General Question

mote's avatar

What explanation, if any, should you give when declining a job offer?

Asked by mote (633 points ) July 14th, 2010

If you’ve gone through an arduous and highly selective interview process, and have succeeded in getting a job offer, how do you turn it down if there are specific, negative reasons for not wanting the job? For example, if the geographic location doesn’t suit you, or if you discover that a potential future boss (or an important colleague) would be horrible to work for. Should you be honest and explain your reasons, diplomatically, or should you simply give a vague reason?

Note that this is a highly coveted job and a fantastic career opportunity, so the organization will want to know why you aren’t interested. There is also the consideration that since your line of work consists of a fairly small community (and everyone talks to everyone) that you don’t want to upset people that you’ll interact with in the future.

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20 Answers

bob_'s avatar

Start by thanking them for making you the offer, and then tell them that, unfortunately, you have to turn it down.

Would you like to tell us about why you want to refuse it? The more we know, the more we can help.

Pandora's avatar

My husband use to thank them for their offer and if asked why, then he would say that another job has become available that offers something he sees of greater value at this time.
Like he once took another job that was almost equal in everyway but it had a smaller staff to handle, which would allow him more time to be home with the family.
I wouldn’t put someone down without really knowing all the facts. There is always two sides of the story.
I once had a boss who everyone told me was tough and got close to no one. We got along like two peas in a pod.
What they saw as cold, I saw as professional behavior. He was always fair in his dealings with employees. They just didn’t like that he was a stickler for rules. I appreciated that he also applied the rules to himself and didn’t see himself above everyone else.
They just wanted to get away with bad behavior and he wouldn’t let them.

lilikoi's avatar

I think you ask a good question, one that I’ve considered in the past as well. On one hand, it is perhaps dissatisfying to the people offering the job to not know why you’re turning it down. On the other, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I think in a situation like this you are caught between a rock and a hard place. Since you really don’t owe anyone an explanation, it is up to you to decide what you are most comfortable with. That’s the best I’ve got. In the past, I’ve gone with vague. I could tell those on the receiving end weren’t satisfied with my lack of explanation, but I think they would have been even less so if I was brutally honest. I’ll be interested to see how others respond.

jerv's avatar

I have had to decline a couple due to geography. While a 15 mile commute was nothing in NH, it’s over an hour in the Seattle area during rush hour if you’re going the wrong way. Needless to say, a 40–50 mile commute would be untenable. Too bad not all employers list the location of the actual job…

Fortunately, I found a first-shift job North of here so I am going the opposite way of nearly everyone else; I can do 60 MPH on the interstate instead of getting caught in gridlock ;)

ETpro's avatar

Certainly the advice to thank them for extending the offer is a must. Unless the locale for the assignment came as a last minute surprise (they advertised to fill a post in City A but decided after interviewing to assign you to City B) than I think location is a lame excuse. If you knew you would never want to work in some given location, why interview to begin with? A comprehensive interview with several meetings and the necessary background and reference checks is a serious investment in the employer’s time. THey would have a perfect right to feel used if you interviewed for a job you never had any intention of accepting.

As a small business owner who has done my share of interviewing and hiring, I really appreciate honesty—and BS smells strong enough it’s really hard to hide. Giving me honest feedback about what made you decide to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” might provide me invaluable information on improving my organization and/or the job in question so the next qualified applicant to come along will take the offer. I might even see your point and negotiate through it so that we can set the obstacle aside and you do feel good about accepting the amended offer.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@ETpro I think the problem is that many will insist on knowing why you are turning down a job, and it’s not always your business. Starting out as simply saying “I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline the position at this time” is fine right up until they pressure you to give them a reason instead of simply respecting your decision. And I’ve found many, many people say they want honesty right up until they hear something they don’t like, and then they throw a temper tantrum. Sometimes, the honest truth is that I don’t want the job because the person who would be supervisor, who happens to be your best friend, seems like a raging psychopath and I feel it’s best if we keep half a mile between us at all times.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

Personally, I would go with @Pandora ‘s suggestion of saying a better one for right now came along.

Marva's avatar

Honesty is the best policy, but it doesn’t mean you have to reveal all your cards..

“I am sorry to have to decline your wondeful and exciting offer, but I really feel this is not the right job for me at this time, for several reasons that I prefer to keep to myself for now, if you don’t mind.”

betterdays's avatar

Speaking as an employer, I would appreciate total honesty from the person that is turning down the job. If they have heard gossip concerning what would have been their new co-workers or supervisors, I would appreciate hearing about these issues in order that they can be corrected if they rumors are indeed true.

However, the job candidate also needs to put themselves into the shoes to the potential employer. As stated, the interview process was “arduous and highly selective”. To me that means that there was probably more than one or two interviews. The interviews also might have been conducted by more than one person. After the interviews, the persons involved probably had a meeting to decide upon the final candidate. To me, I would be upset for all of the time that the person(s) wasted interviewing and reviewing the candidate that turned down the job. The employer also runs the risk of not obtaining the candidate that was their second choice because they may have already obtained another job.

I would hope that by a second interview, a job candidate would know if they wanted the job or not. Any interviews beyond this, an employer would feel irritated if a job was turned down at that point. Personally, if a candidate was to do this, they would be “black-balled” from any future position with our company.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@betterdays Interviews should be a two way street, and just as much for the employee to get to know the employer as it is for the employer to get to know the employee. You may have been highly selective, but the candidate may have been going though several different interview processes with various companies just as you have been going through several different candidates. It’s that kind of black-ball attitude that makes candidates afraid to tell you why they can’t take the job.

betterdays's avatar

@papayalily If a candidate for a job is interviewing with other companies at the same time that they are interviewing with our company, that is fine and shows that they have initative. It is the responsibility of the employer to ask a lot of questions to the candidate to see if they are the right fit. However, the candidate should also be asking a ton of questions about the company, especially if they are interviewing with more than one company. A candidate would hopefully know by the end of the second interview if the potential job was something that he or she is interested in or not.

As for the black-balling issue, not only has that candidate wasted our time (which also equals wasted money) they will have appeared to be wishy-washy when it comes to making decisions. I don’t know of a single person that appreciates having their time or money wasted.

shilolo's avatar

@betterdays Everybody’s time is worth something. What happens if after the second interview the company decides not to provide an offer? Then it was the prospective employee’s time that was “wasted”. I tend to agree with @papayalily that this is business and not personal. The black balling thing really seems unnecessarily vindictive. Since the decisions at the end of the day often work both ways, it seems unfair to be so harsh on a prospective employee.

betterdays's avatar

I’ve worked in the past 28+ years for three different businesses in the HR departments. When conducting interviews, multiple persons were involved in the interview process with prospective employees. The interviews were far from being short, and were quite lengthy and in-depth. Not only were the candidates interviewed, but references, schooling, and work experience were also checked for accuracy and legitimacy. With each company, after the second interview and reference checking, etc. they were ready to offer the candidate of their choosing a position.

If the potential candidate was to accept the job, but had reservations about accepting it, that is the type of person which usually does not stay with a company very long. Now the company has to re-advertise the position, go the the interview process again, do all of the background checks again, and then train a new employee. This all costs the company time, effort, and money.

What I’m basically saying is, when interviewing as a potential employee, ask the company as many questions as you can think of, no matter how trivial you make think they are. A good HR person should discuss in length with you all matters concerning the available position. We would rather have someone ask a lot of questions than someone who just sits there and nods their head throughout the entire interview. If during your interview the person(s) conducting the interview seem vague or misleading about the details of the open position, don’t accept the job.

So you see, there is a lot more behind the scenes than just the interview(s) itself. And yes, I agree that everyone’s time is valuable, but remember, the prospective employee is the one that either answered an employment advertisement or contacted the company about the possibility of an open position. The companies that I worked for did not do any type of head-hunting.

As for the black-balling item, a good HR dept will keep record of issues with employees. This includes tardiness, sick day repetition (always on Mondays or Fridays thus creating three day weekends), quitting without notice, etc. We will re-hire a former employee if they gave the recommended notice to the company. However, if they leave a second time, they will never be hired again. Employees that quit without notice and for no reason are not eligible for re-hire. And unfortunately, a person that strings the company throughout the hiring process and then at the last minute decides to not accept the job will not be considered for any future employment.

I hope that I’ve been able to explain the employers side of the original question a little more in depth.

shilolo's avatar

@betterdays That was a very detailed explanation, and very informative. I wonder however if there remains a disconnect between what you say and what you mean. You say you want a competitive candidate who will be inquisitive and also be interviewing elsewhere. Said candidate thus could potentially generate several offers, or even nudge her current employer into a promotion/raise. It seems to me that the later event typically only occurs when it seems highly likely that a person will leave their current employer. This highly sought after and qualified person will be doing her due diligence too, and perhaps has identified a red flag that she would prefer to keep to herself precisely for the reason you stated above: companies keep detailed records and people have long memories. To me, it seems only fair that if a company can drag out an interview process and eventually select someone else after getting someone’s hopes up, that an individual can do the same.

jerv's avatar

@shilolo That is fair, but life is not so why should HR be? After all, it’s an employers market out there right now, and simple supply and demand dictates that employers can do anything (non-criminal) they damned well please regardless of ethics or morality.

@betterdays Great answers, but while you and the companies you’ve worked for may be decent enough, there are some pretty shady things going on out there. Even when they are pure of heart, there is always the matter of incompetence. Just remember to separate “ideal” from “actual” ;)

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@shilolo A man after my own heart!

lilikoi's avatar

@betterdays So you’re essentially saying a company is entitled to several interviews of prospective candidates but the job seeker should make up their mind about the job after just two? What a double standard! If you expect the candidate to know after two interviews, so should you as the employer. Interviews are indeed a two-way street and it is only fair that both parties have an equal amount of time to come to a decision. Your personal policy is unreasonable.

jerv's avatar

@lilikoi This should tell you something; I had one place interview me three times and pass me over, and twice more for another position a while later, also with no luck. It should also tell you something that four of those five interviews were with “suits” and not actual people on the floor.
Now I work for a place that liked my credentials and, after 5 minutes with the department lead, I got a tour of the plant and was told to come back the next morning for orientation. The job I had before that, I only had one interview (with the foreman) and it ended with me putting in five hours that day.

Of course, for what I do, what you can do is more important than how well you can write a resume or how diplomatic you can be. I have yet to see a person nearly as competent in my field as I am who interviews well. Fortunately, some employers realize that competence and work ethic matter more than political skill and overlook such “flaws”.

perspicacious's avatar

No explanation is necessary.

Bellatrix's avatar

I think you should be honest however I think you would need to be very diplomatic if your reason related to negative feedback about the company OR an employee/director. However – it you work in a field where people know each other it could come out you didn’t move to another job and then you would look like a liar. Not something I would want.

Also – you never want to burn your bridges. While this job might not be right for you now – in the future it might be just what you want and if you have lied or come across as not knowing what you want (i.e. oh it is too far geographically. Wouldn’t you know that before you applied?) you might limit your chances in the future. PLUS people in charge move on to. They change jobs and in the future you might go for a job where one of those on the selection panel is there again and they will remember you lied or messed them about. So… honesty and maintaining your integrity is paramount.

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