"How do I turn down an offer without burning bridges?"


Author: Larry Medina (Head of Career Services, Alumni & Corporate Relations) at ESSEC Asia-Pacific

This week, I will discuss a topic that could have a long-term impact on your career: what if you have to turn down a job offer? 

It could be seen as a good problem to have an offer that you want to reject. It means that you have successfully managed the recruitment process and have options. 

However, if not done diplomatically and professionally, it could harm your opportunities in the future. The world is small, and people remember.

The scenarios of rejecting an offer

Two scenarios would drive you to reject an offer. Firstly, the initial offer does not meet your needs, and lastly, you have two or more offers from other companies. In both scenarios, it is crucial to clearly understand why you are rejecting the offer. 

The second scenario — where you have other offers — is more straightforward because there's a comparative choice to be made, but still, it is important to know why you are taking one offer over the other. 

The first scenario can be relative to your current position. Still, it will require clear reasons to explain that you are not here to waste the company's time intentionally.

The reasons for rejecting an offer

The first step is to understand why you rejected the offer. Hopefully, you have already thought about your salary and benefits requirements, the desired work culture, job responsibilities, job title, reporting relationship, etc. 

The second step is to be clear in your mind if it is a final decision or if you are willing to negotiate. The company may not, but there are several scenarios where they might. 

For example, in some scenarios, it could be possible to change the title from manager to senior manager. If you have made a final decision, you should state that your decision is final so that the company is clear to cease pursuing the offer. This will prevent any frustration.

Once you are clear on your decision and reason, you should inform the company in a conversation (in-person, phone, video call) if possible and as soon as possible. 

Communicating your rejection

A couple of points here: It is tempting to reject the offer in an email, but it is better to do so in a conversation because your tone of voice and your clarifications can help salvage and maybe even build the relationship. 

Being specific about your reasons will be helpful to the other party and could lead to a negotiation if that is what you desire. 

If you are interviewing for multiple roles, it is tempting to wait to respond, even if you know that the position is not what you want. 

Of course, it is OK to wait to answer for some time. My recommendation is not to delay more than a week. Companies will appreciate a timely response, especially if you are rejecting the offer.


To recap, almost every person will need to reject a job offer at some point in their career. 

Be very clear about why you will not accept the offer and whether your decision is final. A polite and professional conversation with the HR or hiring manager will ensure that the bridge is not burned. 

You never know when and where your paths might cross in the future.

 Larry Medina is the Head of Career Services, Alumni & Corporate Relations at ESSEC Asia-Pacific Business School. For more career tips, follow #careertipswithlarry.  Read previous tips from this series.

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