How to Turn Down a Job From an Executive

by Ralph Heibutzki

One of the trickiest situations that any applicant faces is deciding how to gracefully turn down a job offer. All offers aren't created equal, but how you decline them will define your professional reputation. Whatever your reasons, honesty and tact are essential for staying on good terms with a high-level decision-maker, whose own relationships may come in handy for the next search. Ignoring these unwritten rules, on the other hand, could permanently cripple your career momentum.

Be Honest

Hiring managers won't take it personally if you honestly explain why an offer seems unsuitable, according to Ginny Clarke, a career writer interviewed for The Ladders website. Integrity is more important than loyalty in this situation. Call the hiring manager promptly, and give specific reasons for your decision. If salary is the issue, make sure that the difference is at least $10,000, Clarke says. Then, give a secondary explanation, whether it's the hours, opportunities for growth, or working conditions.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Choose your words carefully, especially in weighing multiple offers. For example, you may have a second offer that sounds more appealing than the first one you've gotten. If you feel stuck, ''U.S. News & World Report'' career columnist Alison Green suggests that you ask how long the first employer will wait. Next, call the second company back, and explain your situation. If an employer really wants you, he'll do whatever it takes to expedite his decision-making process.

Keep It Polite and Professional

Always keep your responses polite and professional because you never know when you'll cross paths with that particular hiring manager again. If the job isn't for you, call back right away, so the decision-maker isn't left hanging, advises the WetFeet website. Never reject offers by email, which most recruiters consider impersonal. If you've taken a better offer, you're not obligated to say where you're going. A brief rundown of your reasoning is sufficient.

Make a Logical Case

Learning how to finesse an offer is also important at a current job, where your boss may offer a promotion that doesn't fit your career progression. To soften the blow, make a logical case for why the promotion won't work out, states "Forbes" magazine. For example, you might suggest the importance of learning new skills first. If you're feeling more ambitious, bring up opportunities that fit your skills better. A good boss will appreciate your honesty, even if he's disappointed with your decision.

Other Considerations

Actions have consequences. Never try to leverage a better offer by interviewing for a job that you don't intend to accept, Clarke states. Word could get around in your industry, and torpedo future opportunities. The other sticky scenario is turning down an offer that you verbally accepted. Just say that you've encountered circumstances that make it impossible to accept. Your relationship with that particular employer is already damaged, so it's better to move on, without going into details.

About the Author

Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.

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