person stepping out of rectangular opening in colored wall
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

When a recruiter emails and invites you to interview for a job, your split-second reaction can range from “YESSSSS” to “ugh.” The “YESSSSS” next steps are pretty straightforward: You respond, schedule it, prepare for it, and shine bright like a diamond. The “ugh” route is murkier. Because, honestly, the interview could be great practice. If you’re hesitant because you think you’re underqualified, or overqualified, or not that into it, or that the pay may not be quite right—why not Shonda Rhimes it, i.e. just say yes, and consider it prep for the “YESSSSS” interviews?

Time. Time is often the reason. You’re busy, we get it. But what do you say? Is there, possibly, a way to say not now...but leave the door open? Yes, reader, there is. And it’s pretty simple.

Here, we’ll unpack why it’s OK to decline an interview and not feel an ounce of guilt over it. Then we’ll help you pen your response email (with templates). Exhale. Let’s go:

When should you decline a job interview?

Answer: When you sense, deep in your gut, that it’s not the way. But if you want help putting words to your instincts—or calming yourself with a few additional reasons it’s really allowed—try these:

You’ve accepted another job offer.

Yep, you’re a hot commodity and hiring managers know it. Someone else got to you first, with a sweet offer you gladly accepted. But you haven’t shared *some personal news* on social yet, so other companies may still trickle into your inbox. Below, we’ll share a template that conveys your current status in a respectful way.

You’ve turned up too many deal breakers.

Could be that the recruiter goes months between emailing you, or you learn that employees are working around the clock. “If you've come across [multiple] red flags in the application or initial interview process, trust your gut and decline,” says Muse career coach Heather Yurovsky, founder of Shatter & Shine, whose coaching focuses on resumes and interview prep.

The org doesn’t align with your vision.

Muse career coach Yolanda Owens often has clients who hear back about a job they applied to months ago—when they were “applying to anything and everything”—but who’ve since started weeding out lower-priority opps. Perhaps you’ve realized you’re competitive for more senior-level roles, or you’ve otherwise pivoted your search, says Owens, founder of CareerSensei Consulting and a former recruiter. It may make sense to have a conversation to keep the door open, but if you’re gaining traction elsewhere, keep moving forward.

Your plans have changed.

Life happens, including in the time between submitting an application and hearing about an interview. Maybe you need to scale back to part-time work while caring for a sick parent or your partner got a new role and you’re suddenly moving across the country. If you’re excited about the position, you can move forward and see if there’s any flexibility to accommodate these circumstances, but otherwise it’s completely fair to opt out.

Your work situation has changed. 

Work happens, too, and an unexpected promotion or other organizational shift can change how eager you are to find a new job. If you’re beyond thrilled with the new path and can no longer imagine leaving—or want to focus all your energy on your new role—by all means, turn down that interview.

You can’t (or don’t want to) put in the time to prepare. 

If you’re not actively looking or you're considering an interview for a position you feel lukewarm about at best, it’s OK to say no, especially if “you feel you don’t have the bandwidth to prepare because you’re overextended at the moment,” says Muse career coach Emily Liou, founder of Cultivitae and a former recruiter with experience hiring at Fortune 500 companies and startups.

How should you decline a job interview?

Here’s your checklist:

  • Make sure you’re sure. You definitely don’t want this to be a practice round, right?
  • Aim to respond within a few days, so it looks like you’ve given this careful thought and consideration (even if you instantly thought, “Hell no”).
  • Start with gratitude. Thank them for thinking of you, etc.—you know what to do.
  • Keep your reasoning vague. “You’re happy in your current role,” kinda thing. Hey, if you end up furloughed tomorrow, you may want to circle back.
  • Suggest someone else. It’s a class act, and will certainly leave them—and the person you refer—with a positive impression of you. (P.S., It's not a bad idea to give that person a heads up.)

4 best templates for declining a job interview

Let’s get to the good stuff. Use these templates—which we’ve created with our coaches’ input—as a jumping-off point. Feel free to mix and match!

You’re declining because...you don’t want to do the interview.

Hi [Name],

Thank you so much for taking the time to review my application and inviting me to interview for the [position] role at [Organization]. However, I regretfully need to withdraw my application from this process at the moment.

Thank you again for your time and consideration and I hope we can stay connected.

All best,

[Your Name]

You’re declining because...you’ve accepted another job offer.

Hi [Name],

Thank you so much for reaching out! I’m grateful for the time and consideration you’ve given my application for the [position] role. However, I recently accepted an offer from another organization.

I wish you the best of luck filling this role and hope we can keep in touch. If anything changes in the future, I’ll certainly reach out in case the timing is right on both sides.

All best,

[Your Name]

You’re declining because...your situation has changed.

Hi [Name],

Thanks so much for reaching out with this kind invitation to interview for the [position] role at [Organization]. However, my circumstances have changed since I submitted my application and unfortunately, I need to respectfully decline this opportunity.

I would love to stay in touch and hope we’ll have another chance to work together down the line.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.

All best,

[Your Name]

You’re declining but...you want to refer someone else.

Hi [Name],

Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview for the [position] role at [Organization]. While [Organization] intrigues me because [a compelling reason based on their mission, product, or service], I’m not looking to make any career moves at this time.

However, my colleague [Colleague’s Name with link to LinkedIn profile] might be of interest. I highly recommend them from my previous experience and think they could be a great addition to the [Organization] team.

Best of luck—and I hope this isn’t the last time our paths will cross!

Thanks,

[Your Name]

You can also swap out that second paragraph with a couple of other options. For example, if you’d like to buy some time so you can give your colleague a heads up and/or see if the recruiter or hiring manager wants to take you up on a referral, you might say:

However, I’d be more than happy to recommend a colleague if you’re open to referrals.

Or if you’d rather leave it to your colleague to decide if they’re interested and want to reach out, you could say:

However, I may know somebody who is looking. Let me reach out and forward your email and they’ll get in touch if they’re interested.

You never know when you might be able to turn your no into someone else’s yes.