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This is How to Turn Down an Interview Without Ruining Your Reputation
Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash
Marissa Taffer
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There are many reasons to turn down an interview. At the end of the day, it's your time, and resources. Taking a job interview can be a big-time commitment. You’ll need to do the research, get your resume to the hiring manager or apply online. Then comes a phone screen or two. If you’re finally offered the interview, that will be even more time. 

You might need to call in sick or take a full- or half-day PTO from your current job. You also may need to arrange childcare — this can be a big expense if you're currently unemployed. Then there are the hair, makeup and maybe even dry cleaning if you work in an industry that still expects you to wear a suit or dress. Add stockings to the mix and you could be out $100 before you even know if you’ve gotten the gig! 

How do you know when it’s worth it to take the time for an interview or when to say "no, thank you"? 

When should you turn down an interview?

If you’re offered the interview, you're not required to take it (unless you’re unemployed and you need to receive unemployment compensation). Here are some reasons you might want to pass: 

  • The salary is a significant pay cut.

  • You get a bad vibe from the hiring manager or someone else on the team. 

  • The Glassdoor, FairyGodboss or other career site has nothing but negative reviews. 

  • The commute to work is too far, and there is no option to work remotely. 

  • You’re not excited about working there. 

How to actually turn down the interview 

If you make the decision to turn down the interview, you want to do so clearly, politely and professionally. You never know if you might end up applying for another role with the company in the future that's a better fit. Additionally, people move around in their careers, and you never know if you might end up working with the recruiter, HR manager or hiring manager in the future. 

If you decide to turn down the interview, you should: 

1. Decline promptly, at the end of the phone screen. 

If you’re declining because of a gap in salary, inability to telecommute or policies that are inflexible, you may want to decline to move forward in the process during the phone screen. This gives you a graceful way to get out of the interview and doesn’t waste your time or anyone else’s. 

How to do this: If you’re turning down the role because of salary and because the organization does not allow work from home or flexible scheduling say, "Thanks so much for your time today. I enjoyed speaking with you and learning about the marketing director role you’re looking to fill. Unfortunately, I need to withdraw my candidacy. I am seeking a role in the $80,000 to $90,000 range, and you’ve shared with me your range tops out at $75,000. I also am focused on roles that allow work from home at least three days a week."

This gives the recruiter clear feedback (which might be helpful in managing expectations if they’re having challenges filling the role) and states the facts involved in your decision. You've been professional, honest and transparent. 

2. Call and speak to the recruiter.

If you need to remove yourself from a process you’ve already started, call the recruiter directly and let them know as soon as possible. Hiring someone can be a long process, especially if you’re interviewing for an executive or more senior role in an organization. 

How to do this: Don’t wait — just pick up the phone. You shouldn’t leave the info on the recruiter’s voicemail. So, if you get voicemail, ask the recruiter to give you a call when they have a chance to discuss your candidacy. Try saying something like this: 

"Hi, Jennifer. Thanks again for returning my call. I really enjoyed meeting Sam, Rob and Melissa, but after very careful consideration I don’t believe this role is a fit for me. I value collaboration, and what I saw on my visit to the office was that everyone had their heads down, and it was so quiet I could have heard a pin drop. Please thank everyone for their time and meeting with me, but I did want to let you know as soon as possible so you can continue your search for a meetings manager."

3. Email the interview committee. 

If you’ve already met with a few people or gotten to the point where you have an itinerary for the interview, it might be a good idea to email the committee and let them know you won’t be continuing the process. 

How to do this: Be polite, professional and brief. You don’t want to confuse the matter or waste anyone’s time. You can write something like this: 

To: Sarah, John and Ken

CC: Jen Recruiter 

From: Rachel Smith 

Subject: Rachel Smith, Marketing Director Candidate 

Sarah, John and Ken,

Thank you all for taking the time last week to meet with me about the open marketing director role. I regret to inform you that I will not be moving forward in the interview process. My spouse has been offered a job out of state, and we will be relocating to New York City in six weeks. 

I appreciate your time and wish you luck in filling this amazing role in your company. 

All the best,

Rachel 

How do you make the decision to accept or decline an interview? 

Ultimately, there are a lot of factors that will go into your final decision. Assume that you are interviewing to get the job. How does this make you feel? Interview processes can range from two weeks to two months depending on the company and role. 

What happens if you invest that time? If you’re feeling dread at every callback or the company, or your potential manager’s values don’t match your own, it might be a good idea to pass on the role and apply for another job. It’s your career, and you’re in charge. 

If you answer no to any of the following questions, use one of the techniques above to pass on the opportunity. 

  1. Does the salary and career path align with your professional goals?

  2. Do you feel excited about the work you'll do? 

  3. Is the person who will be your boss someone you want to work for?

  4. What are the team dynamics like? Will you feel comfortable working on the team?

  5. Is the commute realistic for you?

  6. Do you feel that your expectations for work-life balance will be met?

  7. Can you work from home when you want or need to? If you can’t, is that okay?

  8. How does the company (or your manager) feel about professional development? Is what they’re offering sufficient?

  9. How often is compensation reviewed and discussed? Do you feel that you’ll be paid what you’re worth not only now but in the future?

  10. If you have an issue with your manager or another colleague, do you have a sense that there are people and processes in place who will help you navigate your issues fairly?

All of this said, it may seem like this article is compelling you to gracefully exit the interview process. The truth is, having these conversations in an interview to help you answer the 10 questions above will make you feel more confident and prepared to make the decision for yourself about how you move forward. You now also have the tools to excuse yourself from the process should you need to at any point. 

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