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How to gracefully turn down a job offer

Hello everyone. Sorry I’ve been radio silent this week. Busy week at work + crazy long weekend painting the house = not much time to write blog posts.

Hypothetical scenario: You’re interviewing for a job with Company A and make it to the final round. You don’t have any other offers on the table at the moment–and aren’t currently expecting any. You tell the recruiter so.

The day before your final round of interviews, you receive a request to interview at from Company B that next afternoon. As your final interview with Company A is in the morning, you agree. Both rounds of interviews go well, and you inform Company B that you had a final interview with Company A that morning and are expecting to hear back from them within the week.

You leave the interview with Company B not expecting anything more than possibly being asked back for a second round of interviews. Instead, that night they email you an offer. You’re taken by surprise, of course, but as you think about the company, what the position would offer to you, who you would be working with and for, and the package you realize that it seems like a very strong fit.

Company A extends an offer to you the next afternoon. Obviously the recruiter is taken by surprise when he hears you have an offer. You ask for some time to really consider both offers, as both positions are appealing in different ways. In the end, you decide to go with Company B’s offer.

But how do you tell Company A that you’re not taking their offer?

the_right_candidate_job_offer_rejection

This is a great problem to have, admittedly, but a tough one. I recently had a candidate in a similar situation who handled it beautifully. Here’s what they did:

  1. Begin with the end in mind. How do you want these people to perceive you? You want the hiring manager and recruiter to walk away thinking that how you handled this situation exemplifies all of the reasons they chose to make you an offer in the first place. That requires…
  2. Inform them early. Inform the recruiter or hiring manager that you may have a competitive situation developing as soon as you are aware. If you don’t have the opportunity to do so, explain very clearly how it came about–and that you weren’t expecting it. A good recruiter will check in with a candidate multiple times during the evaluation and offer process regarding status of other potential opportunities. If a candidate throws a curve ball at them late in the game, it may seem like the candidate hasn’t been engaging in good faith. Which leads to…
  3. Always put relationships first. This is but one position. It may not be reflective of your interest in working with the company, or this manager/team/recruiter. Also, as you develop your career (especially in a specific metro area) the hiring team/recruiter engaged in this offer process will move to other companies in which you may have more interest. Isn’t it worth having them walk away from the situation thinking that you’re worth keeping in touch with for potential future opportunities, rather than blacklisting you because they felt burned by your actions?
  4. Walk through your thought process. Ask questions. Gain clarification. A good recruiter should be part career counselor (see this blog for evidence!). They should help you compare and contrast both opportunities, filling in gaps in your knowledge about their opportunity to help you make the best, most informed choice possible. What drives a recruiter nuts is when a candidate treats them like a used car salesman. The candidate won’t discuss their thought process, instead just declaring they’ve taken another offer (often by email). This makes us think that rejecting our position was always in the candidate’s plan–that the candidate was likely using us (and our offer) as negotiating leverage for the other company’s offer (or to get more $ from their current employer). These things do happen, and unfortunately it’s shortsighted on the part of the candidate. Please see #1 and #3 above for why.

Do this with integrity and transparency, and you’ll reinforce their belief that you were the right candidate.

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August 2013
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