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How to Reject an Offer: 3 Golden Rules

In our interview with Jamie Iredale, Chief Procurement Officer of the Australia Post, he notes “Sometimes the best decisions are the moves you don’t make.”

And we agree.

But with the increased visibility of connections, and our increased ability to map those connections via digital networks, we also think that it makes the delicate handling of situations (like how to reject an offer) that much more important

In today’s world, there are more bridges to burn: how many Linkedin connections does the person standing on the other side of that charred tie have?

The consultant skill set is a highly valuable one, and chances are you won’t take every offer you get. Here are the golden rules to ensure you don’t tarnish (or incinerate) your reputation for opportunities down the line.

Golden Rule 1: Maintain transparency

Everyone wants to make themselves as attractive in interviews as possible – you want the offer regardless. And while we agree that at times you may need to table knee jerk reactions in real time to thoroughly process and assess an opportunity to the fullest, there are issues about which you need to be clear from the start to avoid last minute surprises and scarlet “D” for dishonesty when you pass on a role:

  • Key items you need to cross the line: If your partner will never move to that specific location, you need a later start date, or know you will not take the role with its given title or salary, etc., you will leave a bad impression if you reject an offer because of these things with no mention of them previously, or asking to suddenly change them with an offer in hand.
  • Management of multiple processes: Juggling multiple interview processes happens often. If you are getting close to an offer and another process is not yet there, or are going between multiple offers, be open about your timing with the company so they can react accordingly (and understand why you then would approach them saying you took something else). And for those of you wondering about counter offers – don’t even think about it.
  • Financial / compensation information: If your house is under water, or if you have special insurance needs, a company could very well be willing to overlook or help with these items and bake them into the offer if you are upfront – but that good faith is lost if they are thrown at them after the fact. On that note, companies (and recruiters representing you to companies) need your correct compensation information to know if you are within the parameters of the job. Both parties are working together to deliver a compelling offer, and if the end verification process exposes misleading information on your part, forget rejecting the offer – you’ll likely lose the opportunity entirely, as well as the respect of those working with you.

(Note: if you are working with an executive recruiter, they can oftentimes be an advantage in helping you manage the process, as well as take a certain amount of pressure off regarding direct communication with the hiring company. If anything, be sure to at least let them know these key items upfront so they can best advise you on how to proceed while keeping the respect of all those involved.)


Golden Rule 2: Negotiate in good faith

If you’re not inclined to take the offer in any event, the worst thing you can do is make a bunch of special requests that in truth will not budge your verdict in the end. Special asks throw your hiring manager into the difficult and often political position and process of bending the rules – putting their neck out, speaking with internal HR, getting senior sign offs, etc. to ensure you are good to go. In coming back and saying “Thanks but no thanks,” you’ve not only burned the bridge, you’ve sucked up the ashes in a snow blower and pummeled your recent hiring connection with a steady pile of soot.


Golden Rule 3: Be pleasant and polite

It seems obvious, yet there is a reason we’ve included it here. With offers and interview processes, it is easy for individuals to slip into tunnel vision and forget all others involved in the process. From the hiring manager to the recruiter to the internal HR teams, it takes a village, and you want that village to maintain a positive impression of you, and your integrity, for future reference. Follow up – in a timely manner – with all those involved as appropriate, even if you are not taking their specific opportunity.


The Takeaway

No one likes to say “no” to others, and the sting lingers a bit after the fact if you have to reject an offer.  Maintain your integrity, transparency, and manners throughout the process, and you’ll fortify those bridges for future opportunities down the line.