How to turn down a job offer

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A reader asked this question: Would you mind writing a post about dealing with multiple job offers and declining some of them — politely and gracefully?

This is actually a question about networking. When someone offers you a job, they have identified you as someone they want to be connected with. That you have multiple offers for this type of connection makes you even more desirable. So when you turn down the offer, your number-one concern should be making sure this person stays in your network.

This means that you should remember networking tips that would apply to any situation. And, before I get to them, I want to tell you that Tahl Raz’s article in Inc. magazine about Keith Ferrazzi is one of my all-time favorite things to read about networking, and it applies to you no matter what your situation is.

But here are four things to keep in mind for turning down an offer:

1. Be nice.
When you turn down a job, thank the person for the opportunity. Tell the person that something about them or their company impressed you. Think of something, even if it’s small. Just make sure you are specific, because that’s the type of compliments that matter most to people.

Then explain why the job you are taking is a great opportunity for you. Don’t explain why the other company is a thousand times better than the company you’re rejecting, even if it is. Talk in terms of the opportunity, and how it will allow you make a big difference to the business and grow personally. The aim is to show that what matters to you is learning and contributing to the organization because that’s what you want the person to remember about you.

2. Follow up.
Do something a week or so later to let the person know you plan to keep in touch. This will make the person feel more like you rejected the job offer and not him, personally.

There are a lot of ways to follow up. You can comment on their blog, if they have one. Send them information you find that you know they’ll like. Or you can invite the person to lunch if you want to spend time together. Or, if time together makes you cringe, take a smaller step and send a LinkedIn invitation. (Introduction to LinkedIn. Advanced LinkedIn.)

3. Suggest someone else.
If you are someone who is specialized, and it’s going to be hard for the employer to find someone like you, you can really endear yourself by referring a friend.

Even if the friend doesn’t ultimately take the job, Ian Ybarra points out that introducing someone to someone else is a gift (list item #6).

4. Assess your own conduct.
Of course, none of this will work if you have been being very difficult and demanding during the interview process and stringing someone along for months and are dropping the ball at the last possible minute. In this case, you might think about how your slow and perhaps-incompetent decision-making process is giving you a bad reputation.

It’s hard to turn down a job offer in this situation without looking like a jerk. So if you have already gotten yourself in a muddle, turning down the job offer will be tough. Face the muddle and help yourself to not do that again.

And if you are not in a muddle, congratulations on the multiple job offers!

22 replies
  1. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Very helpful post. I was also thinking that all of these rules apply to turning down other opportunities. For example, being asked to serve on a panel of experts or speak at a conference or serve on a board of directors. You might have even asked for the opportunity that you subsequently must turn down. Following through on these steps will likely help ensure that the door will still be open for future similar opportunities.

    * * * * *

    Good point, Wendy. This advice does apply to a wide range of situations. In fact, maybe I should cross post to a dating blog :)



  2. Jason Warner
    Jason Warner says:

    From the other side of the negotiating table, a sophisticated recruiter or hiring manager would never make a job offer that they didn’t know would be accepted. When you consider the recruiting and interviewing process, getting to the point of an offer that is not accepted by a candidate is a waste of time for both parties…one goal of the process should be structured by the employer to be ‘collaboratively qualifying’ so that by the time the offer is being presented to a candidate, all the objections are handled. If they aren’t, there’s no reason to make the offer – instead, oneshould go back to the qualification phase in the negotiation to handle the outstanding objections.

    All of that said, one should always decline a job offer with graciousness and humility as you suggest.

  3. Carter Cathey
    Carter Cathey says:

    I agree with your post completely. As someone who has been in the jobhunt several times and coached others through this process, I think it is important to remember that the purpose of every interview is to get the job offer. This does not necessarily mean that the point of every interview is to get the job.

    An interview is the akward combination of a first date and cold sales call. The candidate is the product up for sale. While looking for jobs, your initial search should be as broad as possible. Too many people box themselves in by a much too narrow definition of their skills and abilities.

    The goal of every interview is to learn more about yourself and what you should be doing next in your career. An interview that ends with an offer demonstrates that you successfully positioned yourself for the job, but it has nothing to do with whether or not you should accept the offer or not.

    All this being said, I find this to be a problem that most job-seekers look forward to encountering. Having multiple opportunities from which to choose as you move forward in your career is never a bad thing.

    –Carter Cathey

  4. matchmaker
    matchmaker says:

    thank you for posting this recipe. i've been a lurker for a little while now, but enjoy reading all your recipes even when i'm not motivated to make them all myself. this morning, i decided to actually cook breakfast and tried this, without the lemon since didn't have it, and reduced butter, and they came out excellently. =) yum, thanks!

  5. Steve
    Steve says:

    I want to turn a position down. They let me know they were disinterested in a different way. He was motivated to deliver three limp handshakes and made me wait for two hours. I want to let the company know that I lost interest but I must cosndier reputation….hmmmmm….its an art, not a science and requires thought…

  6. NurseRiverBoat
    NurseRiverBoat says:

    I was recently hired at a prestigious christian university, but when the pay was presented, it was low-ball all the way!
    I had to politely decline thier offer and I explained my current pay scale and waited for them to present a counter-offer, but nothing more was offered.
    So, I had to walk away…..I feel bad because they need someone in 4 days!!!
    My husband was right when he said, “That’s not your fault. They know they want you and they know they have to pay you your proper market value.”
    So, this organization should step up and do the ethical thing and that is PAY ME MY BIG BUCKS!!!
    Thank you Lord!

  7. NeedHelp
    NeedHelp says:

    This is a great post.  I actualy have a unique situation.  I had a job offer that I verbally accepted, but then less than a week later I rejected the job offer via email for another better and unexpected job offer.  A few weeks than went by and “other” job ended up not going through.  So now I have the delimma of wanting to try and go back to the initial offer I turned down gracefully (I sent a very polite and humble email rejecting the offer) and see if I can re-accept.  How should I do that?  Or should I not do it since I probably already burned the bridge???

  8. sachin
    sachin says:

    i would like to thanks for given such mening full post that help me lot,what to do and write ,.Very nice post that will help me lot.

    • huy
      huy says:

      This is actually a question about networking. When someone offers you a job, they have identified you as someone they want to be connected with. That you have multiple offers for this type of connection makes you even more desirable. So when you turn down the offer, your number-one concern should be ma

  9. activejobseeker
    activejobseeker says:

    I am the jerk who has already gotten himself in the muddle ;-)
    I was too scared and unsure as i only got like a few hours to think before starting the new job.

    But I guess I will call the new employer few hours before the starting time and explain the situation…..

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