Most top candidates will at some point experience having to turn down a great job offer—but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a hard conversation to have. In an ideal world, interviewing for a role can help build your network—even if you end up turning down the offer—so follow these best practices to avoid burning bridges if you decide the role isn’t for you.
Recruiters and hiring managers are used to receiving rejections, so don’t overthink how you go about it. Unless there’s a circumstance you feel really deserves explaining, keep it short and simple to avoid digging yourself an unnecessary hole.
If you have any friends or colleagues who might also be a good fit for the role, it can’t hurt to offer an introduction to them. Since you’ve already received an offer, your referral will come highly valued as you have more insights into the role and skillset(s) required than the average referrer—and you’ll make the recruiter’s job easier by widening their talent pool through your own network.
While it can be tempting to circumvent an awkward direct rejection, both parties will be better off if you tell the truth about why there isn’t a fit: You’ll avoid feeling guilty about a white lie and the company will be better able to target the right person for the role. If there was a specific element of the job or company that didn’t resonate, consider letting them know—the more you can help them to make the recruiting process smoother, the more you’ll be able to preserve the relationships you’ve built.
Sure, you probably won’t become best friends with the recruiter or hiring manager from the company you’re turning down, but it doesn’t hurt to add them on LinkedIn and reach out in the future if you find yourself looking for a new role. Particularly for recruiters, having an expansive network of quality candidates never hurts.
If you’re worried about telling the company you won’t be accepting their offer, it can be tempting to push out the conversation (or email) for a few weeks while you think about how to best break the news—but this strategy won’t do anyone any favors. If you’re sure about your decision, let the company know as soon as possible so that their search isn’t unnecessarily put on hold. At the same time, getting it out of the way means you won’t have to stress over the pending conversation.
Glossing over the real reason you’re rejecting an offer might be easier (saying, for example, that the salary offer is too low when it’s really a cultural mismatch), but won’t do the company any favors—and therefore won’t win you any brownie points when it comes to your longer-term relationship with your interviewer(s). To be sure, it might be uncomfortable to tell someone that you don’t think their cultural values mesh with your own, but knowing what caused you to walk away can help the team to find the right fit.
While providing the company valuable insights on your reasoning can be a good idea, it’s a tricky balance not to overshare. Hiring managers are generally happy enough with a polite and brief rejection, so don’t feel you need to share your life story and every reason behind your ultimate decision.
Lastly, if you’re thinking about turning down an offer because you have another for higher pay or better benefits, consider approaching the company to see if they have any flexibility to make you a better offer. Recruiting a candidate in itself consumes a significant amount of resources, so you might be surprised how much flexibility the company has when it comes to negotiating a more attractive package.