You’ve been offered a job—and with the unemployment rate these days, that’s a feat—so, why would you turn it down?
Well, there are a few reasons.
Take it from me. About a year ago, I received an offer for a position that was, in theory, a perfect fit for my skills and goals. Plus, the company would increase my salary by 25% and promised mentorship and travel. But something just didn’t feel right, and after a good deal of back and forth, I said no.
I was unemployed for another two months, but a better opportunity came along (with an even higher salary, to boot), and I haven’t regretted it a day since. When I asked my friends if anyone else had ever turned down a job offer, I was surprised to hear how many had made the difficult decision when they knew something just wasn’t right.
Of course, turning down a job offer is a privileged circumstance to have, and that decision as well as all of the following advice should be taken with a dose of reality that the perfect job—the one that fulfills every item on your wish list—rarely exists. That said, finding yourself in the wrong job can have a big impact on your long-term career and happiness, and it’s important to make sure you’re not missing out on what you’re really looking for just to have nailed down something.
Learn from my experience, and consider these reasons why turning down a job offer might make sense for you.
You need to care, to some degree, about what your company is hoping to achieve, but it’s easy to get too excited by any great-sounding job and overlook when an organization is not the best fit. It’s also easy to take the company’s mission statement at face value, without digging further. In fact, the job I turned down at first seemed perfectly aligned with the type of work I was hoping to do. But when I spoke with former employees, individuals at similar organizations, and mentors who work in the space, and when I compared its model to other organizations I trusted, I realized that it was not one I completely respected.
So, do your research beyond what you read on the company website—by talking to people who are familiar with the company, reading up on its current news, and browsing reviews on Glassdoor. Many conversations and further research helped me realize that I couldn’t work at 100% and be my best self if I didn’t believe in what I was working toward.
2. Lack of Growth
Every job you have should add to your resume—and not just in terms of taking up space. If you’re not going to have growth opportunities in terms of roles, knowledge, and new projects or responsibilities, it’s a fair reason to be hesitant about accepting the job.
Take an inventory of what you’re already great at and the skills you want to gain. Will this new job allow you to work on these skills, or do the things you already excel at in a new market or with bigger name clients and teams? Even if you’re looking at a horizontal job move, you should have the opportunity to take on more responsibilities or see a greater possibility of promotion. Remember: If you’re not growing, you’ll either get bored too quickly and not perform at your best, you’ll get too comfortable with what you know and passed up for promotion, or you’ll be looking for a new job again soon. Take a critical eye to the position description and talk to potential colleagues to see if it’ll really be a good fit for you.
3. Warning Signs
The hiring process is scattered, your potential manager is already emailing you on off-hours, or the potential colleagues you met were rude or inappropriate. These signs are easy to dismiss—hey, maybe it’s just a busy season—but they should actually be treated as red flags. Busy season or not, the way you are treated from the first day of communication in the hiring process is very telling as to how you will be treated as an employee.
I’m betting you want to be somewhere for at least a while, right? Look for a hiring process that includes thoughtful interview questions and e-mails, great interviews with multiple employees, and signs that the people who work there are happy, respected, and taken seriously. If you don’t see that, I’d definitely think twice.
It sounds like a small thing, but sometimes the timing on a job offer just isn’t right. A few of my friends turned down job offers to take that extended trip they’ve always dreamed about, or because they wanted to wait to see what other job offers would come through. Of course, sometimes the company wants an immediate answer, which forces you into a quick decision, but if they want you badly enough, they’ll wait. And if not? Could be another warning sign.
If you’ve been on the market for a while and unemployment is beginning to bring too many negative consequences in your life, it might be time to take that offer. But if you have many interviews and opportunities lined up, you can feel more secure in considering turning one down if the timing is just not right.
Of course, money certainly isn’t the ultimate factor of consideration. Many people are much happier in positions that are more personally fulfilling—whether that means better career growth or a more aligned mission—than they would be making more somewhere else.
That said, in a day and age where companies are constantly trying to do and get more for less, it’s important to make sure that any job you take is the right move financially. Several of my friends have turned down job offers because the salary couldn’t support them or their families. If this is the case—and if you’ve tried negotiating for a better package or more opportunities—it might make sense to look for, well, greener pastures.
What does turning down a job offer do to your career trajectory? Adam Poswolsky recently discussed the deceiving career ladder in the Washington Post, noting that: “20-somethings are still erringly being told to figure out their (single) calling, find the perfect first job in that field, and then maintain a linear career trajectory.” In fact, he writes: “There is no one way up, just a series of opportunities and mini-experiments that get you closer and closer to discovering what’s meaningful.” That might just mean turning down a just-OK job offer to look for something that’s a better fit for your goals, growth, and personal alignment.
If you do turn down an offer, here’s some advice for doing so gracefully.