Careers advice

How to decline a job offer: 3 common scenarios

Declining a job offer is nerve-wracking, but if it’s not right, it’s not right.

Sometimes, it’s just not meant to be – and the right thing to do for your career is walk away.

However, rejecting a job offer isn’t easy, especially when you’ve fought hard through New Zealand’s competitive market to get it.

People worry about many aspects of having this conversation, but it’s important to know you won’t burn bridges by saying no to a role, as long as you do it well. And that’s exactly what we’re here to explore.

Let’s take a look at best practices when declining a job offer, and some common scenarios you might encounter.

Don't accept the minute you're offered a job.

Etiquette for declining a job offer

1. Say thank you: even though you’re not interested, thank the hiring manager for the offer, and their time throughout the process. There’s no need to be overly apologetic or emotional – keep things positive and polite, but to the point.

2. Email vs. phone: while email is perfectly acceptable, where possible it’s courteous to decline a job offer on the phone. This gives the interaction a more personal touch, and shows you’re willing to take the time out of your day.

What’s more, we all know it’s easy to misinterpret tone in an email, so picking up the phone helps make sure you leave behind a positive impression.

3. When to do it: this one’s easy – the earlier the better. As soon as you’ve decided it’s not for you, get in touch. Remember, they’ll need to contact their second choice to offer them the role – so they’ll appreciate your speediness.

Declining a job offer: example scenarios

1. You’ve taken a role elsewhere

Sometimes, all your Christmases come at once and you find yourself with multiple job offers on the table.

The organisation you’re rejecting won’t expect you to have all your eggs in their basket, so this won’t be a huge shock. However, when breaking this news on the phone you might expect questions on why you chose the other role. Good answers to this include:

  • “The role they have is more aligned to the direction I’d like my career to head in the future.''
  • “The salary COMPANY offered me was more in line with what I was looking for.”
  • “They offered X or Y training programs that would help me develop myself professionally.”

Decline a job offer as soon as you've made up your mind.

2. The salary doesn’t meet your expectations

Even if you haven’t accepted an alternative role, your best negotiation techniques won’t always result in the salary you want.

The hiring manager will probably see this coming if there was a degree of bargaining when they initially offered the role. While money can be awkward to talk about, it’s important to be honest if this really is the reason you’ve decided to say no. You never know, they may even improve their offer if they see you’re serious about sticking to your guns.

Remember to keep things polite, and thank them for any concessions they might have made to get the salary closer to what you wanted.

3. The position or company wasn’t the right fit

While honesty is good, in this case too much honesty can leave a negative impression. If your interview revealed something about the company you really didn’t like, it’s usually best not to mention specifics.

A simple line along the lines of, “I’ve decided this role isn’t the right fit for me at this stage in my career,'' should do the trick.

How to decline after accepting

Gulp – you’ve accepted the job, but then changed your mind. This usually isn’t a fun conversation, but you’re entitled to have it, as long as you haven’t signed the contract.

Even if you have put pen to paper, you might be able to backtrack, but it’s important to read your contract carefully and make sure you won’t get into hot water.

From here, it’s a question of doing all the things we’ve already talked about when declining a job offer:

  • Notify the organisation ASAP.
  • Get in touch over the phone.
  • Be polite and grateful, but don’t over apologise.

It can be demoralising to get this far and not have a role to show for it, but if you’re after a career upgrade, it’s worth holding out for the golden opportunity.

Don’t forget, you can use your Trade Me Job Profile to advertise your skills and experience to recruiters and hiring managers on the hunt for top candidates in relevant industries.