Last year, as the economy crumbled and everyone lucky enough to be employed held on to their jobs for dear life, it would have seemed crazy to turn down a good job offer.
But as the economy slowly recovers, the concept of choice, something many people felt had burst with the housing bubble, is coming back into play.
You might find yourself lucky enough to be able to choose between two offers, or perhaps simply be in the fortunate situation of being able to turn down a job that isn’t quite right.
But with great choice comes great responsibility—that of declining the offer graciously, without burning bridges or creating ill will.
As with any carefully crafted message, you need to think in advance about how to communicate your decision in a way that makes you look gracious and in no way bruises the ego of your rejected employer.
When planning your response, remember three key points:
Thank you: When turning down a job offer, always begin with a heartfelt thank you to the person who extended the offer. Make sure to communicate that you appreciate the offer, and state that you respect both the organisation and the other person – never risk making it seem as though the position was beneath you or that you didn’t give the offer serious thought and consideration.
Rationale: After extending thanks, you must provide your rationale for turning down the job. This is the most difficult aspect of the conversation but also the most important.
There are myriad reasons a job won’t be a perfect fit and many of them are perfectly plausible and valid. Others, such as not liking a potential colleague or preferring one geographic location over another, can be harder to justify or voice.
Even if your rationale strays from the politically correct or socially acceptable, 99 per cent of the time you can communicate delicate reasons in a professional and tactful way. Here is some helpful language relating to five common reasons you might turn down an offer:
External factors: Geography, family, timing. It’s always easier to blame a decision on someone or something else: If issues beyond your control prevent you from accepting a position, be honest: “Unfortunately, I can’t make the move because of family obligations.” Or, “As much as I am interested in the position, I’ve decided it’s not the right time to uproot my family and move across the country.”
Money: It’s absolutely OK to turn down a position that doesn’t pay well enough. If after negotiating salary and realising the company cannot afford to pay you what you believe you are worth, you are allowed to say, “I wish I could make it work; however, I need to be at a higher compensation level. I’m sure you understand.”
Lack of skills/ qualifications: If you don’t have the requisite skill set to knock the ball out of the park or you suspect you’re being set up to fail, then it’s always better to bow out than to risk serious embarrassment and struggle down the road. Simply say, “After much consideration, I’ve decided I can’t realistically exceed expectations and I’d never want to join an organisation where I won’t be able to under promise and over deliver.”
People issues: If you want to turn down a job offer because of potential clashes with other employees, you can’t just blurt out that you don’t like the people you would be working with. You can, however, use “cultural fit” as a catchall when your personality doesn’t jibe with a team or organisation.
For instance, “I respect the work you all do but I just don’t think it’s the right fit for me personally. I’m going to continue looking for something more entrepreneurial,” is a polite way of stating the truth while avoiding bruised egos.
Dead end: If a job is appealing today but won’t move you toward your ultimate career goals, you are entitled to say so. People will generally respect your honesty and understand the value of long-term goals.
You can say, “As much as I’d love to join the team, I really need to get some fundraising experience so that I can transition into a development role in the next few years. Truthfully, the program manager position just isn’t going to do that for me.”
Forward momentum: Once you’ve given the other person a thoughtful reason for why you’ve turned down the position, thank him again and offer to stay in touch or wish him luck with the hiring process. You can acknowledge that you’d like to be kept abreast of new opportunities or revisit the situation if your external factors happen to change. It’s not crazy to think that the employer you dismiss today may be more appealing to you down the road, so always keep the relationship positive and the door open.
Glickman is a speaker and founder of a communication training firm.