How to Reject a Job Offer Without Burning Bridges

Published: Nov 14, 2016

 Education       Grad School       Internships       Interviewing       Job Search       MBA       Networking       
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The objective of every job search is to receive multiple job offers. These offers provide you flexibility, choices and the option to select the best strategic opportunity for yourself. Jobs or roles within a company are two- to four-year career stepping-stones on track to your career destination.

But if you receive multiple offers? How do you reject a job offer without burning bridges?

Like many things in life, visualize the outcome and work backwards. So what would the ideal outcome be? Rejecting a job offer in a manner where in a few years, if you were to reach back out to the recruiter and say "I hope you remember me. I have a couple years' work experience now and I am thinking of making a move. I always kept an eye on your company; is there any way we could re-start our conversation to see if there is an opportunity for me?"

If you haven't burned a bridge, it is likely that your request would be embraced. So that is the ideal scenario.

If you did not communicate well—you  failed to call them back in a timely manner with the "bad news," or you said along the way that if they made an offer you would take it, only to reject it when they did—chances are you might not be met with enthusiasm.

Now let's be realistic, if you are a great candidate and if they were making you a job offer or for that matter an offer for an internship, of course there will be disappointment. That is precisely why so many struggle with the rejection part.

So prior to getting offers don't make promises like:

  • If you offered me this role I would take it in a second
  • This is my #1 opportunity
  • This is where I really want to be

Keep yourself and expectations flexible. The only caution here is that if you lay back and don't show commitment when you have a great choice, you might not get an offer.

Now you have multiple offers and it is 'pick one' time:

First, make sure you have settled on the terms of your current offer. This offer needs to be in writing, not verbal, with a solid layout of expectations including a start date. Once this is finalized, then reach out to the others immediately. They have a business to run as well and after rejecting their job offer, they will move on to the next candidate. Don't waste time; it will only make things worse.

Reach out to the other companies that have offered you positions and tell them you have made the tough decision of selecting another company.

During this call, there are a number of steps you should take:

1)      You should explain why you have chosen the other company—whether that is because of location, salary, job description, etc.

2)      You should also explain why it was a tough decision to make, emphasizing that their offer, too, was a great opportunity.

3)      Remember to thank them for what you've learned throughout the process and for investing time in you.

4)      If you know of other candidates who might not be on the company's radar or if you know of some underclassmen that you think (since you got to know them well through the search/interview process) would be great, connect the dots. It is a nice way to say thanks. This will create a lasting, positive memory of you in that recruiters mind.

When you reject a job offer, remember...

Ultimately the future is a big place and you want a strong network and lots of options. You have created a lot of goodwill through the search/interview process; the key is not blowing it at the end. Be swift, be honest, be sincere and professional. Your reputation depends upon it.

A version of this post previously appeared at