Ask the Headhunter/ General Management

How To Say No To A Job


by Nick Corcodilos
Contributing Writer

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The right way to get a job is to deliver value to an employer right during the job interview—value he or she can quickly recognize, taste, desire, and be willing to pay you money to deliver full time. That’s what I’ve spent years teaching people, and it’s so simple that technicians can do it as easily as top executives can.

But what’s not often discussed is the flip side of the job interview: What happens when an employer offers you a job and you decide you don’t want it?

As BuzzFeed’s Doree Shafrir points out in “How To Turn Down A Job,” a simple, “No, thank you,” just isn’t enough. Do you really think you’ll never encounter that company and those people ever again, and that you’ll never need them or even want anything to do with them?

You could just walk away. However, as Shafrir explains, there’s rarely a good reason for burning any bridge. It’s a small world. Being nice to people matters. So does protecting the tenuous, new friendship you’ve cultivated by interviewing like an ace. That credibility you’ve just demonstrated can be worth a lot. So don’t blow it.

But Shafrir, for all her good intentions, misses the point of a rejection when it’s the job candidate saying no to the employer. Like most career advisers, she gets hung up on being nice and not offending anyone. Here’s what she suggests you say:

"Thank you so much for offering me the position—it sounds amazing, and I love [COMPANY NAME], but I've given it a lot of thought and I think this is actually not the right fit for me right now. But I'd really like to stay in touch and discuss other potential opportunities in the future."

While it’s a bit saccharin for my taste, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t mean anything to the employer who interviewed you and made you an offer because he needs to solve a problem. There’s a job sitting there waiting to be done. Explaining how much you love the company and that you’d like to stay in touch ranks right up there with, “I do love you, but let’s just be friends, OK?”

Now let’s go back to the first paragraph. Whether you’re saying yes or no to a job offer, stop thinking about yourself. Think about the employer and why he has invested time to meet you. If you really want to maintain a relationship after you walk out that door, then give the employer some value: a good way to get the job done.

“I’m flattered you have the faith in me and my abilities to want me to join your team. Unfortunately, this job isn’t right for me, so I’m respectfully declining your offer. But I’d like to help you, nonetheless. I know someone who may be a very good fit for this job, and I’d be pleased to introduce you to her. I’ll talk to her immediately and call you by 4 p.m. with her contact information.”

(If you’re also going to send a thank-you note later—which I strongly advise—remember that thanks is not enough. Put something in that note that will pay off.)

Always be armed with an alternative candidate you can introduce to the company. Make the introduction if you can, then follow up with the manager later. That’s a valid way to stay in touch. Deliver value, whether you want a job offer or not, because helping out the employer is what fosters a long-term connection. (You’ll improve your connection to the other candidate, too.)

How do you say no to a job and still deliver value? Join us on the discussion forum.

About Nick Corcodilos

Nick Corcodilos writes "Ask The Headhunter," a weekly blog on in which he shows you how to tackle the daunting obstacles that job hunters and managers face when trying to work together. From time to time, Corcodilos also will provide feature stories offering insights into various management career strategies. In addition, his newest books, Fearless Job Hunting, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, How to Work with Headhunters and How Can I Change Careers?, are available as PDFs. Ask The Headhunter® is a registered trademark of Nick Corcodilos.