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Turning Down an Offer With Style and Grace

Do you have a question for our crack team of… uh… I'm trying to come up with something nice to call us but I got nothing. ANYHOO, if you have career conundrums, issues, inquiries or just need a sympathetic ear to listen to you, then get in touch and we'd be happy to help. Actually, we don't want to hear your whining, but we totally meant everything else.

Overachievers across the nation nailed their interviews and received multiple offers for employment. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t break out the bubbly just yet. Turning down an offer still stands in the way of your recruiting cycle reaching completion. Moreover, if not handled well, you run the risk of tarnishing your brand and closing future doors of employment opportunity.

The key to saying no is to avoid burning of any bridges. [Ed. note: we cannot emphasize this enough, burning bridges is very very very very bad.] You never know. You may end up disliking the position where you accept an offer. If you said no to another firm with style and grace, when you contact them down the road about possible employment, they will be open to supporting you. If you instead exhibit poor etiquette, they may not respond to you at all.

So what does good etiquette look like in this situation? I highly recommend you pick up the phone and place a call to the recruiter or the primary point of contact you had during the process. Email does not convey tone and emotion as well as your voice does. Often times during the recruiting cycle, you built relationships with those you met. Some of you may have just been brown nosing for the j-o-b but, during my tenure as a recruiter, many candidates I met became members of my professional circle and stayed within it by acting right.

Being able to hear a person explain their thoughts and feelings made it possible for me to connect with them and really understand their perspective. From there, I was able to wish them well and was totally open to the calls that came in saying they made a mistake or wanted advice on transitioning to another position that would be a better fit.

Also, be prepared to leave a voice message. Don’t use the voicemail as an escape from the crucial conversation. Would you want a recruiter to leave you a voice mail saying they were sorry and you didn't make the cut? Do unto others. If you receive voicemail when making the call, leave a message stating that you want to discuss your offer and request that they call you back.

Once you do connect by phone, be prepared to explain the choice you made and why you made it. They will likely want to know where you chose to work and if there were any ways they could improve their recruiting processes. Be honest and be gentle with your candor. Sometimes the explanation is as simple as the logistics (e.g. location, department) and other times it may be harder to diplomatically convey
their best efforts did not come across very well or paled in comparison to what other firms did or offered. You should also use this opportunity to be gracious. A lot of direct and indirect costs go into recruiting, so extend your gratitude and thank them for their time.

All of this wisdom can also be applied to the changing your mind with the firm you accepted employment with. Between the time you accept an offer and the time you start, a lot can change in your life. Should you find yourself wanting to rescind your acceptance, all this guidance still applies.

Anyone working in the profession will tell you that it is a small world. By being professional throughout the entire process, you will preserve your brand as the type of person that everyone wants to work with for years to come. Complete your process, pop champagne and celebrate what you have achieved!