How to Decline a Job Offer Over the Phone: An Expert Guide

You‘ve spent countless hours perfecting your resume, researching companies, and preparing for interviews. After all your hard work, you finally receive a job offer—but something doesn‘t feel quite right. Maybe the salary is lower than expected, the company culture seems off-putting, or you‘ve decided to accept an offer from another organization.

Regardless of your reasons, declining a job offer can be an uncomfortable and stressful experience. How do you break the news without burning bridges or appearing ungrateful? According to a 2021 survey by The Muse, 63% of respondents said they would feel anxious about turning down a job offer. However, learning to decline offers that aren‘t the right fit is a critical skill for long-term career satisfaction and success.

In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll walk you through exactly how to decline a job offer politely and professionally over the phone. We‘ll cover:

  • Reasons you may need to decline an offer
  • How to prepare for the conversation
  • A step-by-step script for what to say
  • Tips for handling tricky scenarios like counteroffers or offers you‘ve already accepted
  • Moving forward after declining an offer

By the end of this post, you‘ll feel confident and equipped to handle this complex situation with tact and grace. Let‘s dive in!

When and Why to Decline a Job Offer

Turning down a job opportunity is a significant decision that requires careful consideration. Some of the most common reasons candidates decline offers include:

Reason for Declining Percentage of Respondents
Accepted another offer 44%
Insufficient salary/benefits 23%
Poor cultural fit 13%
Concerns about company stability 10%
Lack of growth/advancement potential 8%
Changing life circumstances 2%

Source: Jobvite 2021 Job Seeker Nation Report

If any of these factors resonate with your situation, it may be time to decline the offer. Trust your instincts—if something feels off, don‘t ignore those gut feelings. Accepting a job that‘s a poor fit can lead to dissatisfaction, burnout, and a short tenure that ultimately damages your resume and professional reputation.

Once you‘ve made the decision to decline, it‘s crucial to inform the company as soon as possible. Hiring managers are eager to fill open positions, so letting them know your intentions right away allows them to move forward with other candidates. Aim to communicate your decision within 24-48 hours of the offer. If you need more time, provide a specific timeline upfront.

While it may be tempting to take the easy route and decline via email, a phone call is almost always the most professional and respectful approach. A conversation allows you to convey your tone, reduces the risk of miscommunication, and gives the employer a chance to ask follow-up questions and gain helpful feedback.

Preparing for the Conversation

Before picking up the phone, take time to collect your thoughts and outline what you plan to say. Consider writing out a loose script to refer to during the call.

Here‘s a template you can customize based on your circumstances:

Hello [Hiring Manager‘s Name],

Thank you so much for offering me the position of [job title]. I greatly appreciate the time and effort you invested in considering me for this role.

After careful consideration, I have decided to decline the offer at this time. [BRIEFLY STATE YOUR REASON, e.g., "I have accepted an offer from another company that aligns more closely with my current career goals."] 

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and your team and learning more about the exciting work [Company Name] is doing in [industry/specialty]. However, I have determined this is not the right fit for me at this juncture.

Thank you again for this opportunity. I wish you and [Company Name] all the best.

Consider role-playing the conversation with a friend or mentor to build your confidence. Jot down bullet points with your key messages to keep the discussion on track.

Anticipate potential questions or counteroffer attempts from the employer. For instance, they may ask you to share more details about your decision or propose changes to the compensation package or role. Decide in advance what information you feel comfortable divulging and what your firm boundaries are. Remember, you‘re not obligated to provide extensive explanations or reconsider an offer you‘ve thoughtfully decided to turn down.

Crafting Your Message: What to Say and How to Say It

When delivering the news, aim to strike a balance between being direct and courteous. Lead with gratitude, clearly communicate your decision, provide a concise explanation, and offer well wishes for the future.

Let‘s break down each component:

1. Express appreciation

Begin the conversation by sincerely thanking the hiring manager for the offer and the time they invested in your candidacy. Acknowledge the effort involved in the hiring process and emphasize your gratitude for being selected.

Example: "Thank you so much for the generous offer to join [Company] as a [job title]. I am truly honored you identified me as the top candidate for this role. I greatly enjoyed getting to know you and your colleagues and appreciate your confidence in my abilities."

2. State your decision

Politely but unequivocally share that you have decided to decline the offer. Avoid language that leaves the door open for negotiation, such as "I‘m leaning toward declining" or "I don‘t think I can accept at this time."

Example: "After carefully weighing all factors, I have decided to decline the offer."

3. Give a brief explanation

Next, concisely explain your rationale for declining. You might mention you‘ve accepted another position, determined the role is not an ideal fit for your skills and interests, or encountered a change in personal circumstances. However, avoid over-explaining or commenting negatively on the organization.

Example: "While this role has many exciting elements, I have ultimately decided to accept an offer from another company that more closely aligns with my current career goals and desired work environment."

4. Keep it positive

Maintain a gracious, upbeat tone throughout the conversation. If you found certain aspects of the job compelling, feel free to mention them. Reiterate your positive impressions of the company and the individuals you met.

Example: "I was impressed by your team‘s passion for the mission and the innovative projects you have in the pipeline. It‘s clear [Company] is doing important work in the [X] space."

5. Wrap up and offer well wishes

As you conclude the call, thank the hiring manager again for their time and consideration. Wish them and the company success in the future. If you‘re open to staying in touch or being considered for other opportunities down the line, say so.

Example: "Thank you again for this opportunity. I wish you and the [Company] team all the best moving forward. Please don‘t hesitate to reach out if you come across other roles that might be a good match for my skill set."

Remember, your goal is to decline the offer firmly and graciously while leaving a positive final impression. You never know when your paths may cross again!

What to Do After the Call

Once you‘ve ended the conversation, take a few minutes to send a brief follow-up email. Reiterate your appreciation and your decision to decline the offer. This message creates a handy written record of the discussion and demonstrates professionalism.

After declining an offer, give yourself a pat on the back for advocating for your career needs and goals. Rejecting a job that wasn‘t an ideal fit frees you up to pursue opportunities more aligned with your values and aspirations. Take note of what you learned during the interview process to refine your job search criteria moving forward.

If you‘re still actively seeking a new role, channel your energy into networking, tailoring your application materials, and setting up job alerts for positions that excite you. The more clarity you have about what you want in your next job, the easier it will be to identify and go after those opportunities.

Navigating Special Scenarios

Sometimes, declining a job offer comes with extra complications. Here are a few tricky situations you may encounter and how to handle them:

You already accepted the offer

What happens if you have a change of heart after initially saying yes? First, review your employment agreement or contract carefully to understand your legal obligations and potential repercussions for backing out. Assuming you‘re not bound to the role, reach out to the employer immediately to explain the situation. Acknowledge the inconvenience, apologize sincerely, and briefly share what led you to reverse your decision.

You‘re tempted to accept a counteroffer

If a hiring manager responds to your decline by proposing sweetened terms, like a higher salary or modified responsibilities, you may feel torn. Ask for a day or two to weigh your options and discuss them with trusted confidantes. Consider whether these changes would address your core hesitations about accepting the role. If you still feel the position isn‘t the right move, politely turn down the counteroffer and express appreciation for their effort to find an amenable solution.

You‘re worried about burning bridges

It‘s natural to feel anxious about damaging your reputation or network by saying no to a job. However, declining in a timely, honest, and respectful manner usually won‘t harm your long-term relationships or prospects. In fact, most recruiters and managers appreciate candidates who communicate clearly and don‘t lead companies on. Focus on expressing gratitude and keeping your feedback constructive. If you‘d like to keep the door open for future opportunities, let them know you‘d value staying connected.

Key Takeaways for Declining a Job Offer With Class

Learning to decline job offers that aren‘t the right fit is a crucial professional skill. While having these conversations can feel stressful, handling them with grace and honesty will benefit your career. Remember:

  1. Prioritize responding promptly, ideally within two business days.
  2. Call the hiring manager directly rather than relying on email alone.
  3. Lead with appreciation and positivity.
  4. Clearly state your decision to decline and briefly explain why.
  5. Keep your feedback concise and constructive.
  6. Offer well wishes and openness to future connections.
  7. Follow up with a thank-you email recapping your message.

By applying the strategies outlined in this guide, you‘ll be well-equipped to say "thanks, but no thanks" to job offers in a way that serves your aspirations while preserving vital relationships. Stay true to your values and goals as you continue your job search journey—your dream role is on the horizon.