How to Turn Down a Job Offer Gracefully (+ Example Emails) [2020]

how to turn down a job offer

Turning down a job offer can be difficult for job seekers. It can cause a job seeker to question their career goals and motivators and feel uneasy about what the rejection will do for their relationship with the hiring manager and employer. The process for gracefully turning down a job offer is quite simple but takes clear and professional communication in order to execute.

Before a candidate decides to write a rejection letter or rejection email, they should consider the factors that are motivating the decision to turn down the job offer. Is the salary lower than expected, but the candidate didn’t engage in a salary negotiation? Is the company culture not what was expected? Some rejection factors like low salary can be handled with better communication as a candidate. But other factors may be irreparable and it’s time to write the rejection email to the company and hiring manager.

Good Reasons for Rejecting a Job Offer

Below are good reasons for rejecting a job offer:

For job seekers, these reasons don’t need to be outlined in the job rejection email or letter. Having internal reasoning behind the decision is enough to move forward with the rejection process and turning down the job offer.

Before Sending a Job Rejection Email

Before sending a job rejection, consider the place the job offer was made. Most commonly, a job offer will be made by email. Resulting in the candidate replying to the email with the job offer attached, and providing the job rejection.

If the job offer was made by phone, the candidate should set a phone conference to decline the hiring manager.

If replying to an email job offer, always reply directly to the original email, in an "email thread." Avoid writing a brand new email to the hiring manager.

The main reason to avoid writing a new email to the hiring manager is that the original job offer is not part of the email thread, resulting in a potential miscommunication with the hiring manager.

Send a Rejection Email and Turn Down the Offer

Job seekers should send a rejection email as soon as they feel comfortable with their decision to rescind their potential employment. This could be after the first interview in the interview process. Or after receiving the job offer. It’s important to communicate with the hiring manager, HR manager, or recruiter of the desire to withdraw.

Whether it’s after receiving an offer letter or after having the first phone interview, within any part of the hiring process it’s polite and respectful to communicate the decision to move forward with another potential employer.

Tip: A job candidate should still want the recruiter or hiring manager to feel as though the candidate is a “good fit” for the role even after rejecting the job offer letter or rejecting the job after a job interview. This is the ideal outcome for the potential employee as they could come back to the offer from the prospective employer at a later date and start discussions once more.

The only step that truly needs to be taken by a job seeker in order to turn down the offer is to send back a formal email indicating that they’d like to withdraw.

Sample Email Turning Down a Job Offer

Below is a sample email or sample letter rejecting a job offer. It is more common for the rejection process to take place by email rather than writing a formal letter and mailing it to the employer or human resource department.

Dear John —

I wanted to email you to express my desire to rescind and withdraw my potential employment. This was a difficult decision but I have decided that it is very early in the process for me and while it was wonderful to be able to receive a job offer so quickly (from a company that is clearly my dream job), I’d like to wait on deciding what my new job should be for a few weeks. I’d like to stay in the job hunting mode for now.

I wish the team continued success with their work, clearly, they are onto some groundbreaking revelations that will be impactful to the company and the industry.

I hope we can stay in touch and revisit this or another opportunity down the road if it presents itself.

Sincerely,
Richard

Another option is to try and "soft decline" the job offer. This informs the hiring manager that the candidate would accept the job offer if the conditions were able to be altered. In a sense, this acts as a type of negotiation strategy or "counteroffer."

"Soft Decline" of the Job Offer Email Sample

Below is a sample of providing a "soft decline" of the job offer to see if the hiring manager will make changes to the original offer.

Dear John —

I'm very humbled by this opportunity. I want to take this opportunity to tell you that I appreciated spending time with the team, learning about each one of the engineers, and learning about the objectives for both the business and the team this year.

I had the opportunity to read through the original job offer and I noticed there are some terms of the job that make it less flexible than I was hoping. Primarily, the vacation day policy. My family leaves for a big trip each year, heading to Sweden to visit family. It's part of reconnecting with our ancestry.

I was curious if we were able to alter the terms of the vacation policy for this employment agreement? If not, I don't think I'll be able to accept this offer as my family relies on this trip each year to fulfill their happiness.

Thanks so much,
Richard

Another common scenario for a job seeker is not feeling like the job is the "right job" for them. When receiving the job offer, the reply becomes less about providing a "decline" to the job offer but more about providing an "I'm not sure" response to the hiring manager.

"Wanting to Know More" Job Offer Decline Sample Email

Use the following email sample when "unsure" about the job offer. This email encourages the hiring manager to get on the phone and provide more insights into the job requirements and expectations—assisting the job seeker in making an informed decision.

Dear John —

I'm very humbled by this opportunity. I want to take this opportunity to tell you that I appreciated spending time with the team, learning about each one of the engineers, and learning about the objectives for both the business and the team this year.

I had the opportunity to read through the original job offer and take time with myself to ensure I'm making the right decision. There are aspects of the job that I'm unsure of. For example, it's not entirely clear how much my technical skills are going to bring value to the role. I have some outstanding questions that are preventing me from signing the employment agreement.

Is there any opportunity to jump on the phone to answer a few questions before I sign the job offer? I'd love to make sure that there's a mutual fit here before proceeding and potentially introducing a retention issue in the business.

Thanks so much,
Richard

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Below are common mistakes job seekers should avoid when turning down a job offer.

Turning down the company, not the job.

When turning down a job offer, it's important to remember to turn down the job, not the company. In certain circumstances, an employer might ask if the candidate wants to apply or interview for another position or job title if they were displeased with the one they interviewed for.

It's important to mention the reasons for turning down the job title and even going as far as to ask the employer if there's another job available within the company.

Not providing a good reason for turning down the job.

It's important to provide carefully considered reasons for the employer. If the candidate doesn't inform the employer about what the reason was for turning down the job offer, the employer has no potential to respond to the candidate and try to resolve the situation.

For example, if a candidate turns down a job due to low salary, but fails to inform the hiring manager or potential employer—there's no opportunity for the employer to respond in kind, and potentially increase the salary in the job offer or find alternative benefits for the job seeker.

Not wanting to stay in touch.

A job offer is always an opportunity. It's best to stay professional, even when feeling let down. Even though the job offer wasn't the best fit—stay in touch with the employer. Ask how to be a resource. And ensure that there's a healthy professional relationship staying connected.

Over 55% of jobs are filled through a "professional network," meaning a job seeker should take every relationship they come across as a potential opportunity to advance themselves for the future.

Sounding arrogant.

Turning down a job offer feels empowering. It's human nature to have some type of strong feeling toward denying someone else. Avoid this emotion. It's best to be sincere and heartfelt in the decline of the job offer. This keeps the professional relationship intact and shows the employer that there's mutual respect.

Susan Steinbrecher provides some insightful ways to consider gut-checking arrogance when communicating with a colleague or potential colleague about a negative topic. Susan goes on to say, "confidence levels can plummet. Acknowledge their positive qualities and contributions. A warm, respectful tone will set the mood for a productive discussion, ideally providing a sense of comfort and collaboration."

Following-up with everyone who interviewed the candidate.

When turning down a job offer, don't email every interviewer and hiring manager that the candidate spoke with. Avoid emailing multiple people in the company, informing them of the decision to decline the job offer. By doing this, it makes the other employees feel "not good enough." And can significantly hurt company morale in certain circumstances.

The best course of action is to decline the job offer and move on professionally.

Bad mouthing the company or a professional

In some cases, when a job offer is declined, it's due to a poor connection with other employees. And it can feel compelling to sound those alarms. For example, saying, "I would really love to be with this company. But I could not see myself working with Jim. When I met him, his tone of voice toward me was rude. And I don't feel comfortable around him. Because of this, I can't see myself accepting this job offer."

Avoid competing job offers

It's best not to try and turn down the job offer to see if the company will move forward an inch more. This is "playing games" and the employer and hiring manager will not appreciate it. A professional should accept a job offer they're happy with, comfortable with, and feel confident they have passion for the role.

When there is more than a single job offer on the table, don't use this as an opportunity to encourage the hiring manager to increase salary, benefits, job flexibility, or other aspects of the role.

Having poor email communication

If unable to get the hiring manager on the phone or have a face-to-face meeting, write an email. But keep the email professional, warm, polite, and respectful. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has some useful insights on writing an effective email. Saying, "Think about your message before you write it. Don’t send email in haste. First, decide on the purpose of your message and what outcome you expect from your communication. Then think about your message’s audience and what they may need in order for your message to have the intended result. You will also improve the clarity of your message if you organize your thoughts before you start writing. Jot down some notes about what information you need to convey, what questions you have, etc., then organize your thoughts in a logical sequence. You can try brainstorming techniques like mapping, listing, or outlining to help you organize your thoughts."

Additional Resources

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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