How To Turn Down A Job Without Burning A Bridge

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Looking for a job is a job in and of itself. You have to search for the right gig, update your CV, write some cover letters, and then go on interviews — all without any guarantees. So when you get that coveted offer, it seems inevitable that you’ll accept. But how do you decline it when it turns out the opportunity isn’t quite right?
Getting that far in the interview process likely means you have at least some fond feelings for the company you're about to turn down; you may even want to work for them at some point in the future. So, you need to make sure you decline graciously.
"If you can’t come to a place where you both are comfortable, no harm, no foul. The hiring manager will understand, especially if you’ve gone back and forth in terms of the offer you were looking for," says Angela Santone, the executive vice president and global chief human resources officer for Turner. "But I think you always have to be mindful and gracious, and thank the individuals for their time, the interviews, and the investment that they’ve provided you. You never want to be in a situation where you’ve burned that bridge."
Santone suggests following up after you decline with a handwritten note that expresses your gratitude again, and extends an offer to stay in touch.
"Then, you’re expanding your network," she explains. "Just because you didn’t take a job with them doesn’t mean that you can’t have a relationship."
Read on for three more key tips in saying "no" to a job offer.

Talk It Out — Off Email

“Part of the job-search process is, in fact, declining offers,” says Mark Gasche, a career management leader at SoFi. The two main mistakes he says people make: leaving a voicemail that’s brief, difficult to interpret, and leaves no room for dialogue; or writing an email that feels impolite and can be forwarded around. (You don’t want your terse/awkward “no” to become a viral hit at the office.)
People usually go with the route of least resistance out of fear of confrontation. Instead, the best thing to do is contact the person who has worked with you most during the process and ask if they have time to discuss where you are. That might not always be someone from HR, Gasche says. Call whoever it is on the phone and be honest, he suggests — but not too honest. For example, if your reason for saying "no" is that the manager you interviewed with rubbed you the wrong way and you’d really prefer not to report to them, you might want to keep that to yourself.
"If there was something that you viewed as negative, I wouldn’t go there. There’s just no point,” he says. “You may run into these people again someday.” Of course, if your interviewer(s) exhibited any truly inappropriate behaviour that needs to be reported, that's a separate — and necessary — conversation to take up with HR.

Don't Make It All About The Money

Even if compensation is the main reason you’re turning a job down, try to explain more broadly why the opportunity isn’t right for you. There’s no shame in doing what’s best for you financially, but pinning your entire rationale on money might make it seem like you were only interested in the position for the cash. (Something you probably didn’t say during all those interviews — otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten so far.)
“It’s key to be really thoughtful in explaining why you're declining, and to illustrate that you've thought this through on a deeper level,” says Kelli Dragovich, the SVP of People at Hired. “It’s also important to be very respectful and communicate that in a way that helps build a relationship. I wouldn't decline in a form that's impersonal, especially when you've gotten so far down the line. You've invested a ton of time in them, they've invested a ton of time in you, and to tie that off in a five-minute phone call does wonders.”
“I've seen folks decline offers where it was like, ‘No. Because of the comp. That's it,’ and it was very shallow and abrupt,” she explains. “Of course comp may be an element, and that's okay, but it can't just be that. I think it needs to be a little bit more grounded.” Dragovich says she declined two offers before starting at Hired and is still good friends with the CEO of one of the companies.
“I didn’t talk about the comp or the title,” she says. “I talked in a thoughtful way about why the [other] opportunity was right for me at that time, and other qualitative aspects of the role — both short-term and long-term — that made more sense for me.”

Be Decisive

Don’t talk yourself out of declining! It’s hard to feel like you’re disappointing someone, even if you’re making the right choice for yourself. But if you’re too indirect when you decline out of fear of seeming “mean,” you risk giving the wrong impression.
“Give an explanation that sounds reasonable, and keep it brief,” Gasche says. “If you open it up to things that they could negotiate, they will. They might say, ‘Well, Mark, if that’s your concern, then we’ll give you more money, or we’ll give you more this.’ And then what do you do? Because if that was the problem and they just solved it, you should be accepting.”
Regardless, don't forget that giving a sincere but firm “thanks but no thanks” isn’t the same thing as being cold. If you want to keep things friendly (and you genuinely enjoyed making a new connection), Gasche suggests saying something like, “One of the bright spots in this whole process was getting to know you. I hope we can stay in touch.”
“That’s a graceful and positive exit," Gasche adds. "If that hiring manager ever goes somewhere else, they may even call you with a new opportunity. It’s the savvy job interviewer who keeps those relationships alive for another day.”

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