The interview process is all about impressing your prospective employer so you can get the job, right? Well, not exactly. If that’s all you focus on, you’re missing half of the equation.
The interview process is also about you getting to know the employer and assessing if the job is a fit.
You may get to the job-offer stage before you have a chance to realize it’s not for you. Or, there may be red flags with the offer itself that suggest you shouldn’t accept.
If you find yourself in a situation where you’re debating an offer, here are four signs that turning it down may be the right decision.
You find yourself struggling to get excited about the job
Unless, you’re just not feeling it.
Maybe the organization’s mission doesn’t resonate with you, or perhaps the position isn’t how you want to contribute to the particular issue area.
Another possibility: You’d love the work you’d be doing but you’re less excited about the longer commute, losing the ability to work remotely, the benefits package, or other important factors.
Pinpointing gut feelings can be challenging, so look for these signs that you may not be that excited about the job:
- Reflect on how you felt when you got the offer. Did you feel excited? Indifferent? Disappointed? Worried that you’d have to decide whether to accept it or not?
- Try to picture yourself going to work on your first day, or going to work a year from now. How might you feel in those moments? Does picturing yourself in this job a year from now upset you? You shouldn’t accept an offer if you’re already dreading it.
- Talk to current or former employees at the organization and pay attention to how you feel about what they’re saying. If their stories about the work don’t excite you, that could mean the work won’t excite you either.
You can’t articulate how this job will help you achieve your long-term career goals
You don’t have to know your 10- or 15-year plan down to every detail, but you should be able to articulate how this job will help you grow your skills in a needed area, deepen your expertise, or work your way up to the job you’re hoping to have down the road.
A mismatch between a potential job and her career goals is one of the reasons why Jill Goldstein Smith, who now works as a program manager at the Foundation for Jewish Camp, withdrew from the search process for a director of lifelong learning at a local synagogue.
Goldstein Smith says she did a few interviews for the position with the recruiter who sought her out on LinkedIn, but then she withdrew from the search process because she realized the position didn’t fit with her career aspirations.
“It still felt weird to say I didn’t want to go to the next round of this interview,” Goldstein Smith recalls. But at the same time, she didn't want to end up with a tempting job offer for a position that wasn't a fit.
The terms of your offer are significantly different from what you had previously discussed
Hopefully you had a chance to discuss salary expectations before getting to the offer stage (but not by asking about salary in your first interview). That way, both you and the organization know you’re on the same page regarding compensation, notwithstanding some negotiation at the end of the process.
But what happens if you already discussed salary and benefits, and then the job offer comes with very different terms?
The first thing to do is ask why that is. Start by thanking the person for the offer, and then ask an open-ended question about why the offer is different. For example:
Thank you so much for offering me an opportunity to join the team at [ORGANIZATION NAME]. The salary and/or benefits in my offer letter are different from what we discussed during the interview process. Can you help me understand why that is?
This way, you’re not assuming bad intentions on their part, and you’re getting more information that can help you evaluate whether to accept the offer with these different terms.
For example, if the salary is lower than what you had discussed because of a pay structure at the organization, at least that’s an objective standard that is applied across the organization. However, you’ll still want to think about whether you want to accept a job offer from someone who may not have checked the organization’s pay structure before saying you could expect a certain salary range.
The hiring manager’s behavior in the interview process has been disrespectful or unprofessional
People are typically on their best behavior during the interview process, so if the hiring manager is being disrespectful or otherwise unprofessional toward you, you may want to be concerned about what it will be like once you’re on the staff.
To be clear, sexual harassment or verbal abuse from a hiring manager should always be a clear sign to run the other way (and consider alerting the organization’s human resources department). Other red flags from a hiring manager that could give you pause include:
- Bad-mouthing the person you’d be replacing during your interview
- Showing up for your interview very late (think at least 15-20 minutes late), or going way over the end time without any apologies or consideration for your schedule
- Getting defensive when you ask reasonable questions such as what the office culture is like or if the organization experiences a lot of turnover
Not all of these red flags are immediate deal-breakers, but they can be a sign that you should check online reviews, talk to current or former employees of the organization, or do some other research to find out if the behavior you experienced was a fluke or a trend.
Alison Channon, a communications consultant who works with government agencies, says she once experienced two red flags while getting an offer from a nonprofit communications firm. Channon says the first red flag was when she asked about health benefits during the initial conversation about the offer, and then they took over a week to send the information.
The second red flag came when she tried to negotiate her salary, and, she says, they immediately became hostile. Channon ended up getting another offer shortly thereafter with better compensation and a better organizational vibe, so declining this one, with all its red flags, was a pretty easy decision, she says.
How to decline a job offer
If you were offered the job over the phone, you may want to decline the offer over the phone as well. Having a phone conversation can also help you gauge the other person’s reaction and assess if you’re leaving the relationship in a good enough place that you could apply for a different role in the future.
If you’d prefer to decline the job offer over email, we have some email templates you can customize based on why you’re declining the offer.
No matter which format you use, remember to do it in a way that comes across as professional and grateful for the interviewer’s time and consideration. You never know if you’ll want to apply for a job at that organization in the future, or if you’ll cross paths with the hiring manager later in your career.
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As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.