how to turn down a job offer

You spend most of your time on a job search hoping for an offer, but sometimes you might end up wanting to turn a job down. Maybe the salary is too low, even after you tried to negotiate it, or maybe the boss seems like a hopeless micromanager, or maybe the role doesn’t focus on the areas of your field you’re most interested. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided it’s not for you and now you need to turn it down.

Here’s everything you need to know to decline a job offer gracefully, while still preserving the working relationship for the future.

1. You will not burn a bridge just because you decline a job offer.

People often get nervous about turning down a job offer, like they’re somehow not holding up their end of a deal they made when they first applied. But applying and interviewing for a job is in no way a promise that you’ll accept it if it’s offered to you, and employers know that. Candidates turn down job offers all the time — just as employers turn down applicants all the time too — and you’re not going to burn a bridge by politely and professionally declining an offer.

That said, are there some employers out there who do react badly to rejected offers? Sure, there are some! But there are also employers who react badly when you ask for a raise or need a day off or otherwise advocate for yourself in very routine ways. It’s a sign of deep dysfunction on their side, not an indication that you’ve erred in some way. (In fact, it’s a sign that you were right to turn down the offer, because they’re showing you that they’re not an employer that adheres to conventional norms or respects candidates’ and employees’ autonomy.)

2. Tell the employer as soon as you’re sure of your decision.

Once you’ve decided that you’re not going to accept the offer, call or email the employer and let them know right away. Don’t put it off, because that can cause a real inconvenience on their side (which can then turn normal disappointment into frustration that you didn’t tell them sooner). Plus, they probably have other candidates on hold who would be delighted to receive the offer once you decline it.

3. It’s okay to decline the job in an email, but a phone call is better.

People do turn down jobs via email all the time, so if you want to go that route, the world won’t implode. But the more gracious move is to call and speak with the person who would have been your manager (assuming they were the one who interviewed you). That person is probably at least somewhat emotionally invested in you now that they’ve offered you the job.

However, timeliness is more important than connecting on the phone, so if reaching someone by phone would add days to the process, go ahead and send an email. Just add a note like, “I’d hoped to connect with you on the phone, but wasn’t able to reach you and didn’t want to delay the process.”

4. You should give a reason, but it can be vague.

This might seem unfair, since employers turn down candidates all the time without offering a reason why, but you’ll come across better and preserve the relationship for the future if you give some explanation for your decision. Your reason doesn’t need to be a comprehensive account of your reservations about the job, though! It’s enough to say something like, “Thanks so much for considering me, but after a lot of thought, I’ve decided to decline and focus on a few other roles that I think are more in line with the work I’m hoping to do.”

Or, if you have a reason that’s easily explainable in one or two sentences and that is not insulting (i.e., not: “You seem like a terrible manager”), share that! For example:

• “Ultimately, I think we’re too far apart on salary. I’d need $X to leave my current position, and I know that’s far outside your range.”

• “I’ve given a lot of thought to relocating to Chicago, but have decided this isn’t the right time for me to move.”

• “I hadn’t realized until we talked how much admin work that position is responsible for, and I’m really looking for a role more focused on program work.”

• “I’ve decided to accept a position with a different company.”

It’s possible that your reason could spur the company to try to find a way to address your objections. In some cases, you might be open to that — such as if they suddenly increase the salary offer, or say they’d be willing to let you work remotely if location is the issue. But if they offer something that won’t change your mind, it’s fine to just say, “Thank you so much for your offer. It’s not exactly what I’m looking for right now, but I really appreciate you trying to make it work.”

5. Thank them for their time.

When you turn down the offer, say something like, “I really appreciate the time you spent talking with me about the position, and I hope our paths might cross in the future.”

If you really liked the company or the manager and think you might be interested in working with them in the future, try, “I’m really impressed by the work you’re doing on X and would love to find a way to be a part of it down the road, even though the timing (or salary or so forth) didn’t work out this time.”

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 47 comments… read them below }

    1. Cs*

      Oh my goodness, I always thought turning down jobs via email was the standard way of doing things!!

      I turned down around 4 job offers earlier this year when I was job searching, all of them through email. About half of them never replied or became curt, which I attributed to the hiring managers not being the most pleasant to work with (one of the reasons why I turned their offers down was because of the sense of their personalities I got during the interview process). Now I’m wondering if it’s because of the way I turned down the offers…

      1. Nicotena*

        Kinda funny that companies I’ve spent hours interviewing with will ghost me completely – not even an auto-rejection from the darned portal they made me fill out – but the expectation is apparently a personal call from the candidate to decline! I think I’ll stick to email.

        1. Tera*

          You can think like that, if you want, but that attitude isn’t going to help you succeed. Yes, the expectations are unequal. That’s just how it is. Recognise it, work with it, and you’ll have a much better reputation and results.

          1. Quantum Hall Effect*

            I don’t think that advice applies in this situation. There isn’t really a particular result that one expects from turning down a job offer. I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to change their mind and offer you the job based on the grace of your declining.

      2. Polite Persistence*

        Personally, I’d prefer to decline job offers by email, but stopped doing that when a recruiter friend said, “You show respect by at least having the decency to call.” Recruiters are often more comfortable on the phone. So now, I grit my teeth and call…and they’ve sounded glad that I did.

  1. beaglemama*

    I’m climbing the walls waiting to hear back on some interviews I’ve had. I’m being over superstitious by not reading this until I am lucky enough to have an offer but I’m sure this is great advice like all of the other pieces you’ve given over the years.

  2. Sled dog mama*

    I once declined a very good offer, quite a bit more money than the one I ended up taking and much better continuing education support than the offer I ultimately took.
    My vague reason: it’s not the best choice for me at this time.
    Ultimately it would have put me too far from extended family to get home easily and the place had some serious red flags that only popped up once I reflected on the interview day (which didn’t consist of much interviewing). But telling them that it sounds like you want to work me into an early grave wasn’t productive for anyone.

    1. irene adler*

      “the place had some serious red flags that only popped up once I reflected on the interview day (which didn’t consist of much interviewing).”

      Found myself in a similar situation. My gut was screaming “NO!” and just could not articulate why. Now I realize – the ‘too easy’ interview was the reason.

  3. Person from the Resume*

    This might seem unfair, since employers turn down candidates all the time without offering a reason why …

    To be fair, any time you are not selected there is a unstated “you were not our top applicant” which is vague and doesn’t give you anything in particular to work to improve but I think that’s fairly well understood most basic reason why you were turned down. It’s equivalent to vague reasons the selected candidate might use to turn down an offer they don’t want.

  4. Roeslein*

    I once turned down a government job offer (EU institutions) with a long email listing all the ways their never-ending bureaucratic process had made me realise this wasn’t the right job for me. Probably not well-advised but it was cathartic!

    1. Nicotena*

      Hehe I remember getting an email from the USA Jobs website literally a year after I submitted my application. I’m not sure it was flattering that they thought I’d still be unemployed that long!!

      1. Anon for this*

        Given the rate at which USA Jobs moves, you could very well have been employed at a new position for two years and be ready to move on by the time they finish the interview process.

  5. fishburn*

    I turned down a job last July and straight up told them that not allowing their office workers who do 100% of their work on computers to work from home was indicative of an organization that did not care for their employees wellbeing. I know I’ll never work there now so I have no regrets.

    1. Allypopx*

      Under the circumstances I think that’s a bridge worth burning – and good feedback for them to hear.

      1. Less Bread More Taxes*

        I fail to see how that’s burning a bridge. Obviously it depends on fishburn’s tone, but I think saying that you’re looking for a company that puts a greater emphasis on employee autonomy and wellbeing is totally reasonable. It’s not that much different to saying you are looking for a job with a shorter commute, that you were hoping for more vacation days, or that you felt that the personality of your direct manager would clash with yours. If you say these things matter-of-factly and in a tone that conveys “I so appreciate this offer, but it won’t work for me because of X”, then why is it burning a bridge?*

        *unless the company is already super toxic of course

        1. Allypopx*

          “straight up told them that not allowing their office workers who do 100% of their work on computers to work from home was indicative of an organization that did not care for their employees wellbeing”

          That’s…pretty aggressive language. Not uncalled for, but not diplomatic. What you’re describing might not burn a bridge but even the insinuation would be fairly insulting to a lot of companies.

          1. Gumby*

            Something along the lines of “I really prefer remote work so will not accept this offer” is accurate, adequate, and reasonably polite. If a company hears it often enough, they may change their policy.

            “You clearly don’t care about your employees because you do not allow a thing that I want” is rude. It’s also highly unlikely to make the company change their policy. My reaction to that wording would not be “we should offer remote work” it would be “bullet dodged, so happy they turned this job down because I would hate to work with someone that combative.”

            1. Gumby*

              And to be clear, I am not somehow invested in in-person work. My company does allow (and at the moment, encourage) remote work when/if your job duties allow for it.

            2. Tinker*

              I think you’re missing that the discussion in question took place “last July”, which was July of 2020.

              1. MCMonkeybean*

                Yes, that context is extremely important and I think we’ve discussed on this site many times how in the future “how did you handle things during the pandemic” will be/should be a pretty standard interview question. Knowing that a company forced employees to come into the office when it wasn’t necessary should be a red flag from this point forward, and I think there is nothing wrong with making that extremely clear.

                Especially because it’s possible that some of the people participating in the interview process were opposed to the way things were handled and it may actually be helpful to them to be able to have evidence that the company’s bad policies have driven away good candidates and maybe they can even use that to help improve things in the future.

              2. Gumby*

                Ah, yep, absolutely did miss that.

                I still would have phrased things more politely, but that definitely changes things.

  6. Allypopx*

    I just got a job offer (that I did take) but the employer specifically gave me a chance to decline it. They said they wanted to chat (asked me if I preferred zoom or phone I asked for zoom) and then said something like, “we’d like to make you the offer, here’s the salary, I’d like to go over the benefits and next steps but first I want to give you a chance to ask any followup questions from your interviews or tell me if you’re not interested”.

    If I had been on the fence that would have been a huge nudge to accept. It was so respectful and non-presumptive and really told me that was a place I’d be valued and treated like a person.

    1. Allypopx*

      Which is to say I wish employers made this conversation easier on candidates and didn’t assume that an offer would be accepted.

      1. Rayray*

        I agree. Too often companies forget that you have the power to make a decision too.

        I remember one time I interviewed for a position and genuinely wanted the job and get I’d be good at it. They called to let me know they’d liked me but had someone else with more experience so they offered it to them. Later, I got a cal asking if I’d like to take a temporary Part-time assistant position for this guy and I turned him down, and he was just totally shocked. I don’t really get how they could be so shocked if turn it down since I had applied and interviewed for a permanent full time benefited position. I was a recent grad and still had my part time student job while job hunting for something full time and we had discussed that.

        1. Rayray*

          Note, I actually am literate. I was typing that comment on my lunch break and I’m also very tired today.

    2. LC*

      They said they wanted to chat (asked me if I preferred zoom or phone I asked for zoom) and then said something like, “we’d like to make you the offer, here’s the salary, I’d like to go over the benefits and next steps

      Up to this point, this is very similar to my recent experience, but they followed it up with “and then give you a chance to review everything and ask any other questions that may come up before you respond to the offer. Would end of day tomorrow give you enough time to consider?”

      I was actually really pleased that they didn’t make me ask for some time to consider. I was 99% sure I was going to accept, especially once I heard the salary they were offering, but the other benefits were super important to me as well, so I very much wanted time to go over the more detailed information they gave me at this point. It helped reiterate the feeling I already had, that they wanted the company and job to be the right fit for me as much as they wanted me to be the right fit for them.

  7. crchtqn2*

    What about the response if you decide to stay at your current company, because your current company gave a better offer?

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      We had two people decline offers to take a counter in the past year. The first was offered a higher-level position; the second was offered a significant raise outside our range to stay. Both included the polite opening/closing Alison provided (thanks for your time re interviews for the Llama Groomer position/hope you find the right candidate and would be open to working together in the future, if possible) and then just used a vague explanation – I was offered the opportunity to move into a Head Llama Groomer role with my current organization and have accepted or I was offered $X to remain in my current position and have decided not to make a move at this time.

    2. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

      I did this last year. I didn’t get into any specifics about the counter-offer because I didn’t want to give the impression that I was angling for a new/revised offer from the other company. I had been pretty straightforward with the recruiter when I asked for a week to think it over because I had very strong personal ties to the company I was (and still am) working for. I had also been referred in and my referrer also informed the hiring team that I had gone through some pretty significant personal issues and the company I worked for had supported me fully. When I declined the offer, I referenced that.

      There were other reasons too — reasons which were specific to my current company’s counter offer, but topmost was what I referenced. I think it helped that I was honest, that I asked for time to think over the offer (I’ve known people to accept an offer and then change their mind, and that *does* burn bridges), and called directly to give my answer instead of putting it into an email. This other company has reached out a couple more times since then to see if I’m still happy with my current company (I am).

      I’m glad I turned down the offer; if I had taken the other job, it would have begun 6 days into the pandemic shutdown, and I think it would have been *really* difficult to change jobs/companies at the outset of the pandemic.

  8. Corporate Recruiter*

    Wow- if only our new hire had this advice. He accepted our offer, worked for a couple days, then tried to negotiate a higher rate from us because of an offer he received the previous week for more money. Needless to say, he is no longer employed by us.

  9. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    I had to turn down an offer once because the recruiter had misrepresented the hourly rate. I already had a job I was more or less happy with but was willing to move on for better pay. I should have verified the information with the hiring manager, but I’d been on a few interviews before where pay was only discussed with HR/recruitment so I let it slide (last time I ever did that). The hiring manager was really excited because I had a lot of experience and knowledge that would have vastly improved their data mining and analytics – they were an old school manufacturer who had been bought out by a much larger company and needed to scale quickly.

    I blew the interview out of the water and they offered me the job the next day, only to find out that it paid $3/hr *less* than my current position at the time. When I told her she was so disappointed, but she couldn’t even come up to my current pay let alone beat it. I wrote the recruiter a pretty scathing email for wasting mine and the hiring manager’s time, at which point they ghosted and I never heard from them again.

  10. Elizabeth West*

    Here’s hoping I have this problem soon instead of them always turning ME down. *crosses fingers, toes, eyes, arms, legs, and internal organs*

  11. Lemon Zinger*

    I turned down a job a few months ago via email because I did not have the phone number of the hiring manager, only his email address. Up until the interview, I’d only had contact with the recruiter and I CCed her on the email. Imagine my surprise when the hiring manager called me the next day to try to convince me to take the job! Is this normal? At the time it made me somewhat uncomfortable but I wonder if I could have avoided it by asking the recruiter for the hiring manager’s phone number.

  12. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Once turned down a job offer (and a good one) because the firm it was for had recently been purchased by a very large company that I will never, ever trust again and I didn’t know that until the job offer appeared under the large firm’s logo.

    If that company ever gets free of its corporate overlord I’d be interested. But, seeing as they were currently owned by that despicable firm I simply said that I apologised but I couldn’t accept at that time due to another firm being a better fit.

    (That other firm being the then current employer who, while a bit on the bad side, we’re nowhere near as bad as the experiences I’d had with corporate overlord firm)

    I wanted to say ‘I can never, ever, work for Corporate Overlord because if you knew half the mess they put me through you’d never trust them either’ but, yeah, I still like that small firm and maybe one day they’ll become independent again.

    1. Here we go again*

      Is it a private equity firm? I’ll never ever work for a company owned by a private equity firm again.

      1. zoe*

        *waves from company I’m leaving because the PE firm is making us agressively mediocre and is owned by someone who is a literal criminal who built his firm from embezzled billions on behalf of another criminal who stole even more billions from working class folks, so, you know… that.*

  13. Bookworm*

    I’ve turned down job offers by email usually for paper trail reasons, don’t have the phone number, etc. Oops. Oh well.

  14. Here we go again*

    In my industry people are us usually hired on the spot during the 1st or 2nd interview. So you can reject the offer face to face. One the offer was 30% less than I needed to switch jobs then the other was a scheduling conflict. But usually it’s pretty obvious you don’t want the job, especially when they pay $10/hour for full time management or would work with 4 days 10 hours each schedule.

  15. Anon in Canada*

    Hard disagree on the “won’t burn a bridge”.

    If I were an employer,

    1) Salary, PTO/unpaid time off policy, benefits, hours, and all other material information regarding the job would be in the job posting. You’d know exactly what you were applying for.
    2) Turning down an offer (or even an interview) would result in permanent placement on the Do Not Hire list.

    With all the coy games what most employers play, I can see where one might say that turning down an offer over low pay may not be that big of a deal. But I wouldn’t play coy games – and in return, would have a zero tolerance policy for inconsistent behavior from candidates. You apply, you’re interested… but if you refuse the offer, it means you were never interested in the first place, and the bridge is burnt.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What on earth. No.

      This would mean candidates could only ever interview for one job at a time, because what if they got more than one offer?

      But more importantly, part of the point of the interview process is for candidates to assess the employer and decide if they’re interesting in doing this job/for this manager/on this team/in this culture. Those are things you can’t know until you talk, just let employers can’t know they want to hire someone until they talk.

      This has got to be trolling.

  16. A Bit Confused*

    This isn’t something that’s set in stone yet, but I have had two managers/supervisors put me in for consideration for positions within my current company that haven’t materialized yet. (We tend to move very slowly when it comes to this sort of thing.) I have expressed interest in moving for these positions should they be offered to me, but some things have changed now and I would prefer to hang around my current state for another year or so. I don’t want to turn down a job someone stuck their neck out for me for, but I also don’t want to accept a job I’m not sure I want. It’s all a hypothetical, but what should I do should this opportunity arise?

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