How to decline a job offer in 5 steps (with examples)

Turning down a job offer can feel incredibly daunting. If you’re looking for the perfect way to decline an offer, following the steps below will help ensure that you do so in an honest and eloquent manner. 

You might think that telling a company “no” will burn a bridge. However, when done in a polite, tactful way it will do just the opposite and could leave the door open for future opportunities.

The reasons for turning down a job opportunity are numerous. Perhaps you don’t feel that the company culture is a good fit. Maybe another company offered you a more competitive salary. Whatever the reason may be, you’ll want to follow these steps to ensure that you decline the job offer with respect and gratitude at the forefront of your mind. 

Step 1: Choose how to break the news

Before you can get down to the work of declining a job offer, you will need to decide the best way to do it. Between sending an email, making a phone call or video call, and showing up in person, you have several solid options to choose from. 

Knowing which one is best can be easily identified by asking yourself one simple question: How did they extend the job offer to you?

If you received a phone call from the hiring manager and mentioned that you would call back with your answer, definitely do that. However, if you received an email explaining the terms of the offer, it is acceptable to reply to it. The script you use will be the same no matter which medium you choose.

Some applicants may feel more comfortable sending an email over having a face-to-face or phone conversation, particularly if they get extra nervous about confrontation. As long as you feel confident that you can clearly express your thoughts via email when declining a job offer, it is ok to proceed that way.

If you do decide to make a call or schedule an in-person meeting to decline a job offer, some companies may still request a written rejection to keep on file. This is typically just a formality, so you can rest-assured that the request for something written despite a verbal conversation is par for the course. 

Step 2: Express gratitude

A simple “thank you” can go a long way in terms of keeping the conversation positive despite the circumstances. You don’t want to burn any bridges with this employer, so kindly thank them for their time and consideration. Leading with this also sets the tone and expectation of appreciation from the get-go.

Common phrasing examples:

“Thank you so much for extending this offer.”

“I greatly appreciate the time you spent getting to know me and helping me understand all that this position entails.”

“Thank you for the opportunity to get to know you and your company.”

Step 3: State your rejection

This is the part where you must be clear and direct. To decline a job offer, you must explicitly state that you are turning down the offer. Use a form of the word “decline” to clarify that you will not be accepting the offer. 

When the employer offered you the position, they likely did so thinking that you would accept. So, while you want to be firm, you don’t want to come across as crass or dismissive. You can preface your declaration with a nice precursor such as “unfortunately” or “with deep regret” to express that the decision was indeed one you spent time considering.

Common phrasing examples:
“Unfortunately, I am declining your offer.”

“It was a difficult decision, but I am declining this offer.”

“Although this is a great opportunity, I am declining the offer.”

“I am respectfully declining the offer to take this position.”

Step 4: Give a brief reason

While you don’t want to drone on and on with every single detail about why the job isn’t the right one for you, it’s polite to briefly explain what contributed to your decision

Out of all of the applicants to this specific position, the hiring manager chose you. That is not something to be ignored. They deserve to know why you are declining the job offer. A specific, honest reason is preferable to be left in the dark. 

Common phrasing examples:

“I was offered a similar position with a company that I feel will be a better fit.”

“Ultimately, the position entails more responsibility than I feel confident taking on.”

“At this time, my salary requirements are higher than what is being offered.”

It is important to note here that depending on your reasoning, there is a chance you may receive a counteroffer when you state why you are turning down the job. This is especially true if there is any wiggle room with salary, scheduling, or responsibilities that wasn’t previously discussed. Just be prepared to either stand firm in your decision or continue the conversation if that happens.

Step 5: Leave the door open

Once you’ve clearly stated your desire to decline the job offer and given a brief reason, expressing a desire to keep in touch can go a long way toward staying in a hiring manager’s good graces. Closing the conversation on a good note and maintaining a connection can help keep you at the top of a company’s list of people to check in with if another position ever comes up for grabs and you find yourself available to fill the need.  

Even if you never in a million years feel like you would be a good fit for the company, you never know when the person who was willing to hire you might change jobs and be in a position to hire you elsewhere. You can always offer to stay connected through networking platforms and it is never a bad idea to remind them that you enjoyed getting to know them.

Common phrasing examples:
“It was an absolute pleasure to get to know you through this process and I would love to stay in touch.”

“You have been a pleasure to work with and I hope you are open to staying in touch.”

“I have enjoyed working with you through the interview process and would be happy to stay connected via LinkedIn.”

Additional tips to keep in mind

Don’t procrastinate: As soon as you make your decision, reach out to the company and let them know. It’s not fair to keep them waiting once you have decided to decline the job offer. 

Keep it simple: Being clear and direct in your wording will help with this. Don’t add too many details or get overly specific. If the hiring manager wants more information, they’ll ask for it. 

Offer a recommendation: You won’t be able to do this with every job, but if you happen to know someone who might be a good fit for the position, it is acceptable to offer their contact information. The hiring manager may not actually need it, but they could very well appreciate the gesture.

Humility counts: If you find yourself in the fortunate position to be able to turn down a job offer, consider yourself lucky. Many applicants muddle through months of submitting resumes, crafting cover letters, and sit through countless interviews before they are offered even one position — if any at all. 

While having more than one job offer to choose from isn’t without its difficult calls, remember that at the end of the day declining a job offer with grace, tact, and humility is paramount.

Ashley Jones is a frequent contributor to Ladders News.