Turning Down a Job

Turning Down a Job

Most of my mail is from people struggling to find a job, so I was happy to get one from a guy who has the opposite problem: that of too many job offers to choose from. If you use a recruiter, this problem shouldn't occur, since they are supposed to prep the employer beforehand that you are a desirable commodity and have 'a number of offers on the table.' However, in my writer's case, he had applied directly for a job he really wanted, and after weeks of follow up but only tepid response, instead took a job with another company. As Murphy's Law would have it, the week he accepted was the same week that the original company came back with an offer. His problem now was how to turn down the company he'd already signed up with and switch back to his original choice.

By law, he doesn't need to do anything. He can just simply ignore the communications of the company he wants to drop and that's that. A letter would be nice, but it's not compulsory. However, most of us are not so cold hearted. We know that there is a human being at the other end of the job offer, and especially if they took a substantial amount of trouble to bring you into the firm, you should feel some obligation to disengage properly.

Thus, my response to the reader was to first be ethical. Did he really want to work for a company that wouldn't respond to his follow-up contacts? Usually such lackadaisical reactions mean trouble in Eden. Secondly, was the company that actually came through for him offering a job so much worse that he wouldn't be comfortable with it? Answering these questions honestly would at least give him the moral courage to deal with disappointment and possible anger likely to be encountered from one of the two parties when they hear the news.

Next, Tokyo is a small town. If you have gone far down the track in committing to work for someone, possibly doing 4-5 interviews, negotiating salary, etc., you can't just pick up stakes and go somewhere else without at least explaining why. I know that some people do simply refuse to answer calls and emails, hoping they'll escape some unpleasantness. But the business manager who tried so hard to open the door will remember your name and personally black list you. And you can believe that business managers in a given industry do indeed talk to each other.
The way to disengage properly is to treat well the people who looked after you. First, make your moral decision so you will be mentally ready to back up your actions. Then follow through with appropriate communication. If the company did not go to much trouble, doing most of the contact through their HR department and deciding after just 1-2 interviews, then a polite letter saying 'personal reasons' will be enough. Do it quickly, though, since it is likely that they have plans which will be disrupted because of your decision.

On the other hand, if the company went to considerable lengths to help you out, you got to know the business manager well, and special considerations that needed internal approvals were offered, then you owe them more explanation. I recommend including a line at the bottom of the declination letter offering to explain in more detail about your decision. You could also send a personal note by email to the business manager. This subsequently opens you up for an uncomfortable set of communications - but I think it's the right thing to do.

Successful disengagement is based on being sure of your story, sticking to it, and just getting it done. Start with a phone call, and speak with conviction about your decision. Be sure to thank the manager for all their efforts, offer to recommend their company to other candidates, and also to stay in touch. The idea is to have the manager see you in a different light, not as a missed candidate, but as a new friend or possible future client or collaborator. If the manager wants to meet in person, and you decide to do that, pick a neutral setting in the middle of the day, such as a coffee shop, and let them talk through their frustrations of losing you. If the person is a half decent sales person, they may also try to get you to change your mind. It is very important that you go into such meetings with your mind made up - and keep bringing yourself back to that decision throughout the conversation.