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.

What you’ll learn:

  • When you should turn down a job offer.
  • How to turn down a job offer without burning your bridges.
  • Three common scenarios you might find yourself in, with templates for getting this 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 look at.

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.

Signs you should turn down a job offer

It can be hard to turn down a job offer after you’ve gone through the long process of applying. However, there are red flags that could suggest it isn’t the right move to you:

  • The salary isn’t appropriate: salary is important, there are no two ways around that. Of course, your first step, if the salary in the employment agreement isn’t what you were hoping for, should be to try to negotiate. However, if it’s clear that the organisation isn’t going to budge, it might be time to walk away. If this business isn’t willing to pay you what you deserve, find one that will.
  • The job description isn’t what you expected: from the interviews and job listing, you should have a fairly good idea of what the job will involve If. when you read the job description, the role sounds very different, this can be a major red flag. Again, we’d advise getting in touch with the organisation and asking some questions before making any final decision, as this could be a simple misunderstanding.
  • The organisation has a bad reputation: ideally, you’ll have done some solid research on the company during the early stages of your application. We’d advise checking out sites like Glassdoor, which allow past and current employees of organisations to leave anonymous reviews of their experience. While you shouldn’t let one or two negative opinions sway you, if there are a lot of bad reports, it could be time to think twice.
  • There’s no clear advancement route: when you’re considering a job offer, it’s crucial that you factor in where it will lead you. Even if this role looks great, if there are no clear development opportunities, or transferable skills that you can take to a future role, it might be a dead end.
  • You don’t agree with the values (or they haven’t been mentioned): being happy in a role is about so much more than the day-to-day duties of the job itself. You want to be in a positive, encouraging atmosphere where people are happy to turn up every day. In other words, the business needs a good culture. If you’ve read the company values, and don’t agree with them, or, perhaps more concerningly, haven’t heard or seen any mention of them, this can be a major red flag. It might imply that the company isn’t too interested in the overall wellbeing of their staff, and simply want you to turn up and do the work.
  • You don’t like the manager: chances are, you’ll have met the manager as part of your application process. This relationship will be one of the most important you have in the organisation, if you take the job, so it’s important you can see yourself working under them. We’re not saying you have to be best mates, but you don’t want someone who is going to make your life miserable.
  • You got a better offer: perhaps it’s nothing to do with the organisation itself, and that a more suitable offer came your way. We’ll talk more about this below, but remember, that you’re making a decision about your career. Yes, the first company will be frustrated (though if they’re professional, they won’t show it) but you need to make the call that’s right for you, not them.

Of course, unless you’re very lucky, you’re unlikely to find a role that ticks every single box, and you might have to compromise on one or more of the above, if you think the job is truly worth it. The important thing is that you’ve put proper time and thought into deciding if you should take the role or not, rather than just jumping in headfirst.

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. Interviewing is a lengthy process, and it’s courteous to acknowledge the team who guided you through the process. In particular, if you found the experience particularly positive, mention this, and why. This is useful feedback for the organisation and can help create a good lasting impression, if you decide to apply for another job with them in the future.

There’s no need to be overly apologetic or emotional – keep things positive and polite, but to the point. Every experienced hiring manager will have gone through this before, and while it will be frustrating for them, they will understand that you need to make the right call for your career.

2. Explain your decision

Simply stating that you won’t be taking up their job offer isn’t enough. While you don’t need to provide too much detail, or make it feel like you're rubbing their noses in it, it’s important to give some indication of why you’ve taken this decision.

For example, if you’ve accepted a role with another company, you could say something like: “I have decided to take up a role with another company, as their benefits package was more in line with what I was looking for.”

Again, a lot of this is to do with feedback. A company may not realise that their salary offer, or benefits package, is out of line with the rest of the market, unless they hear it from candidates. Indeed, you may find that, if they want you enough, they come back with an improved offer that could sway your mind.

3. 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.

That said, if the company has predominantly communicated with you via email, it’s certainly not rude to respond through this medium.

4. What about timing?

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 thank you for speediness.

But again, you need to be confident in the decision you’re making. The only thing worse, from the company’s perspective, than being turned down, is a candidate who keeps changing their mind and leaving them in limbo.

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. Below is an example of how you might decline a job offer because you accepted a different job:


I would like to thank you again for offering me the role of POSITION TITLE. Unfortunately, after much consideration, I have made the difficult decision not to take the job. 

While I loved everything I heard about the role, and the company as a whole, I have decided to accept a position elsewhere. The main reason for this is that I saw more opportunities for quick progression with this other business, and this is something I’m really focused on as I seek to develop my skills and experience.

I would like to reiterate that I have had a great experience with your team throughout this application, and would love to hear of future opportunities in the business. Thank you again for your time and the opportunity to meet with you. I wish you all the best in finding a great candidate for the role. 

Yours sincerely, 


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. An example of how to decline a job offer due to salary could look something like this:


I would like to thank you again for offering me the role of POSITION TITLE. I really appreciate the offer and the time your team has put into guiding me through the application process.

Unfortunately, I have made the difficult decision not to take the role. As I expressed in our recent phone conversation, I believed that the skills and experience I bring to the table are deserving of a higher salary than the one on offer. I appreciate that you have done everything possible to find a way to make this work, but I have decided that this isn’t the right move for me at this time.

Thank you again for your time, and I wish you all the best with finding a great candidate for the role.

Yours sincerely,


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. Here’s how we would approach this:


I would like to thank you again for offering me the role of POSITION TITLE. I really appreciate the offer and the time your team has put into guiding me through the application process.

Unfortunately, I have made the difficult decision not to take the role. While I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the organisation, and the job itself, I have decided it’s not the right fit for me at the present time, and I want to keep looking for something that aligns more closely with my professional goals.

Thank you again for your time, and I wish you all the best for finding a great candidate to fill this role.

Yours sincerely,


4. 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.

Below is an email example, but we’d highly recommend you have this conversation over the phone, as it will come as a surprise to the person on the other end. If you decide to do this, just take points from our example, and use it during your call:


I am very sorry to tell you that I have ultimately decided not to take the JOB TITLE position. I appreciate that this will be surprising and frustrating for you, given my previous acceptance, and I would like to apologise for any inconvenience I have caused. 

However, I’ve been offered a role with another organisation that is a better match for the skills and experience I am hoping to build upon, and I have decided that this is the right move for me to make.

Again, I apologise for the inconvenience, and I wish you all the best in finding the right candidate for the job.

Yours sincerely, 


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.