When a recruiter emails and invites you to interview for a job, your split-second reaction can range from “YAY” to “ugh.” In the event of a YAY, next steps are pretty straightforward: You respond, schedule it, prepare for it, and shine bright like a diamond. The “ugh” route is murkier. 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, it’s still good practice for future interviews where you are excited.
It’s just that…time. Time is often the reason. You’re busy, we get it. But what do you say? Is there a way to say not now, but leave the door open? Yep, there is. And it’s pretty simple.
Here, we’ll unpack when and why it’s OK to decline an interview and not feel any guilt over it. Then we’ll help you pen your response email (with templates). Exhale. Let’s go:
Is it unprofessional to decline a job interview?
I’ll elaborate: An invite is an invite. Just like the wedding invitation for your second cousin’s nuptials in New Zealand, you can decline. As long as you’re polite and professional, they won’t take it personally. (As for your second cousin, no comment—we’ve seen it all.)
And really, which is less professional: An email with a slightly longer version of “No, thank you”? Or wasting a recruiter’s time by attending an interview that your heart isn’t in?
When should you decline a job interview?
When you sense, deep in your gut, that it’s not the way. But if you want help putting words to your feelings—or calming yourself with some extra reasons why you really can turn down that interview—consider these:
1. You’ve accepted another job offer.
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 Twitter/Threads yet, so other companies may still trickle through your inbox. Below, we’ll share a template that conveys your current status in a respectful way.
2. You’ve uncovered enough deal breakers.
Could be that the recruiter goes months between emailing you, or you learn that most employees are working impossibly long hours. “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.
3. You've narrowed in on what you want next.
Yolanda Owens, Muse career coach and founder of CareerSensei Consulting, 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. It may make sense to have a conversation to keep the door open, but if you’re gaining traction elsewhere, keep moving forward.
4. Your life plans changed.
Time never stops, 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 now you’re moving across the country. If you’re excited about the position you’re being invited to interview for, you can see if there’s any flexibility to accommodate your new circumstances—otherwise, it’s completely fair to opt out.
5. Your work plans changed.
Imagine, for a moment, that your boss actually came through for you. An exciting promotion or getting grunt work off your plate can recalibrate how eager you are to find a new job. If you’re beyond thrilled with your new path and can no longer imagine leaving, or want to put your energy into your current responsibilities, by all means, turn down that interview.
6. 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 where 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:
1. Make sure you’re sure.
Without a good reason, this is likely a “no take backs” situation. Consider your reasons for no longer wanting the job and be sure they’re legit. And ask yourself if there’s any reason to interview anyway. You definitely don’t want this to be a practice round, right?
2. Reply promptly, within reason.
Keeping the company waiting too long (as in, more than 48 hours) could move you into “unprofessional” territory, since they’ll want to know ASAP if you need to fit into their schedules or if they need to reach out to other applicants. 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”).
3. Start with gratitude.
Even if you don’t want to work there, it’s still nice that this person recognized how awesome you are, right? Start off your email positively and graciously with something like, “Thank you so much for thinking of me. Since I sent in my application…”
4. Keep your reasoning vague.
No need to go quote their anonymous reviews or make them read through all the reasons you’re psyched about a different job. Stick to a “You’re happy in your current role,” kinda thing. Hey, if you end up furloughed tomorrow, you may want to circle back, and that’ll be way easier if you haven’t just told them all the reasons you don’t want to work there.
5. Suggest someone else.
If you know someone else who might be interested in the position, it’s a classy move to give the recruiter a new lead. And it 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
OK, we’ve arrived at 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!
1. The email template for when you don’t want to do the interview
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.
Thank you again for your time and consideration, and I hope we can stay connected.
2. The email template for when you’ve accepted another job offer
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.
3. The email template for when your situation has changed
Thanks so much for reaching out with this kind invitation to interview for the [position] role at [Organization]. Since I submitted my application, my circumstances have changed and unfortunately I need to 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.
4. The email template for when you want to refer someone else
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 no longer looking to make a career move 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!
Of course, there are other ways you can frame your recommendation. If you’d like to buy some time to 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.
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.
Regina Borsellino also contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.