Dear Career Coach,
I have a job offer on the table, but I don’t think I want to take it. Here’s the problem: Somebody I know gave me an “in” at this company, and I’m worried that turning down the job would hurt that person’s feelings. How can you professionally reject a job offer when someone stuck his or her neck out for you?
Dear Feeling Ungrateful,
First of all, congratulations on landing the job! The fact that it was through a personal referral says a lot about you and how your friend values your bond. From here, honest communication will strengthen your relationship—even while turning down the opportunity.
Here are three steps to follow when rejecting the job (without hurting anyone’s feelings):
1. Be Honest and Consistent
Let your contact know about your decision at the same time that you contact the employer who made the job offer. You want to avoid surprising either of them. Control your message.
You also need to maintain your integrity and share the same explanation with your friend as you share with the hiring manager. Co-workers and boss-employee teams will talk. Different explanations will reflect poorly on your character.
2. Be Gracious
When turning down the offer, start by expressing your appreciation to that employer and then give one or two reasons for your rejection.
For example, you might say, “Thank you for the offer, but this job is not the right fit for me because….” and then detail your reasoning. Whatever the reason, first share your gratitude for their consideration.
When it comes to the contact who referred you, you also need to thank him or her for the recommendation. Send a small gift, pay for lunch, or invite him or her out for dinner—whatever is appropriate. Make an extra effort to show your gratitude, since that contact has made an extra effort on your behalf.
3. Keep Consistent and Be Professional
Remember, consistency’s key. When you see your friend again, stick with the same reasons that you stated before. Do not feel pressured to elaborate. In the end, no good will come out of diving into the dirty details about why you turned down a position.
You also need to avoid speaking negatively about the company or making your friend feel poorly about his or her own position or salary. Do not editorialize or defend your decision with comments like, “I can’t believe you thought I was a good match for those skills!” or, “Your company has terrible pay and benefits—how can you stay there?”
Finally, do not make a habit of turning down offers, nor sharing that information with other professional acquaintances. If you tell others, “I turned down a job there,” you run the risk of alienating other contacts.
Nobody wants to go out on a limb for a friend who develops a habit of saying “no” at the last possible moment. Finding the right candidate for any job is a time-consuming, expensive process and should be treated with respect.
With that said, you’re of course entitled to turn down an opportunity that isn’t the right fit for you. However, it’s important that you follow these steps to do so in a way that’s polite, professional, and doesn’t hurt your relationship.
This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Credible Career Coach in the subject line.
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