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How to politely decline a job offer

Published April 17, 2024| minute read
Dhara Singh

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    For many job seekers, the feeling of finally getting an offer letter may feel exhilarating and provide a sense of much needed relief. But what should you do if you want to reject a job offer for whatever reason? It may feel awkward to turn down a job offer after undergoing multiple rounds of interviews, but there are a range of reasons you might need or want to.

    "Nearly 90 percent of candidates said they have exited a hiring process due to at least one mismatch in employee value proposition preferences," Jamie Kohn, senior research director at Gartner’s HR practice, said in a conversation with The Society for Human Resources Management. "This includes compensation and benefits, but also things like flexibility in working hours, career pathing, skills development, team diversity and management style."

    There are many reasons you might want to decline a job offer. These include:

    • The salary being offered isn’t sufficient for you
    • The location of the job doesn’t work for you
    • The job doesn’t offer enough flexibility for your needs
    • The benefit package of the job isn’t sufficient for you
    • The job doesn’t offer enough vacation time for your needs
    • You got a sense during the interview process, that the role isn’t the right fit for you
    • You got a sense during the interview process, that the company culture isn’t the right fit for you
    • You got a competing job offer that you feel is a better fit
    • You don’t believe the role offers growth potential

    If you find yourself in one of these scenarios, or a different one that is leading you to want to decline a job offer, here’s how you may want to handle it.

    How to decline a job offer because of salary

    Sometimes, a job offer will feel like a match in terms of team culture, responsibilities, and even work-life balance. However, the one sticking point stopping you from accepting an offer is that the salary offered to you isn’t in your target range.

    If you’d like, after you receive an official offer, you can try negotiating the offer after doing your due diligence in terms of what you believe the role should pay, the cost of living in your location, and the unique value you bring to the role.

    However, even after an attempt at a salary negotiation, you may find that the company can’t meet your salary expectations, and because of that you may decide to decline the role.

    To do this politely, you’ll likely want to let the hiring manager know respectfully, either through email or a phone call, that you’ll be declining the job offer. Many employment experts believe that it’s perfectly acceptable to communicate the reason you’re declining the offer. In this case, it’s because you can’t make the salary work for you.

    Dr. Amantha Imber wrote in Harvard Business Review: “It’s essential to provide a clear reason for your decision, while ensuring that your explanation is not perceived as harsh or overly critical of the employer. The clarity in your reason helps the employer understand your perspective and can even provide them with valuable feedback for future reference.”

    Since you never know if the company will end up having another role that fits your salary expectations, it may be wise to show your gratitude for the offer and express your interest in keeping in touch with the hiring manager.

    How to decline a job offer because of a competing offer

    If you receive a better competing job offer and need to decline another job offer, there are a few routes you can take. You can decide to use that better competing offer to negotiate the initial offer, or you may decide that the competing offer is the role you want to take and decide not to negotiate.

    To decline one of the job offers politely due to a better competing offer, thank the employer for their offer and explain (without too much detail) that you’ve accepted another position that’s a better fit. It’s courteous to mention the time and effort the company invested in you and to express hope for future interactions. Keeping the tone positive may help to ensure that the relationship with the company remains amicable.

    How to decline a job offer you’ve already accepted

    If you’ve already accepted a job offer and then find yourself in a position where you want to decline the offer (say, another better offer comes around after you accepted the initial offer or you decide to stay in your current job) you may decide to decline a job offer that you’ve already accepted.

    There are a few approaches to consider if you decide you ultimately want to do this. You may choose to provide an honest reason why you’re declining the offer. You may also choose to consider a softer approach and provide a vague explanation for why the position is no longer tenable for you (like blaming extenuating personal circumstances). It’s not considered great etiquette to decline a job offer you’ve already accepted, so no matter what you do make sure to tread delicately.

    As with any other scenario where you may have to decline a role, you want to be polite and respectful of the time the hiring team invested in you. And above all else, if you want to decline a job offer after you’ve already accepted, don’t wait too long to do it.

    How to write an email declining a job offer

    While there isn’t one golden email template for declining a job offer, here are a few elements you may want to consider including:

    • Express gratitude for the opportunity
    • Provide your rationale for declining a role (make this brief and be delicate!)
    • Keep the lines of communication open by expressing that you want to stay in contact and be considered for future opportunities should there be a better fit down the road

    A few more tips for writing this email:

    • You’ll want to make sure you don’t wait too long and don’t keep the hiring manager in the dark about your decision
    • Keep the length of the email to a couple sentences
    • Include your phone number and other contact details if you do want to stay in touch

    How to decline a job offer over the phone

    If you choose to let a hiring manager know over the phone about your decision to decline a job offer, here are a few tips to consider:

    • Have notes prepared so you stay on message
    • Express your gratitude for the job offer
    • Express your reasoning for why you’re declining the offer
    • Share your desire to remain connected to the hiring manager

    Final thoughts

    The ability to turn down a job offer politely will help you to avoid burning professional bridges. At the end of the day, if you find yourself in an uncomfortable scenario where you must turn down a job offer, know that it’s a part of the process. Just like hiring managers are looking for the best candidates, you’re the engineer of your career and need to seek out roles that meet your personal and professional ambitions. Doing this may involve turning down job offers along the way.