Let 'Em Down Easy

Posted by Liz Seasholtz on May 3, 2011
Let 'Em Down Easy
Interviewing, much like dating, begins with careful preparation, nervous anxiety, and finding just the right outfit. And if things go well, you might be extended an offer to see each other more regularly.

On the other hand, you might have second thoughts about building this relationship and decide to reject the offer. Maybe there are better takers out there. Maybe you’ve got starkly different goals or conflicting personalities. Either way, it’s important to be tactful and considerate when you let the other party down.

If handled well, you’ll preserve a valuable connection you may call upon later in your career. If you end things on a bad note, you’ve burned a bridge and word of your unprofessionalism could get around.

We spoke with Nick Crocodilos, founder of AskTheHeadhunter.com and author of How Can I Change Careers? about declining a job offer without severing ties, and the provided the following five tips for a polite departure.

Make Haste
If you’re 100 percent sure the job is not a fit for you (like it’s a two-hour commute in traffic each way) don’t hesitate to turn down the offer as soon as possible. That way, the employer can reach out to other candidates and fill the position. 

However, don’t reject an offer just because you think there’s another offer coming your way. If you decline a job and your first choice falls through, you could end up kicking yourself. “Don’t drop anything until you have a bona fide job in the bag,” says Crocodilos.

Pick Up the Phone
Email is impersonal. Just like you wouldn’t break up with your significant other via email (we hope), you shouldn’t turn down a job offer that way either. It’s best to decline over the phone and speak directly with the manager you interviewed with. 

Although the conversation may be uncomfortable, Crocodilos says maintaining the relationship and being polite is of utmost importance. “One of the biggest gripes people have after going through an interview is that nobody calls them back,” he says. Treat the interviewer how you’d like to be treated.  

Be Discreet
When it comes to actually explaining that you’re not taking the job, keep it short and sweet. Start off by thanking your contact for the offer, let them know you appreciate the interview, but unfortunately it’s not the right fit. If they press you for details, it can be explain the reasons you declined the offer, like the pay is too low, it involves too much travel, etc. Understanding why you don’t want the position could help them as they try to secure another candidate.

There’s nothing wrong with saying you’re taking a position at another employer, but Crocodilos says to resist revealing exactly where you’re going. “As a headhunter, I’ve seen situations where other headhunters get so ticked off that they make a phone call and the other job can go away,” he says. “Discretion is important—you don’t want to torpedo your other opportunities.” 

Declining After You’ve Accepted
It’s not uncommon to decline an offer after verbally accepting it—most likely because a better job offer was presented. Crocodilos says you shouldn’t feel guilty about it, because companies also sometimes rescind offers—it’s a two-way street.
But if you do decline an accepted job offer, expect that bridge to be burned no matter how tactful you are. The best bet is to say there’s been a change in your circumstances that makes it impossible for you to take the job. Try to avoid delving into the details, and express you’re regret for leaving them in the lurch. 

End On A Good Note

One way to stay in the good graces of the employer you’ve declined is to recommend other candidates who might be good for the job, or a potential customer they may be interested in. If you show you’re invested in the organization, you’ll have left a good impression should you paths cross again.

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