How to Turn Down a Job Offer Without Burning Bridges

Any break up is hard to deal with, especially when you’re doing the breaking up, and it’s a job role you worked hard to be “the one” for. They called, said you beat out everyone to get the job and that they’re looking forward to welcoming you aboard.

Then, you feel the corners of your lips turn downward. The pit of your stomach drops. Anxiety scratches at your throat as you struggle with what to say next. It turns out that this employer isn’t “the one” for you after all. What do you say? How do you turn down a job offer and not burn bridges?

Try these tips to craft a thoughtful and graceful email to or dialogue with the hiring manager to let them know you’ll be turning down the offer:

1. If it’s Brief, Just Call

If you’re not one to wax poetic, and your email would be fewer characters than a tweet, be personable and accountable by picking up the phone.

Have a polite and honest conversation with the hiring manager, stating that you appreciate the offer but will be declining. You don’t have to go into negatives, but do mention specific positives that you experienced during the interview process, such as falling in love with the company culture but the offer not falling in line with your current career goals. Don’t say the duties are the same old stuff you’ve been doing. You want to grow your skills, but be kind in how you address this.

Mention that you’d like to stay in touch, and thank the hiring manager before hanging up.

2. Come Armed With Referrals

The company invested time in you during the interview process, and it’s courteous to also think of the position that your rejection places the company in. Do you envision someone else in your network doing exceedingly well in this role for this specific company? Share with the hiring manager – but only if they are truly a good match.

If a referral by someone in the company increases your chances of being hired by seven percent, then a referral by a preferred candidate should garner similar results.

Don’t offer referrals up from the start, but extend the offer to make the connection if you have someone in mind. This technique shows that you care about the company and its efforts to find the right fit for the job, even when you know you’re not it.

3. Keep It Short, Simple and Sweet

It’s easy to overthink what you’re going to say and assume what questions the hiring manager will have when your experience could be the total opposite. Just as the company has turned down others, it has been on the other side — you won’t be the first candidate to turn down a job in the history of the company.

It’s easy to ramble on in conversation or compose a wordy email when your nerves take over. In the end, this hurts more than it helps. Two paragraphs, not two sentences, suffice to get your point across gracefully and with enough detail that avoids burning bridges:

Dear [Hiring Manager],

I appreciate you reaching out to me with a generous offer to become part of the team. There’s much I admire about the company, including the ways it gives back to the community and supports its employees through a rich and diverse work culture. After much consideration, regarding the current point I am in my career growth, I must, unfortunately, decline your offer.

I enjoyed getting to know you and the staff and would like to remain in touch. [Link your information in the signature of the email.] If there’s anything else I may address, please email or call.

Many thanks,

[The Candidate Who Must Say No]

Just as you’d write a thank you note after an interview, always thank the hiring manager and point out positive specifics from your conversation. You can follow up with a nice handwritten card two weeks after you send the initial email turning down the job offer.

Saying no to a job offer makes you feel bad after the company has invested so much time in considering your candidacy and said yes to you. Saying no feels even worse when you genuinely love the company, its employees and work culture, and you need a job stat.

Saying no now is better than later, though. Just remember to be up-front, concise, professional and kind, and you’ll still be able to keep those all-important bridges intact.

Have you ever turned down a job offer? How’d it go? Discuss your experience in the comments, and don’t forget to subscribe for more career tips on effective communication and scoring the job that’s right for you.


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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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