will turning down an offer hurt my chances with that company in the future?

A reader writes:

I had an interview where I liked the people and I absolutely loved what they had to offer in terms of salary and rank, but the job itself wasn’t what I thought. I think that while the benefits are great in the short term, in the long term there may not be too much growth.

They have a research division too that I’d like to apply too once the right job appears. Will turning down the current offer ruin my chances getting into research? It’s not like I accepted the offer and then turned it down.

It shouldn’t, but it depends on (a) how you handle it and (b) whether the company is weird.

In general, employers understand that candidates may turn down offers. There’s never an obligation to accept an offer, and only a particularly weird employer would hold it against you. Interviewing isn’t a one-way street that’s all about the employer deciding whether or not they want you, and you hoping they do. You’re just as entitled to turn down an offer as an employer is to turn you down, and reasonable employers understand that.

However, it’s possible to mishandle the turning down of an offer, and that could definitely hurt your chances with that company in the future.

Here are some examples of how you could mishandle an offer and hurt your chances of being seriously considered in the future:

  • misleading the company during the process — such as telling them that you’re definitely ready to leave your current job and wouldn’t even entertain a counteroffer, and then accepting a counteroffer
  • speaking of counteroffers, engaging in behavior that looks like your intent all along was to use an offer to get a higher offer from your current employer
  • engaging in extended negotiations after your received the offer, causing the hiring manager to go to bat to get you a higher offer (and maybe better-than-their-standard benefits) and expend political capital to do so, and then turning it down anyway, even though they met your requests
  • accepting the offer initially but then backing out
  • withholding some kind of key information until the offer stage — like that you’d only accept the offer if you could work from home full-time but never raised that earlier, or that you wanted a salary significantly higher than the range they shared with you earlier in the process
  • assuring them throughout the process that you were ready to relocate/change fields/make some other major change that the job would require, and then changing your mind once you actually got the offer

That last one isn’t bad behavior in the way the others are, but it’s still likely to make them less interested in investing time in you again, because it makes you appear a little flaky or like you don’t know your own mind.

But if you’re responsive, considerate, and gracious in turning down an offer, a good employer will welcome the chance to talk with you again in the future (although they’ll probably want to understand what the obstacle was last time and whether it’s likely to come up again).

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. Jenniy

    Hubby interviewed with a company a few months ago and after he got the offer he told them he couldn’t entertain an offer anything less than $xx (it was a non-employee position that I still swear is misclassified but that’s a whole different thing); when they came back and offered pretty close to that, he asked for 3 days to think it over. They told him he had to answer by midnight or they would move on. He found out from other people that if you turn them down once they will not even look at your resume again.
    It sucks but it happens. Good luck OP

    1. Mike C.

      This sucks in the short term for the particular employee, but it will suck for the company in the long term.

  2. Jerzy

    The language you use is important. Let them know the job isn’t exactly what you had in mind, but you would love an opportunity for a research position if one ever becomes available. There may be one about to open up that they know about and may ask you to apply for it. Just be really friendly, thankful and enthusiastic about working for the company. You may even want to say that you’d want a move to this company to be something long term, so you’d want it to really be the right fit, and you’re not sure this particular position is.

    Good luck!

    1. AW

      I think that’s a good idea; it lets them know that the LW isn’t rejecting the *company*, just that particular role.

    2. harryv

      Wouldn’t you know before you get the offer that it isn’t the job you had in mind? Would a over-generous offer change someone’s mind about the job?

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger

        It depends. If the part that’s not what you had in mind is something that was in the job ad, you could look either kind of flakey or like you can’t read if you say that later. If you only realized that through conversations you had while interviewing, though, then it seems reasonable to say “I’ve decided this isn’t the job for me.” Yeah, ideally the candidate would realize that after the interview but before the offer, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way.

      2. BRR

        Or an alternative situation, I applied for job A, they said they went with an internal candidate, they asked if I was interested in job B, I said I was like for a position like A and wished them the best of luck in filling the role, they contacted me then about job C which was like job A and I went in for an interview.

  3. aphrael

    Depending on your current situation, you might want to accept the job. If it’s in your field, with good compensation, and your only concern is growth potential, you might have an easier time transitioning into their research department if you’ve been internal for a few years.

    Wouldn’t advise this for a pay cut or something you don’t want to do at all, but if growth is your only concern it might be worth considering.

    1. J.B.

      I would agree with this. If you’re talking about something you can see doing for a few years (and it’s not a big sacrifice somehow to start) then you have the chance to make yourself a stronger internal candidate. Maybe since you’ve gotten the offer bring up the long term issue specifically to the hiring manager. Nothing to lose at that point.

    2. Gene

      The key phrase in this reply is, “if you’ve been internal for a few years.” Don’t take this job, then immediately begin applying for research positions.

    3. periwinkle

      Another vote for considering this option. Would you enjoy this particular position for 2 or 3 years? Is there good mobility within the organization? Are there opportunities for cross-functional projects, stretch assignments, continuing education, and/or other ways of making contacts and strengthening your skills in the direction that intrigues you?

      I like my current position but accepted it fully aware that this specific department had limited potential for growth. However, the organization has terrific opportunities for professional growth and it’s very common to move around in pursuit of it. I’m about two years in and have started looking ahead to my first internal move. It’s a whole lot easier to do that from the inside!

      1. Amberly

        “It’s a whole lot easier to do that from the inside!” Some places that’s true, some it’s very much not. You really have to find that out before you accept a job you do not really want with a view to moving on quickly.

  4. Snowglobe

    In this specific situation, one thing that might make them write you off is whether you continued to go through the process after knowing that the job isn’t a good fit. For example, if you went on the first interview with the hiring manager and the manager spoke extensively about the job and potential for growth, and then later you were invited to a 2nd interview with senior management where they talked about big picture stuff, but not about the job. If you decline the offer because of the job, they may wonder why you wasted everyone’s time with the second interview, since you should have already had enough information to know the job isn’t right for you.

  5. Ann O'Nemity

    A job candidate turned down my offer a few weeks back and did it extremely well. He basically said what the OP did – that while he loved the company and the team members that he met during the interview process, he worried that some of the job duties weren’t the best fit for him. He also said that he would certainly keep an eye open on our open positions in the future because he could really see himself at our company. I was disappointed, but understood where he was coming from and I would totally consider him for future positions.

    1. Jake

      I turned down an offer exactly like that.

      Then a month later I accepted a position that was a much better fit.

  6. Slimy Contractor

    I was particularly lucky in a similar situation. I had gotten through salary negotiations and received an offer letter that I was just about ready to sign when it became clear to me that I needed to get out of my marriage right away, and thus couldn’t be starting a new job at the same time I was moving out of my house. I called the hiring manager and very sincerely apologized for the situation, explaining that I had a family crisis I needed to take care of and couldn’t take on a new assignment. The hiring manager was nothing but gracious and understanding, even though he would have to start his hiring process all over again, just when he thought I’d be in place in two weeks.

    Almost a year later, when my divorce was final and I was living on my own again, I contacted that same hiring manager, to thank him for his kindness and let him know that my crisis was over and I was back on the job market. I *never* expected him to call, but it just felt right to kind of give and get some closure out of the situation. Well, he actually contacted me a couple days later with a new opportunity. I knew that if I interviewed for this job and was offered it, I couldn’t turn it down–there’s no way you get a *third* chance in business. Well, I was offered the job, and I took it, and I’m still happy here. He told me when he made me the offer that my follow-up letter months after our initial meeting had made a good impression on him, believe it or not.

    I’m sure my situation is unusual, but if you handle yourself well and don’t burn bridges (and have the good luck to be interviewing with a genuinely good human being), it can work out to go back to the same company and try again.

  7. Caprica Tech

    I backed out of an offer earlier this year. Short version of the story:

    1. I was working at Company A. I loved everything about Company A and my position there. During a review, an upper manager at Company A said something that disgusted me and completely turned me off of the company. It was personal and he offended me. I wanted to leave right then and there. I was in tears. I had never once cried because of work before.

    2. I interviewed with Company B. I asked HR rep for a salary slightly highter than current. It was approved, and an offer was extended. I accepted the offer 24 hours later.

    3. A former manager of mine at Company A, whom I assume the powers that be thought I shared a mutual respect with, called and asked if there was a chance that I could come back if my grievances were addressed and I no longer had to report to the offending manager. I said maybe, depends on what they can promise.

    4. A director at Company A (higher than offending upper manager) called and blew me away with an offer to come back. Not only a promise to reorganize to ensure that I never had to report to the offending upper manager again, but also a very generous increase in salary and some extra PTO thrown in.

    5. I apologize up and down to Company B HR rep and turn down the offer. I tell her why. She replied with, and I quote, “You’re not the Queen of Sheba.”

    6. BULLET DODGED

    7. I realize that I should never intereview at Company B again. I’m sure my file is labeled “Queen of Sheba.”

    8. I also realize that #2 above should have been “contact HR at Company A.”

    1. Anon for This!

      Company B definitely overreacted. A lot of times people leave jobs because of bad work situations; they might not be looking in the first place if everything was fine. If the situation was rectified, they’d probably stay. Also, even though you were their first choice, they had to have a back up person that they liked also. Almost everyone I know that hires always has the first choice, and the back up choice in case the first choice doesn’t work out. Many times they’ve hired the back up choice.

      If Company B didn’t have anyone else other than you that wanted that job, well, that’s their problem.

  8. Jake

    Quick question for the commenters, I had a phone interview with HR on Thursday and she said she’d follow up by arranging a phone call with the hiring manager and get back with me on Monday (today). I sent my thank you email on Thursday night. When is it appropriate to follow up with an email about the call she is arranging?

      1. Jake

        No problem, I’m sorry, didn’t even think about that. Please feel free to remove the comment.

        Not that you need my permission or anything.

  9. Monty

    I’m the person who asked this question. I was hoping that I could do a 3 year tour of duty in powertrains and then switch into research. Note, I’ve worked in controls, so I *thought* I knew what I was getting into. It wasn’t until I got the job offer and I started talking with my new manager’s manager that more detail trickled in that made me not want to take the job. To be honest, I’m glad I had those discussions because I think it would have been a train wreck.

    What I didn’t put in the question was that they wanted a 5 year commitment to powertrain controls which to me is a long time working a job that I find 70-75% satisfying. Further, the skills that I pick up will not increase the liklihood of getting into research. Right now the current job that I have is 110% job satisfaction but the pay is not inline with my experience/skill…. Significantly not inline…

    I think if I’m going to risk losing a job that I find satisfying, I’m not going to leave for anything less than a research job or something that I would find 90+% satisfying. Note: the company I applied to is one of the big three auto companies. Sounds like I may not have a problem then..

    1. AnotherAlison

      This sounds like a win-win-win situation no matter what you did.

      I could be wrong, but I think 70-75% satisfying would be high numbers for most people. If you’re at 110% now and holding out for 90% with a pay raise, you’re in a good position.

  10. F.

    For anyone considering the approach of taking a less than ideal position to possibly get to the ideal position in a few years, I would suggest to try to find out whether the company is “siloed”. Do people actually transfer internally from teapot design to teapot research, or are you stuck in one silo your entire tenure with the company? I have had that happen to me personally.

    1. Monty

      You hit the nail on the head. That’s what I’m worried about. My gut feeling is that it won’t be easy making a transfer. I work at one of the big three and wouldn’t have a problem moving anywhere in the company. However, my company’s larger competitor may be a bit more siloed or at least it sounds that way.

      1. Anon for this

        Yeah, it’s a risk. Maybe the company is good with internal transfers and you’ll be fine, but if not, you will have spent several years in a job that won’t help you get the job you really want. I wouldn’t count on it.

  11. Switcher

    I once applied for a job and before I even went for the second interview I realized it was not the best fit at the time… it was a decrease in pay for the only position they had open and I had a change of heart about leaving my current employment.

    I called days ahead of my scheduled interview and informed them that I was withdrawing my application, apologized for any waste of time and thanked them for their consideration. I found out from an internal source that I am now blacklisted with the company, along with everyone else who ever applied and chose not to continue the interview process or accept their offer!

    1. Three Thousand

      It’s like they made you an offer of marriage and you humiliated them by turning it down.

      I guess if the quality you really value in employees is longevity, you might do better screening out the ones with options or the ones who won’t just be grateful to be offered a job.

      1. Pictogram

        I am not so sure about this. If you are screening out conscientious, interview-savvy employees and then blacklisting them for discovering early in the process a role is not for them, I doubt you are hiring employees that stay very long.

  12. Taylor

    I turned down a pretty good job because it seemed too advanced for me (I had ~2 years experience for a job that really needed 5+) so I was afraid of not doing my usual 10000% kick-ass job, and on top of that it was way too far away to make the commute daily. I (thought I) explained my reasons diplomatically, but after I turned down the offer, I never heard from them again. Later I applied for a job with them closer to me (and more suited towards my experience) and never heard a word. They went from loving me (“you’re so perfect for the role! We’re so excited to have you on our team!”) to being blacklisted.

  13. brownblack

    I interviewed for a job about 5 years ago, got an offer, and turned it down for another opportunity. I am currently (like, this week) interviewing for a different job at that same company and I feel pretty confident in my chances.

  14. Abigail

    Turning offers down because of second thoughts about relocation is something we see a lot. We’re hiring hundreds of new staff each year, and the majority of them require relocation (we’re in a European capital, and hire candidates from all over the world). We ask willingness to relocate very early in the process, but often, people don’t think it completely true until they get an offer.

    And then the realize partner will have to give up his/her job; it’s better for kids if they can continue with their school; and that they don’t want to be a 10 hour flight away from their aging parents.

  15. Tim

    I read this article and was not surprised that my situation was part of the “mishandled”…

    I was recently referred to a company through a friend of a friend. I submitted a resume, interviewed, and got a job offer in less than 48 hours. I asked for a few days to think about the job offer after which I had accepted the job offer. About a week later my boss showed me another position for a much more prestigious company doing completely different work, more geared towards what I love doing. I applied, got an interview, and job offer all in about 24-48 hours even though this company was much larger and had a generally slower hiring process.

    I accepted the new job offer at the bigger company and had to decline the already accepted job offer at the previous company.

    I did my best to try and respectfully decline. I even called the manager of the original job offer to try to explain myself. It did not work out, I fumbled through my explanation and he tried to negotiate a higher pay hoping to keep me. As the conversation went on it kept getting worse like when you have to break up a relationship because it isn’t working out. He kept sounding more and more bitter as the conversation moved forward. I told him the name of the company and what the position was (big mistake) out of desperation in hopes that he would recognize the name and understand why I was declining. I had to decline stating that the money didn’t matter after which he told me that this would adversely affect any future between us. After the phone conversation I tried to save face by sending a very humbled email to him and the person who referred me from within the company. From what I can tell he decided to blacklist my email and cut all communications with me from this company.

    Is this normal behavior from a company after accepting a job offer and having to decline?

    I had signed a few important HR documents like the offer and some release of personal information documents and would have started orientation in about 72 hours.

    I didn’t mean for it to burn a bridge between me and this employer and I would love to mend the relationship. Anyone have any ideas on how I could do so? Or is it too late? Should I show up in person with gifts? Or should I just move on and put that company behind me?

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