AMY LINDGREN: Saying No Gracefully (Turning down a job offer)
Saying “yes” to a job offer is a lot of fun. There’s the excitement you feel as a candidate who is about to land, the relief you sense from the manager who will soon have a new team member, the overall thrill of seeing your name on a new paycheck…not to mention the simple happiness that comes from feeling important to a new employer.
If you’ve received an offer of employment lately, you may also know that these peppy feelings are usually countered by a shadowy underside – the what-ifs and second-guessing that accompany any major decision. For most job seekers, there’s at least a momentary struggle – if not an all out mental skirmish – in balancing the concerns about the new job against the natural impulse to say yes.
Over the years, advisors have come up with a lot of tools and processes to help clarify difficult decisions. You can weigh the pluses and minuses, for example, or create a T graph to compare your criteria against components of the position. Or you can go with a self-discussion that asks, “What’s the worst that could happen?” followed by, “How likely is that?” and “What could I do if that did happen?”
On the other hand, if your finances are dire and the job would produce a paycheck quickly, there may be no need for deep thinking. A simple “When can I start?” might suffice.
That said, however, desperate things may feel, every active job seeker eventually receives an offer that just doesn’t fit. It may be for easily-defined reasons, such as a low salary or distant commute, or it could be for something more amorphous, such as the sense that the work wouldn’t be as fulfilling as it first looked.
Assuming that you’ve already tried to negotiate the sticking points (or ruled out negotiation as a solution), there may be little recourse but to decline the offer. The question now is how to do it. Having been on both sides of this situation, I’ve come to appreciate that certain unspoken rules of business etiquette can provide helpful guidance to ease any awkwardness involved. Here are five such guidelines.
1. Be timely. It’s standard practice to request a few days or even a week to consider an offer, but going much beyond that timeframe starts to look unprofessional – and unhelpful. Remember that if you say no, the employer will need to vet a new candidate.
2. Put it in writing. A short, warm email allows you to wordsmith a bit. The printed word also serves you well in the file that the employer may be keeping related to this hiring process.
3. Express appropriate emotions. Simply writing, “I’ve considered the offer and find I must turn it down” is certainly clear. But is it kind? Humble? Personal? Know this: Employers sweat over deciding who to invite onto their team. The least you can do is express gratitude, as well as goodwill for their continued success.
4. Don’t over-explain. A short explanation provides important feedback to the employer. But going on about the details doesn’t reflect well on you. So, “I’ve realized that the travel aspect of the position won’t work for me after all” is much better than “With our children’s sports schedules and our other commitments…” or any other “reason for the reason” type of explanation.
5. State your interest in future opportunities. Unless you’ve ruled this company out altogether, it just makes sense to note that you’d welcome future conversations about positions that might be a better fit.
What if you haven’t received an offer, but find you’re having second thoughts about even interviewing for a position you’ve applied for? The simplest course is to do nothing until you’re invited for an interview. If you’re not called, there’s no need for further action.
But once there’s a date set, you’ll have to decide whether it’s better to go or to cancel. Reasons to go include meeting more people in your field, becoming known as a potential fit for other positions, testing your assumptions about the job, etc. Reasons to cancel range from the argument about wasting everyone’s time to a simple certainty that this is not an organization you want to work for after all.
In most cases, I lean toward going rather than canceling, but I can often be persuaded otherwise. If your choice in this scenario is to withdraw from consideration, just modify the steps above and inform the scheduler as soon as possible so they can give the slot to another candidate. Then give yourself a pat on the back before continuing your search. After all, it is good to be wanted.
Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.