Searching for a job is tough, and if you’re lucky enough to get a job offer it should be an exciting time. For the most part, this is true. But sometimes you will find yourself in the position where you need to turn a job down. It might be because you’ve accepted another position, got a better offer, or that you found out through the interview process that the position wasn’t right for you. Whatever your reason for declining a job, you’ll need to handle the situation carefully.

Trust me, it’s important to decline

If a company has gotten to the stage where they’re confident enough to make you an offer, then you’ve likely done a great job during the interview process. However, if you’re turning them down, the company or hiring manager might feel a bit unhappy about your choice. Yes, it is business and there are going to be disappointments. But still, you need to handle turning the job down with tact for several reasons. For one thing, you never know where your life may take you. Someday you might find yourself in a position where you want to apply to this company again. Additionally, the work world is small and the employees you interviewed with might be your future coworkers or bosses. But more than anything, nicely declining a job offer is just the right thing to do. So how exactly do you turn down a job?


Be Prompt

The biggest thing you have to remember is you need to respond in a timely fashion. The company is waiting for your answer, and other candidates are waiting to see if they got the job. Once you decline, the process will keep moving. Keeping a company waiting can cost them time and money, not to mention potentially losing other qualified candidates who may accept other offers as well.


Respond Nicely

Responding to an offer can take many forms. Often, an HR department will send your offer via email. This is an easy way for you to quickly and nicely respond telling them you will not be accepting the position. Make sure you thank them for their time, and give them a firm and clear “no” response. Saying something vague may seem easier, but it will keep them guessing about whether they should expect you to join the team. If you really liked the company, ask them if it would be ok to keep in contact in case there are opportunities that you might be right for in the future.


Call Them Back (if they called you)

Some offers come by phone. This is a bit tougher for most people to deal with, since we spend so much time communicating in writing. A phone job offer can catch you off guard and unprepared. It’s ok, just take a deep breath and respond. If you’re not sure about the position, ask for time to consider the offer and give them a deadline when they can expect you to respond. If you already know you won’t be taking the job, tell them you appreciate the offer but you will not be able to accept it at this time. If they push for a reason, be honest but be nice. There are many acceptable responses; you might not be a good fit, you might see your career going in a different direction, you got a better offer, or you may have accepted a different opportunity (be careful with this response because you probably should have notified the company you were dropping out of the process already). Being kind and being honest is the best policy.



If you’re a freelancer, it is also important to respond to project or job offers quickly and politely. Even if you are offered the work via a chat message, sending a nice reply will go a long way. While you can’t typically use the excuse that you’ve accepted another position because you do project-based work, you can still nicely decline. Say something simple like, “I really appreciate the opportunity, but I’ve taken on a full project schedule at the moment. I hope you find an excellent new candidate for the job and that we get to work together in the future. Thanks again!” This leaves the door open for future work, but lets the client know now isn’t a good time.

If the work is outside of the scope of what you do, just tell them. It could be that your declining a job that can easily be focused to only include your skillset. Responding by saying, “I really appreciate the offer, but I think the scope of the project it a bit different than I anticipated. Since I mostly focus on (insert your field here), it seems there might be components of the job I won’t be able to complete. I appreciate the opportunity and hope to work with you on future projects.” Then you just have to wait. They might come back thanking you for your time, or they might work with you to refine the project. It is better to be honest now than trying to learn an entirely new skill to meet their requirements. I’ve had plenty of freelance jobs that started by asking me to be a designer and a writer. Once I made it clear I wasn’t a professional designer I still got the job, and my writing was simply sent to a designer once I finished.

Another important thing to remember as a freelancer is you can always ask for a timeline. Maybe you can’t do it this week because you just got a quick-turnaround project. If you ask for a timeline, you might find out you can accept the project because it isn’t all due immediately. It took me a few months of freelancing to drop my traditional job mindset that everything was due immediately. Freelance jobs are great because they often involve more flexibility, so it doesn’t hurt to ask!


Well Done!

Remember, companies are trying to build strong teams of people that can work well together. A job offer means that they probably think pretty highly of you. Showing them the same respect and consideration they show you is important to maintain a good reputation and good business karma.

Have you ever needed to turn a job down? Did it go well, or do you wish you handled things differently? Let us know in the comments below and help other job seekers to do the right thing!