Can I turn down a job without shutting the door?

Scenario 1: The search is finally over! You’ve been offered a job and you’re excited about your new role. Most of all, you’re relieved that you don’t have to keep looking. But then a company you previously applied to calls you in for an interview and it’s your dream role… So what do you do? You don’t want to burn any bridges, but how can you pass up such a golden opportunity?

It’s not uncommon for this to happen as you may have been applying for jobs for a good while and there is likely to be some overlap. But although you’ve dreamed of such a happy dilemma, it can get complicated if you’ve already accepted an offer and have no guarantee that you’ll get the other job if you take a gamble.

Talk it through

It won’t do any harm to speak to the recruiter who has invited you in for an interview. Explain that you are very interested in the role but that you already have an offer on the table. This may speed things along so that you have a better idea of the situation before you accept the existing offer.

It may also be worth speaking to the company that has offered you the job. Ask if you can have a bit of time to think about the opportunity and to read through the terms of your contract. It wouldn’t be ideal to turn down the offer or start the job and then leave after a few weeks, but if you’ll always be wondering ‘what if?’ it’s worth at least talking it through with potential employers.

Scenario 2: Alternatively, you may have already been offered your dream job but you’ve realised the timing is all wrong. Maybe it involves relocating and doesn’t fit around your family or church commitments. Perhaps you suddenly have a need to stay at your current company because your boss has quit and you need to step in. Whatever the situation, this can be really frustrating. You’ve spent time applying for this role and it seemed like the perfect option, but now it’s all been a waste. Or has it?

Have a conversation

Once again, you may need to have a tricky conversation. Honesty is the best policy in this (and all) situations. Explain why you applied and that you were really honoured to be offered the job. Then describe the reasons why you may not be able to accept it. You might find that they have a workable solution. Perhaps you could work from home until you’re able to relocate, or maybe your start date could be delayed. If there isn’t a way around it, thank the recruiter for the offer and politely decline it. Explain that you would love to keep the door open; that if your circumstances change in the future you would relish the chance to be considered for a similar role.

If you are serious about keeping the door open, you will need to make the effort to keep in touch. However much they wanted you for the role, you won’t be uppermost in their minds unless you remind them you are there and notify them if and when you are finally able to take on a new job.

Ask if you can connect on LinkedIn and post information that might be of interest. Congratulate team members on major business accomplishments. Do whatever you can to remind them that you exist and are still interested in and engaged with the company. Even if they don’t have an opening when you become ready, they may be able to recommend other opportunities or keep you on the backburner, and you will have broadened your network if nothing else.


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Joy Tibbs is a freelance writer and editor who regularly contributes to Premier. Find out more at and find her on Twitter @joyous25





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