How to turn down an interview when you don’t want the job

It’s not them, it’s you. (Or maybe it’s them.) Take these steps to let them down easy and keep your professional reputation intact.

How to turn down an interview when you don’t want the job

Don't take the interview if the job's a bad fit.

To find a job in today's market, it tends to take more than just sending someone a resume. Maybe a contact at the company suggested you for the position. Maybe you worked with a headhunter. Maybe you met someone at an industry conference.

However it came about, the hiring manager called you in for an interview. Normally, you’d be flattered, but in this particular instance, you’ve decided it’s not the job for you. So how exactly do you go about saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to a potential job offer?

It’s a tricky position to be in because you don’t want to burn bridges. “You never know, this company could eventually be a client or a vendor, or you may want to go back one day,” says Todd Cherches, CEO and co-founder of executive coaching firm BigBlueGumball.

But you don’t want to waste anyone’s time—including your own—interviewing for a job or a company that you know isn’t the right fit. This is how to cancel an interview without jeopardizing your reputation or connections.

Be sure you really want to cancel

Is there a concrete and compelling reason you’re saying ‘No thanks,’ or is it just a fear of the unfamiliar?

“I was offered a job by a former colleague in another industry that I never in a million years thought I’d want to work in,” Cherches says. “My wife said, ‘Just go.’ It ended up being one of the best jobs of my life. You may change your mind once you find out the realities of the job.”

It may also be that the thing that’s stopping you—a salary that’s too low, a commute that’s too long—is negotiable. And it may also be that this position isn’t the right fit, but another spot at the company would be. Be sure you really don’t want the job. 

Keep your contact informed

Once you’ve solidified your decision to turn down the interview, you need to start making calls. If this opportunity came your way because of a helpful contact, let that person know what’s going on.

“Bounce your concerns off of them,” says Elene Cafasso, president and founder of Enerpace, Inc. Executive Coaching in the Chicago area. “They may be able to shed some light on why you should go to the interview, or they may say, ‘Oh, you’re right. That’s a nightmare; run in the opposite direction.’”

Keeping your contact in the loop helps you protect that relationship. “Chances are that person is a good referral source and you want them to keep introducing you [to other job offers],” Cafasso says.

Be gracious in your turn-down

You obviously also need to let the hirer know that you’re turning down the interview, and if you’re at the senior level, you’re better off calling rather than emailing.

Thank your contact (and anyone else) for their time and attention to the process. Finding the right person for a position isn’t easy, especially in the upper tiers. “It’s a time commitment,” Cherches says, “and the attention it took to screen you and set up the meetings—they’re invested in you, so be respectful and appreciative.”

It’s also important to be direct, says Eli Howayeck, career coach and CEO of Crafted Career Concepts in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Tell them you’ve decided not to proceed, and let them know it’s not the right fit, you’ve chosen not to leave your current employer, you’re withdrawing your candidacy for personal reasons, or simply that you’ve decided not to move forward at this time. Whatever you do, make your gratitude known.

Consider that this person is likely an industry contact, and you may see them again. In fact, you may even interview with them again for a different position at the company, depending on the circumstances. Even if you have to leave a voicemail, “leave the door open with something like, ‘I’d love to talk to you about this further if we can sync up our calendars; I just don’t want to waste your time,’” Cafasso suggests.

Offer something of value

Before you part ways, consider whether you have anything the recruiter can use. For instance, do you know someone else who’d be good for the spot? “If you say, ‘This is not the right fit for me, but I have someone who I think would be perfect for you,’ that kind of softens the blow,” Cherches says.

The same goes for feedback. Is the reason you don’t want the job something the hiring manager can address? “Maybe they’re blind to it, and you’re making them aware of something,” Cherches says. “Maybe you’re the third person who backed out at that stage, and they don’t know why.”

That said, it’s probably not worth offering your opinion if it’s not something changeable. “To say, ‘Oh, I hate your culture,’ that doesn’t help,” Cherches says.

Give enough notice

The sooner you can make the call, the more the hirer will appreciate it. This is particularly true if a manager gives you signals that you are their candidate of choice. “If you’re not interested, don’t hang in there merely to get the offer,” Howayeck says. “Employers feel vulnerable about this, and saying no after the offer may create hurt feelings.”

That said, there is a window of opportunity, and if the interview is less than a day away—sorry, but you should go.

“Most people are grateful to have a meeting canceled at the last minute, but this is your professional reputation,” Cafasso says. “There’s supposed to be a level of professional maturity here.”

Honesty is the best policy

While you should always be honest in a job interview, you also need to balance what you say and how you answer the questions. Your reputation could be a stake. Could you use some help learning how to finesse your answers? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you'll get interview insights, career advice, and useful job search tips sent directly to your inbox. Not only will you get tips on how to conduct a job search, but also how to find the best jobs and connect with companies that offer the right fit for you.