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?

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