Negotiating job offers

How to decline a job offer (with tips and email templates)

How to politely and firmly decline a job offer without burning any bridges

by Josh Doody

You have a job offer in hand, but you have decided not to move forward with it. You need to decline your job offer.

But what’s the best way to do that and how do you decline the offer well?

We’ll cover this in three short sections:

Your goals when declining a job offer

When you decline a job offer, you have three goals:

  1. Unambiguously decline the job offer
  2. Be kind and polite to your recruiter
  3. Leave the door open for future opportunities

1. Unambiguously decline the job offer

This may sound weird, but it’s important to make it absolutely clear that you’re declining the job offer. The first step in that direction is to actually decline the offer.

Do not leave your recruiter or hiring manager hanging, wondering if you’re going to reply. Don’t make them call and email you a bunch of times to try to get your final decision. Just tell them, unambiguously, that you’re declining the offer.

Not only is it just professional etiquette to decline when you have been made an offer you do not want, but your recruiter’s job will be much easier if you give them an official “no” so they can update their records and move on.

In the same way that it can be frustrating to you if you don’t hear back when you’ve completed some interviews, it can be frustrating for a recruiter whose job depends on closing candidates if they have extended a job offer and don’t get an official response.

Don’t leave them hanging.

2. Be kind and polite to your recruiter

The person who made you the job offer might have a lot riding on your acceptance. The hiring manager has a role to fill, the recruiter’s job is to find the right candidates who will accept job offers, and the team you would be joining could probably use the extra help.

So it’s important to decline the job offer politely and kindly to soften the blow. You’re already probably going to make someone’s day worse, but at least you can do it politely.

3. Leave the door open for future opportunities

This may not be the right job or company for you right now, but maybe it will be the right fit later on.

You made enough of an impression on everyone who interviewed you—the hiring manager, skip-level manager, the team you would have joined—that they made you an offer. It’s important to remember that you could run into one or more of those people down the road.

So make sure to leave the door open for future opportunities, which could be with this particular company, or with this hiring manager at a different company several years from now.

Even big industries can be pretty small depending on your specialty and network. So if you’re able to leave a good impression on the people who made this offer happened, maybe you’ll get an even better opportunity to work with them down the road.

Tips for declining a job offer

In order to accomplish your goals, there are a few things you can do to make the bad news you’re delivering more palatable for your recruiter.

Don’t waste time

In general, you should decline a job offer as soon as you know that you will definitely not be joining that company. If it’s Friday morning and you know you’re not going to take this offer, don’t wait until Monday morning to let them know. Go ahead and decline the offer before the day ends on Friday so they don’t waste their time on the weekend trying to close the deal.

Notice I said you will “definitely” not be joining the company. There are situations where you might leave the opportunity open if you think there’s a chance you’ll end up accepting it (if, for example, your preferred company still hasn’t made a decision). In that case, you have to do what’s best for you.

But when you know for sure you won’t be joining, go ahead and decline the offer. Don’t procrastinate.

Here’s an email template you can use to politely decline a job offer and let them know you have accepted another offer.

Don’t bury the lede

“Bury the lede” is a journalism term that basically means “put the main point of the story too late in the article”.

When you’re declining a job offer, don’t beat around the bush. If you’re having a conversation on the phone, or writing an email, you want to immediately get to the point: I’m declining the offer you made.

You don’t have to be mean about it, or even terse, but you don’t want to spend five minutes talking about other stuff when they’re hoping you’re about to accept their offer. Let them know immediately so they don’t sweat it.

Decline the job offer over email

It might make your recruiter’s job a little easier if you decline over email because it gives them a clear piece of documentation that confirms you’ve declined.

You can decline on a phone call or in person, but it’s slightly easier for them if you put it in an email.

There’s also a benefit that the email itself is an opportunity for you to use all the other goals and tips we’ve covered so far in a permanent document that can be reviewed later on.

A few years from now, you may end up back in the hiring pipeline for this same team (and hopefully a more senior role). They will obviously remember that you previously got an offer that you turned down, and they may even go searching for your previous emails with them to see how that process went.

What you want them to find is a nice, professional series of emails from you throughout the entire process. And it’ll help your case if the last email they see is a polite, thoughtfully written email declining your previous job offer from them.

Email templates to decline a job offer

Here are two email templates you can use to decline a job offer.

Declining a job offer (accepted another position)

Once you know you have negotiated the best possible version of your salary, you’ll need to decide whether to decline or accept the job offer and while this isn’t traditional negotiation, it’s more of a long-term salary negotiation. You want to make sure that, even though you have negotiated this job offer aggressively and are deciding to not join the company, you part ways on good terms so that the door remains open to future opportunities.

Declining a job offer (not a good fit)

This email template is similar to the one above, except instead of going with another opportunity, you’re simply declining the opportunity outright. This can be uncomfortable, and you don’t want to belabor the point: just tell them you have decided that this job is a good fit for you.

Your recruiter will probably be frustrated, but this will help you communicate your decision directly while hopefully maintaining a positive working relationship with them in case you encounter them again in the future.

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