How to Turn Down a Job Offer When it Isn't Perfect

When you’re looking for a new job, you’re bound to apply to certain places that are less than perfectly suited for you. You may just want to put as many irons in the fire as possible, or you may have found something out during the search process that has sent you in a different direction. Whatever the case, you could find yourself offered a job you really don’t want to take. Awkward, right? So how do you get out of this sticky situation gracefully? The following suggestions should help.

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Ditch the Guilt

You may be feeling like you’re a bad person for asking for something and when you get it, deciding you don’t want it. Well, forget that. Life is full of instances where we think we want something until we don’t. Dating, shopping, food, and, of course, job searches all fall into that category. You take someone on a date, and you decide you don’t feel the chemistry. Are you obligated to marry that person simply because you asked them out? Of course not! You ask a salesperson to help you find a suit, but you don’t like the one he chooses. Are you beholden to buy it? Again, no. There’s no reason to feel guilty because you applied for a job and decided not to take it. An application is not a commitment—it’s simply a part of the search process.

Be Sure You’re Sure

Before you go turning down a legitimate job offer, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. As you well know, no job is perfect, and if you’re waiting for perfection, you might go broke in the interim. So make sure you’re not just being overly picky before you turn down a job that may end up being a good fit. Also, could it be you’re just afraid of change, or that you feel guilty about leaving your current job? If you’re able to ask yourself these questions and still know in your heart that you want to refuse the offer, do so with confidence. 

Make a Timely Decision

While you don’t want to jump into the decision too quickly, you also shouldn’t wait too long.  After all, your would-have-been employer needs to fill the position, and it’s not polite to leave him hanging. Give yourself at least 24 hours to consider all of your options before ripping off the Band-Aid and letting him know you’re no longer interested. You’re being unfair if you take longer than that.

Break the News by Phone

It may be tempting to just shoot off an e-mail or text so you don’t actually have to deal with the awkwardness of the situation. Then again, you may feel compelled to march down to the office and confront the hiring manager head on. Neither of these extremes is appropriate. Simply pick up the phone, call the person you need to call, and say what you need to say.

Keep it Simple

It’s tempting to launch into a long, convoluted explanation of why you’ve decided to turn down the job. You may even feel tempted to lie. But your best move is to state the truth in a concise manner. Simply say, “I just don’t feel this is a good fit for me” or “I’ve done some figuring and I’ve decided the commute is just too far.” There’s no need to go into any more detail than that. Brevity will save both you and the person offering the job unneeded tension.

Don’t Forget the Gratitude

It might be obvious, but don’t forget to say “thank you” for the offer. If you’re in too much of a rush to get off the phone and put this conversation behind you, the obligatory nicety might escape you.  Don’t let that happen. You never know when you’ll encounter this individual again, and the last thing you want to do is leave a bad impression. Burning bridges is never a wise move. Make sure you express your gratitude for the offer and articulate how much you appreciate being given the opportunity.

Leave the Door Open

Just because this particular position wasn’t right for you doesn’t mean there won’t be a better offer available in the future. Let the hiring manager know you’re still open to working with her and the organization if something else comes along. If they wanted to hire you once, there is nothing to stop them from wanting to hire you again.

Turning down a job offer is never easy.  But it doesn’t have to be overcomplicated either.  Just make sure you believe in your decision, and then act as professionally as possible.  You can’t accept every offer that comes your way, but you can certainly make the effort to decline unwanted offers with courtesy and respect.

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