How to pull out of a job interview process without burning bridges

You’ve been interviewing with a company. It’s going well. But now, you’ve realized you don’t want to move forward. What do you do? Before making the terrible decision of ghosting a prospective employer, consider options that won’t have you burning bridges.

“We have hired literally dozens of people who have pulled out of our hiring processes but then re-engaged with us after or we reached out after an amount of time to check in with the ‘candidate who got away,’” says Maureen Crawford Hentz, VP Human Resources of a global manufacturing company and Professional Coach at Bravely.

It makes sense: While pulling out of a job interview might seem like a surefire way to close the door on future opportunities, professionals do it for a number of reasons. HR departments and hiring managers actually expect it and understand it.

“It comes down to a number of reasons such as the applicant might not feel the work culture is the best fit for them, the work itself doesn’t interest them, they don’t see their career accelerating with the firm, or they simply might have received an offer that they are really interested in instead,” says Austin Fain, Director of HR at Perfect Steel Solutions.

1. Don’t pull the trigger too soon

According to Fain, people sometimes withdraw prematurely and miss out on the opportunity to learn more. So take a moment to make sure you’re absolutely certain of your decision.

“Job search isn’t easy and it never will be so try to go forth with the interview process anyway just to get a holistic feel of the company. If you get the offer and you still don’t want to work there, you can always reject the offer and go your own way,” he says.

“But, at least, by doing interviews, you’ll be able to learn about the different roles in a company which could further help you in your future interviews at other companies.”

2. If it’s an absolute no, inform them of your decision ASAP

That being said, you don’t want to waste anyone’s time if you are truly sure it’s a no-go and you wouldn’t accept an offer.

“The best tip that I can give you is to let your hiring manager know immediately about your decision to withdraw. If you’ve already gone through a couple of rounds of the process, then you have to respect the time and effort that the hiring department has spent on you,” says Fain.

And if the thought of telling the company you’re withdrawing fills you with dread, remember that they’ll appreciate your candor.

“While it can be nerve-racking to drop out of an interview process midway, you don’t have to worry about it too much. In fact, you’re probably making the lives of the interviewers and the HR department easier because we have to filter out candidates anyway,” he says.

3. Try to reach them by phone and explain your decision

Crawford Hentz says that informing a potential employer by phone that you’re withdrawing from the interview process is a better route than email or text. And explaining your decision briefly will be appreciated.

“If you are pulling out of a process, please tell the recruiter why it is that you are withdrawing: another process moved faster, more money on offer at another role, the commute is not ideal, or you didn’t click with the hiring manager,” she says.

“Ideally let the recruiter know this verbally— a voicemail is OK and certainly better than a text/ email.”

4. If not, send a thoughtful email

If a phone call is not possible in a timely manner, you can send a thoughtful, personalized email that explains your decision to withdraw.

Don’t ghost the hiring manager but rather send a personalized email so you’re not burning any bridges for the future. Who knows, they might have a position that better fits you in the future and you would be shooting yourself in the foot if you failed to establish rapport during this withdrawal,” says Fain, who shared the following template as a starting point:

“Hello [hiring manager’s name],

I want to thank you for taking the time and putting in the effort to consider me for [the position you interviewed for]. I’ve had a great time interviewing at [company’s name] however at this time I’ve chosen to go in another direction.

I wish you the best of luck in finding a successful candidate because a company such as yours will certainly have no trouble doing so. I look forward to [any future prospects of the company that were discussed during the interview stage].

Please feel free to contact me with any questions that you might have

[Your name]”

5. Do mention whether you are still interested in the company

Finally, if you are still interested in future opportunities with the company, Crawford Hentz recommends making that really clear.

“Say something like ‘I really liked the employee culture at [company] but right now my kids are little and I just can’t commit to full time / it wasn’t quite the right level role for me but if something more senior opens up / I didn’t click with the hiring manager but if another role comes up,’ please do keep me in mind.”

“We have literally short-listed a finalist round candidates who have withdrawn years before but did so nicely. If we like you, we like you — and we are in the business of sourcing candidates. If not right now, maybe in a few years,” she says.