How to turn down a job offer (or resign) gracefully

So, you've done it. You've considered all the costs of a new job, networked your heart out, and considered all aspects of your job offer. Now you are facing one of two outcomes:

  1. Pull the trigger! Take the new job.

  2. Not good enough! For whatever reason, you've decided to decline the offer.

Either way, someone is going to be on the receiving end of some bad news. Turning down a job offer (or even resigning from your current position) can have a long-lasting impact on your career and, therefore, your finances — so it's important to negotiate this situation carefully. If you are currently employed when you decide to pull the trigger and take the new job, you will first need to resign from your current position.

Resigning Your Current Position

As you leave your current employment, you will likely want to list your supervisor and/or colleagues as professional references, possibly for many years to come. Additionally, you may want to return to the company someday, even if you don't anticipate doing so now. Leaving on good terms may keep the door open for future opportunities. On the other hand, screaming “I quit!” and running out the door cackling may close it forever. Here are some career strategies for how to resign gracefully:

Give appropriate notice. Many employers are “at will,” meaning that both employer or employee are entitled to terminate the relationship at any time without notice — however, most employers appreciate two weeks' notice. Additionally, if your employer and/or the laws in your area have different requirements, then you are responsible to adhere to them.

Resist the urge to vent. It can be tempting to use your exit interview to present a laundry list of complaints that led to your decision to seek a new position. However, that can leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Instead, focus the conversation on the opportunities your new position will provide you and articulate why this is the next logical step on your career path.

Help make the transition as seamless as possible. Perhaps you are able to train your successor. Maybe you can create a workflow chart listing your duties, deadlines, and any contacts, programs, or other requirements for completing those tasks. Leaving your former colleagues high and dry, on the other hand, just isn't professional.

Declining a Job Offer

Your relationship with a potential employer is more informal and shorter term than your relationship with your current employer. As a result, there is less at stake in terms of declining a job offer. But it is still a good idea to leave things on the best terms possible.

Just because the current job opportunity isn't a good fit doesn't mean there won't be something of interest down the road. If you decline in a way that is awkward or acrimonious, you may gain a bad reputation with that particular company. Beyond that, you may also gain a bad reputation with the individual who made you the offer.

Why is that important? People don't stay with their jobs forever, as you well know, being a job seeker yourself! If and when the hiring manager moves to another company, they will carry their impression of you with them. Additionally, you are not the only one out there who believes networking strategies can advance your career.

In other words, the people you speak to during the interview process likely have contacts at other companies, particularly if you work in a niche industry. You could be limiting your future opportunities more than you know. Instead, just like you would if you were leaving your current job, remember that you are not obligated to go into detail listing all the reasons their offer left you unimpressed.

Your negotiation would have given them the information they needed to identify the reasons the offer fell short in any case, so why dwell on what they already know? If your reasons are personal, then likely it wasn't something in their control, so having that information won't do them much good either. Instead, stay brief, be polite, and simply say that, while you are grateful for the opportunity, it doesn't make sense as a career move for you at this time.

How have you handled resigning or declining a job? What would you do differently in the future?

More about...Career

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Michal
Michal
5 years ago

Nice article, agree completely. Lately, I experienced both situations. I declined a very generous offer that I was very eager to take at first. But other circumstances weighed in and I have decided to decline it. It wasn’t easy, expecially because it was so alluring. But I made sure not to burn any bridges behind me, so I know I still have open door in the company. At the same time I have resigned my current position. Tried to do it as pain-free as possible, even though I could have vented a lot, there was a lot of frustration built… Read more »

JoeM
JoeM
5 years ago

I’ve been at my current employer for about 2 years and will most likely be leaving January 2016 after I finish my next degree December 2015. They have a two week notice, but they prefer a month. They were rather grumpy when a friend left the agency with a 3 week notice because her future employer wouldn’t wait any longer.

Does a month notice seem excessive? From my point of view, it seems they want a month because organizationally they are so slow to react.

Chelsea @ Broke Girl Gets Rich
Chelsea @ Broke Girl Gets Rich
5 years ago
Reply to  JoeM

My last company required a one-month notice after you’d been there for a certain amount of time and/or passed a certain level of the management hierarchy.

I have a one-month notice when I resigned, but they went ahead and asked me to leave after two weeks even without a replacement (and I was in a higher position)… for them, I think it was more of an ego thing. But if your managers are pretty level-headed, you could give them a one-month notice and offer help in finding your replacement. Hiring usually takes longer than two week.s

Jared
Jared
5 years ago
Reply to  JoeM

There are employers out there that feel entitled to a certain amount of notice. Two weeks is a courtesy.

I worked for a lady that, honestly, did not deserve any notice at all. In fact, I was asked to leave immediately, after she said some very hateful things to me. Not that I listened. I was done listening…

I gave two weeks, because i’m a good person, not because she was.

Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
5 years ago

While I think it would be fun to have a screaming on the way out story, I’ve always been polite, with written notice. No point burning bridges.

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago

I won’t lie, there have been times where I wanted to go out like the quitting scene in the movie Half-Baked. You Tube it if you don’t already know.

Mike in NH
Mike in NH
5 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

hahaha great reference! oddly enough I’m going to see Jim Bruer tomorrow night, who knew he was still alive?!

Wiggles @ FirstYouGetTheMoney
Wiggles @ FirstYouGetTheMoney
5 years ago

I agree with leaving on good terms. Definitely give the appropriate notice and don’t blow up in your exit interview. While you shouldn’t vent in your exit interview, try carefully and tactfully wording the reasons why you left. Your comments could help improve the work atmosphere of your former colleagues who still work there.

Vanessa
Vanessa
5 years ago

Or skip the exit interview altogether. They aren’t mandatory and no good ever comes from them anyway.

Jared
Jared
5 years ago

I did not do my exit interview. It was worded thus: “Their is no benefit to you. It’s high risk, and low reward.”

I left a job 4 months ago where that speech from HalfBaked was what was on my mind. I told my boss, though, “I resign, Xth will be my last day.” Her eyes got so wide.

Christy
Christy
5 years ago

Our last secretary blew up one day after she came back from lunch and said she had enough that we were horrible to work with and be around. She was tired of us asking her questions and making her come up with ideas and call customers. We let her set her own schedule, stay home with pay when necessary and never docked her pay when she was late or left early. She brought her kids to work many days and left early for school and after school activities. She was also paid very well. So we were surprised when she… Read more »

erica
erica
5 years ago

Over the years I’ve left a number of jobs. Sometimes I’ve exited exceptionally well and sometimes not so well. But I’ve never left and had any confidence that my former supervisor would provide a decent reference.

L
L
5 years ago

I just had the experience of turning a job down within our organization and there was a miscommunication between HR and the new group. The new group thought I had accepted the job and announced to their group I was coming. I got an IM from an acquaintance saying so glad you are coming to the group. I sent the supposed new boss an apology by e-mail and have not heard anything back. I just was not time to leave my current job which I enjoy but the commute is longer. Enjoying the job outweighed the longer commute.

Olga King
Olga King
5 years ago

Last week was the first time in my 21 years of work force I quit the job. I put a resignation letter on the table on January 2nd and a date of leave as the 14th. They came back and stressed that 2 weeks is not over until the 16th. I didn’t care about extra 2 days, but did find it ridiculous that I was pressed. I did not give any explanation of my leaving, never spoke of why and where, and skipped an exit interview (wasn’t offered it anyway). I really want to go “kicking and screaming”, but decided… Read more »

Rail
Rail
5 years ago

There ARE times when you should burn bridges. Some companies or employers are rotten to the core and if you have your say it will help your self esteem and confidence, also if word gets out that you “stuck to your guns” and stood up to a evil boss it will give you gravitas with many employers. Cheers!

Beard Better
Beard Better
5 years ago

Unfortunately I recently had to deal with this for the first time when I graduated unexpectedly early with a master’s degree due to research funding issues. Everything was so rushed, and my previous boss didn’t really help matters by being slower than molasses in dealing with paperwork I needed from him. In the end I had to stop going into the office and the lab with only a few days’ notice; my apartment lease was expiring at the end of the month and I had to prepare to move across the country. Even though I know rationally that the situation… Read more »

Marie
Marie
5 years ago

I’ve never stayed at a job once I’ve resigned. I deal with intellectual property, so anyone who gives notice is immediately made to pack up and gets escorted out. It’s just the nature of dealing with patents, I guess.

Sundowner
Sundowner
5 years ago

Ah, the emotionally charged resignation transaction. Always a great source of interesting stories. Generally, I agree with the article; don’t burn bridges and give a reasonable departure window. If as some of the commenters have noted, the employer has earned derision due to unprofessional practice, then try your best to be the better person. If they’ve engaged in illegal practices, then you are justified in exiting immediately for your protection, even without resignation disclosure and without two weeks notice. Do contact a lawyer if you so feel it is worthwhile. I will leave you with a bit of levity from… Read more »

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