How to (Nicely) Reject a Job Offer

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At some point in your legal career, it’s highly likely that you’ll need to reject a job offer. If you’re currently unemployed, this might seem like a dream scenario, but it can be a nightmare of stress and anxiety when you’re not sure what to say or how to do it. Here are some suggestions for nicely saying “No” to a job offer.

How to (Nicely) Reject a Job Offer

  • Do it quickly. Once an offer has been made, it’s critical to accept or reject it as quickly as you can. If nothing else, think of the second-choice candidate who’s eagerly awaiting a response! There are plenty of situations where you legitimately might need some time to consider the offer, but it’s best to let the potential employer know that. Something as simple as, “I’m excited to receive this offer, and I need a few days to consider it. I’ll get back to you by Friday.” is appropriate, and typically appreciated.
  • Reject the offer clearly and directly. Faced with the unpleasantness of saying "No" to someone, it can be tempting to beat around the bush. This is a mistake. If you’re rejecting a job offer, be clear about what you’re doing. After the phone call or email, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that you’re not taking the job!
  • Leave the door open to future collaboration (if you’d be interested). In some cases, you can’t take a job right now, or you can’t see yourself in the exact position offered, but you’d be open to future collaborations. This is worth mentioning in your rejection. For example, “Thank you for the offer to work in your Boston office. For personal reasons, I’m unable to relocate at this point. However, I would be very interested in a position in your Los Angeles office, should one become available.”
  • Be judicious in giving your reasons for saying no. Unless there’s a very clear reason you’re turning the job down, be careful about giving too many reasons. Sure, your potential employer wants to pump you for information, but where’s the benefit to you in that? Just say it’s not the right fit, and move on.
  • Let the people who helped you find this job know what you’re doing. If you asked people to serve as references for you, or if you had an inside connection to the job you’re turning down, let those people know what you decided to do. They put their reputations on the line for you and deserve to be kept in the loop about how things turned out. A thank you card (or email) is appropriate, saying you appreciated their help and enjoyed meeting the people you interviewed with at Employer X but have decided to accept a job at Employer Y.

    Candidates sometimes wonder whether they should send a rejection in writing or whether it’s necessary to call and tell someone. Typically, an email should suffice and is probably preferable. If you decide to call, follow up with an email or written letter, confirming the call. (“As we discussed on the phone today, I will not be accepting your offer to work at Employer X.”)

    It’s possible you’ll get a follow-up phone call from the rejected employer, asking for your reasons or even trying to counter-offer. Even if it’s tempting, don’t ignore this call! Be a grown up and pick up the phone (or call back promptly). The legal community is small, and word gets around. You never know when you’ll be back in the rotation looking for a new opportunity, so don’t burn your bridges.

    Say "No" nicely and politely, and you’ll be well on your way to legal career success!