How to Turn Down a Job Offer

In Career Advice
March 22, 2016

How to Turn Down a Job Offer

Sometimes we luck out in our job hunt and have multiple offers on the table simultaneously, so its important to know how to turn down a job offer when you need to. More than likely, you don’t have the time, energy, or intention of taking both positions and working yourself to death, so having an exit strategy can save you a lot of time and energy while keeping the connections you’ve made intact.

Whatever the reason may be for your turning the job down, handling of the situation is strikingly similar to dating in that you need to stay prompt and respectful in cancelling the deal. The employer has gone to great lengths to search for candidates, filter through the mass amount off applications, and boil down the results to, ultimately, you. You are their chosen one, and although it will be undoubtedly upsetting to them when you decide to take another path, knowing how to turn down a job offer with grace and poise can have great effect on your career in the long-run.

How to Turn Down a Job Offer:

1. Be Prompt in Notifying the Employer

Just as if you were cancelling plans with friends, family, or a spouse, you want to be prompt in your notification. Let them know as soon as possible after you’ve made the decision and let them know why you’ve chosen to go another way. It may be due to another, better job offer, or it could be the circumstances you currently face, either way, they want to know what they can do to improve their hiring and retention in the future. Try to avoid being overly critical and/or brutally honest if the reason revolves around something that could damage the connections you’ve made at the company.

2. Show Your Appreciation

The last thing you want do is turn down one job for another position, just for that other position to fall through and you’re left with nothing. Avoid burning bridges and stay polite and appreciative when giving the news that you’ll be heading another direction. Employers hate wasting time as much as you do, so don’t make them feel as though giving you the time of day was a mistake on their part.

If you’re working in a specialized industry, word can travel fast among hiring managers or HR departments, so its important to protect your reputation within the community by avoiding negativity and bad-mouthing. A good option is to write a letter and deliver it in person. Explain how appreciative you are for the opportunity and that if circumstances were different, you’d be taking the job.

3. Follow Up with Key Connections

Obviously, some people you meet when searching for a new job are more influential on your future than others. Recruiters and hiring managers are the gatekeepers of their organizations, so stay on their good side by following up with them about the position. Although they may be upset with your decision, they will appreciate the personal, human contact and the fact that you took time our of your day to explain the situation to them.

4. Point them in the Right Direction

If you’re planning on turning down a job offer, maybe you can still help fill the position with a connection of your own. Networking in any industry is key, and it costs a lot of money to fill a position, particularly those that are highly-specialized. So, if you can make the recruiter’s job easier by offering them a valuable connection who’s looking for a new job, it will ultimately save the company a lot of time and money. This goes a long way to make up for any time you may have potentially “wasted” (from their perspective), and can end with you having built strong connections with the employer for the future.

5. Keep it Honest

Stay honest, but not too honest. This primarily applies to more personal reasons that you may not take a position like the attitude of the hiring manager, or anything else that may offend hiring managers or HR reps. If your reasons are personal, keep your explanation short and to-the-point. Instead of criticizing every little thing wrong with the company you’re turning down, pick a few key things that may the other offer more attractive.

Maybe the job you’re taking better aligns with your overall career objectives, maybe the culture of the company doesn’t closely align with your own, or maybe it’s just a financial issue and you’ve received an offer that pays substantially more than the one you’re turning down.

The best way to approach a situation like this is to cite personal circumstances that make the position wrong for you, or the other position you decided to take right for you. Offer any constructive criticism you can think of that can’t personally offend anyone.

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  • Avoid confirming multiple job offers at the same time. Instead, let them know that you have things to consider and get back to them as soon as you’ve made your decision. Accepting a position only to turn it down later is akin to being a flake, and who likes a flake?
  • Don’t avoid an offer that’s put on the table. If the company is going out of their way to extend an offer to you, be courteous enough to respond quickly and let them know what’s going on with you. They want to fill the position and move on, so in the interest of building bridges, notify them.
  • Avoid negotiating. Unless you think there’s a solid chance that you’ll change your mind if the offer is revised, avoid negotiating over it. It further wastes the time of the employer and will damage your reputation if you don’t end up taking their offer. Be decisive in your choice.
  • Don’t bank on a better offer. Unless you definitely don’t want the position, for whatever reason, avoid turning down an offer in the hopes that a better one will come long soon. It’s better to confirm that multiple offers are on the table and to make a decision based on those, rather than turning one down to “hold out” for something better in the future. Of course, this point revolves around your personal circumstances, so take everything into account before choosing.


Regardless of the reason(s) you’re deciding to turn down a job offer, keep in mind that the networking bridges you build throughout your career are one of the most important resources for opportunities in the future and it’s vitally important that you maintain them.  Most hiring managers and HR departments will understand your reasons for turning them down if you following the above steps.

When learning how to turn down a job offer, aim to keep things professional and honest without being overly critical and you should be fine. If you can think of any way in order to shorten their search to fill the position, make it known to score some points with both the company and the individual you recommend.

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