5 professional ways to decline an interview

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Your LinkedIn lit up, alerting you to a new message. A recruiter or human resources pro lets you know a company would like to meet with you. Regardless if you were looking, or you weren’t, your response is a judgment call. Are you interested in the gig? The business? If your brainstorming lands you with a big ‘ole ‘nope’ — then you’re tasked with the responsibility to professionally decline an interview. Many people find this conversation a tricky one since it’s essential to be honest while also keeping the lines of communication open. Most importantly, you don’t want to burn a bridge. “It is a waste of time for both the interviewer and interviewee to meet formally if there is no chance that the meeting will lead to a hire,” explains Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D., an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner, and workplace expert. “The key is to be upfront.”

Here, the most effective and efficient ways to decline an interview — and keep your reputation intact. 

Keep in short and sweet

Though it may be tempting to go on a tangent of all the reasons you aren’t interested in moving forward, the less you say, the better. As an executive career coach, Elizabeth Pearson explains, short and sweet is typically better received than a monologue. Even executives who are schooled on public speaking and typically, eloquent, can lose their train of thought when nerves get the best of them. This can make it sound like you’re giving excuses, rather than valid reasons for the mismatch. If you haven’t had a call with the sender in person, email is perfectly fine. “While the recruiter or hiring manager may be disappointed that the candidate decided to pass — they will not want to read a lengthy email explanation on why the candidate is passing on the interview,” Pearson continues. “If the hiring manager wants further information or clarification, they’ll reach out.”

Be honest if timing isn’t right

Sometimes, the company is intriguing to you — but the timing isn’t exactly right. Whether you have just transitioned to a new position, you recently became a parent, or you want to meet a goal at your current employment before you move, there are plenty of reasons why you don’t want to have an interview today. However, if you want one tomorrow, Hakim says it’s in your best interest to let them know you’d like to hear from them again. “This strategy leaves the door open but doesn’t waste your time or the recruiter’s time. The recruiter may follow up with additional questions to better understand your career goals,” she shares. “Be clear with your plans and you may be surprised by a great future opportunity.”

Don’t be afraid of ‘no’ 

For a word that only has two letters and one syllable, it sure does have a way of striking fear in many people. But Hakim reminds professionals that ‘no’ isn’t rude, demeaning or unprofessional. Rather, it illustrates confidence, direction and courage. After all, if you don’t stick up for your career, who will? She says if you know with 100 percent certainty that the role isn’t for you, then you should clearly say so. “Recruiters respect this candor and may ask a follow-up question to better understand the type of role that does work for you,” she adds.

Pick up the phone if you have a past

As a general rule of thumb, gesture if you’re being recruited by someone you’ve met in person or spoken with before, a phone call is mandatory. As chief engagement and brand officer for EHE Health, Joy Altimare shares, it’s always nicer and it allows for a dialogue, rather than a mandate. Even so, being succinct is still recommended, since you don’t want them to take the route of convincing you to change your mind. “Try to avoid discussion around the specifics if it’s going to possibly leave a bad lasting impression.  Focus, rather, on your professional goals for the future,” she urges.

Express gratitude

It’s the manners bestowed to you from your mother, and the ones you want to instill in your children, so why leave gratitude out of the equation for your career? Pearson says a simple ‘thank you’ is appreciated by busy recruiters trying to meet quotes, and hiring managers who likely hear radio silence frequently. Though you’re not telling them what they want to hear, you are positioning yourself as a respectful human being. “By showing gratitude, the candidate comes off as professional and experience which will thereby keep the relationship in good standing. Call out at least one positive aspect of the experience to reinforce gratitude for being considered,” she recommends.