How To Turn Down A Job

It’s a good problem to have: you’re offered a job at a great company and you don’t really want it — but you want to leave the door open to working there in the future. What to do?

Each week in Work It, BuzzFeed Executive Editor Doree Shafrir will answer your most pressing career and workplace questions. Email workit@buzzfeed.com if you have a question for her.

I was offered a job at a company where I’ve been dying to work for a really long time. The job itself sounds great, but the more I think about it, the more I’m sure the job isn’t for me. So how do I turn down this job but keep the relationship with the people at this company, so that when the right job comes along they’ll still consider me instead of being completely annoyed?

The hardest thing in the world (okay, maybe not IN THE WORLD, but one of the hardest) is separating wanting to be wanted, with wanting something because it’s the right thing for you. This applies to almost anything — but especially, I think, guys and jobs. When you meet a guy, even if you don’t think he’s that great, sometimes you just want him to ask you out. Because then you’ve been validated. It also puts the power back into your hands — you get to make the decision about whether you want to reject him. The worst is when someone you didn’t even really like in the first place flakes on you. Like, say, you go out with someone who you’re sort of eh about, but then he asks you to hang out again, and you’re like, okay I guess I should give this guy another chance, maybe I’ll like him more — and then he flakes on you and you’re all, HOLD ON JUST ONE SECOND, I was supposed to be the one rejecting you!

Oops, sorry, I thought I was writing my (nonexistent) dating column for a second. N-E-way, where were we? Right. Wanting something for the sake of being wanted. So, yes, this applies to jobs in a major way as well. You apply for a job, you go on the interview, you send the thank-you note (you DID send the thank-you note, right?). And then you wait. And wait. And WAIT. And in that time that you’re waiting, it’s super easy to build up the job as the OMG PERFECT JOB, the job to end all jobs, the job that will absolutely derail your career if you don’t get it. So then when you are actually offered the job — that moment you have been waiting for! — it’s all too easy to just say, “YesofcoursewhendoIstart?” Which I commend you for not having done. It’s really hard to take a step back and say to yourself, “This company is awesome, the people are awesome, this job is awesome — but it’s not awesome for me.”

And I totally get your anxiety about turning down a job that you’ve pursued. You probably feel guilty! As much as we don’t like to be rejected, it’s also hard to reject people. (That’s why some people just wait for their boyfriend or girlfriend to break up with them, instead of doing it themselves. ARGH, sorry, NOT A DATING COLUMN.) We feel bad! They like us. How can we turn them down? And how can we do it without making them totally hate us?

It’s actually not as hard as you think. You can do an email or a phone call, whichever you feel more comfortable with; I generally feel more comfortable with email, but if you’ve developed a relationship with these people it might be more appropriate to call. This is what you say: “Thank you so much for offering me the position — it sounds amazing, and I love [COMPANY NAME], but I’ve given it a lot of thought and I think this is actually not the right fit for me right now. But I’d really like to stay in touch and discuss other potential opportunities in the future.” If you are a funny person, you can add something funny-ish at the end. But you don’t need to go into great and gory detail about why you’re turning down the job, and above all, you don’t need to apologize for not taking the job. And their response to your email (or phone call) will also be a litmus test of sorts, because if they freak out and call you a horrible person, well, then you definitely just dodged a bullet. If they are gracious and understanding, then they really are people you might want to work with in the future.

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