How to Properly (and Gracefully) Decline a Job Offer
Sometimes, it may seem as though there are so few solid offers floating out there that turning down a job offer simply isn't an option. But luckily, this isn't the case at all, as many in the biotech industry can attest. After spending some time determining whether or not the job being offered is the right one for you, it's time to decline the offer, while still leaving the door open for future endeavors. The last part of that statement is truly the key. Other opportunities at that company may surface later, and you never want to burn your hypothetical bridges. So, here's what you should do:
Alert the Employer As Soon as Possible
Time is of the essence. However, you don't need to let them know immediately after receiving the offer that the position isn’t for you – in fact, it's fine to "sleep on it" for a day or two. However, you don't want to put things off for too long. If you do not accept their offer, the company will need to reach out to the next candidate on the list while that person is still interested and available. For example, if you receive a job offer on a Friday, Monday or Tuesday of the following week are acceptable days to respond. However, don't wait until the following Friday, as that may leave the company in a bad spot.
Handle It Over the Phone
While you may be tempted to send your rejection in an email, it's best to give the company a call. Speak with the person who interviewed you, or barring that, the head of HR (although both may be the same person). If you need to leave a voicemail, do so, but you're actually better off talking to them personally since it's a little more formal and official. In addition, you can follow up on your interaction with an email, but it shouldn't be your only method of communication. Remember, speaking with your interviewer is much more personal and shows you took the time to respond because their offer was important to you even though you are declining the opportunity.
Always be polite. For example, start off the phone call with a reminder of who you are and which position you were offered. Then, give the other person a chance to speak before you tell them you're turning down the job. If you interviewed for a lab position but aren't happy with the salary and benefits package compared to what you currently have, refrain from telling them that. Unless they make it clear that terms are negotiable, you should leave your reasons for turning down the job vague. A simple "it just isn't right for me at this time" is enough.
Keep It Brief
Next, keep your interactions with the hiring manager brief. You don't want to take up too much of their time, because they have other candidates to contact. Instead, tell them the bad news and then politely end the call. Since you aren’t required to provide a detailed explanation of why you’re turning down the offer, this should take no more than a few minutes.
Leave the Door Open
The entire point of gracefully and politely turning down a job offer is to leave the door open should another position open up in the future. Always end your phone call (and the additional follow-up email if you go that route) with a statement like, "I wish you well in the future" or "Best of luck with everything." Stay positive and upbeat, and thank them for the opportunity. This makes it clear you care about the company and want to leave things on a positive note. Doing so also ensures that the company still views you in a positive light, even though you turned down their offer, and because of this, they may keep you in mind for future opportunities.
Remember, though it may be a tad uncomfortable in the moment, being gracious and polite while declining a job offer can build good karma for the future.