After hours spent combing job listings, updating your resume, writing and rewriting your cover letter, and interviewing, you finally land a job offer. Yay!
But what if the offer isn’t quite right? How do you say no to a job that’s just not for you?
Even if your instinct is to throw a match over your shoulder and walk away from the burning wreckage like you’re an action movie star, it’s important to keep the goodwill between you and that company. You might not want this job—but that doesn’t mean you won’t want a job with them down the road.
The general consensus among career coaches and HR people seems to be to be true to yourself without oversharing.
How to decline a job offer depends on many different factors. “It depends on what your authentic reason for not wanting to take the job is. Is it that the money isn’t right? Is it that the position isn’t right?” says Krista Parkinson, a career coach specializing in helping to launch early careers. “Is it that you don’t think you’re a cultural fit? You have to identify what your real reason is and then carefully craft your language around that. Lead with authenticity, kindness, and honesty.”
When the money is $ and you’re looking for $$$
In Clueless, Cher considered her low grades a “jumping-off point to start negotiations.” Parkinson says to consider a low-money offer the same way.
“If you get an offer for a job that you love love love, but it’s, let’s say, $10,000 a year less than you were thinking, that’s not a reason to say no,” says Parkinson. “That’s a reason to negotiate.”
If you have another offer that provides more money for the same type of job, see if they’ll match it. If you think you deserve more, tell them why.
When the job is bullpen and you’re looking for corner office
If you’re turning an offer down because you think you’d be better suited for another position, then say so. But keep in mind that the job you’re offered might be a stepping stone on the path that leads to the job you want.
If a company you really want to work for offers you an assistant position, but you’re looking for something more senior, Parkinson suggests saying you’re very interested in the more senior position—and asking if the position you were offered is a possible gateway to the job you really want.
When the people are bores and you’re looking to work with Beyoncés
Sometimes turning a job down comes down to you and the company not meshing culturally. In those cases, Parkinson suggests honesty, while using the situation to dictate how much detail to give. If during one of your interviews you noticed it’s dead quiet in the office and you work better in a more talkative environment, feel free to tell them that’s the reason.
“You can say something along the lines of ‘I don’t think this is the right cultural fit for me,’” she suggests. “‘I’m looking for more teamwork and collaboration and it looks like you have a lot of independent thinkers here. I want to do the best possible job that I can for you and I don’t think I would be able to do what you would need me to do in this environment.’”
But if you just plain didn’t get along with the people you met with, Parkinson says to keep that to yourself. “A simple ‘Thank you for the opportunity. I don’t feel like it’s the right cultural fit for me, but I wish you luck in finding the right person for the position’ goes a long way.”
Tips and Tricks
Don’t lie. There’s no point. “If they find out you lied, you’re really shutting the door,” says Parkinson.
Think about your rejection note from the employers’ perspective. You want them to be able to say you had the highest integrity in the process.
Try recommending a friend as you decline the offer. “You can say, ‘Thank you so much, but I don’t feel like this position is the right fit for me. I have a friend who is interested. Can I send you her resume?’” says Parkinson. If they hire that friend, the company will likely forget you turned them down.
Now, get out there and accept the job you really want.