. Just say that you appreciate the offer, but you’re actually looking to do administrative support work as a volunteer, and ask if they have opportunities like that.

  14. Rachel

    I recently accepted a job offer to work at a law firm to commence work in July,but then had to leave for the States for a month. I spent my time exploring my options as to how I can further my studies at the university to read Law, which had always been my primary objective even when deciding in accepting the said job. I feel right now that I am not ready to work and would like to apply to study at the University. How do I go about informing the lawyer about my change in decision?
    PS. I have not signed the job contact yet, He wanted me only to sign it when I report for work this July.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      You’ve just got to tell him, the sooner the better. He’s not going to be happy, but that’s just the reality of what happens when you back out of a job offer.

  15. Mary

    I accepted another position with the company I currently work for last week. I was referred by my previous manager and my current manager wrote a beautiful reference letter for me. This position requires travel (a lot during the first 6 months). This weekend, I found out I was pregnant (great news), but I can’t tell my employer yet because it is still way too early. They still have not provided me with my official offer email/letter or a start date. How can I turn down this position without telling them I am pregnant? I know I will be exhausted during the first trimester as it is and when you add all of the travel and learning a new job to it, I just don’t think I can do it. I had been having second thoughts about the job prior to this. I couldn’t sleep the night I accepted it. So, when all of this goes together, I just don’t think it is going to work. How can I communicate to my current manager, the hiring manager and HR?

  16. james

    How do you turn down a job offer inside ones current employer, if the area they are moving you will cause a possible conflict?

  17. Thi

    How should I say when I would like to reject swopping teaching position where I feel that it is not suit with my teaching style, goals and interests.

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