5 Ways to Gracefully Decline a Job Offer

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Wayhome Studio/AdobeStock

AnnaMarie Houlis
AnnaMarie Houlis
Declining a job offer can feel awkward, especially after you've already interviewed for the position and met the whole or at least part of the team. No one wants to burn bridges, but declining a job offer doesn't have to mean that you're nipping your relationship with the company in the bud.
There are ways to decline a job offer while keeping professional and even possibly keeping the doors open for future opportunities. Here's how to decline a job offer the right way.

When should you decline a job offer?

If you've decided to go through with the interview, whether for interview practice or because you were interested in the position but later changed your mind for one reason or another, you can still decline the job offer.
A lot of people decline job offers for a number of reasons similar to why they might decline a job interview in the first place. Here are just a few reasons:
  • They may have been interviewing for a few places and received a better job offer from another company.
  • Perhaps while interviewing they learned that their values don't align with the company's values and vice versa.
  • The company isn't able or willing to offer a salary or benefits package that's attractive to them.
  • The company isn't able or willing to give them the title they want.
  • The schedule of the job doesn't work out for them. 
  • They learned of the company's health insurance, paid time off policies, retirement plan options or something else that don't appeal to them.
  • Unexpected things happened in life, like a family member fell ill or they became pregnant and decided to focus on family.
  • They're planning to become pregnant, and the company's leave policies aren't attractive to them.
  • They discovered in the interview that there's limited room for growth within the company.
  • They searched reviews on Fairygodboss' database and found that the company doesn't treat women fairly.
  • They've changed their minds about the career path they'd like to pursue or have decided to switch industries entirely.
  • They didn't vibe well with the company's office space during the interview process.
  • They didn't particularly like their prospective boss or colleagues during the interview process.
  • Their current company found out they planned to leave and offered them an attractive incentive to stay.

How to gracefully decline a job offer.

So how do you decline a job offer without burning bridges? That depends on why you're declining the job offer in the first place.

1. When the employer isn't offering you the salary you want and you already negotiated.

When the employer isn't offering you the salary you want — and you already negotiated — it's fair that you may want to decline the job offer. Most employers will understand so long as your ask and expectations are reasonable and in line with the industry standards. 
Let the employer know that, while you'd like to work for them, the salary doesn't meet your financial needs (based on the industry standard).

2. When you have a better offer but want to keep the door open with this company.

When you have a better offer for another job with another company — but you want to keep the door open with this company — transparency is key.
Let the employer know that you've received a better offer with another company that you cannot pass up, but that you're interested in keeping in touch for any future opportunities that are suiting for both of you. That offer might be financially better or the company might have more flexibility or better benefits that appeal to you. If the company you're declining really wants you, they may even send you a better counter offer. 

3. When you have no interest in the company at all.

If you have no interest in the company at all, it's best to leave your answer short and sweet. You don't need to overshare, and you definitely don't need to bash the company. You will only burn bridges with both the company and any employees at the company who may be working for other companies you're also interested in down the line.
Simply let the company know that, after reviewing all of the materials and learning more about the job role in your interview, you've decided that it's not the best career move for you at this time.

4. When the employer isn't offering you the title you want and you already asked.

If the employer isn't offering you the title you want (perhaps because, with that title comes a higher salary, according to industry standards), it's likely that you may want to decline the job offer. The employer will likely understand that if you're leaving one company to assume the same position at another,  a lateral move might not make the most sense for your career.
Let the company know that the lateral move isn't the wisest move for your career at the time, but that you're interested in keeping touch in the future in case a position with the title you're seeking does crop up.

5. When you want the job, but external circumstances mean that you can't accept it.

Sometimes you want the job, but life happens and you can't accept it. Perhaps a family member falls ill. Your partner gets a new job in a new city and you decide to move there together. You get pregnant and decide to focus on your family or seek out a different job with better parental leave policies and flexibility. You get sick yourself and have to take a long leave from work.

Sample email to decline a job offer.

Dear [Name]:
I really appreciate your offer to join [Company] as [Title]. Unfortunately, I am declining due to [reason from the list above or another]. 
Again, thank you for your offer. 
[Your name]
add a short email that provides a general outline for how to decline a job offer via email. Leave space for people to add context based on the situations described in the prior section of content

When should you have to decline a job interview?

There are tons of reasons that people cancel job interviews before even receiving a job offer. Perhaps they're confident that the job offer wouldn't be appealing to them if they did receive it, or perhaps something came up that they're no longer able to interview for the company.
Life happens. Here are a few scenarios when you should cancel an interview before even getting the chance to decline any potential job offers.
  • You have a better job offer elsewhere.
  • You found out that the company doesn't align with your values, or you don't align with the company's values. So the job doesn't seem so fitting anymore.
  • You can't afford to make the career move, albeit because of the commute or a pay cut. 
  • You have other obligations you've decided to prioritize like a family or another passion.
  • You just changed your mind and don't want the job anymore.

How do you decline a job interview?

You can decline an interview in a few ways. If you've decided to cancel your job interview, be sure to follow some steps to keep it as professional as possible.
  1. Let your interviewer know as soon as you can.
  2. Be brief about your reason; you shouldn't overshare.
  3. Don't spread anything negative about the company that could burn bridges and spoil any future opportunities.
For more on how to politely decline an interview, check out Fairygodboss' ultimate guide here.
Whatever the case, declining a job offer for a job you really want isn't easy. Be sure to let the company know about your circumstances without sharing too many personal details. This way, they're aware that you do indeed want the job but that you cannot take it at this time. This way you can leave the door open for future opportunities.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.