A loyal reader asked us to discuss our suggestions on how to politely turn down a job offer without completely shutting the door behind you.
I think the trick to refusing a job offer is being as honest and transparent throughout the whole process as possible. If you consistently express your deep interest for the position and then turn down the offer without a clear explanation, you are sure to cause frustration and confusion.
There are three possible reasons why you would refuse a job offer: your circumstances changed unexpectedly, you received a counteroffer or the offer did not match your expectations. If the latter is the reason despite the fact that you had clearly communicated your expectations during one of your interviews, the potential employer is likely to be understanding of your refusal to accept. Even though you might be disappointed, be courteous and thank the hiring manager for the opportunity. Be clear as to why the offer does not match your expectations in case there is some flexibility on the employer’s part.
It is also possible that your situation changed during the interview process. We have heard it all: husband follows his wife to another province because she is being relocated; significant raise and promotion; unexpected pregnancy; unparalleled offer elsewhere; family emergency, and so on. If this is the case, don’t wait until you receive the offer only to break the news to the company interested in you! Give the hiring manager a call (or at least send a detailed email) explaining the change in your circumstances, apologizing for the time that was given to you and thanking for the opportunity. Keep in mind that no one likes to be rejected, even in professional circumstances. The more detail and transparency you provide, the more you are likely to make a good impression and not sever all potential ties with the company in question.
I think another mistake candidates make is not being interested in the job from the get go (sometimes following the first interview or occasionally the second), yet not saying anything until they receive the offer. If the potential employer is located too far from your house, you know it after the first meeting, so why wait to let them know? If the job description ignites no passion in you or there is no chemistry whatsoever with your potential future boss, take yourself out of the running immediately. There is really no possibility of saving face and leaving a good impression if you turn down the offer when you could have communicated your lack of interest earlier in the process.
Accepting the offer only to refuse it later on for a counteroffer is a true faux pas professionally, but we will discuss that in a future post!