Gracefully decline a job offer

Keep it professional and there’s nothing to be squeamish about when you turn down one job offer for another. Use this advice to explain your regrets.

It sounds too good to be true. One highly touted job seeker was hit with a perfect financial services storm: job offers from Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan ChaseBlackstone, and Raymond James — all at the same time.

This was the situation facing one client of career coach Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, a partner at SixFigureStart and former head of staffing for Merrill Lynch Asset Management.

Is it an embarrassment of riches to be presented with such wonderful opportunities in the wake of a global financial crisis? Sure, but this job seeker also had a difficult task on her hands. She had to turn down two of these three giants and do so in a way that protected her relationships and reputation at each.

In an era where very few can afford to burn any bridges, she handled the matter gracefully and honestly.

“In one case, she referred someone else for the position,” said Thanasoulis-Cerrachio. “In both cases, she explained why it was critical for her to accept the offer she did. Respect was felt all the way around.”

Respect is the ultimate goal when declining a job offer, no matter if it’s for an IT security engineer position or a staff pharmacist role, said Ginny Clarke, author of “Career Mapping: Charting Your Course in the New World of Work.”

“No one is taking this stuff personally,” Clarke said. “Don’t lie. If you like another job [more], be honest.”

She suggests contacting the hiring manager quickly and by phone — never in an e-mail — and offer specific reasons why another opportunity is a better fit for you, whether it’s the hours, location, industry trends, or it’s just not your desired job title. In the event that you’re taking another offer because it’s a higher salary, it should be at least $10,000 more per year if you’re going to use money as your official explanation. If it’s within that margin, Clarke suggests emphasizing a secondary reason during the call, such as stability or a clearer promotional path.

Declining a job offer by phone this way is more professional and respectful, and provides an opportunity for an open exchange where you could give helpful feedback to the hiring manager. Then, you could follow up with him by sending your contact information at your new job.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Here’s where I ended up,’ ” she said.

Many job seekers feel squeamish about declining an offer after selling themselves during the interview process, but that’s not a legitimate concern in a professional setting, Clarke said. “It doesn’t mean that you’re disloyal. It’s not about loyalty but it is about integrity.”

The ‘Reputation Issue’

As a recruiter, Clarke once had a candidate who was offered a job as a devops engineer and then had a family emergency that meant he wouldn’t be able to move from Columbus, Ohio to Calgary, Canada. The man was in a tough spot, but he chose to put family first and quickly explained his sensitive situation to the manager who offered him the job.

“She respected that about his character — that he made that decision,” Clarke said.

The man stayed in touch with the company and when his family matter stabilized months later, he reapplied to the company and got the job.

Not all job seekers are so graceful. Another one of Clarke’s candidates applied for a sales director position without ever planning on accepting it. He was just “playing” her client in order to leverage a promotion with his current employer.

“It damaged his reputation,” she said. “There’s a reputation issue you’re trying to maintain.”