A client turned down an offer a few years ago at one of Silicon Valley’s favorite employers, only to get recruited and accept a better position at that same company recently. Saying “no” the right way prevented her from burning bridges and led to a great opportunity.
If you’ve been lucky enough to get a job offer, you may have good reasons to decline, and if you have multiple offers in front of you, you have no choice but to turn down some in order to accept the one you really want.
The way you deliver that message has consequences for your career, if only because you may well run across these people again. If you’re in the same field, your paths are likely to cross.
It’s worth preserving all the good will you can, and it’s worth keeping your options open by handling the situation in the best way possible. Let them remember you as the true professional.
Don’t Do Nothing
If you’ve been through one of the all-too-typical hiring routines in which your resume falls into a black hole, never to be acknowledged, you may be tempted to adopt the same approach. Turn-about is fair play, after all, and revenge would be sweet.
Don’t stoop to that level. Consider yourself the grown-up in the room, and do the right thing by responding like a professional. It’s not just right, it serves your own interests.
Make it Personal
Saying no is hard for many people and declining an offer can be uncomfortable. You may be tempted to handle the whole
thing in writing, but don’t leave it at that.
Confirm your decision in writing, by all means. It makes things official. It’s your formal answer, but pick up the phone first. Call the person who was most involved in your candidacy, and break the news with a more personal touch. It’s the adult, responsible, professional, and human thing to do, and it will be appreciated.
First of all, let them know that you’re grateful for the chance and that you appreciate the offer. Thank them for their time and effort. Find something good to say about the organization.
If you’re asked for reasons, keep it simple. The position didn’t quite fit the direction you want to take. Another offer was preferable. Feel free to keep it vague or, if pressed, to be less than fully honest, but don’t tip over into saying negative things about the people or the organization.
You’ve Changed Your Mind?
The worst of all possible worlds here is the one in which you decide to decline after you’ve accepted the offer. This won’t make anyone happy, and there’s no magical approach that leaves everyone happy.
You should expect the bridges behind you to be burned rather thoroughly. Still, try to make the best of things. Take the same positive, professional, and personal steps. Your credibility is damaged, so it’s best not to delve too deeply into explanations. Your best bet may be to attribute the decision to some unavoidable change in your individual circumstances, leaving it vague and knowing full well that your change of heart hasn’t made you any friends.
The goal throughout is to leave the people you’ve dealt with feeling that you’re the one that got away, the one they’d be happy to hire if they got another chance.
If you can manage that, you’ll have extended your professional network and you’ll have made yourself a candidate for future opportunities. Behaving professionally is an end unto itself, but even for the most Machiavellian among us, a graceful “No” is worth the effort.
We can help you create the right documents and present your best self in order to get those job offers rolling in with a variety of resume, cover letter, and coaching packages.