There comes a time when every jobseeker’s resolve will be tested.

Sending out application after application, running to interview after interview; at some point it’s only natural to think, “if I ever get a job offer – any job offer – I’ll just take it”.

Let’s face it: job hunting is unpleasant. Discussing your greatest weakness with people you’ve just met, questioning your worth every time you get a rejection, tweaking your CV over and over again in the pursuit of ever greater optimization. We wouldn’t do it for fun.

Nevertheless, you should never give in to the temptation of accepting an offer that isn’t right for your career. It’s always best to put long-term career planning ahead of short-term pain.

The importance of rejecting gracefully

Midway through an application marathon, it will seem like an impossible dream to have more than one job offer to choose from.

But yet that does often happen. You’re hard work is bound to pay off eventually, and by that time employers have probably caught on to your value. There are also peak seasons for recruitment, meaning many employers end up hiring at the same time.

You may be waiting ages to hear back on your applications, then all of a sudden – like the British often say about buses – two come along at once. At this point you’ll have to make a choice.

Rejection can be a delicate subject to deal with. Learning how to reject a job offer can be very useful, especially early on in your career. Just because you don’t want to work for a company today doesn’t mean an opportunity with them won’t be right for you tomorrow.

Rejecting an offer in the right way will count in your favour should you and a recruiter ever cross paths again. (Within the same industry, in the same city, this might well happen.)

Here’s how to reject a job offer with grace – and without burning bridges along the way.

How to reject a job offer

Honesty is the best policy

If the honest answer is that you have a better offer elsewhere, then there’s no problem respectfully letting the recruiter know that.

Before you do, however, you should think about how that other offer is better. Consider whether you’d be open to the company making you a counter-offer, or whether your mind is already made up.

You might take one offer over another due to:

  • Salary. If one company offers you more money than another for the same job, then it’s quite reasonable to reject the lower offer. Feel free to be honest about this fact.
  • Work culture. The environment you work in, and the personal relationships you have with your colleagues, should be top priorities for deciding between offers. Don’t be too blunt about this when rejecting an offer.
  • Career progression. The promise of future promotion or expanded responsibilities should weigh heavily in your decision. Talking this through with recruiters might be a good idea, as it may be hard to work this one out for yourself.
  • Logistics. Practical concerns such as travel, accessibility, or the tools and equipment you might have at your disposal should all be considered valid concerns. You might be able to negotiate a better deal if you raise them.

Try your best to be honest, but not if it offers the recruiter nothing in return. If you just have a “good feeling” about one company over another, think of a more digestible explanation to give them when you turn them down.

Be friendly

Never lose sight of the bigger picture. Making a positive impression during a recruitment process, even when rejecting the eventual offer, may pay dividends in future.

Be sure to thank the recruiter for making you the offer in the first place, and for taking the time to interview you.

Though honesty is the best policy (see previous section), don’t pour scorn on their offer or the recruitment process. The person you are talking to may be aware of any weaknesses in what they are offering – there may be complicated reasons for such downsides, and in future they may not be relevant any more.

Leave things on a positive note, expressing regret that things didn’t work out.

Don’t leave them hanging

Make your mind up.

Turning down a job offer may feel like a momentous (and potentially rueful) moment in your life. Try to to think less of it as a sliding doors moment, and focus more on clarifying in your own mind what your decision is – and why.

Anticipate the offer and always ask for time to consider it carefully before responding.

You shouldn’t feel that the moment you receive a contract you should be ready to either sign it or rip it up.

But, whatever you do, don’t put off responding once you’ve made your mind up. It may not be easy to reject a job offer – especially if the recruiter prefers to handle things over the phone – but should nonetheless be dealt with promptly and professionally.

Be brief

Do everyone a favour and be concise.

You may feel bad about rejecting the offer, but the blow won’t be softened by wasting a recruiter’s time with excuses and apologies. If you’re writing an email, keep it short. If you’re meeting in person or talking over the phone, stick to one or two clear reasons for your decision.

However much they wanted to hire you, they will content themselves with the next best candidate.

Offer feedback

One of the benefits of being honest is that recruiters can also learn lessons about their recruitment process.

Let them know what you particularly appreciated about the experience.

They may actually ask you for feedback, but more likely they will accept your rejection and move on.

You might ask yourself a few questions about your experience:

  • What did you enjoy most about the interview(s)?
  • Did the offer match your expectations?
  • What was different about the process to other applications you have made?
  • Did anything stand out as particularly impressive about their offer?

You may make an even better impression on the company by offering them constructive (and positive) feedback on your experience.

Leave the door open

Don’t forget that the company, by offering you a position, found you to be a very impressive candidate.

You should be able to look back on the experience as something positive.

It’s easier to wrap your conversation up by suggesting that you both stay in touch. But it’s also a good idea if you think you will be open to opportunities with them in the future.

Tell them that you’ll keep them in mind if you find yourself back on the job hunt – hopefully they’ll do the same.

Example email

Dear [Name of the recruiter],

Thank you so much for your offer, and for the time you have invested in talking to me.

I regret to inform you that I have received another offer from elsewhere, and have decided to accept that one instead.

It was a very difficult decision, but in the end the salary I was offered was too good to turn down. I very much appreciate your generous offer, and I enjoyed the recruitment process very much. Especially the effort you put in to ensuring I had the chance to meet the team and see the office before making my decision.

If you’d like to talk through the offer further, please don’t hesitate to call me. My number is XX XX XX XX.

Kind regards,

[Your name]