how to gracefully decline a job offer

You’ve been interviewing for a job and now it’s paid off with an offer – but what if you want to turn the position down? There are lots of reasons why that might happen: maybe the salary is too low, even after you tried to negotiate, or maybe the manager seems awful or the work itself isn’t what you want to be doing, and on and on.

At New York Magazine today, I wrote about how to turn down a job offer while still preserving the connection for the future.

{ 77 comments… read them below }

  1. DivergentStitches*

    I interviewed about 2 years ago for a recruiting position at a nonprofit agency that places neurodivergent people in positions. It was really close to my heart and I was passionate about the work! Unfortunately I had another job offer and, even though I told the nonprofit I needed to hear back from them about next steps before X date because I needed to respond to the first company about their offer. They didn’t respond in time, so I took the offer.

    They then reached out the following week about an additional interview, and I politely declined and said I’d already accepted another offer. They didn’t even respond – no “thanks anyway” or whatever. I definitely feel like I burned a bridge with them, but what could I have done? Oh well.

    1. Daniel*

      It doesn’t sound like you burned a bridge to me…they just didn’t close the loop with you. Which is rude, but it’s sooo common (still!) that it’s impossible to glean anything from that.

    2. nightingale*

      You might not have burned a bridge though. You did your bit (eg updated them on your time line, which they declined to answer, and let them know you’d accepted another job). I guess you could’ve emailed and let them know you accepted the other job and would be withdrawing from consideration, but I also see lots of reasons not to do that in the time line you’re describing (eg if you needed to pass a background check or generally wanted to make sure it was official before closing the loop on other possible jobs). When they didn’t answer to you informing them of your new job, they might’ve seen it as you closed the loop and moved on, even if not so much as a “thanks for letting us know” makes it seem like they’re bitterly shunning you; it seems likely that they just moved on, I wouldn’t necessarily infer any negativity if you want to apply in the future.

    3. Happy Peacock*

      The funny part about this to me is that they responded, or rather didn’t respond, to your message that you had accepted another job in a very neurodivergent way—the information that needed to be exchanged had been exchanged, no further messages were necessary. I would let this go.

      1. Sun and clouds*

        Oh that is such a good point! I would not have thought of that had I been in that position.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      You really didn’t burn a bridge – likely the recruiter you were dealing with simply had a million things going on and had to move on to the next thing. Sure, they should have acknowledged your email, but something else likely came up, and it probably slipped their mind.

    5. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      If you were their #1 candidate AND they really wanted you, that should be sufficient motivation for them to move quickly. Perhaps they had another offer out to a candidate, he/she/they declined it and they came back to you. (buzzer “Too late”)

      Or, they’re a place that works slowly, to their own detriment. Companies that do that may tend to lose out on the best candidates.

  2. L. Ron Jeremy*

    good info. I’ve turned down a job offer after I asked about the cost of their insurance; it would have cost the equivalent of 25% of my pay. they seemed surprised that I would decline.

    1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      I have to laugh when companies don’t see this as a problem. I’m willing to contribute to my insurance but 25% of my income means there is little to no employer contribution so it isn’t really a benefit they offer. Its something they “let” you buy

    2. Pam Beesly*

      I wish I knew about the health insurance when I accepted a recent offer! If I had known, I probably would have declined. They didn’t provide it until after I accepted and I didn’t realize how bad it was until a few weeks into my role.

    3. CL*

      I declined a job last week (after reading the original article) and the issue was that the insurance costs completely ate any salary increase and the insurance didn’t fit my needs as well.

    4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      The things you ask about, beyond salary and vacation time —

      YOUR cost of health insurance
      YOUR cost of life insurance (at one time, I was “surprised’ that I could get the same amount of insurance for less than what the company offered. They jacked up our premiums, but a year later they sobered up and bothered to find another carrier.

      401K matching *** and *** what investment options they provide. When you’re 25-30 you might not think about that. BUT because here in the good ol’ USA, unless you work for a government agency or a strong union employer – you are on your own for retirement.

  3. Sloanicota*

    Interesting that phone is still preferred for this. While I would want to negotiate an offer on the phone (last time I had to do it … in slack!) I wouldn’t have hesitated to decline via email.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      It’s an option, because it’s a matter of how you want to be seen by the company if you are still interested in working there in the future and want to ensure that you don’t burn a bridge.

      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), even if they emailed you the offer. That person is probably at least somewhat emotionally invested in you now that they’ve offered you the job.

      I love that it’s described as a “more gracious move” because that is the perfect description for it. Despite our digital world, there are still times when a phone call is perfectly appropriate. (And I say that as someone who is very phone-phobic.)

    2. Alex*

      IMO, I think the recommendation to do this over the phone was a piece of questionable advice in an otherwise solid article. A candidate scheduling a phone call to decline an offer would be read as a negotiation move in a lot of contexts, not as a true decline. Declining an offer over a phone call (when recruiters often can’t pick up the phone since they spend so much of their day on the phone in the first place) also contradicts the advice to tell the employer as soon as possible.

      1. nnn*

        That’s why the article said not to prioritize doing it by phone over timeliness.

        And it’s taking about hiring managers, not recruiters.

  4. College Career Counselor*

    In my opinion, you did not burn a bridge with them at all! Sounds to me as if you were appropriate and professional and that the timing of their process and your needs didn’t align. If you’re reading from their non-response to your polite email that you’ve burned a bridge, put your mind at ease. They’re not obligated to follow up once they know you’re not available any more (although in a perfect world someone would have acknowledged your note), and I doubt seriously that they think badly of you for taking another position.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Or, in the alternative, this is a bridge burned because these people are lunatics, in which case the bridge burned is also a bullet dodged.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        in which case the bridge burned is also a bullet dodged

        Lol! Thank you for this!

  5. M*

    Just say you have another offer that you’ve already accepted and wish them luck on their search. There’s no need to complicate this but there’s also no need to be rude.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yes, but there is also no need to lie. What’s wrong with the truth? There’s nothing wrong with saying that you’re too far apart on salary or that you aren’t ready to move across the country. Those are things they need to know.

  6. Decidedly Me*

    I had someone decline an offer from me recently. They declined via email and we also hopped on a quick follow up call. There is definitely no bridge burned and I even made it clear that they shouldn’t hesitate to contact me if things change in the future.

    As the employer, it does suck when someone declines (just like it does to get rejected as an applicant), but it’s totally a normal thing that happens.

  7. M*

    Why is a phone call preferred? I’ve read (almost always read) this many times from many people about many different situations. I’ve never seen a justification.

    I prefer email because it is searchable, recorded, and asynchronous. I can think of almost no situation at work where I’d prefer a phone call. I’m a teacher and am with students all day. If you call I can’t answer but if you email I’ll write back when I’m able.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      A phone call is preferred if you don’t want to burn a bridge.

      You can always follow up via email, just for records. “Per our phone call on date, I just wanted to confirm that I am declining this offer because…”

      1. M*

        This is the exact thing I’m complaining about. You just asserted that phone calls are better without a single bit of explanation. This makes me less likely to call people since none of you phone call advocates seem capable of justifying your preference.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          I was pretty sure that “you don’t want to burn a bridge” is an explanation, but it’s about building the relationship if you think this is a place that you might want to work at in the future.

          Of course, if the place turns out to be a bananapants factory, an email (or carrier pigeon) would be perfectly acceptable.

          1. MassChick*

            But why would a polite, sincere email declining the offer burn a bridge? In fact, some hiring managers might prefer it so they can quickly move on to alternatives instead of handling a phone call that momentarily raised their hopes.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Because many, many people will find it relationship-building (more so than an email) and if you want to maintain a good connection with the hiring manager, it can help. Like I said in the post, tons of people decline job offers over email and it’s not rude or anything, but a phone call can be a relationship builder in a way that an email has a harder time being.

      1. Lily Potter*

        This. If the only message you’re interested in conveying is “Thanks, but I’m no longer interested in working for you”, so ahead and send the email. If you’re interested in preserving a human connection between you and the hiring manager, a phone call is a better way of getting that done. If you play voice mail tag, go ahead and send the email but be sure to say in that email that you’d welcome the chance to talk again on the phone AND MEAN IT.

        As a former boss told me, relationships aren’t built over the written word. People don’t sign million dollar contracts based on emails. They don’t hire people based totally on emails – they want to meet you in person ideally, or on the phone at a minimum. Taking the analogy further, a hiring manager will completely forget you if you send them a “sorry, but no” email, but they’ll likely remember you if you have the class to have a verbal discussion.

        1. allathian*

          It also really depends on the job. Many people have jobs where they can’t take any unscheduled calls and few scheduled ones during the workday. They’re likely stuck playing phone tag.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Also – it’s a small world, or it can be a small world in many professions.

        Your paths may cross again in what we would call “future lives”… it’s good to be remembered in a GOOD way. Hell, it can’t hurt.

  8. English Rose*

    I declined an offer once many years ago. It was an excellent offer but some spidey-sense told me not to accept it. I was concerned I’d burnt my bridges as the company representative was seriously aggressive about my decision. But a year later the bridges collapsed anyway. The company was called Enron…

    1. Tiffany In Houston*

      I also turned down an offer from Enron back in the day. People thought I was NUTS. But my gut told me something was wrong. I had a friend who worked there who was unemployed for almost a year after the company collapsed. I definitely did the right thing.

    2. Industry Behemoth*

      I dodged an investment cannonball when my financial advisor said Enron was too speculative.

  9. CSRoadWarrior*

    How about turning it down politely and gracefully and then getting bombarded with trying to change your mind? Five years ago, I had a recruiter try to push a 2-day a week job on me, and I wanted a full time job, so I politely turned it down and wished her well.

    Only the recruiter got really pushy, bombarded me with calls, texts, and emails trying to change my mind. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. There was no deterring her, even when I tried to be polite and respond that I wasn’t interested and why I wasn’t. It got to the point that I did what I wouldn’t usually condone doing: I was forced to ghost her and block her number. Her pushiness was making my anxiety unbearable. And I didn’t want to work a temp job 2 days a week. I wanted a permanent full time job, and she wouldn’t understand that.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Why do you not condone blocking someone who is harassing you? Particularly in a case like this, where you have literally no relationship with this person apart from what they are harassing you about.

      1. JustMyImagination*

        I’ve always heard that if someone is harassing you over text or email, to just mute it or send it to it’s own folder and never respond. That way if it escalates to where you need legal or police involvement, you have all of the evidence.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      Responding to a recruiter (presumably an external one) is far different than responding to someone from inside the company that’s actually responsible for hiring.

      The latter is trying to fill a position with someone competent, the former is chasing a commission. It’s perfectly okay to block someone like that.

    3. Bah humbug*

      Yes, I think recruiters are an exception here. In my experience they can and often do wash their hands of you if you turn down a role. It shouldn’t be like that, but there it is. And it can be a real problem if this is a big and well-known agency in your area, and a recruiter who specializes in your niche line of work.

  10. A Penguin!*

    I had one company react very badly to my turning down an offer, and all it did was confirm that I’d made the right choice.

      1. A Penguin!*

        It’s really not an exciting story. There were a couple of people I thought were overbearing and demeaning in the interview. The job was a good fit on paper, but I did NOT want to work with either of these people (and one would have been my boss and the other a close collaborator). One of them was very aggressively upset that I dared to turn them down. It took them calling three or four times before I convinced them that no, I would not be taking the offered position. Even then they didn’t really get it, but they did give up trying.

  11. LTR FTW*

    In my last job search, I had to choose between three offers.

    For one of the offers I turned down, I offered a reason – we were really far apart on salary. Lo and behold, they came back immediately and offered me $20K more! I still did not take the gig, though — it seemed like a red flag to me that they would lowball me like that when they could have made a competitive offer to begin with.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      I have learned that you can often fight back on a low-ball offer, and get what you want.

      The problem comes into play when it comes time for you to move up the ladder – so, it’s not necessarily a “red flag” but a yellow “caution light”. I worked in a place that low-balled every incoming candidate, and you’d have to wait for a counteroffer.

      And also the only way you could get promoted there was to resign and then you might get a counteroffer. Or your resignation would be accepted,

      So you’re right about being concerned, but it MIGHT work out.

  12. Choosy beggar*

    This is timely. I’m currently in the second interview round with three places. One of them I want for several reasons. And it isn’t the one that seems to be moving the fastest. I will probably have to turn one of the others down in a gamble to be available for the one that I want.

    1. Milfred*

      Sometimes you need to light a fire under a company.

      Tell them you like their company, but are actively interviewing at two other companies where the interview process is moving quickly. And that you’ll take one of those jobs if offered (bird in the hand).

      If they don’t speed up their process, then you’ll know you weren’t at the top of their list anyway. If they do…

      1. Choosy beggar*

        I already did this in order to find out if I was selected for their second round. But the other organization is just moving about a week faster because they started the process earlier. So the one that I want is moving at a pretty normal pace (actually super fast for a university), but isn’t at the same point since it started the whole process a little later.

        1. Newly minted higher ed*

          Oh, I feel you. I got an offer today for one that started early AND moved fast, I’m halfway through the process at another that has a self-admitted long process, and I”m at the beginning of the process for a few other places. I’m going to be emailing asking for updates b/c I just got the offer….though this posting today was in general so timely for me.

          Universities are funny.

  13. Cruciatus*

    I’ve had something weird happen to me twice now where I apparently have the job without really being asked if I want it. That is, I interviewed, and after that, at one place, the HR rep walked me all the way back to the front of the building in silence (a very long walk!) and then at the door basically assumed I was taking the position. This was more than a decade ago so I don’t remember exactly what she said but it was implied like “OK, you start Monday”. I did need/want the job so I went with it but I’m not sure what would have happened if I had asked to think about it.

    And eight years ago a university I applied to for an admin position had me interview, I waited a few days and heard back and, again, it was basically like I had the position. It didn’t seem like I had time to think. But they were moving me on to next steps without offering it to me and giving me a second to think! (I did turn it down by saying something else had come up (another university offered me a position the same day with more money!) But it was awkward because at that point I almost felt like I was quitting! Not just turning down a job offer). I have had the thought cross my mind about if I did this “right” and if I’m, like, banned from applying again if I ever wanted to.

    I’m not sure if it’s something I was giving off or just found two places with weird hiring.

  14. CatCat*

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

    Huh. I’d think the same reason you don’t want to turn down a job applicant on the phone (putting them on the spot, making them likely to feel hopeful before disappointing them, making them react to you on the phone in light of the disappointment) would be the same reason you don’t want to put a hiring manager in the same type of position when you turn down the job.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      The power dynamics are completely inverted here, though. That’s what makes the difference.

  15. Mairzy Doats*

    I had to turn down an offer last year. I was contacted by an external recruiter for a position that would have been a promotion and a raise. However, I was on the fence talking to them and then going into interviews because it was so close to me taking planned leave to care for a family member. I told both the external and internal recruiters of this leave going in. Then the main boss had that mindset of “no one wants to work anymore” (butts in seats). They sent me an offer the day before I took that planned leave, after me repeatedly telling them I’d have intermittent availability for emails or phone calls during that period. I gave them a start date, reminded them of my planned leave, and that I wouldn’t be readily available for a few days. Well, they wanted an earlier start date, which was not feasible due to leave and not being able to give notice until my RTW. They blew up my phone in a 48 hour period, when I was overwhelmed with caring for my family member, and unable to respond. It just added to my stress and there was no way I wanted to work for anyone that acted like this and pushed boundaries when I wasn’t even working for them yet. I declined via email very early the third day of that nonsense and had an immediate sense of relief. I’ve never looked back.

    1. allathian*


      Even if we accept the dictum that declining an offer by phone is better for preserving the relationship for potentially working for the company in the future. I don’t think that declining by email would automatically put you on a “do not hire” list with most decent employers, but doing so by phone’s probably the more prudent option in most cases where you want to preserve the relationship and would be open to working for them if circumstances change in the future.

      It doesn’t apply in cases like yours where there’s no relationship to preserve. The company not only burned the bridge with you, they nuked it from orbit.

  16. BongoFury*

    I just had this happen last week. I’m being transferred to a new management stream and in an effort to keep me, my manager asked me to apply for a job which reported to another employee of hers. I interviewed, and the job seemed fine.

    But oh boy did the manager seem like a bad fit. I asked him what he liked about his employees and he said “they don’t ask me a lot of questions.” Then he casually mentioned he kept candy on his desk to weed out the “weak willed” people (aka fat people, also I’m fat so hellloo!).

    But now I had to go back to my manager and say why her employee is not a good fit. And the hiring manager really wanted to hire me, so he kept pushing for an explanation of why I had to (awkwardly) turn down the role I applied for and seemed to want. I tried the vague “not a good fit at this time” but he pushed, twice via email and once in person, demanding to know why I really didn’t want the job.

    I still haven’t been formally transferred and my manager is frustrated at me for being so wishy-washy. ugh.

    1. Annie*

      I don’t see a way out other than to be brutally honest about why you don’t want to work under this guy, e.g. “He seems to want a team he doesn’t really need to manage much and have a fatphobic streak.”

      1. Annie*

        To him directly, I would say, “I just don’t feel comfortable working under you.”

      2. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

        Or at the very least say you don’t think you would work well / get along with / that manager’s management style on a daily basis.

    2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      How the hell is this making YOU look wishy-washy? FFS.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Absent some very unusual political situation, you should just tell her what he said. If she’s a decent manager she’d definitely want to hear that, and there’s no reason you should look like you’re being coy just to avoid saying this.

  17. Tired of Working*

    “First, know you will not burn a bridge just because you decline a job offer.”

    This made me laugh, because it is so untrue. Once I was offered a job, but I knew that I would not be able to live on the salary that was offered. I attempted to negotiate for more money, only for the interviewer to shout, “But that would be giving you a raise before you even start!” He glared at me and then said that his offer was off the table. It appeared to me that the bridge had been burnt.

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

    I have to disagree that this is a way to avoid burning a bridge. Another time, I was offered a job, but I declined the offer, saying that the hours wouldn’t work for me. The interviewer kept asking, “But WHY won’t the hours work for you? WHY? WHY? WHY?” Of course, that was a red flag, and there wasn’t anything preventing me from getting up and walking out, but it showed that my vague answer wasn’t good enough for him (or good enough to keep the bridge from burning). I finally explained the highly personal reason that the hours wouldn’t work for me, and he was highly embarrassed at having pressured me to give him a specific answer.

    1. Pippa K*

      Some structures aren’t bridges, they’re traps, and if they burn so much the better.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      I think there is an understood “at a normal organization” after the “First, know you will not burn a bridge just because you decline a job offer” sentence.

      Because a healthy organization is going to understand that people have all sorts of reasons for declining a job offer. Only a bananpants factory is going to get upset because people actually have lives outside of work.

      The company burnt the bridge and you dodged a bullet.

      (Also, cheers to what Pippa K said.)

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      And also – companies can burn bridges, too. Wild-ass behavior during the interview cycle, or when you go to leave, there’s a lot of “regretful hostility” over your departure.

      Employees and candidates are not the only ones to “burn bridges”. Others will do it for you, sadly.

  18. Pyth*

    I declined a job offer half a year ago due to salary. They reached out to me a few weeks ago for a different position with a higher salary, and I’ll be starting there in a month!

  19. WillowSunstar*

    I once had to turn down a job offer because I had gotten and accepted an offer a couple of weeks before. Found out about a year later, that dept. had been subject to layoffs. So it was lucky that I accepted the other job.

  20. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    I have learned that you can often fight back on a low-ball offer, and get what you want.

    The problem comes into play when it comes time for you to move up the ladder – so, it’s not necessarily a “red flag” but a yellow “caution light”. I worked in a place that low-balled every incoming candidate, and you’d have to wait for a counteroffer.

    And also the only way you could get promoted there was to resign and then you might get a counteroffer. Or your resignation would be accepted,

    So you’re right about being concerned, but it MIGHT work out.

  21. Big fan of the show first time caller though*

    Are there additional facets to declining job offers when the position is internal? Im interviewing for a lateral move that I expect will include no additional money despite the position being more work. I’m happy to stay in my current position if that is the case because its easy work and very low stress. If I am offered the job and turn it down, I will still work closely with the people who conducted the interview as one is an internal customer and the other is my grandboss. Feels like a recipe for weirdness.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I suggest you send this question directly to Alison to consider for another day’s column. I think a lot of people would be interested in the answer!

      Good luck, whatever you decide.

  22. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    I’m not so sure about the burn a bridge part.

    I interviewed at a large company I really wanted to work at, but during the second interview it became clear what they needed was less marketing and more administrative. When they wanted to move to the next step, I gracefully bowed out stating this wasn’t the type of role I was looking for.

    I’ve never been able to get a phone screen with that company again despite being well qualified for several openings there. I feel like I’ve got a note in my account or something.

  23. toolate12*

    I’ve rejected job offers and been rejected for job offers, but honestly I find it either scenario much more of a great opportunity for building bridges rather than burning them – I’ve made some very good connections over failed job searches.

    When I’m withdrawing from a job offer, typically I do the following:
    * Email rather than phone call – tone is *very* difficult to get right if you are thinking on the fly, and you want to be sure you never say something that makes them think you don’t hold them in esteem. Plus email is more timely. They are busy.
    * Obviously (it goes without saying) sincere gratitude for their time and the chance to talk to them. Also an expression of regret that it hasn’t worked out.
    * Compliment them from their point of view, if you can make it *genuine* and specific to the job offer. “This position will be an amazing opportunity to learn about X for the right person” or “I loved talking to you about X,” or something positive about the organization. Authenticity is important. The message is: “The right person will be lucky to work for you.”

    As an applicant, it’s a lot easier to make a very good impression when you are on the receiving end of a rejection rather than giving a rejection (assuming it’s not a form rejection or just silence from them). They already (probably, if they took the time to personalize a rejection note to you) feel kind of bad about turning you down, so it’s absolutely a golden opportunity to react super graciously and leave a lasting memory with someone who might wind up being in your professional network for years to come. That has been my experience in my industry. (Final note: it’s a lot easier to take this advice if you operate from an abundance mindset about job opportunities than a scarcity mindset. I think this comes with practice and doing a lot of these searches and knowing that you are going to be valuable somewhere.)

    1. toolate12*

      Also, a testament to my method: my current job was offered to me by someone whom I once turned down five years ago (over email! A very very thoughtful and painstakingly written email.)

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