how to decline a job offer because of a company’s unprofessionalism

A reader writes:

On July 31, I interviewed for a job as a sales manager. My interview was with the CEO, senior VP of sales and marketing and the VP of human resources. All interviews went great and I was told the next day that everyone was impressed and they would like to make me an offer.

Since then, the hiring manager has told me four times “we are finalizing the offer and you will have it no later than tomorrow, next day at the latest.” Each time, the next day came and went with no follow-up until I would reach out a few days later to enquire about the status. The latest came this morning. I received an email telling me the offer was being worked on last night, would be reviewed this morning, and I’d have it by noon. I still haven’t seen anything and as usual, no phone call or email follow-up.

Major red flags are flying, as I’m shocked at the lack of professional courtesy in that I would have expected some sort of communication when each of the four offer dates were missed. If and when the offer finally arrives, how should I decline it? I’d like to give them a piece of my mind but know I shouldn’t burn any bridges.

Yeah, the thing about giving people a piece of your mind in situations like this is that it actually makes it easier for them to dismiss what you’re saying than if you’re more subtle about it.

If you just tell them they’re unprofessional and you’re shocked by their disorganization and lack of courtesy, you’ll put them on the defensive and make them think that while their own behavior wasn’t perfect, yours is worse. (I’m not saying yours actually would be worse — just that that’s where their thinking is likely to go.) And then your point will be lost, so you don’t want that.

Instead, I’d keep it polite and matter-of-fact. For instance, you could say, “The process of getting the offer to me raised some concerns for me about how things work internally there. I  understand these things can take time and other priorities can get in the way, but I was surprised that I kept being told I’d have it within a day or two and then days would go by without me hearing anything. Can you tell me a little about what was going on behind the scenes to cause that?”

And assuming you do turn down the offer (which it sounds like you’re set on doing), you could say something like, “I’m a big believer in communicating with people, especially when a timeline is going to be longer than we originally discussed. I think this probably isn’t the right fit, on either side.”

Or, if it’s more your style, you could skip all that and just jump straight to:  “I appreciate the offer. But at this point, the lack of communication during the offer process convinced me that this isn’t the right fit. But I wish you luck with filling the position.”

I tend to prefer the first, if only because it makes it clearer that the problem isn’t just they didn’t communicate with you, but rather that they made you a series of specific promises that they apparently took so lightly that they didn’t even bother acknowledging when they were breaking them.

{ 50 comments… read them below }

  1. Jazzy Red

    Or send them a link to this post.

    Honestly, it makes you wonder how these people would react if the tables were turned.

    You can do better.

  2. Anonymous

    Something very similar happened to me once, when I interviewed at a Tiny Niche Pharmaceutical. I interviewed with a bunch of people including higher-ups, I was told the job was mine, they just needed one signature, probably would have it by tomorrow or the next day at the latest. Weeks went by…then I read on the front cover of the New York Times that A Huge Multinational Pharmaceutical had bought the Tiny Niche Pharmaceutical, and then I understood the delay. I actually felt worse for the really nice people I’d interviewed with than for myself, because they had no idea it was coming.

  3. boo

    You’re much nicer than me. By the 2nd time, I would have asked. It’s been more than two days and you said that about 2 weeks ago. Is everything ok? I know it sounds kind of rude but whatever, I like to get answers or at least know what’s going on.

  4. Mike C.

    “I’m a big believer in communicating with people, especially when a timeline is going to be longer than we originally discussed. I think this probably isn’t the right fit, on either side.”

    vs

    ”I appreciate the offer. But at this point, the lack of communication during the offer process convinced me that this isn’t the right fit. But I wish you luck with filling the position.”

    It might just be me, but I prefer the way you worded this the second time over the first, because when I read the phrase, “I think this probably isn’t the right fit, on either side”. It comes off a bit presumptuous, as the hiring folks are in a much better position to know what a good fit for them is over the OP or any of us here.

    Just a minor quibble, I think the rest of the advice is sound.

    1. BCW

      I understand the frustration, but sometimes things like this happen for a myriad of reasons. My current company, I was told I’d have an official offer about 2 weeks before I had it, and I interviewed with the COO. As it turned out the people in HR who had to finalize it were going on vacation and then there was a holiday, and other stuff took priority. I could have been indicative of the company, but it really wasn’t. Just a series of unfortunate things that lined up. So if that is your only hang up, I’d consider thinking it through a bit more.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think it’s not so much about the delays — those aren’t uncommon. It’s that they haven’t even bothered to get back to the OP — they tell him “tomorrow” and then he gets silence for days. That’s rude.

        1. Ann O'Nemity

          Exactly. The hiring manager could easily send an email that noted that their were some unexpected delays, thanked the applicant for their patience, and offered some sort of update on the timeline.

          1. Ann O'Nemity

            *There, not their.

            Eek, that particular grammar mistake is a pet peeve of mine and here I am making it. Must be close to 5 o’clock.

        2. Ruffingit

          Exactly. And not only did they tell him “tomorrow” once, they told him four times. That is ridiculous, there’s no excuse for that.

        3. Felicia

          I agree, I never really mind delays, but I hate when they say they’ll tell you by a certain time frame, and then don’t. They could at least tell you by that time frame, sorry it’s taking longer than we though. Telling someone that there are delays is the polite thing to do.

        4. Jessa

          Exactly. It’s the silence. I don’t care if you tell me tomorrow or ten years from now in Timbuktu. But if it’s not tomorrow, let me know. Email me, call me. Let me know.

      2. Melissa

        I believe the delay is due to HR not preparing the document. My issue with the hiring manager is that he keeps promising me that the offer will come tomorrow and then when it doesn’t, he never calls me to say “oh….sorry….. I know I told you we would have this for you today but ……… has caused a delay. I’ve requested an opportunity to interview a peer so will delve a bit into how the company and most specifically the hiring manager handles time commitments.

  5. Wilton Businessman

    I was in this situation once (a different job market, though). After the second time of “it’s coming, you just have to give us a couple more days”, I continued my job search. I was at the new job for two weeks when the written offer finally came.

    For me, I came to the realization that they weren’t moving at a speed which I felt comfortable with, so I moved on.

    1. Ruffingit

      Were they surprised when you told them you’d taken another job? I’m guessing they were, but I hope it was a lesson to them to get their act together.

  6. Robert

    I am dealing with a similar situation right now. It has been months since I interviewed and had my references checked, yet no communication from the company (and I am certain that the position is still open, and has not been re-posted). I’ve moved on with my search of course, but if an offer ever came, I can’t say I’d feel confident taking it.

    However, I’m not sure that I’d feel comfortable actually pointing that out to the company. It almost seems unnecessary, since it’s really not my job to try and correct their hiring/communication practices. I also worry about burning bridges. Perhaps I’m overthinking it…

      1. Robert

        Yes, and unfortunately, most of the updates have been along the lines of “the timeline is unknown, but we’re still moving through the process.” Incredibly vague.

  7. Poppy

    I have been on both ends of this kind of thing. I have accepted an offer which took 3 months to be finalised (and was only finalised because I threatened to accept another job), and did not regret for one minute. I have also offered someone a job in a large organisation where HR managed the offer process, and took ages to actually make the offer. I was surprised when the candidate accepted it!
    Particularly in large organisations this is quite normal and is not a reflection of the team or what the work would be like.
    I would never reject an offer based on that.

    1. Lacey

      Sometimes it is reflective of the organisation as whole, as I am currently finding out. In which case, if it drives you crazy to wait ages for decisions to be made, you might well be better off somewhere else (again, that would be me).

      1. Elizabeth West

        Your first sentence for sure. My company is huge and it only took about a month to get from app to offer. I expected it to be a bit slower because of the size, but once we interviewed, things sped up quite a bit.

    2. Ruffingit

      Long time periods between verbal and written offer can happen, but it is not normal or acceptable to promise someone a written offer within a day and not deliver – FOUR TIMES! That is ridiculous. Someone is dropping the ball at that company.

      1. Felicia

        I think promising a written offer and not delivering so many times is the most indicative of the kind of company it is, not just the delays alone.

        1. Ruffingit

          How do these people even keep doing this with a straight face? Seriously, it amazes me. Is the same person promising next day delivery or is it different people? If it’s the same person, they’ve got to be somewhat embarrassed by now…I would hope. Also, they should never work as a pizza delivery driver, you’d starve before they got there. ;)

  8. Poppy

    And I understand it’s not about the delays but the lack of communication, but in the case I mentioned above I didn’t even though the offer hadn’t been made!

  9. SamTowana

    My inclination on this would be to decline without bringing up the reason. I just don’t think there’s anything to gain from throwing that back at them (despite the fact that you’re 100% right, of course), and there’s a little bit to lose (the option of giving them another chance down the road if you need to). If anything, I might claim that I’d already moved on in my job search, to make them feel the sting of losing someone over their lack of responsiveness. But even then, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

    1. Ruffingit

      I would probably mention having moved on in the job search. I see nothing wrong with saying that. It’s not burning bridges, but it does let them know their lack of communication is a problem.

  10. Blue Dog

    I don’t think there is any benefit to downloading on someone and giving them a piece of your mind when formalizing a hiring decision is not done at the pace you would like. Sure, it is not ideal. And sure, they could of communicated better. But you have no idea what is going on inside the company.

    Maybe someone left and they are dreadfully understaffed (why they want to hire you). Maybe there are budgetary issues or there is a hiccup. Maybe it is near the end of their fiscal year. Maybe someone’s family member is sick or recently died. You just don’t know. Then again, maybe they are just slow. But there is precious little to be gained by downloading on them and giving them a piece of your mind. Frankly, it comes off as juvenile.

    If ultimately you choose not to accept, just don’t accept. Say “Thanks for the offer, but I am going to have to pass.” This would seem to be the place for the KISS approach.

    1. Elizabeth West

      This would seem to be the place for the KISS approach.

      Paint your face and stick your tongue out at them?

      Sorry, I couldn’t resist. :) I do agree; there is no way to know what’s going on there. It would be counterproductive to dump on them, and you never know who they could be talking to down the line.

  11. Anonymous

    I wonder if you need to say anything. If an offer ever materializes, you can just decline by saying “oh so much time had passed, I assumed you had decided to go in another direction. I’m sorry I have accepted another position in the interim.”

    If they contact you again saying, “it will be coming tomorrow,” rinse and repeat with the same thing (“oh so much time had passed, I assumed you had decided to go in another direction. I’m sorry I have accepted another position in the interim.”

    Then you won’t have to burn any bridges, but still make it pretty clear their protracted timeline meant you went elsewhere.

    1. Lacey

      I probably wouldn’t say I had accepted another job if I actually hadn’t. It sounds like OP just doens’t want this particular job, rather than having found another one instead.

      1. Anonymous

        I guess if you haven’t accepted another job (and don’t want to fib), you could say something like “I’m sorry I have moved on to other opportunities” which is vague enough to be translated to: another job, other job searches or something new within your current position.

    2. Kelly O

      Honestly, while it’s frustrating, I can’t imagine saying anything about why.

      If an offer ever does materialize, you can just say “thank you, but I’ve moved on in my search” and end it at that. It doesn’t imply that you’ve accepted anything else or not, and if this is a deal-breaker for you, it’s a polite way to have an out.

      Trust me, I can completely understand wanting to explain exactly why you are not interested in them anymore, but you don’t ever know who you’re going to bump into again down the road, or who might move on from that company and wind up at the next place you’re applying (even ten years from now) and if you get the reputation of That Person Who Had to Speak His Mind, then it could definitely cause a problem.

  12. Sarah

    I was in the final three for a grants/research position at a public university. They contacted all of us and said that the committee’s recommendation was at the President’s Office, and they would be in touch. Every month I followed up with them. At first I got an answer that it’s still at the President’s Office and an apology. After three months, I stopped getting any response. I’m not sure I was their preference, but they still haven’t hired anyone. I think it’s because of budget issues (department went from 5 to 3). Luckily I didn’t hold out for that job!

  13. Steve G

    I feel like this question has come up in many different forms in the past, and the answer was always something along the lines of “resist the urge to try to push an employer along,” which is why I am not seeing the purpose of contacting them on this at all.

    1. Another Emily

      In this case the employer said that they would get in touch with the candidate after a specific amount of time, but they didn’t. After waiting an apropriate amount of time, then the candidate got in touch with them.

      This is legit, and different than trying to get an employer to move on your timeline.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      The OP wasn’t talking about contacting them out of the blue, but rather about what to say if they contact him with an offer and he wants to decline it.

  14. Harryv

    I think the OP needs to relax a bit. They are gauging the overall professionalism of the entire company based on one POC.

    1. Gjest

      But that one POC could point to bigger problems. At my last job, for example, my boss was actually pretty good when we were hiring- keeping on schedule, etc. But HR liked to keep control of communicating with candidates, and once things went to HR, or any level above my boss, things fell apart. No communication, changing their minds, general management s*#t show. Which was totally indicative of management at that place, not just in the hiring process.

  15. Flagged

    Uck! You should definately take this as a red flag. I had a 10 month wait in between the time I was offered the job and the time I got it. I work in government, which does move slow. And my positi9on required board approval first. But 10 months?? The same boss that kept saying, “you’ll be on the next months agenda” for those 10 months is now the same boss that has promised me SEVEN times a work change that she’s promised me since I was hired 6 years ago! Gads – if only the economy were better. I’d’ve been out of here long ago. Don’t ignore this flag!!! Please!!

  16. Cat

    I experienced this myself. I was told I’d have the flight tickets on Wednesday to head to my new job for training. By late Tuesday I was panicking that I’d made a mistake and I was meant to have bought the tickets. I called as soon as the office opened on Wednesday morning but couldn’t get through to my new boss. Eventually I got an email back saying it had been delayed to Friday. Guess what? Never got the tickets. This went on for three weeks with me constantly on call waiting for the tickets. Unfortunately I had no other job to go to so I did start working for them but the disorganisation theme has continued. Breaking promises shows a lack of respect because it keeps the intended recipient hanging and wondering what is going on…

  17. Makes You Wonder

    Couple years ago a laid off coworker that interviewed at a government run military defense contractor was told he would get an offer, which finally happened about six months later. Since he was working a temp job meanwhile, he accepted and likes the work. But it made me wonder how they get candidates who can’t afford to wait around, especially during a healthier economy.

    Which reminds me of the stories circulating of people accepting jobs from major accounting firms after the Enron accounting scandal but told their start date would be several months up to a year out. Can’t imagine why anyone would wait around for such a nutty offer.

  18. CD

    Yup, I’ve had this experience a couple of times (as I’m sure many others have too). I find the best way to deal with it when the offer finally arrives is to respond with a short message along the lines of:

    “Thank you for your written offer. I’ve decided not to accept, in order to keep looking for a role that is more in line with my goals. I wish you every success in finding the right candidate for your requirements.”

    There’s nothing quite like knowing that not only have you been turned down, but you’ve been turned down with nothing else on the table to really bring home to an organisation that the way they’ve presented themselves stinks. It’s not that you’ve had a better offer that you just couldn’t refuse. It’s not that they were pipped at the post. It’s not that you regret having to decline. It’s that they stink, and you don’t want to accept for no other reason than they are unappealing. And the best part is you don’t even have to stoop to saying so (which would only make you look bitter); it’s merely there as a conclusion for them to arrive at. It doesn’t even have to be true that you’re going to keep looking (maybe you already have another offer). You just want them to think that is the case.

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