How to Decline a Job Offer Without Burning Bridges

Updated: Nov. 03, 2022

When a professional opportunity doesn't feel like a good fit, these expert-approved tips can help you bow out gracefully.

Landing a new job can be an arduous process, and it’s thrilling when you finally get an offer. But unfortunately, not every employment opportunity is the best next step on your professional path. Still, it can be difficult to figure out how to decline a job offer that you’ve ultimately decided isn’t a fit—especially when dealing with an organization you’d like to remain in good standing with. Luckily, help is on the way. We asked human resources experts about the best ways to say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” so that you can stay in a company’s good graces and even have them offer you the right job down the road.

Respond swiftly

If your gut says this isn’t the job for you, say it sooner rather than later. “Remember, it is the hiring manager’s role to fill this position,” says Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting and a former human resources line manager. “Do not play games. As soon as you know you will not be taking the offer, let the hiring manager know. Be polite, be prompt, and be to the point.”

Pick up the phone

We’ve become so accustomed to doing everything digitally, without speaking to someone else or—gasp!—meeting face-to-face. But in this situation, you should make the effort to connect over the phone. Particularly if you’ve built a rapport with the hiring manager, it’s not only a kind gesture but also better etiquette than turning down the job over e-mail. “When declining a job offer, try to do this over the phone,” says career coach Stephanie Dennis, who hosts the podcast Career Talk: Learn – Grow – Thrive. “If you can’t reach the person the same day, I’d send an e-mail so they can hopefully see it right away and offer to follow up via phone.”

Show gratitude

When weighing how to decline a job offer, don’t forget to show your appreciation to the very people who thought so highly of your talent and skills that they put you first on the list. “Too many candidates fail to appreciate the work done by HR staff, largely because they feel that they are doing all the work in getting the job,” says Fiona Arnold, director of Red Crest Careers in the United Kingdom. “Showing HR staff that you appreciate what they have done for you will help maintain a positive relationship, even if you are ultimately delivering bad news.” In addition to maintaining good relationships, you need to have a killer résumé. Here are some tips on how to write a résumé that will get you hired.

Don’t ghost your would-be employer

There’s one surefire way to burn a bridge when choosing how to turn down a job offer, and that’s to ghost the hiring manager. Yes, it’s an awkward conversation to have, but pulling a disappearing act is the wrong way to let someone know you’ve decided not to take the gig. Not only will this move burn a bridge for other opportunities within this company, but it will also hurt your chances with sister companies as well, points out Roy Munk, president of GHS Recruiting, which specializes in recruiting health-care professionals. Instead, a short conversation—infused with a little honesty and a little kindness—is the way to go. “Be diplomatic,” adds Munk. “There’s no reason to be so honest that it borders on insulting.” Not every job offer will be for you–these dumb help-wanted ads actually ran.

Be vague

You may have spent the interview process going into specific details about your exemplary work history, but when mapping out how to decline a job offer, it’s fine to be vague. “There is no need to go into great detail about why you are turning the offer down,” says Munk. “Simply explaining that you do not feel it is the right fit at this time in your career is sufficient. However, if you wish to keep the door open for future opportunities, you may want to be more specific. Was the position not advancing your career? Was the compensation off? Would there be a role within the company that you would like to be considered for in the future?”

Don’t lie

The world is smaller than you think, particularly when operating within any given professional field. Even a little white lie told to save face when declining a job offer can hurt you in the future. “This imperative to be honest goes not just for how you decline the job offer but everything leading up to it,” says Tasia Duske, CEO of Museum Hack. “If you tell a potential employer that it’s your dream job and then you decline it because you got your actual dream job somewhere else, then you aren’t being honest.” Successful people don’t have to tell tall tales (or even small ones). In fact, these are the traits of folks who have success figured out.

Leave the door open

Experts agree that it is possible to leave the door open for another opportunity within the company whose offer you are turning down. Politeness goes a long way, as does transparency. “If you are genuine when turning down an offer and truly were excited about the company, role, and team, that will show in your conversation,” says Dennis. “You can let the person know that and share that you’d love to keep in touch for future opportunities. More often than not, if you handle the situation with respect and honesty, the person you’re talking to will be happy to keep you in their pipeline.”

Stay in touch

If you’ve declined an offer and want to stay in good standing with the recruiter you’ve been working closely with, don’t be afraid to reach out via a networking site like LinkedIn. It’s a good way to stay abreast of future opportunities and also for them to see the latest and greatest developments in your career. Ronica Thampi, a senior recruiter with Beaconstac, even suggests attending company meetups if possible. “Be courteous and polite when declining the offer,” says Thampi. “And let them know that you will be interested to come on board in the future.” When you do land that perfect role, make sure you know these things you really must do on the first day of a new job.