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How to Accept and Decline Job Offers (livingformonday.com)
61 points by barrettabrooks on April 30, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 56 comments

There is some really bad advice in here.

When declining an offer, there is almost never anything to be gained from explaining your rationale. Be gracious (i.e. thank the person who delivered the offer to you), indicate that you have decided to pursue another opportunity and move on.

If you feel the need to explain your decision, it can and likely will be misconstrued. "I have decided to accept a competing offer that I feel best fits my current professional and personal goals" may be read as "I don't believe your organization can support my professional and personal goals." If you write "I do not believe that I am a good cultural fit for the organization", somebody is likely to interpret that as "Your culture sucks."

Additionally, it rarely makes sense to notify everybody involved in the interviewing process of your decision not to accept an offer. After your initial interviews, assuming you are still considering the opportunity, you should send a thank you note to the people you met with, as appropriate. Unless you had a relationship with one of these individuals before your interviews, further communication regarding your decision to decline an offer is probably not going to be to your benefit, particularly if you have the hubris to invite the other party "to let you know if you can ever do anything to help them reach their goals." Really?

Finally, consider that your dealings with others in the context of a job search will probably be more enjoyable and well-received if you don't pretend that you have a "personal brand" instead of a reputation.

Thanks for your feedback. I would perhaps agree that if handled incorrectly, the notes or calls to various people might not be taken well. On the other hand, they also represent a valuable opportunity to continue building relationships.

As for explaining your reasoning, that is perhaps the case. I would then be curious to know what you would recommend when the recruiter offers the inevitable question of: "Why did you decide to take another offer?" Planning an answer and being proactive about the reasoning in a judicious way can avoid even bigger snafus in response to an unexpected question.

I would be curious to know how you typically offer to help others. I have found in my personal experience, as well as that of others, that asking how I can help is one of the single greatest ways to build trust and respect in a relationship. Now, perhaps "reach your goals" takes it a step too far. If so, simply remove it from the phrasing.

As for the brand. Call it what you will. You have a reputation, or brand, in the eyes of other people. Maintaining a consistent reputation is the point, rather than the exact phrasing of the words.

Again, thanks for offering constructive criticism. I enjoy a healthy debate about career search tactics, and I am always open to continuing the conversation.

In-house recruiters or hiring managers, except perhaps the most inexperienced or unprofessional, will not press a candidate to explain a decision to decline an offer. If the company really wanted you and is disappointed about your decision, you might be asked if there was anything that could have been handled better during the recruitment process or that would have swayed you, but it is highly unlikely that you'll be asked to provide a detailed rationale for your decision. In the odd case that you are pressured for one, you are under no obligation to bow to that pressure.

As for relationship-building and helping others:

1. You cannot build a relationship with every person you meet. This is not a realistic goal. 2. You cannot help every single person you meet. This is not a realistic goal. 3. People are good at discerning whether an offer to help is empty or legitimate. If you were seeking employment a week ago and haven't even started your new job, you have no business suggesting to the people who interviewed you at a rejected prospective employer that you are now in a position to assist them professionally. Offering such help concurrent with a notification that you have accepted employment elsewhere is, again, an act of extreme hubris and is likely to be seen as such.

In-house recruiters or hiring managers, except perhaps the most inexperienced or unprofessional, will not press a candidate to explain a decision to decline an offer.

I couldn't possibly disagree more. If I have invested time into a potential employee and they decide at the end of the process that they don't want to accept our offer then I wouldn't think twice about (respectfully) asking for their rationale. Primarily because I want to ensure that there was no misunderstanding of the role or package but also so I can learn from it and ensure the next person I offer doesn't reject for the same reasons.

I certainly wouldn't pressure someone into providing an explanation but I would consider it basic professional courtesy to be told why we were unsuccessful in acquiring that candidate.

Do you tell those candidates you decline why you declined them?

Categorically. If the applicant has taken the effort to come and interview with us and we decide not to proceed then as a rule I will always give full and frank feedback as to why we came to our decision. Sometimes the feedback is hard to swallow but occasionally I'll get an applicant who challenges our decision and we will genuinely reconsider if they present a valid argument.

This could be a US thing but you should avoid giving a why you reject a candidate because you are opening yourself up to litigation.

All companies big enough to have a policy on this have a "I'm afraid we don't have a position to offer you at this time" -kind of stock reply for this reason.

If there's any follow-up at all its purpose will be to leave the candidate with a good impression, not to give the candidate any actual information.

I've even known companies to say "I'm sorry, we don't discuss specific cases" and post a t-shirt to candidates who ask why.

Well we're UK based and the fear of litigation is certainly a lot smaller. Obviously there is always a concern that a candidate will have a significantly negative reaction to a rejection but I spend a lot of time with all candidates who go through our interview process and build up a lot of rapport with them so I like to hope that they don't take the feedback personally.

I expect you'll agree that most UK companies don't do this though. Even for small companies, most won't give any feedback.

Unfortunately this tends to be the case more often than not. I don't think it's out of fear of litigation, I think it's simply laziness and pointless HR process.

Perhaps we have some industry gaps between my professional experience and yours. I have experienced many recruiters and professionals who have wanted to know about specific competing offers and the reason for taking the offer.

I see your argument on relationships and I respect it. I think we differ slightly in personal opinion, which is perfectly ok with me.

You may have met some of the inexperienced or naive ones then.

If an experienced recruiter wants to know all about competing offers they are doing market research and you are giving them power over you and your future choices.

Just politely and distantly avoid answering any follow-up after a decline.

I noticed on your blog you referenced a recruiter that screwed you (or someone over). Do you think that experience and others has fundamentally altered the way you view recruiters and HR-types?

Sadly its rather that the decent recruiters/HRs I've met are few and far between.

You can't really rub shoulders with fellow contractors without hearing everyone else's horror stories too.

Sometimes some headhunter is referred around because they are that rare thing, a good person. But those exceptions are remarkably rare.

Thx for finding my blog.

> I would be curious to know how you typically offer to help others.

The guy hasn't asked for help. He's come very close to outright threatening you. His question's not about him or his company, it's about you:

> "Why did you decide to take another offer?"

He's asking us to justify our decision; asking why we decided the way we did. And, in doing so, he's basically made the only choice how badly you're going to risk insulting him.

The tone of the conversation is basically 'Back down or go to war.'

They could have been enthusiastic and asked me about the other job I accepted - and the things I enthused about would probably be the reasons I accepted it. Could have tried to have a real conversation in other words. Would have got more information out of me that way.

I think it's probably a no win situation by the time someone's phrasing it as 'Why did you X?' It's such an aggressive question to ask. Oh maybe someone here and there's got a small enough ego that you're not going to insult them if you're honest - people who would bear you absolutely no ill will over the essential statement that their company is inferior in some way - but I think such people are rare and in that environment the trick is to say as little of worth as possible. Whatever I say, someone's going to find a way to hold it against me.

So, what would I say? I don't know, it would depend on the companies in question. I'd probably pick the least insulting difference I could think of between the two companies that couldn't be reconciled and enthuse about that. Even if the person on the other end of the line would honestly correct a difference in offer and hope to bid for me that way, it's not worth giving someone like that a handle on me - letting them have something I want that they can manipulate me with.

Products (and cattle) are branded. People are not. It's demeaning to imply that a person's reputation is the same as a brand.

I do believe there is a difference there, however. A brand is what people perceive of you before they know anything about your reputation. What do they see around the web? What image do you put off when you walk in the room? How do you treat people? What do your correspondence cards look like? How do you communicate? Those are all elements of a brand.

A reputation is all about what other people have to say and how you are preceded by what those people say. That includes things like LinkedIn recommendations, hearsay, references, etc.

Thoughts? What other terms would you use to describe the two different aspects? I do think it's important to distinguish.

I can definitely appreciate the bullshit detectors. I'll have to keep that in mind in the future, for sure. It's hard in a field like career advice not to sound woo woo from time to time. It's easy to get lost in the industry and forget how it gets interpreted by the people you're actually trying to help.

Thanks for having the patience to call that out to me.

Back in the days when "branding" applied only to cattle, the word for what you're referring to as a "personal brand" was "your name".

As in: making a name for yourself, upholding your name, being a name in good standing.

I'll leave branding to cattle, thank you muchly.

I see the distinction you are making, but I would use the word "impression" instead of "brand". E.g. The kind of impression you make on other people.

Hackers tend to have very sensitive bullshit detectors. Anything that seems phony (like the word "brand") is going to raise suspicion that you don't understand us.

These days I'm hearing the phrase "personal brand" way too often.

Wow... It's reading articles like this that makes me very pleased that I decided to decline an offer to move to the USA a couple of years back.

"Personal brand"? Thank you letters to recruiters? "Thank you for your guidance and support"...

I can't be the only British person to read this article and feel a little bit sickened by the cloying falseness of the language used here, it's one of the main reasons why I no longer consider job offers from big US companies - I like to work with people who tell me what they think, not what they think I want to hear.

Apologies for this sounding like an anti-American rant, I don't mean it in that way, but there is something very wrong with the false-friendly, euphemistic speech used by a lot of people and organisations over that side of the pond. I think a lot of it is really just "please-don't-sue-me" speech.

I absolutely agree. What I find extremely distasteful about what the article recommends is the total fakeness of everything. Were I on the receiving end of that sort of communication it would leap out as less than genuine and I'd be insulted.

Straightforward honesty and integrity will get you much further than a personal brand.

I don't think a personal brand and integrity are mutually exclusive ideas. In fact, I think the people who have great "reputations" or good "names" in their respective communities base that on their honesty and integrity.

I'd be curious to know how you would alter the wording of one of the templates to be more honest and integrity-based.

This pretense permeates American culture and it's one of the things that really gets to me, because my personality is very somber by nature.

I talk to everybody as I would a close friend or neighbor, and this includes potential employers. I just can't seem to adopt default business lingo/customs, and this may ultimately be my downfall, but I'm not comfortable slapping on a fake persona.

I absolutely agree with you. I get to the shop talk and neighborly language asap when I'm building a relationship. But I also build up to that point rather than coming right out of the gates swinging.

Interesting point. That's good to know there is such a gap there. I do think most companies have one goal in rejecting candidates: don't get into a lawsuit.

I mentioned this in response to another reply, but, seeing your point, I do feel a second set of templates is in store. It's a matter of personal preference... But I never recommend that people be false or fake in their communication.

The bottom line in this article is this: you can be a jerk to the recruiters and therefore blow future chances, or you can thank them for their time and move on without closing any doors. I always recommend the second because I've seen far too many candidates accept an offer and then hate the job, at which point they have to go crawling back.

Nice. I get your point.

I hate to comment only on details and not on the actual content itself, but the aggressive use of bold text led me to read only the bold text. I didn't even bother to give the full text a chance. I saw typography that seemed geared toward the skimmer, so I skimmed. I'm not sure if that's the desired result, but that's the result it had on me.

I managed the second paragraph. The constant switching of font really irritates me for some reason. It's like trying to read the bible.

Really glad you called this out. Thank you.

Great feedback. Thanks for that. I'll keep it in mind when I write articles in the future.

If VC's don't give founders a "no" (in case the situation changes, the startup takes off) then why would you as an employee?

Say you have 30 offers on the table. What's to be had by saying "no" to 29 of them instead of just "yes" to 1 and not replying to the rest?

If that 1 drops out you now have 29 pending job offers.

If you "declined" the rest, you now have what pending?

Well, I suppose if you were lucky enough to have 30 offers then you might be in a slightly different situation and I would love to tell your story on the blog. In my experience, especially in the recent economy, candidates are lucky to have one offer. Those that receive multiple are in great shape, and I have yet to hear of anyone that has trouble with too many offers to respond to.

Again, if that's you or you know someone, I want to interview you to find out how you did it.

This all looks like great advice, I'd just add that a phone call should be encouraged whenever you feel you have a suitable relationship with the recruiter to call him/her directly. Especially if you're rejecting a company that you could see yourself working for/with at a later date. A phone call is much more personal, and has the added benefit of being more "final". While an email-reply chain can drag on for days or weeks, a phone call can normally settle most issues in one shot. Some people find a phone call more unnerving but I actually prefer it to agonizing over email wording, sending a long email, and waiting for the asynchronous reply that may never come.

Note that I have very little experience in the job market, this is more just a social recommendation and reflects some feedback I got from recruiters and friends who have been in this situation.

Completely agreed here. Perhaps I should have been more specific in the article in saying that a phone call is almost certainly the better option. As you mentioned, most people are uncomfortable with the phone call, regardless of the situation, which is why I built in an email option. I will keep this in mind, especially as I teach this material within college settings.

Please, everyone, only decline other offers after an offer you have accepted has actually gone all the way through!

I think you should also try to cover how to respond when the reason for declining an offer is low compensation.

Also, there seems to be some character encoding issues in the text.

Great suggestion. I have an entire section on responding to a low offer and negotiating the offer, with specific scripts in the upcoming book. I'll make note that it would be good to write about negotiations on the public blog as well, as I realize the book may not be the right match for people who aren't looking for jobs.

Can't find encoding issues on my end. Any specifics on that?

Here's a couple examples - latest chrome, win7.




I am seeing the same behavior.

> Can't find encoding issues on my end. Any specifics on that?

Since the page's character encoding isn't specified (at least I didn't see anything in the source or via HTTP headers), it's defaulting to a Western encoding rather than UTF-8 (at least here on Win7/FF 21).

"You should decline the offer as soon as you have accepted another offer or made a definitive decision not to accept."

"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."

I understand that this is rare, but I wonder if you've really thought the scenario through. You've already accepted job offer A, but now you're negotiating job offer B? How would you explain your behavior to the first company if you end up taking the second offer?

Agreed. That would be a bad call. In this case, if there are two offers on the table and you are confident in your choice, then there would be no further room for negotiations.

If you have two comparable offers and you want to test the negotiating waters, it would be best to approach that company first (before accepting an offer).

In some cases, however, you may have decided to turn down an offer as it stands, despite a lack of competing offers. In this case, if the employer opens up negotiations, it would be a good time to have the conversation.

Yes, but the point I'm getting to is that sometimes you have to actually turn down one offer before accepting a competing offer.

The logic being that the acceptance should come last to account for any potential alternative outcomes?

Not exactly - I think you have to respond to the offers in descending order of your interest. If you really want Offer A, but they refuse to negotiate on a sticking point, you tell them that first in hopes that they will loosen up. If they still won't budge, you turn them down, then go on to accept Offer B instead. If there's a third Offer, C, that's not as attractive as B, you notify them after you've accepted B, as you originally suggested.

This whole article made me feel sad on the insides, even down to the domain name in the URL.

It's funny because if the company didn't want you they they would simply not reply, yet you are expected to show a much greater level of care when dealing with them.

This is a huge challenge, especially when we know it's the case. Most companies simply don't respond. It's personal preference, but I always err on the side of turning the other cheek and doing what I can to build new relationships.

I love the business novlang in the templates.

Tell me specifically what you're referring to. Would love the feedback.

I can pinpoint it, but I'm not sure this is to be eliminated, maybe this is for that kind of people in that kind of company and candidates have to blend to the culture.

"excited" and variants appears 6 times in the article (inclusive for the answer to proposal you're about to reject), "guidance", "I feel best fits my current professional and personal goals" well, simply "that I prefer" would work too. I think we can't have blogs about GTD and shorts emails and at the same time padded sentences in the templates of the career advice sites, this creates a cognitive dissonance.

But again, I'm jobless, and hated the business-speak and "professional" things when I had a job, so I don't think I should be giving career advice, I was pointing just this funny stuff out in a very un-professional and non constructive way.

Great point here. I do agree that having clearly conflicting information flowing is a bad thing. I may go back to the drawing board and see if we can draw up alternative templates with different language so we're providing for people in different cultures.

Thanks for that feedback. I do sincerely appreciate it.


Clear, yes. Also bloody rude. Someday you'll want to change job again and the pool of potential employees will be that much smaller.

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