How to decline a job offer in five steps

Learn the best way to say, "Thanks but no thanks."

How to decline a job offer in five steps

Taking a diplomatic approach is key.

It can be hard to say no to a job offer. Even if you know that the gig would be a terrible fit, there’s probably this little voice inside your head saying, “They picked me! Me!” But, here’s a reality check: If you accept a job that turns out to be a bad fit, both you and the employer lose. Plus, with the labor market tipped in favor of workers, you may be able to afford being a bit choosier today than you would have a few years ago. But knowing how to decline a job offer is key to avoiding any awkwardness.

“You’ve been courting this employer during the whole interview process and now, all of a sudden, you’re saying you don’t want to the job,” says Debra Wheatman, president of career coaching firm Careers Done Write. “That can catch a hiring manager off guard.”

Carole Martin, job interview coach and author of Boost Your Interview IQ, agrees: “It takes courage and maturity to turn down a job offer,” she says.

Need a little help? We’ve got you covered.

How to decline a job offer in five steps

1. Don’t drag it out

Unless you’re waiting to hear about another job offer, you probably know that the offer you have in hand is not something that you’re going to accept, says Kelly Donovan, principal of the Los Angeles–based career services firm Kelly Donovan & Associates. In that case, it’s best to let the hiring manager know that you’re turning down the job promptly. “You should respond as quickly as possible so that you’re not wasting the person’s time,” Donovan says.

2. Use the proper form of communication

Respond in the same way that you received the job offer, recommends job search coach and resume expert Joanne Meehl. Read: if you received a written offer, you’d respond in writing; if you received a verbal offer on the phone, a phone call to the hiring manager is par for the course.

There’s one caveat, though: “Don’t say no to a job offer by leaving a voicemail,” Wheatman says.I liken it to breaking up with someone via text message—you just don’t do it.”

3. Express appreciation sincerely

Articulating that you value the hiring manager’s time can help cushion the blow, while also laying the foundation for a good professional relationship with the person going forward. For example: “Thank you so much for the job offer. I’ve loved meeting everyone at your company, and I appreciate you taking the time to consider me for the position.”

4. Explain—briefly—why you’re not taking the job

Be prepared to explain why you’re turning down the job, Martin recommends. “No one like to be rejected, and some [hiring managers] might press you to explain your reasoning,” Martin says.

Taking a diplomatic approach is key, Wheatman says. “You want to be as transparent and sincere as possible, without saying anything negative about the company,” she suggests. For instance, you could say: “When I applied for this job, I didn’t realize how much independent work was going to be involved. I prefer working in a team, so I don’t think this position is the right match for me.”

You could also simply offer a vague but perfectly acceptable explanation—“I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is the right opportunity for me at this moment in time”—to avoid insulting the person or the organization, Donovan says.

5. Leave the door open

If you’re genuinely interested in working at the company in a different role, express your aspirations to the hiring manager. (“Although this position wasn’t the right fit, I’m still very interested in your company and would love to hear in the future if you have any positions open up that involve leading a small team. Let’s keep in touch.”)

Have no desire whatsoever to work at the company? Keep things cordial: “I’ve enjoyed our conversations. I hope our paths cross again.”

Find the right job for you

After you know how to decline a job offer, it’s time to continue pursuing other opportunities. Need help with that? Join Monster for free todayAs a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Let Monster get yourself to the next rung on the career ladder. You can (and should) say yes to that.