Career

How To Accept And Decline Job Offers

You’ve made it to the end of your job search and you’ve managed to receive at least one offer. Perhaps you’ve even received two or more offers, giving you the opportunity to negotiate and truly make a decision about what is best for you and your future.

Picture: FuzzBones/Shutterstock, swinner/Shutterstock

So many people mistakenly think that this is the end of the line. You do the deep reflection required to understand what you want, what kind of environment you need in order to thrive, and you make it happen for yourself. You get the offer and you can just sit back and put things in cruise control, right?

Eh, not so much. The problem with this whole thought process is the fact that it assumes receiving the offer means the hard work is done. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. In all reality, receiving an offer or offers is just the beginning of the truly hard process of making a final decision. Sometimes, you will have learned during the interview process that a particular employer simply isn’t for you. Other times you’ll simply have multiple offers on the table and you’ll use your ideal job description to determine what fits best. And then you have to make the final call.

Eventually you’ll have to accept an offer, which is an incredibly exciting event in your life and career. However, what most people forget at this point is that the offers you’re turning down came from somewhere. Those employers are waiting to hear back from you, and it would be incredibly unprofessional to leave them hanging. Not to mention the incredible damage it would do to your personal brand.

So, after you make the decision about which offer to accept and which offer(s) to leave behind, it’s in your best interest to do everything you can to maintain the relationships all around. By taking this approach, you can build your personal brand in the eyes of the professionals rather than burning bridges that would be incredibly hard to rebuild.

With that context, let’s dive in.

Deciding to Accept or Decline

You should be accepting for one of two reasons:

  1. You received an initial offer that met all of your needs with a company and in a role that meets the criteria you laid out in your ideal job description.
  2. You effectively negotiated for the terms you needed from the offer.

You should be declining for one of three reasons:

  1. You received an offer after learning during the interview process that the organisation was not the right place for you.
  2. You received an offer that had too many aspects that didn’t meet your ideal job description.
  3. You attempted to negotiate for the terms you needed from the offer and were either unsuccessful, or the organisation was not open to negotiations.

How To Accept an Offer

Based on these terms, let’s cover how to accept an offer first. At a high level, you want to accept the offer both verbally and on paper. It is also a good idea to inform each of the individuals you have interacted with during the interview process in addition to signing and submitting your formal offer letter.

At the most basic level, you will want to sign the offer letter that contains the most up to date terms of employment based on any negotiations you may have done. Do not sign an offer that does not include the up to date information that reflects your negotiations. If you did not negotiate, you can sign the offer letter you first received.

In addition, you should call your main point of contact to tell them you have accepted your offer and that they can expect it in the mail. When you speak to them, say something like the following:

“Hi, [name], this is [your name] and I am calling to formally accept my offer to join [organisation name]. I have signed and mailed/emailed my offer letter and you can expect to receive it within the week. Is there anything else I need to do to help you move the process along at this point?”

They will give a response that reflects their excitement and desire to have you join the team. Hopefully they will give you plenty of detail to appropriately set your expectations, but you cannot rely on that. If they don’t give you any details, then you should ask:

“What can I expect from the overall onboarding process, and when should I expect to hear from you next?”

Now you have accepted the offer (congratulations!), you’ve told the person who needs to know, and you know what to expect next. The next thing to do is to inform anyone else who has played a part in your hiring process at the organisation. If any particular professionals have played a particularly large role by helping answer your questions, negotiate your offer, or recommending you to the job in the first place, I would recommend giving them a call and sending a thank you note.

Let them know that you have accepted and that you appreciate their help along the way. In your thank you letter, include something like the following:

“Dear [Name],

I am excited to tell you that I have accepted my offer to join [organisation name] as a [role name]. Without your help during the recruitment and hiring process, I would not have had such a great experience or learned so much about the company.

Thank you very much for your guidance and support, and I look forward to working with you in the future.

All the best,

[Your Name]”

Your phone call should express similar thoughts. Always be sure to personalise the conversation based on your experience and relationship with the individual. Anyone that played more of a minor role in your hiring process deserves an email informing them that you’ve accepted as well. The basic elements of your email should include:

  1. Thanking them for their help during the process
  2. Informing them that you have accepted your offer
  3. Stating your excitement to join the organisation
  4. Asking for any advice or next steps you should take to prepare to join the organization

You can use the script above, or you can create a custom email template that includes each of the elements above. Always be sure to edit and proofread. Once you accept your offer, it’s the beginning of your career, which means it’s time to continue building your personal brand and professional relationships.

How To Decline an Offer

While accepting an offer will be a great feeling, declining an offer can be a bit less fun. However, declining an offer is an excellent opportunity to build your personal brand and maintain relationships with the people in the organisation. There are two different ways that you will want to handle declining an offer:

  1. When the job, organisation, industry, culture or other aspect is simply not a good fit for you
  2. When you have decided to take a competing offer that simply beat out the one you have chosen to decline.

Declining Because It’s Not a Good Fit

In the first case, there is nothing the organisation could have done to make you want to take the offer. In the second case, the organization’s offer has simply been beat by another employer that represented a better fit for you. In either case, you always want to maintain the relationship, so giving them the courtesy of formally declining the offer is extremely important.

You should decline the offer as soon as you have accepted another offer or made a definitive decision not to accept. While the conversation may be a bit uncomfortable, it’s inconsiderate and poor business etiquette to delay after making the decision. When you’re ready to formally decline, call your main point of contact and send an email to each of your other points of contact in the organisation.

One question that often comes up at this point: why would you spend so much time to simply decline an offer? The answer lies in The Five Principles of Networking Success. You can build your brand and prove your integrity by giving the simple courtesy of correspondence. Based on this approach the next question is: what do you say when you call or email?

Something like this will do just fine:

“Hi, [name], this is [your name] calling in response to the job offer I was excited to receive from your organisation. I am calling to let you know that I have decided to not to accept the offer because [and then insert your reason for declining].”

Your reason will be personal and unique, but here is an example:

“I have decided to accept a competing offer that I feel best fits my current professional and personal goals.”

OR

“I do not believe that I am a good cultural fit for the organisation.”

You will know the reason better than anyone, so be sure to be honest but professional. That means you should not say “I did not think the offer was any good” or “I’m not excited about your organisation”. In your emails to the professionals other than your main point of contact, be sure to include the following points:

  1. Thank them for their time and help.
  2. Tell them that you are declining the offer.
  3. Give them your reasoning for declining.
  4. Tell them you would appreciate the opportunity to stay connected.
  5. Tell them to let you know if you can ever do anything to help them reach their goals.

Declining Because of a Non-Negotiable Offer

The second case in which you will decide to decline an offer is because the organisation said the offer is non-negotiable. In this case, you should make your reasoning clear when you decline by saying:

“I am sorry to say that I have two specific concerns related to the offer you have kindly extended me to join your organisation. Due to the fact that the offer is non-negotiable I will have to decline at this time.”

In this case you would state this reasoning only to your main point of contact. In the majority of cases they will simply accept your reasoning and move on. In rare cases, your final decision (either verbal or written) may trigger a decision to negotiate with you.

In case you are given the opportunity to obtain what you want from the offer, you should be prepared to conduct the negotiation. However, if you receive a call or email to negotiate, reschedule for a time when you are able to have your minimum requirements in front of you and you are able to prepare appropriately for the discussion. When you email the secondary contacts you’ve made in the organisation, you should simply state that you have declined the offer and then include the same main points we covered previously.

Wrapping Up

With that, you’re fully prepared to accept and decline job offers in a way that is professional, builds your brand, and maintains the relationships in a positive way. Your job, no matter how little desire you have to accept an offer, is to make the company or employer feel that their time was well spent in considering you for the position.

Why?

Because that day five years down the road when you realise you need one of those connections or it’s time to sell something to that organisation, you don’t want their one memory to be “that time you snuffed them after they gave you a generous offer”. Right?

How to Accept and Decline Job Offers [Living For Monday]

Barrett Brooks is the founder of Living for Monday, a community of aspiring world changers looking to make an impact with their lives. Living forMonday is giving away The Complete Guide to Evaluating and Negotiating Job Offers for free, exclusively for Lifehacker readers. Get your copy here.


Have you subscribed to Lifehacker Australia's email newsletter? You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.