Decline the Offer Without Burning Bridges

There are plenty of reasons why you might turn down a job offer even after you’ve been through a series of interviews, meetings, and testing. However it can be awkward, especially if you’ve been indicating your interest in the job all along by continuing in the interview process.

You want to avoid leaving the employer with the impression that you’re stringing them along. Unfortunately, this happens occasionally when individuals go through the entire interview process solely to extract more money from their current employer. I have also seen some individuals go through the process simply for “practice” to improve their interviewing skills.

Both those examples are unethical.

As with most things in life, the best approach when turning down a job offer is: to tell the truth. And do it with tact, respect and professionalism.

The reasons why you might decline a job offer usually revolve around money, the work, or the people at the company.

If the offer is less than what you expect, you might try to negotiate a higher amount by providing evidence of what competing firms are paying for similar jobs. You may (or may not) successfully get the company to reconsider their offer. Even if they cannot increase the offer, they should know their salary offer is off-market with competing firms as they will encounter recruitment and retention problems if this discrepancy remains unaddressed.

It would be inappropriate to say that you were “offended” by their offer. (I have seen this done!) While this may be true, it is best to leave that unsaid.

If the reason you are turning them down is that you found the personality of your potential boss to be off-putting, I would suggest you say diplomatically that you “did not feel the fit was right.” It’s okay to be a little less than honest in this case.   

Here are a few other guidelines you should follow when declining an offer.

  • While there is a great temptation to decline the offer by email, try to make it personal by doing it in person or by phone. How you communicate says a lot about your character. They will respect you more for not taking the easy way out.
  • Let the employer know right away once you’ve decided to turn down the offer. Any delay might cause them to miss out on other potential candidates.
  • If you know anyone else who might be suitable for the job, mention this to the employer. You will come across as helping them solve their problems.
  • As always, do this with sincerity and appreciation, even if they are initially disappointed in you. The company will get over it. Don’t forget your main goal is not to burn any bridges with that employer and keep the door open for future possibilities. While the fit might not be suitable right now, that may change down the road.