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How to Decline a Job Offer Without Burning Bridges

September 29, 2023

​In life, things don’t always go as planned. And a job offer is no exception.

Maybe you were initially excited about a role. But after learning about it, it didn’t meet your expectations. Or, perhaps, there’s another fantastic opportunity on the table that is everything you’ve ever dreamed of.

Rejecting a job offer isn’t always easy, especially when it’s human to feel bad when letting someone down. However, despite the awkwardness, declining a job offer is sometimes necessary.

Lucky for you, there are plenty of ways to put a hiring manager down respectfully. Here are 4 timeless tips to graciously decline a job offer without burning bridges:

Don’t waste time

The age-old adage that “time is priceless” still rings true. Interviews are often lengthy, taking weeks and sometimes even months to complete. With that in mind, it’s essential not to procrastinate when declining an offer.

After thinking they’ve found the one, no hiring manager wants to revisit the drawing board to find another candidate for their open position. After all, you may be the only candidate they’ve seen to date, leaving them to source a new candidate pool once again.

Everything from job duties to compensation should be spelled out clearly by the time you receive a written job offer. If the details don’t match your needs or professional goals after thoroughly reviewing the job offer, be swift in making your decision to decline. Most of the time, when opportunities don’t feel right, it probably isn’t it.

From there, you should ideally pick up the phone to inform your hiring manager that you’re declining.

Make a phone call, if you can

Many job seekers turn down job offers via email. Despite common belief, there’s nothing wrong with declining electronically. Offers are often sent by email, so there’s nothing adverse about using the same means of communication. However, if you can, having a direct phone call is highly recommended.

Dialing a hiring manager allows job seekers the opportunity to be gracious, a personal touch that sometimes can’t be accomplished in written format. On the phone, you’ll be able to gauge tone and subtle cues that are frequently hard to read in an email.

While making a phone call is a nice touch, please understand that it is not required. In fact, timeliness is more important. If you reach out to phone someone and days go by, simply send an email to wrap things up quickly.

You can leave a note like:

“Hi [name of hiring manager],

I tried to connect with you via phone but was unsuccessful. Not wanting to delay the process any further, I’d like to officially decline my offer for the [name of role] position.”

Be brief and honest

Whether you get someone on the phone or not, be honest and brief about your reasoning for declining. However, don’t get too detailed about your motivations to avoid extensive discussion.

Consider saying something like:

  • “After careful consideration, I’ve found that the compensation package doesn’t match my lifestyle needs at this moment in time.”
  • “Upon reviewing the offer, I’ve come to the conclusion that the role doesn’t quite fit into the career trajectory I plan for myself.”

Express gratitude

Job opportunities are just that—opportunities. While some job scenarios are what we’re looking for in our careers, some still don’t meet our expectations. Even though a job offer may not pan out exactly as you would have liked, it’s always a good idea to practice gratitude.

Gratitude is showing appreciation for things even when your needs are not met. When a job offer isn’t right for you, expressing gratitude will help you refocus on what you already have. That can be a current job, affirmation of your true desires and further clarity of what you don’t want in a role. Remember the old proverb, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

There’s always something good to be found when a job opportunity doesn’t work out. It’s all a matter of how you look at things.

When you are ready to inform a hiring manager that you’re declining an offer, here are some different ways to express your gratitude:

Scenario: bad timing

“I am so thankful for the opportunity to interview for the [insert name of role] position. I was thoroughly impressed by your company and the big initiatives underway. I hope that one day, I can be a pivotal player when the timing is right.”
Scenario: conflict of terms

“[insert name of hiring manager], it was an absolute pleasure speaking with you about the [insert position] role at [insert company name]. Your work in [insert relevant field] and vision for [insert goal mentioned during the interview] was impressive. While we couldn’t make this opportunity pan out this time around, please keep me in mind for any future opportunities you think would be a better fit.”
Scenario: bad role fit

“I had a wonderful time learning about your company [insert company name]. It was exciting to hear about the amazing team culture, projects and the [insert position] role. With your vision for the position, I currently feel this opportunity isn’t the best fit for my career goals. Thank you so much for considering me. I hope that you find the right candidate for your unique needs.”

In retrospect, never be afraid to decline a job offer. Sometimes, a position isn’t just the right fit. Feel empowered to make the right move in your life by honoring your ambitions and needs.

Take comfort in knowing that no bridges are burned when you decline an offer with the utmost consideration for others.  All hiring managers will appreciate the professionalism — the lasting impression you always want to leave.

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