After making it through the application process, no one wants to admit that the job offer isn’t all they’d hoped for. Still, sometimes saying no means you’re doing everything right.

You did it. Your resume landed on the top of the pile, you made it through a phone screening and two in-person interviews. And then? They actually call with an offer. All you have to do is call the HR guy back and tell him you’re in — but what if, for some reason, you’re second-guessing the job you worked so hard to get?

It sucks, it’s awkward, it’s really hard, but there are times when it is OK — even necessary — to turn down a job offer. The tough part is deciding whether you’re faced with one of them.


With every interview process, there’s a seduction period. It’s sort of like a first date between you and your potential employer — minus the DJ and drinks — where there’s a lot of reading between the lines and educated guessing on both sides. {click to tweet} Once you’ve reached the point in the interview process where your potential employer is finally more candid, it’s possible you’ll realize this isn’t the right position for you after all.

It’s OK to say no to a position if you discover that you won’t be reporting to who you thought you’d be. It’s important that your future employer is someone who you’ll have access to and who will offer guidance or even mentor you. A friend of mine was in the midst of the interview process when she learned her manager would rarely be present. This was a dealbreaker for her because she knew she wanted a close relationship with her manager, which is very hard to develop when they’re not around. Having an absent manager also means they can’t see your successes or help you learn from your mistakes in real time. For her, those reasons meant she needed to walk.

It’s also OK to turn down a position if the actual work differs from what they described (and what initially lured you in). In the advertising industry, agencies often talk about all of the incredible clients they have, but these might not be the actual projects you’d work on. If you find out you’ll be working with clients that you loathe — or that you won’t get the chance to work with clients at all — then it’s OK to say no. You need to have passion and drive for what you do, and you can’t do that if, right out the gate, you dislike what you’re working on.


Before you freak out, I’m not dissing Sioux Falls. Hear me out.

A colleague of mine really did know she couldn’t take a position when the recruiter asked if she was ready to settle down in Sioux Falls. She was offered the position after graduating college and interning with the company. The offer was great — good pay, an inspiring mentor, and work she liked. But she knew she wanted to be in a bigger market where there were more agencies to learn from. So she said no.

She worked part-time while she applied in other cities with bigger markets, and eventually took an internship at the largest agency in Minneapolis. Later, she stayed after the internship was done to take a full-time position. Different place, different story.

One of the most important factors about where you work is that you want to live where you work. {click to tweet} If you don’t like the city, or it doesn’t have the kind of opportunities you want, then you need to move on.


Your current employer may make a counter-offer in an attempt not to lose you. This choice comes down to more than just money. Consider why you were trying to leave your position in the first place. Will simply making more money alleviate these issues? If your current employer counters, you are in a position to ask for the things you need to do your job well (not just a bigger salary). In the end, if you believe this counter-offer rectifies your issues and puts you on the path to success, it’s in your best interest to seriously consider it.

Be wary, though, this may sour the relationship you have built with the new company. But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice. In this situation, only you will know if it is right for you to stay or go. Don’t be afraid to employ a pro/con list à la Rory Gilmore.


No one will hold it against you.

Even though turning down a position can feel uncomfortable, you need to make the right decision for you. Don’t let 20 minutes of awkward conversation get in the way. You may feel like you’re letting someone down by not accepting the position, but you are saving them from investing in an employee who won’t stay long-term. Stay strong and do what’s best for you.

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Dish — have you ever left an offer on the table? Why? Did it end well?

Originally published at

Originally published at