Wondering if it’s unprofessional to decline a job offer? Not sure how to decline a job offer politely? If you’ve found yourself with multiple job offers, or an offer that’s simply unappealing, listen to these best practices for declining a job offer without burning bridges.
In this episode of The Career Rx we’ll discuss:
- When to turn down a job a offer, and who to tell
- What not to discuss when declining a job offer
- Are you declining and negotiating? It matters!
Today’s episode is my summary of a discussion with networking thought leaders about how to decline a job offer without burning bridges, maintaining a positive relationship. By following these tips, you will be able to decline politely and respectfully without jeopardizing future opportunities.
In this Episode:
[2:35] Declining or negotiating? Be clear with yourself, and the employer
[4:05] Actions that convey professionalism and respect
[8:00] How to keep your communication positive even as you decline a job offer
[12:40] Is there a deal breaker that can be addressed? How to say so
[17:01] A template for your email or phone conversation
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TRANSCRIPT: Episode 106 – How to Decline a Job Offer Without Burning Bridges
Hey there, I’m Marjorie Stiegler and you’re listening to The Career Rx podcast, where we tackle the important things they don’t teach you in medical school. Like how to treat your career, like the business, it really is, with strategies to accelerate the kind of success that you want, because you deserve a career you love, and a career that loves you back. Are you ready? Let’s get into it.
Hey there, welcome back. Today’s episode is an answer to another listener’s question. This comes from Jill. And she has a great question and really a great problem to have, she has asked, “how to decline a job offer politely?”
Now, I’m not going to pretend to be any expert on this, but I did bring it up at a networking group that I have. And we had a really good, robust conversation with, you know, 30 or so professionals in my industry. Many of these folks are not only, you know, employees and workers, who have had job offers that they’ve accepted or negotiated or declined, but others are people with considerable hiring experience who have been on the other side of that conversation, for example.
So I got some good tips, and I will try to summarize them here. I obviously cannot give credit to everybody and everything, because these are sort of my takeaways from a conversation with a lot of other people. But I do want to at least preface that, you know, that this, these are our other people’s ideas that I’m just bringing here to share with you because I think they’re good ones.
First and foremost, I want to acknowledge, I think it really is important to decline job offers, in a thoughtful manner, if you’re going to be declining, again, a great problem to have, if you have offers that that you are unable to accept or don’t want to accept, I think that’s, that’s super, I would also acknowledge that while it’s really important to do it in a thoughtful way, a way that is diplomatic and has tact and shows respect for the people who have interviewed you.
And really, it’s not just the interviewer right, that they’ve reviewed your application, they’ve progressed you through several, several phases, most likely, and then taking the time to interview you and then put together what they assume would be a competitive package for you.
It is also important to have, in your mind, at least, have a distinction between whether or not you’re truly declining, or you’re in a negotiation phase, if you still feel like you’re negotiating, then I would, you know, there’s a couple of different ways to approach some of these types of considerations.
So the first thing is, you know, I think it’s really important to give this information you give your decline, both verbally and in writing. So important to reach out by phone, to the hiring manager, and potentially to the recruiter as well, because that’s probably the person who is tasked with keeping up with you and kind of progressing everything along.
But don’t forget the hiring manager, because that really is the person who was going to be or potential boss, and that’s a person with whom, you know, the world is small, and your paths may cross again some other time, there might be a different opportunity. And there, there might be something for which, you know, if you’re giving your reasons for needing to decline, they’re the person in the best position to try to do something about that, if they want to, if they can, they’re not, they don’t always have the power to do that kind of thing.
But the hiring manager is really important. So don’t just tell the recruiter, the recruiter is also important, because even if this is someone who works within the company, and they’re, you know, part of the HR division, these it’s a, again, a small world, they may come up again, in another job that you’re applying for, they may leave that company for a different company.
So always really, really important to demonstrate professionalism and respect for both of these folks, if you’ve been interviewed by a panel and so forth, unless you feel like you’ve had a pretty, you know, very close connection somehow with one of the other panel members, it’s it’s not important, probably not advisable to communicate with everybody. It’s really just the recruiter and the hiring manager.
So what does it mean to be respectful and to do this in a way that demonstrates that tact and professionalism, I think the first one is to be prompt. Now, I know when people are applying for multiple jobs and you’re sort of juggling, you know, multiple interviews might be coming through multiple offers might be coming through, that can be a little bit challenging to time those things.
And of course, you do want to have all of the information and potential offers on the table before you make final decisions. But once you have made a decision, it’s really important to it’s basically just common courtesy to to be prompt in letting them know because they have other people keep in mind, they’ve got other people that they were also considering most likely and those people are sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring so really important to if you if you have made a decision to let people know right away definitely do not ghost these these companies, the hiring manager or the the recruiter
So timing, that’s one and then, you know, being very gracious of, you know, and acknowledging that you really appreciate having been considered. And you very much appreciate that, that you know, the time and the effort on their part to you know, to, to review your credentials and to meet with you and tell you about the company. And that sort of relationship building part. It doesn’t need to be excessive, but it’s important to, to show gratitude and to acknowledge that there there has been work, right that’s gone into evaluating you and, and ultimately offering you a job, so thank them for that.
And you may want to mention a thing or two that you really do like about the company, or that you really did like about the team or that you really did like about the potential job. If that’s true, I don’t think this is necessary, I don’t think you have to throw it in there.
But if it’s true, and you have something authentic that you’d like to say, again, the world is small. So in my mind, even when you’re not accepting a job, this is sort of part of networking. And so I think it is useful to, you know, to continue to kind of build those bridges, even in, in the situation in which you’re declining an offer.
Then, how do you go about saying, your reason for declining the offer here is where it is especially important to decide if you are definitely declining the offer, or if you just have a deal breaker in a negotiation, that hasn’t been sufficiently addressed. And presumably, you’ve already had a negotiation about it, and it hasn’t worked out, right?
So I’m making that assumption here, you can approach it however you like. But I would not as a first step in a negotiation come out by declining, that’s not my recommendation at all, I’m assuming that you have already tried to negotiate things. And for some reason or another, it’s not satisfactory, or you just have a different offer, that’s more suitable.
but you do want to give some kind of a reason, don’t just sort of leave them hanging. But this has to be really delicate, I think it is totally acceptable to say that you’ve decided to go with a different opportunity. And that that different opportunity is more aligned with your long term career goals.
Or, or gives you an opportunity, perhaps, to use a specific skill set in a different way, you know, something that’s like that it’s a little bit vague. But I think that’s it’s important to say, not disparaging things about, you know, what was lacking at the company that you are declining, but what was appealing to you about another place. And for folks who have had rejections, you’ll notice this is also how companies deliver their rejection for you.
Very, very rarely did they say anything negative about you. And oftentimes, it’s all positive. It’s just that somebody else was more closely suited to their requirements. And so you’re essentially trying to deliver a similar type of message, particularly if you have completely made a decision. And you know, like, just short and sweet, there it is. I think that is, that’s what to do.
But now, let’s sort of go down the path of you know what to do if you’re really turning down the offer, because of a particular deal breaker that you weren’t able to negotiate to your satisfaction.
Before we get to that, I want to mention that even if it is true that you had a pleasant experience in the interview, right, that that’s something outside of something, you know, that’s like egregious or illegal, you know, if there was something about the culture, the people just sort of the way in which they progressed, your application that didn’t sit right with you, I would avoid getting into that.
That is not really that’s where I would leave all of that out and just sort of more vaguely state the reason that you’re going to go with a different offer, or that just at this time, this isn’t the right one for you today.
So turning to the potential deal breakers, and again, I recommend you have already negotiated this. I would only bring these things up if there’s really just one or possibly two, not several, right? Because you don’t, you’ve already had your negotiation.
So if you’re declining, if there’s a specific sticking point and this sort of like a Hail Mary write that if they could meet you here, then you would accept the job then I think it’s okay to state if if they met you on your your deal breaker and you still wouldn’t accept the job and then don’t right just stick with what we’ve already talked about.
If it is the compensation package, and you feel like the compensation package for whatever reason is too low I think it is completely fair to say that you know you are. I’m really excited about the company and the work and the projects, etc. But also that the offer just does not meet your salary requirements, your salary expectations.
And if you have data to be able to sort of demonstrate that you think your offer is below market rate, or some other benchmark, you can include that, although I hope that has already come up in your negotiation. But in any case, I think it’s completely fine to say, Look, everything about this job is perfect for me. Unfortunately, the compensation package just does not meet my requirements.
And, and for that reason, I have to decline. I think if you say that and leave it at that, then that’s super, and it sort of opens the door for them to say, Okay, if it’s really just that, let’s talk again. But again, I recommend you don’t even open this door, unless they did meet you on your compensation, then you would accept, because you’re really asking them now to do even more potential work, which is, then if you were to decline that I think would be a bridge burner.
If it’s something else over which there might be some control or some influence, a way to negotiate, this could be something around remote work, or hybrid work, your commute, if, if you’re facing some circumstances where that’s not going to work for you, like whatever their in office expectations are, are just not going to work for you either for from a logistic point of view or health point of view.
As I know, people like to say, now that we’re out of COVID, I think it’s been officially announced that we’re in the endemic phase, but obviously, it’s still on a lot of people’s minds, as a lot of employers are having people coming back to the office in person. So if it’s that, or you could just simply mention it. And whether you want to describe that in terms of, you know, personal health risk, or you want to describe it in terms of time or expense for your commute, or whatever it is, I mean, again, you want to be authentic here, right.
So I’m, I’m suggesting some things that come to mind, but you should choose the one that is authentic and right for you, and maybe none of those, there might be one of those, I think you can mention it and just say, you know, this, unfortunately, just outweighs your ability to accept the offer. Again, everything else about the offer is perfect. This is the one thing though, that is preventing you from being able to accept the offer. And again, just leave it at that.
And then you close, because you may not hear from them again, right? This this, you’re out of the negotiation phase, this is your, this is you declining. And so you want to just close after that unless it gives them the opportunity, obviously, to reopen the conversation, but you are closing the conversation with this phone call. And then you know, a quick note afterwards again, and that note should be quite brief, quite brief.
Similar to the conversation around either your commute or needing to be in the office in person, there might be something that is just a different permutation of that. And this is another thing that you can simply mention. And of course, you want to be mindful of how you say that, you know, you, you want to say that there is just a certain amount of flexibility that you need in your life.
And you don’t need any say why you need it, right, this is what you need, it’s the same as a salary requirement. So there’s a certain amount of flexibility that you require.
And then I think you can be specific about what that would look like, you know, in terms of whether it’s in person in the office, or in terms of whether it’s a really rigidly defined office, or business hours.
So even if you’re remote, some people have really defined and monitored hours at which they must be available. So if it’s one of those kinds of things, I think you can just simply say that, but make it make it clear enough that they could remedy it for you potentially, like they would at least understand what you mean, you don’t want to just say this, the job is not flexible enough for me, you want to be specific about whether it is the location is it the hours is it, whatever, whatever.
Just give them enough information, it’s just a sentence. So that they would be able to feel informed if they’re going to call you up and try to remedy it.
And again, make sure that if they could, if they could address that for you then you would accept the job because beyond the negotiation phase, this is sort of the, you know, it’s the last, the last fighting chance for you and for them.
And so you don’t want to have anybody engaged in doing any additional work to try to meet your needs, if you’re not genuinely receptive to that and looking for that.
And then obviously, you want to close right, so you want to just thank them again, for their time and some appreciation for the opportunity to get to know them. And that because you know what to expect I would always say expect that your paths will cross in the future so you look forward to seeing them again. You know, in some future capacity, right, but as a colleague or something like that.
So when you think about this almost as a template, you know, it’s a very short email, you know, dear, in the name of the interviewer or the hiring manager. And then, you know, thank you so much for offering me this position. And I really appreciate your consideration of my experience and credentials, something along those lines. “After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot accept the offer at this time”.
And then another sentence, sort of reaffirming what attracted you to the company in the job in the first place, right, really excited about the company, the job, the work, the asset. But, you know, however, unfortunately, I have to decline because, and then you put in your reason, right?
And it could be that you’ve been offered a different role. And again, just a quick sentence or two about how that was more suited to your skills, or something, again, really briefly about either the compensation or the flexibility, or whatever it is, that was your deal breaker. And then you just say, again, you know, it’s really wonderful to get to know you, a pleasure to talk to you, and the rest of the panel or the rest of the colleagues.
And thanks again, you know, looking forward to our paths crossing at some point in the future. And that’s it. That’s how I would structure the email. And this other really how I would structure the phone call.
And when you call, I mean, I don’t know. For some people, it’s really helpful to have this written down in the first place. Never leave a message, don’t pass this on as a message, make sure that you have them on the phone, that they have five minutes, right that you’ve scheduled the call. And then you basically say the same thing and avoid over speaking right, you’re just say, same thing.
Thank you for the job offer, you’ve given a lot of careful consideration, this is the reason that you cannot take the job, you want to let them know as soon as you had made your decision as soon as possible, because you appreciate that they have other candidates, right? And then and then you close.
And that’s where I think a lot of people have the hardest time, right? It’s when you stop talking. But you stopped talking just like you have stopped in your email. And, you know, they will respond to you, of course. So you don’t just say thanks and hang up. But you know, I would try to keep that to a minimum.
And if they asked you, if that’s something that’s still up for negotiation, could it be revisited? Again, you can answer that, honestly. But I wouldn’t have the conversation. At the same time, I would say yes, I think I could be open to another conversation about it, maybe we should schedule an additional time to talk about what that would really look like, what would meet my needs.
And so pick a time so then you can, then you can get really, really concrete on exactly what you would need in order for you to say yes. Because again, we don’t want to waste anybody’s time.
And on a final note, as the listener asked me, you know, are you burning a bridge? If you decline? Generally speaking? I mean, the answer to that is No, right? I mean, you’re the interviewer, and the application process is a mutual opportunity to determine suitability.
And if you have something else that’s more suited for you, then you should take that in the same way that if they had a candidate that they liked better, that was more suited to them, they’d be offering that candidate the job. So declining in and of itself, is not going to be offending anybody. It’s not burning any kind of bridges, they might be disappointed.
But this is a completely professional, totally acceptable, absolutely inbounds thing to do to go and apply for and progress an interview, even through several rounds for a job and ultimately not accept the offer. Really, it’s all about professionalism in terms of timeliness, once you’ve made your decision, being polite, and sort of leaving the door open by keeping those relationships positive and the tone of your communications really positive.
So I hope that helps for my listeners who have the best problem in the world, which is lots of offers and only one that they want to take or offers that have just kind of come in out of the blue that they’re going to decline. It’s always great to have job offers.
This is sort of my networking brain trusts’ summary of how they would approach that and I hope it’s helpful to you. So until next time, bye for now.
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