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You’ve received a job offer, and after much contemplation you realize it does not feel like the right fit.  Perhaps it’s something about the work itself or the corporate culture that doesn’t quite resonate for you. Or the pay is so much lower than you anticipated that negotiation seems fruitless. Or you’ve had a better offer and the decision is obvious.

Three Tips to Avoid Bridge Burning

TIP #1:

For those of us that dislike confrontation, the easiest approach is to send a quick email to turn down the employer or hiring manager that you spent time with. Keep in mind, however, that this is a relationship in your network and how you handle this communication can maintain your relationship or burn a bridge. Do you know for sure that you never will be in a position again where this individual may have a say in your career progress? With movement between organizations so common these days, you never know when your paths will cross again. Keep the following points in mind to avoid burning a bridge that might otherwise serve your career in the future: Pick Up the Phone!

Keep in mind that when you turn down an offer, the other party will likely feel the following emotions:

  1. Disappointed in that they felt you were the right hire.
  2. Frustrated they spent time interviewing, reference checking, possibly assessing you, and now more time will have to be spent selecting another candidate
  3. Saddened that they will not get to work with you and have your talents on board.

Given these human reactions, connect as a human and don’t rely solely on an email to turn down a job offer. It’s far better to courageously call, express that it was a difficult decision, and explain why you felt you needed to turn it down. Your vocal tone is so much more expressive than even the best written email and your willingness to have a human conversation will speak volumes about your character.

TIP #2: Stay Open to Discussion

If you’re concerned that you may be vulnerable to being “talked back in,” promise yourself you won’t agree to anything until a day after the call (i.e., sleep on it!).  The employer may be willing to work with you on your concerns. Maybe there’s new information you hadn’t expected.  Maybe there was more room than you thought for greater pay or a creative solution for making it work. If it still doesn’t feel like the right fit, even with accommodations, having a conversation that expresses empathy and appreciation will help you to preserve the relationship.

TIP #3: Express Gratitude

An email can follow your conversation to thank them once more for their time and interest, and to wish them all the very best. But an email alone should never be the way you turn down an offer unless you are wanting to truly burn a bridge and will never cross paths with this person again.

All of us will turn down a job offer at some point in our lives. By following the above tips, you can work to strengthen, rather than damage, relationships in your network and bolster your reputation as a professional.

Dr. Laura Hambley
Founder and Registered Psychologist
Calgary Career Counselling