It hardly seems possible: you’ve beaten so many others in the recruitment process. You’ve applied, got through the first round of exercises and interviews; made it to the final interview stage, and aced that too. The result is positive: you’ve got the job! And herein lies the near-impossibility of the task at hand. You find yourself in the awkward position of having to refuse a job offer which at the previous interview, you seemed only too keen to get.

It’s a difficult internal process to muster. How do you say “No, thank you,” without coming across as selfish, unfair or thoughtless? After all, you don’t want word to get around that you’re not committed or that you’re a very picky potential candidate: that would make it harder for you in your current job search or indeed in future career changes, especially early on in your progression.

So how can you master the art of polite refusal and have your honesty valued and respected?

  1. Don’t drag your feet

When declining a job offer make sure you act swiftly. Once you’re certain of your decision, contact the hiring manager within 24 to 48 hours after the initial offer is made to you. Any more than this and you will be exercising poor form. Remember that they also need a swift decision, given the considerable amount of money invested in the entire recruitment process. It is only fair on your part to decline politely as soon as possible so that the company can push ahead with looking at other potential shortlisted candidates.

  1. Get personal and pick up the phone

As much as it looks enticing and convenient to send a formal email informing the hiring team of your decision against the taking up their offer; hiding behind text and technology is not the way to go. Such a strong personal decision requires a personal touch and nothing gets the point across better than an honest conversation on the phone, or better still, face to face. The nuances of what you want to say, the tonality of your voice and the real-time responses of interpersonal communication are crucial in confirming to the hiring manager that the place you’re coming from is not one of flippancy but of mature thought. Written communication may be formal but it loses the subtleties of your intent and having a proper conversation allows those getting your negative response to hear you as a person and value your genuine answer, even if it is not what they wanted to hear. It also gives them the opportunity to ask you any immediate questions they may have to follow up.

  1. Words matter

Frame your response not only politely, but with grace. This essentially means that rather than being too blunt about your decision, make sure you explain your motivation carefully and purposefully. Choose your words wisely and don’t come across as overly critical of the company itself. Rather, explain your response honestly as a situation where your personal direction and planned career path do not intersect with the job itself and its specific responsibilities, as you had initially hoped; rather than shifting the blame on the company ethos, mission and values. These are to be praised in your polite declination, making you sound genuine rather than disrespectful. Acknowledge the time they spend in recruiting you and thank them for it while subtly apologising for having taken up so much of it. Be honest, clear and most of all tactful.

  1. Stay in touch

Dr Amantha Imber states that “maintaining connections with the individuals you encountered during the job application process is a strategic move for network building.” The hiring team are professionals who used their personal expertise to select you as the best candidate for the job, which means that they definitely recognised your potential. Stay in their good books and maintain solid, positive professional relationships with them, keeping the channels for communication open. If your paths cross again at a later stage, they foundations will be strong and based on mutual respect. You never know what the future may have in store for you.


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