How To Turn Down A Job Offer Without Burning A Bridge – By : Liz Ryan

You might have a good reason to turn down a job offer, and at the same time you want to leave a positive association in the “losing” manager’s mind. Life is long and you never know when you and s/he will cross paths again. A job search is above all a networking and people-connecting activity.

Unless you are in Sales there are few other professional situations that require us to meet as many people in as short a timeframe as we do on a job search. By the end of your job search you will be an expert networker! As someone who takes your network seriously, you know that it’s always better not to burn a bridge if you can help it.

If you get two or more competing job offers, you’re going to have a winning employer and at least one losing one. In other columns, I instruct recruiters and hiring managers to pick up the phone and call any job-seekers who made it to the interview stage but aren’t getting a job offer. I think that’s the ethical and human thing to do.

Sending a “no thanks” email message is fine when you’ve only met someone over the phone, but if a person put on a suit and came down to your facility and spent an hour with you and then doesn’t get hired, you owe them a live phone call to tell them that you’re hiring someone else.

For that reason, I believe that as a job-seeker you must tell your hiring manager live on the phone that you aren’t going to accept the job, since you’ve met him or her in person already. If you try several times and can’t reach the person live, then you can leave a voicemail message.

Here’s how your live conversation will go:

RRRRRRRRRRING!

Paul, A Manager: Paul McManus!

You, A Job-Seeker: Hi Paul! This is John Simmons.

Paul: Hi John! Did you receive our offer?

You: I got it, Paul, and I want to thank you very much for that. I’ve really been torn, because I received another offer, also.

Paul: Tell me more about that!

You: I would, Paul, but I don’t want to take up your time. I’ve thought about it and I’ve decided to accept the other offer, and I wanted to thank you for your time and for your fantastic introduction to your company.

Paul: Oh boy! I am really deflated. I think we would make a great team.

You: Thanks for saying that, Paul. Life is long! Our paths might cross again.

Paul: I didn’t know you were interviewing elsewhere. Didn’t our recruiter Barbara ask you about that?

You: I don’t remember, Paul, but it doesn’t matter. You have a great company and I’d love to stay in touch.

Paul: Oh, boy. What a disappointment. Oh, well! All the best to you in the new job, John.

You: Thanks, Paul! All the best to you and your team, too.

After your call, send Paul a quick email follow-up and thank him again for the opportunity to meet.

If you like, send Paul a LinkedIn LNKD -1.07% invitation, too.

You are more likely to burn a bridge by declining a job offer if you gave them every reason to suspect that you’d accept their job offer right away. It is always a good idea to create and maintain the understanding between you and your hiring manager that you are ‘in play’ on the job market. You will be actively on the market until you accept an offer.

If your hiring manager wants to talk about future dates and plans with you before he or she has extended a job offer, a great response is “I love to plan and forecast. I’d be very excited to sit down with you for that kind of planning once we have a business relationship in place.”

The manager who strategizes with you and puts a plan in his or her mind is going to think you’re on board, even before the offer is made. Don’t let the conversation get that far. After all, since you’re not on the payroll yet, a brainstorming meeting with your manager should be billed at your usual consulting rate.

Don’t have a consulting rate? Create one over here!

Be polite and professional when you turn down a job offer, thank the manager for their time and hold the door open for more conversation down the road. Even in lousy organizations there are good people who will remember you and bring up your name down the road.

Like our job-seeker John told his hiring manager Paul, life is long. People move around, and even managers who aren’t able to snag you can be among your greatest fans.

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