How You Decline A Job Offer Matters Too

Maybe you did your homework, identified organizations that are strong matches, and have even been offered a job. But maybe you have been offered more than one job. What do you do?

Over the last few months, I have noticed more students coming in to ask about declining a job offer. While the bulk of your energy should be spent on identifying opportunities that are solid matches and then finding ways to connect with those organizations, it is helpful to learn and think about these possible situations in case you encounter them.

When I have sat on hiring committees or even interviewed students for our internship program, we haven’t always been able to hire our #1 candidate. A few times, the candidate that we wanted to hire didn’t work out. It usually went one of two ways. After declining our offer the candidate either left us feeling like they were the “one that got away” or that maybe we got lucky in not being able to secure their services.

How am I coming to these determinations?

It’s quite simple. The main reason why an organization makes you an offer is because you sold yourself via your resume/cover letter and your interview. I’ve had a few interviews with candidates who told me that they definitely were committed to the career counseling field but when we made them an offer, I was told that they were going in a completely different direction. While I appreciated that they were doing what was right for them, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had a true impression of who this candidate was.

If I was to see this candidate in another realm, I would be hesitant to hire them based on trust issues.

These are a few simple tips to make sure that when you decline a job offer, you leave an employer feeling like you were the “one that got away.”

Be prompt:

Your prompt response helps an organization by giving them more time to recalibrate.

Some of you may feel some anxiety when you turn down an organization that offers you a job. I know that not many of us like to say “no” to others; however, in this case you are actually helping the organization.

Once you receive the formal offer and have decided to move in a different direction, let the employer know that you will not be accepting the offer. Most professionals suggest that you let the employer know immediately if it is via the telephone and follow up in writing as well. I have included a few sample letters that decline job offers here and here.

Often times, the employer will have a few top candidates as alternatives. On rare occasions, you may be the “superstar” candidate and the organization may have to start the process over because there were no other viable candidates. Either way, by notifying the employer early on, you allow them to extend an offer to their next best candidate ASAP.

Be courteous

Be aware that the HR department, hiring manager, and staff may come into contact with you in some fashion in the future.

You will find that as you get more entrenched in your field, your circle of contacts will tighten. The way that you handle declining a job offer can color the way that you are perceived by professionals.

I would suggest starting all communication by thanking the individual and the organization for their time and for the opportunity to learn more about the position. While you may have disliked aspects of the job, pay, etc. keep that to yourself and focus on the aspects of the organization that you did like (mission, values, etc.). Let the organization know that while it was challenging to come to your decision, you have opted to go in a different direction.

Be professional

Handle yourself  professionally throughout the process so that you are still seen as some one who should be hired in the future.

A couple things to keep your communication professional are:

  • Keep all of your correspondence error free and well written.
  • Remember that networking is a key aspect of the job search. Keep the lines of communication open. You can do this by suggesting that there may be a time in the future where it may be plausible to work together.
  • Consider following the organization on LinkedIn or following some of the key staff on Twitter.


Joe is a career counselor at San Jose State University. His areas of specialization include: experiential education, resume development, interview preparation, job search strategy, and assessment inventories. In his role, he also serves as the community manager for the Career Center’s social media outlets. Connect with Joe on Twitter or follow samplings of his work via the SJSU Career Center Blog and Career Action Now.

Related posts:

  1. Declining An Employment Offer
  2. Job Offer Received…Now What?
  3. Five Keys to Consistency and Commitment After the Job Offer

One Response to “How You Decline A Job Offer Matters Too”

  1. avatar Campusdiva says:

    Great points all! Thanks for this post, your right, it’s all about respect on both sides!

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  • Dan Schawbel

    Dan Schawbel, the founder of the Student Branding Blog, is a world renowned personal branding expert, the international bestselling author of Me 2.0, as well as the publisher of the Personal Branding Blog.

  • Connect With Dan

  • Chelsea Rice

    Chelsea Rice is the editor-in-chief of the Student Branding Blog. She began her work for just before graduating from Boston University, where she studied journalism and minored in international relations.

  • Connect With Chelsea

  • Recognition

    • Recommended resource - The Washington Post
    • "A terrific way for students to learn about branding" - Lindsey Pollak
    • "Worth checking out" - Psychology Today
    • HR World's top 100 management blogs