How to turn down a job offer

How to turn down a job offer
Ian Berry/CNN

It’s a nice feeling to get multiple job offers and be able to choose the best possible opportunity. But how you turn down potential employers is also important for your career.

“You don’t want to burn any bridges, the world is really small,” said Karen Delk, CEO of Davis Delk Consulting, an executive coaching and career development company. “You want to have that professional image and courtesy, and to project you know how to have difficult conversations when declining an offer, but also trying to maintain a relationship.”

Here’s how to say “no” to a potential employer.

Actually do it

You’ve worked hard to get that job offer, so don’t negate your hard work by failing to respond to an offer you decide you don’t want.

“Leave a good impression and end on a high note,” said Jodi Glickman, CEO of Great on the Job. “Why risk hurting your reputation or brand in the process in the 11th hour by not engaging in a way that is professional?”

And if possible, have the conversation on the phone, not over email.

“Do it live,” said Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.” “It will have a much stronger impact no matter how uncomfortable you may feel.”

Show appreciation

By the time an offer comes around, it’s likely there’s been a lot of time spent on interviews, emails and phone conversations from both parties, and experts said it’s important to be grateful for an offer — even ones you don’t accept.

“Overall, the goal is to show gratitude and appreciation for the offer,” said Glickman. “You want to show that you really considered this offer and that you take it seriously.”

She suggested saying something like: “Thank you so much for the offer, I really appreciate it and was excited to get it,” or “I’ve been very interested in the company and it was a great process to go through.”

“People don’t want to feel like it was just a throwaway and didn’t mean anything to you or you weren’t serious about it.”

…And give an explanation

You also want to be transparent with your rejection, but how much you divulge is up to you.

“Have a legitimate reason why you are declining the position that is being offered,” said Cohen, whether it’s not enough money, responsibilities or leadership potential. “Never insult the individual who extended the offer by just talking about how mediocre the opportunity was.”

If you plan to accept a different offer, a more general explanation could be something like: “I’ve decided to move in another direction,” said Glickman.

If you want to be a little more specific, you can still keep it general. For example: “I’ve decided to go to another firm with a bigger footprint in this market or a niche focus on this product,” or say that you wanted to focus more on marketing versus branding, she suggested.

If the reason was the offer didn’t meet your salary requirements, Delk suggested keeping the explanation short, like: You were looking for a certain salary to support yourself and your family, if applicable, but that you still appreciate the offer.

If the role lacked career progression, Cohen suggested saying something like: “I love the company, and it would be great to work for you, but in terms of the scope of the role, it’s not what I was viewing as the next step. I am looking for broader leadership responsibility.”

Create a networking opportunity

This particular offer might not be the right move for you. But maybe another job will pop up down the road at the company, so stay in touch with the hiring manager and the people you met with during the interview process, recommended Cohen.

“When you decline an offer, it can be a bonding opportunity,” he said.

He suggested connecting on LinkedIn and reiterating your appreciation for the offer and how much you liked getting to know the people and the company and that you hope to continue to stay in touch.

When they don’t take no for an answer

There is a chance that the company will try to sweeten its offer to get you to accept.

If this happens and you are firm in your decision, Delk recommended being straightforward. For instance: “Thank you, I am flattered you are trying to retain me, but this other offer has everything that I am looking for in terms of short- and long-term opportunities,” she said.

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