How to decline a job offer?
July 3, 2019 4:35 PM   Subscribe

How do I decline a job offer, when I might want to work at the company or with the hiring manager in the future?

Last week I had a great interview and today I overheard my boss on the phone giving me a great reference (shared office, he knew I was there). It seems possible I will be offered the job, but I don't want it! From what I learned in the interview , although it pays more and is a big promotion, I will likely be very stressed and risk burnout in a few years. I am so so happy in my current job but my boss encourages me to apply for other jobs as there is little chance of promotion here. I have been burnt out before and I think I could be willing to forego career progression for the happiness I have right now.
So how do I decline a job if it is offered, while keeping my options open to work for the company (or the hiring manager) in another role in the future? And what to I tell my boss? He knows the manager at the other company and would probably find out I declined.
posted by Naanwhal to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It is totally normal to decline a job after the interview if you think it is a bad fit or time to switch jobs. This is also what you can tell your boss. A job interview is not a contract and people who hire get this all the time. It doesn't have to be complicated.
posted by vermouth at 4:54 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]

"The job looks great but it's bad timing as I couldn't do the position justice right now. Maybe we can revisit it after things calm down in my personal life."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:54 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]

If you are that sure you don't want the job, call them now and ask to be removed from consideration before a potential offer is made. You don't need to explain why; say something vague like "personal reasons" if you must. In general, the sooner you tell them the better, so they can move on with filling the position. When you do turn the job down (in advance, or after an offer is made), don't try to explain why, as it might be construed as negotiating.
posted by kovacs at 4:57 PM on July 3 [8 favorites]

Call up (not email) the boss/recruiter (depending on who contacts you), and say simply, "thank you for the offer - it sounds like a great opportunity for someone else, but I don't think it's the right move for me right now. I'm not negotiating this, and I'd be happy to pass along your information to anyone else I know that would be a better fit."

Some reasoning for this:
  • It's unequivocal. There's no room for negotiation - you aren't saying why you're making the choice, because then they can use the opportunity to negotiate ("we'll pay you more!", "we'll make it easier for you!"). On preview, I would not say anything about your personal life. If I heard this, as a hiring manager/recruiter, I would put you on my list to call back in a month or so if the job is not filled.
  • It expresses your appreciation. Hiring people is surprisingly hard. They will have done a lot of work to get to the point of an offer. Recognize that fact.
  • It leaves the door open in the future - on your terms. If you want to call them back, you can simply say that you're now considering a change, and see what's available at the time.
  • It's fast. To be honest, from their side, if you're not interested, they want to move on to the next candidate as quickly as possible. Don't keep them on the line too long - let them move onwards with their search.
To your boss: say nothing. Your manager is going behind the organization's back to help you out. Let the fact that you are considering other options be an open secret rather than an open fact to avoid your manager being forced to start to plan for your departure. When/if you take another job, give them heartfelt thanks for the recommendation... but not until then.
posted by saeculorum at 4:58 PM on July 3 [7 favorites]

I've done this successfully three times, and in all three cases I got the (later) jobs, once a few months later, once a few years later, and once six years later. In each case I simply told the truth: that I felt the role (or the timing for taking that role, or the total compensation package) wasn't quite what I was looking for to justify leaving my current job, in a way that they didn't have the ability to control directly (so not a negotiation tactic) but that I really liked everyone I'd met and what I'd learned about their organization and I'd definitely be interested in hearing from them about future opportunities.

This isn't a guarantee, of course. In all three of the above experiences, their responses made it clear that they, like me, took a long view on hiring and appreciated my candor. However, I'd done this with a few other companies that, to put it bluntly, reacted badly. I took this as a clear sign I'd dodged a bullet, and crossed them off of my list.
posted by davejay at 7:03 PM on July 3 [4 favorites]

However you decline the job, make sure that you are consistent with what you said during and before the interview. Nobody likes to have been spun in a job interview, and in a tight job market they could easily have lost their #2 choice in the time it took them to finalize an offer to you and you to respond to them declining the offer.
posted by MattD at 6:51 AM on July 4 [2 favorites]

Why not ask for what you want from the offered role? Maybe engage in some negotiation around duties, hours, reporting, whatever it was in the interview that had you concerned about the role.

Do some reflecting on your own or with a mentor about the terms under which you could take the role.

Maybe they will be able to negotiate this, maybe they will agree that the role isn’t a fit, maybe they will suggest you’d be a better fit in some other role at their firm.

Another thought: if they offer you the role, before accepting, ask to meet with someone who does the same or similar role at the firm. Both you and the new firm want to make sure you’d be a good fit in the role, and this is a good way to find out. It would give you some info on the new firm that might be helpful for future opportunities.
posted by thenormshow at 12:27 PM on July 4

I agree that it is normal to interview and decline because it's not what you want for whatever reason, and I think that davejay has the best script for that.

It's hard to tell from your question whether you were interested in this role in the first place. I do think that you should figure out if you truly aren't interested in more senior roles (whatever that means in your career context) at this time, and if you aren't, you should stop interviewing for them and stop yielding to your boss' encouragement on the matter (and where possible, stop engaging with your boss on the matter entirely).
posted by sm1tten at 2:43 PM on July 4

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