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How to turn down a job offer

Job Interview

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Here’s something most people didn’t have to worry about for the last half-decade: turning down a job offer.

But now, after years of layoffs and hiring freezes, plenty of corporations are starting to increase staffing levels again. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 162,000 jobs added on public and private payrolls last month—and chances are, at least some of those newly employed people were offered more than one position and had to decline an offer. Most would probably agree that this isn’t necessarily a bad problem to have, but it can be a difficult and uncomfortable thing to deal with, nonetheless.

“There are many reasons why a job candidate might have to turn down a job offer–but it can usually be boiled down to three key areas: the money, the work itself, or the people at the company,” says Andy Teach, author of From Graduation to Corporation, and host of the YouTube channel FromGradToCorp.

Perhaps you learned some unfavorable things about the company’s financials from a reputable source, and you are now hesitating to leave your current situation for an uncertain future, adds Miriam Salpeter, job search coach, owner of Keppie Careers and author of Social Networking for Business Success.

Marjie Terry, a workplace communication trainer and consultant at Great on the Job, says that you might want to turn down an offer because you received another one at the same time, because you discovered things you didn’t like about the organization or its management as you went through the interview process, or you realized the company isn’t a good cultural fit.

Whatever your reason is for having to turn down an offer, it can be quite uncomfortable, as you are letting down people you’ve presumably been trying to impress throughout the interview process, Terry says. “All along you’re giving the impression that you’d love the opportunity to work at their company and then, when the offer comes through, you sing a different tune,” she says. “This can be very awkward.”

To avoid the awkwardness, you should be as transparent as possible in the interview process about what you really need to make the position acceptable to you. Then, if the offer does not meet your stated requirements, it won’t be a surprise to the potential employer when you decline.

Salpeter agrees. If the organization went out of their way or incurred a lot of expenses in interviewing you, it may be uncomfortable for some people to say no to the job. “If the organization offered everything you asked for, it may be difficult to turn it down. However, it’s important to keep in mind, the interview process is an opportunity for each party to evaluate the other – they wouldn’t feel guilty if they didn’t hire you, so recognize that it is not unreasonable for you to decide the company or job is not right for you.”

It is also up to you to do your research in advance, she says. “For example, if a flexible work schedule is a deal breaker for you, and you wouldn’t take a job unless you could have flexible terms, it is up to you to see if the company’s culture supports that before you interview, if possible,” she adds. “Gauge your needs as early as possible. This helps alleviate some potentially uncomfortable situations.”

Teach believes that the degree of awkwardness in turning down a job offer really depends on how tough of a decision it will be for you. “If you know that the job is not for you for many reasons, turning down their offer probably won’t be too difficult for you,” he says. “If it’s a tough decision for you, and you’ve gone back and forth in your head before making a final decision, the level of discomfort may increase a few notches because you may doubt your own decision about turning down the job.” One main reason for feeling uncomfortable is your fear of how the hiring manager will react. “There could a hostile reaction and that’s not something anyone is looking forward to,” he says.

So if you determine turning down a job is the right decision, the key is to do it tactfully, respectfully, sincerely, and professionally. Put yourself in their shoes, Teach says. What would you want to hear from a candidate who just turned you down and in what tone? “You never know when you may apply for a job with that company again or interview with the same hiring manager, perhaps at another company in the future, so keep this in mind.”

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