I took a deep breath and dialed the number of the hiring manager I’d spent the past few weeks interviewing with. She was expecting my call—and expecting me to accept the job offer.
But after careful consideration I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the right fit for me. So, I declined the offer to wait for something better.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an easy decision. I desperately wanted to leave the company I was at. And this choice meant I’d have to stay there a while longer. I’d also have to go back to square one of the job hunt—scouring the internet for openings, tailoring my resume, and attending interview after interview.
But in the end, I didn’t regret it—because a few weeks later, I accepted a position I love at an incredible company.
What I learned from this experience is this: It’s tempting to accept the first offer and be done with it. But if something doesn’t feel right, your best bet may be to turn it down. Again though—easier said than done. So to help you know whether it’s just cold feet or if you should listen to that nagging feeling in your gut—ask yourself these three questions
1. What’s Holding Me Back?
Some things—like salary—can be negotiable, but others (like who you’d report to) most often aren’t.
If you’re feeling uneasy about accepting, write down every reason that’s keeping you from jumping in. Then, rank each item by how important it is to you, and if you think it could be negotiated.
For example, my list included “company doesn’t have a budget for new communications technology.” This was a big deal for me that would impact my work every day. As a communications manager, I didn’t want to commit to an organization that couldn’t make improvements to their digital marketing infrastructure.
Of course, if you only list out the cons, even a job you might like is going to look like a terrible choice. So, once you’ve delved into everything that’s giving you pause, create a list of pros, and compare them, too. If the “no” list isn’t just longer—but has higher priority items—declining might make sense.
2. Does This Job Get Me Closer to My Career Goals?
I know. This question’s a doozy because you have to know what your career goals are. But before you panic, hear me out: I’m not asking for a detailed five-year plan, but rather where you want to be a year from now. The answers are endless—moving up the corporate ladder, getting a fancy new title, launching your side gig, taking time off to travel, or making enough money to move out of your parent’s house. There’s no right or wrong answer, but you should have one.
Once you identify that, you should ask yourself if taking this position will get you closer to that goal.
For example, I wanted to move up the ladder—and quickly. But when I asked about it in the interview, I could tell that there were many steps and a lot of bureaucracy involved, so I wouldn’t be able to grow my career at the pace I wanted. That was a deal breaker for me, which is part of what led me to the decision to turn the offer down.
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3. Am I Excited About the Mission?
When you’re passionate about an organization’s mission, you’ll have more drive and enthusiasm, which impacts all aspects of your workday. You’re both more productive, and more motivated to do your work.
But if you don’t believe in what you’re doing, you’ll be counting the minutes until quitting time each day.
This question is often most relevant when the job description’s absolutely perfect—but there’s something that’s holding you back. You’re asking yourself why you’re not thrilled to do exactly what you were looking for each day, and then you realize it’s because that larger impact is missing.
Some people see their job as a means to a paycheck—and that’s all. But if that’s not you, this could be what’s holding you back from saying yes.
Long story short: If you can afford to say no, and that’s what your gut’s telling you to do, don’t be scared to do it. While the job hunt can feel long, endless, and even hopeless on some days—I believe there is a perfect position out there for you, because there was for me.
Turning down the first offer I received and holding out for a better one was without a doubt the right decision because I ultimately landed a fulfilling job that allowed me to grow my career with challenging and rewarding work.
Photo of person on phone courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.