We recently solicited readers to submit their most pressing career-related questions.
With help from Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job,” we’ve answered the following: “How do I turn down a job offer?”
In most cases, this isn’t a bad problem to have, she says — but still, turning down a job is never easy.
“By raising this question, the reader shows awareness of how important it is to handle the process with care,” says Taylor.
It’s easy to burn bridges when turning down a job offer — but you need to do everything you can to avoid that. (After all, you never know if you might want to apply for another job at this company in the future — or if you’ll come into contact with the hiring manager elsewhere.)
“Many job seekers overlook the opportunities to generate goodwill when declining a position, especially when they have another offer in hand,” Taylor explains. “But with a little thought and diplomacy, you can actually enhance your professional reputation and career during what can seem like a daunting task.”
Hiring managers will be understanding — and usually even supportive — if you handle the situation professionally. Here are a few ways to do that:
Show your appreciation. A company generally puts forth a lot of effort before an offer is presented. Show your gratitude for their time and interest, Taylor suggests. “A colleague recently attended a business conference and ran into the hiring manager from a job he previously declined. The hiring manager was ironically chatting with his current boss. The employee was relieved that he declined the offer on a gracious note, as the former hiring manager smiled to his boss, ‘You’re certainly lucky to have Greg!'”
Be timely in your response. Once you know you won’t be accepting the offer, be prompt in your response; it’s the courteous thing to do and allows the company to move forward with other candidates before it’s too late.
Remain professional and respectful. Imagine that you’re on video as you reject an offer, witnessed by the leading employers in your industry. What would you say, and how would you communicate it? “This is virtually the case, as word of mouth spreads fast when extremes occur,” Taylor says. “This is also a networking process for you — it can lead to other invaluable industry contacts or information that show up years later.”
Be careful using offers as bargaining tools. Leveraging another offer can backfire if you’re theoretically turning down the job, but are really attempting to bargain for a better deal, she says. “If you set up a competitive dynamic reminiscent of shopping for the best-priced car, you could lose both offers. That’s different from knowing which job you really prefer and trying to negotiate the terms you want.”
Decline the offer by phone, not email. A personal call illustrates your professionalism and savvy. “Avoid sending your offer rejection by email, and never commit career suicide by declining via text — even if you have the perfect apologetic Emoji,” she jokes.
Give an honest, concise reason. If the salary or benefits are deal breakers, and everything else was perfect, then discuss those factors openly, but diplomatically. “You might be able to upgrade the offer to what is acceptable,” Taylor says. “If not, consider such language as: ‘Thank you so much for your time and interest in me, and for the offer. It’s certainly a great opportunity. Unfortunately, I am looking for a position that is a little more aligned with my career goals (then explain briefly), …’ or, ‘…I have accepted another offer that provides X. I hope that we can stay in touch should another opportunity arise in the future.'”
Don’t suggest that there wasn’t chemistry or mention anything personal, “even if the boss evokes vivid scenes from ‘Horrible Bosses’ or ‘The Devil Wears Prada,'” she says.
Be 100% sure before you say, “No.” The employer may be persistent, so be prepared to answer a couple of follow-up questions on why you’re rejecting the offer. “Be resolute if your gut says this isn’t a good match; don’t be swayed,” says Taylor. “You should be truly excited about where you’ll spend most of your waking hours. If you think you have another offer, first make sure it’s in writing before you decline your ‘close second’ job opportunity.”
Offer to remain in touch. This is a pleasant way to end the brief relationship and show respect for the company. It also opens the door to networking in the future in a mutually beneficial way.
Give genuine compliments about the firm. Try to convey the positive aspects of the job; certainly there were some or you wouldn’t have reached this stage, says Taylor. “Your interviewer is human and sincere compliments are not just flattering — they provide helpful feedback.”
Thank everyone who interviewed you. Try to reach out by phone to those who interviewed you. If you can’t reach them, leave a voicemail — and if appropriate, also following up with a brief email — expressing your gratitude.
Offer to think of others who might fit the bill. A great way to decline a job is to offer your help. Refer others whom you feel might be a good fit. “Paying it forward usually reaps great, unanticipated rewards,” Taylor explains.
Turning down a job offer can provide insight on how to better refine your search, as long as you take the time to reflect. Ideally, in the future you want to catch issues before the offer stage. For instance, take note of whether there were red flags early on, or if there’s a shift in your priorities. “And remember that your sphere of work is often smaller than you think. Treat the hiring manager with the same respect that you plan to give your next boss,” Taylor concludes.
Readers: Want us to answer your questions related to your career or job search? Tweet Careers editor Jacquelyn Smith @JacquelynVSmith or email her at jsmith[at]businessinsider[dot]com, and we’ll do our best to answer them.