Turning down a job offer is never easy. But it’s even harder when you actually would love to accept the role—the timing’s just not right. Maybe the company’s the next state over and you don’t want to move your family until the end of the school year. Maybe you can’t leave your current organization just quite yet, but six months from now may be a different story. Or maybe you just started at a new company, but this one’s been on your dream list for years.
In any case, you need to decline, but you want to leave the door open in case the organization has another great opening down the line. Can you do it in a way that won’t burn your bridges—and will even keep the relationship warm for the future?
You can indeed. Here’s my advice.
In most cases, there’s no sense in trying to cover up what’s going on—in fact, the hiring manager will take more kindly to the news if he or she knows the real story. So, along with sharing that you unfortunately can’t accept the position, describe your reasoning. If you’re not able to make a move yet for personal reasons, say so (at least, as much as you’re comfortable sharing). If your boss just quit and left you to manage a high-profile project at work, be upfront about that.
A well-crafted email might work, but picking up the phone is typically a better option for these conversations. Share how excited you are about the role and how much you’d love to accept it, if not for the circumstances. Then say that you’d love to keep the door open, and if there are future roles available and the timing is right, that you’d love to be considered. Of course, make sure that you let the hiring manager know that you…
Know That the Timing Might Never Be Right
Some roles, a company might have plenty of openings—at The Muse, for example, we hire multiple salespeople and account managers every month. (Interested? Apply right here.) Other times, you can’t expect that the company will have a similar position open for you exactly when your timing is right—they’ll likely fill the job with the next best candidate, and it won’t be open again until that person leaves. (Assuming they’ll wait and hold a role for you is a quick way to ensure, well, they won’t.)
It’s a bummer, but it’s important to manage your own expectations and acknowledge that the stars might not align in the future. Of course, you also never know what’s going to happen, which is why it’s still important that you…
Stay in Touch
If you truly want to keep the door open to future opportunities, you have to be the one that cracks it every so often. People are busy, and even if you’re the star candidate right now, they’re bound to move on to other applicants, other roles, and the rest of their jobs. Your resume will be filed away (read: this actually means thrown in the trash or digitally archived) with the rest of candidates who passed on the opportunity.
So, ask the hiring manager if you can connect on LinkedIn, and then make it a point to stay in touch every so often. Forward along interesting articles when you see them. Send recommendations for other roles he or she might have open. Retweet or share industry articles. Congratulate team members on big company accomplishments.
Then, when you are ready to consider a new role again, you can reach out, and the hiring team won’t be scratching their heads trying to remember who you are. Maybe they’ll have a role open, maybe they won’t, but either way, you’ll have kept the relationship warm, continued to show what a passionate professional you are, and added these people to your network. And that, my friends, can only help your job search in the long run.