It could happen to you. Even in this tight job market, you might find yourself fielding more than one job offer at the same time. Or, you might get offered a job that you’re just not interested in accepting. In an employment era where very few can afford to burn any bridges, you need to handle this situation professionally.
The first thing you need to do, as soon as possible, is contact the hiring manager quickly by phone — never in an e-mail. Declining a job offer by phone is more professional and respectful, and offers you the opportunity to explain your decision and possibly give helpful feedback to the hiring manager. Let the contact know that you are grateful for the offer, you carefully considered the offer and you appreciate the time he took with you.
You are not obligated to explain your reasons, or if you do, you don’t have to go into specifics about the decision, especially if it’s because you felt the hiring manager’s company seemed like a negative work environment or a bad career risk. If you do choose to discuss your decision, you should be able to offer specific reasons why the other opportunity is a better fit for you, whether it’s the hours, location or industry trends. Try to avoid discussing money; if it comes up, and the other salary is less than $10,000 higher, try to emphasize a secondary reason, such as stability or a clearer promotional path.
At any rate, contact the company making the offer as soon as you can, so the company can contact their second choice candidate or restart their search. If you know of anyone who would be a good fit for the position you are turning down, share their contact information (with that person’s permission, of course).
Once you’ve made the call, follow up with a formal written letter. Of course email is the most popular business communication tool these days, but to keep your rejection as professional as possible, send out some good old-fashioned snail mail. Keep your letter polite, professional and short, and leave the door open for future possibilities of working for the company.
When you resign a position you don’t want to burn any bridges on your way out the door, and the same is true when you decide to decline a job offer. Preserve your reputation by being as polite and professional as possible.