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Ask HR: What's the Best Way to Turn Down a Job Offer?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.
Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 

I have recently declined a couple of employment offers. It felt rather awkward and uncomfortable—especially so if I liked the company. What is the best way to turn down a job offer? —Riley

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: The best way to turn down a job offer is verbally to the recruiter or hiring manager first, and then put it in writing. Your written response should be professional and polite and should include a brief statement for the reason you are declining the offer. While the process may seem awkward and uncomfortable, a definitive response is expected even if the response is "no, thank you." 

There are a few steps to consider when declining an offer:

  • Make a timely, definitive decision on the employment offer.
  • Thank the employer for the offer.
  • When declining, let the employer know verbally and then prepare a written response as quickly as possible. 
  • Provide a brief reason for the decline.
  • Offer to be considered for future opportunities.

Be prepared to share why the position is not the best fit for you; should your reasoning be financial, be ready to receive a higher offer. Take care in communicating your reasoning. Common reasons may include acceptance of another offer, preference of a current employer or the responsibilities of the position. However, you may want to steer clear of communicating critiques that could burn bridges and prevent future considerations. You don't have to provide much detail. 

Typically, two or three short paragraphs are sufficient for your written response. Again, keep the door open for further opportunities. As you may be aware, recruiters and companies often have broad networks. If your rejection of an offer is unprofessional, rude or inconsiderate, that could negatively affect other opportunities outside of the offer you are declining. 

I receive work e-mails over my personal phone. My manager regularly sends late-night and overnight e-mails. When I hear the "ping," I get stressed wondering if he might want an immediate response. It can sometimes feel like I never leave work. Should I address it with him? If so, how? —Troy

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Unless you are in an essential role or working on an urgent assignment, receiving late-night and overnight messages can generate stress. We are accustomed to responding quickly to e-mails during work hours. However, it can be difficult to shut off this impulse outside of work.   

Receiving an e-mail doesn't necessarily mean that you need to respond. Speak with your manager to verify his expectations in sending after-hours e-mails. Does he expect you to respond right away, or is the next business day sufficient? He may just be catching up on his own e-mails and off-hours are more convenient for him.

If responding the next day is OK, you may be able to mute your e-mail notification outside of work hours. Your manager could follow up with a text or call if he needs an immediate response. Most phones and e-mail applications have a setting to notify you of high-importance e-mails only. Consider applying this setting to reduce the number of late-night "pings." Many e-mail applications also offer the option of delayed delivery. Your manager could schedule late e-mails to be sent the next morning.

In the event your manager wants you available 24/7 and your position doesn't warrant it, it may be time to reach out to human resources to discuss what are considered reasonable working hours. There may even be a workplace policy you could review, as well.

I hope that having an open and honest conversation with your manager will help you clarify expectations, and that you can enjoy reduced stress moving forward.


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