Letter etiquette, reply to a job offer: 'thanks, but no thanks'
December 19, 2013 6:32 AM   Subscribe

My SO applied for, was interviewed for, and subsequently was offered an academic post (lectureship). Some stuff just wasn't right from the outset, and all the contact with the department made it clear that it's not the right place to be working. Please help us to say 'no thanks' correctly.

In addition, SO's got a new publication and an extension to the current project (an extra 4 years as a postdoc), so the idea of jumping into a dissatisfying-looking and unhealthy-seeming department is less appealing. It'd mean giving up on 4 years of future research, and the advantages which it could bring to a future career, in place of accepting a rather full-on teaching load. This all came about since the original application, which was in spring this year – it takes a long time for appointments to be made in this country and I figure they must expect quite a high attrition rate as applicants get posts elsewhere (but note: SO didn't withdraw from the job application before now).

I think apart from the nervousness about looking a gift-horse in the mouth (lectureships are hard to get, the academic job market is terrible, etc), we are decided that the answer's got to be a 'no thanks'. So we don't need advice on the decision-making. But it's a tricky letter to write, and the nervousness means our abilities to monitor whether we're getting the tone right are compromised. The ideal outcome: a way to say 'no thanks', so that SO doesn't seem unprofessional and so that no future ill-will is engendered.

So, here's a draft (below), and here's a question: do you think it's important that SO should, in addition, be making personal contact (phone, email) with the person (Head of Dept) who invited SO's application in the first place? The HoD is part of the problem with the post, in many respects (HoD has a reputation as a bully, indeed, it's partly because of this that SO applied in the first place), and the thought of personally contacting HoD is unappealing, particularly with this kind of reply.

Dear %name (%post) and %name (%post),
Re: Offer of employment - %role at Department of %academic study (%job ref)
I was pleased to receive your letter offering me the position of %role at the Department of %academic study. Regrettably, after considerable deliberation, I write to decline the appointment. Since the time of my application in %date my employment circumstances have changed and at the present time I feel that my future career prospects are best served by remaining in my present position.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for considering my application and taking the time to interview me. I wish you luck in securing an excellent candidate to fill the post.
Yours sincerely,

Any thoughts? All suggestions / improvements welcome!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd change this:

Regrettably, after considerable deliberation, I write to decline the appointment. Since the time of my application in %date my employment circumstances have changed and at the present time I feel that my future career prospects are best served by remaining in my present position.

to something like:

Unfortunately, since submitting my application in %date, my circumstances have changed and at the present time I am unable to accept the appointment.


Makes it sound like he'd like to accept the position, but is unable to for external reasons, rather that making it a personal rejection.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:44 AM on December 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


I wouldn't use "regrettably" or "unfortunately." I'd simply write "However, since submitting my application..."
posted by Dolley at 7:15 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Since the time of my application in %date my employment circumstances have changed and at the present time I feel that my future career prospects are best served by remaining in my present position.

This is weasel writing and will not leave a good impression with your potential employer.

Instead, share with them some of what those circumstances are, what new career prospects mean. That's genuine, and it will create understanding on their side. Don't convey intimate details, but sharing some view into your decision is almost always seem as respect-worthy.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:24 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


You don't need to justify things. It's not proper to shift blame untruthfully, especially for a professional position.

Thank you for offering me the position of Head Underwater Basketweaving Lecturer. However, I cannot accept this position since it does not fit my needs at this time. I appreciate your time and interest and offer my best wishes in your search.
Be upfront and honest without being brutal. If they truthfully need or want to know the further details you can share them over the phone or in a followup letter or email; again, in the same straightforward and upfront manner without being overly intimate or harsh.
posted by kcm at 7:25 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nixon's letter of resignation is the model for this sort of thing. If you're not bargaining, you don't need to justify anything to them:

Dear %name (%post) and %name (%post),
Re: Offer of employment - %role at Department of %academic study (%job ref)
I decline your offer of a position as %role at Department of %academic study.
Sincerely,
%anonSO

Short, simple, final.

If HoD is the kind of person who will take offense at this or at leaving out "Best wishes," then there's a 97 percent chance that he's the kind of person who will take offense at any rejection, so you're not burning any bridges that wouldn't have been burnt regardless.
posted by Etrigan at 7:38 AM on December 19, 2013


I think the wording of the rejection has already been well-established by the (correct) answers prior. That said, there's one open question...

do you think it's important that SO should, in addition, be making personal contact (phone, email) with the person (Head of Dept) who invited SO's application in the first place?

I've always thought it's inappropriate to decline (or accept) a job through a letter or email. There's a lot of work that goes into extending a job offer on the side of the employer. They have to consider long-term viability of the position, organization liability, and look through a lot of other applicants before they get to the offer your SO received. At the very least, your SO should be able to say that over the phone. She's in no way obligated to discuss why she declined the position (see previous answers), but I think that this is an area that slightly more formalism is required than an email.
posted by saeculorum at 7:42 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wrote similar letters (and or placed similar calls), but there were 2 additional things that it included, which were:

-Did you enjoy meeting anyone? If you legitimately did, then write out I enjoyed meeting people in the bio department, or whatever it was (if not, leave it out)

-Spell out what changed (funding, another offer)

I did the first part because as part of those type of interviews, you spend hours at minimum with some of the people - and some were wonderful people and you may reach a point in your career that you could collaborate with them or interact in the future at another university. I did the last part just to make them feel as if they were being seriously considered, etc., but I similarly ran across a few departments that I thought had some problems and would not touch with a ten foot pole.


do you think it's important that SO should, in addition, be making personal contact (phone, email) with the person (Head of Dept) who invited SO's application in the first place? The HoD is part of the problem with the post, in many respects (HoD has a reputation as a bully, indeed, it's partly because of this that SO applied in the first place), and the thought of personally contacting HoD is unappealing, particularly with this kind of reply.

I don't know if this helps, but I interviewed at many universities/colleges at one point for various faculty type positions. The offers that were not made, even after extensive meetings on campus,phone calls, etc: 90%of the time, it was either silence, or they sent you a form letter months after the fact. Only on one occasion did the HoD reach out to me to say, "I am calling to regretfully ....."

t;'dr a form email to everyone (or a call to one person) is more than sufficient. I doubt they would reach out to if the roles were reversed.This is my perspective from being on the receiving end of these interactions.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 7:49 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem with going into detail about what his changed circumstances are is that it invites negotiation, where it sounds like he probably would decline this offer no matter what. If it doesn't matter what concessions they could make, then he shouldn't bother explaining why he is not interested.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:06 AM on December 19, 2013


This is still a networking opportunity, a chance for HoD to come away thinking yet better of SO, as the fish he didn't catch:

I was pleased to receive your letter offering me the position of %role at the Department of %academic study. However, I should update you on my accomplishments since our last talks. My paper on Important Topic was recently published in Glamour Mag, which has lead to extended excitement and long-term research funding for the project here at Home University. As I'm very committed to my career in Important Topic, I have decided to stay here to continue that work. Thus I must decline your offer, though I am sad to do so, as I greatly enjoyed my visit to your department and considered it a great potential opportunity for me.

Again, thank you for considering my application and taking the time to interview me.

posted by Dashy at 8:11 AM on December 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


Working off several previous suggestions, I would go with:

I was pleased to receive your letter offering me the position of %role at the Department of %academic study. Subsequent to my interview at %University, my paper on Important Topic was published in $SwankyPub, which lead to a significant extension in long-term research funding for the project here at Home University. As I have committed to that opportunity as of November, I regrettably must decline your offer.

I would very much like to thank you for considering my application and taking the time to interview me. I wish you luck in securing an excellent candidate to fill the post.


Also, just as a point of order: never, ever use the word "feel" in a business communication, even a casual one. Unless you are Troi, nobody is paying you to feel; they're paying you to think. Feel is a weak and unprofessional word.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:08 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I must disagree strongly with Dashy and DarlingBri's suggestions. This letter is not a 'networking opportunity' and absolutely not the place to trumpet your recent accomplishments and all the excitement about you at your home institution, which will come across as arrogant in an academic setting. The correct response here is, as Rock Steady suggests, concise, professional, and positive about the offer you are turning down. Your proposed letter is totally fine with slight modifications:

I was pleased to receive your letter offering me the position of %role at the Department of %academic study. However, I write to decline the appointment. Since the time of my interview in %date my employment circumstances have changed, and I feel that my future career prospects are best served by remaining in my present position. I greatly enjoyed my visit to the Department of %academic study, and thank you for considering my application and taking the time to interview me. I wish you luck in securing an excellent candidate to fill the post.
posted by googly at 10:34 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I never wrote any letters to turn down offers. I called the head. That's how it's done.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:45 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hear you that it's unpleasant to deal with the Head of the department, but it really is standard to turn down an academic job offer in a phone conversation. Sending the letter is not a great idea, and even if your SO does send the letter the response is likely to be an immediate phone call from the Head.

If it helps, people turn down job offers all the time. I'm in a good department, and our rate of acceptance for faculty offers is about 1 in 3. The Head is used to this.
posted by medusa at 11:28 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I actually think your draft is fine, although I agree with medusa that a phone call is probably better.

I am in academia and agree that people are always turning down job offers. We had a recent one where we shortlisted five people, and had to make an offer to all five, going down the list as each rejected the offer.

The only concern is that sometimes people reject offers because they never intended to consider them seriously - they just applied so they could have an offer to show their current institution in order to get a promotion or extension of contract there. If you reject multiple offers over your career, word gets around and people suspect you of this. In your case that is unlikely to be the suspicion, but either way, you want to make it clear to the selection committee that this was not the case. You could do this by saying you were "unexpectedly" offered another four years on your current postdoc.

Also, don't feel bad. Remember how happy your rejection will be making the next person in their list!
posted by lollusc at 2:57 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


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