Your guide to saying “No, thank you!” the right way.

When you’re actively searching for a new job, the idea of turning down an opportunity to interview seems crazy. That’s especially true in the beginning, when the flywheel of networking and job applications is turning slowly. Any chance to talk to a hiring manager is a good thing, right? If nothing else, you are getting some interview practice! Once you build traction though, the question of “How do I decline an interview?” is no longer just a crazy idea.

Perhaps this particular interview conflicts with another important meeting. Maybe the company turned up on the news — for the wrong reasons. Or maybe the job description doesn’t look attractive to you anymore. What are the right reasons to turn down an interview? And, most importantly, is it possible to say no and still keep the door open for future opportunities?

4 valid reasons to refuse a job interview

Let’s begin by making one thing clear: Just like quitting a job, there are good reasons to decline an interview. There are also some reasons that, in retrospect, will make you wish you’d thought better of it. Here are four scenarios in which declining the next step in the interview process is (probably) the right thing to do.

You have accepted an offer somewhere else

First off, congratulations! If you have accepted an offer, the best thing to do is to let other hiring managers know right away. A word of caution: Before you send that email or call the recruiter, be absolutely sure that you have in fact received and accepted an offer! If the offer is conditional, review those conditions carefully and double-check that you do (or will) meet all the requirements.

Keep in mind that it’s possible for a valid offer to be taken back or get put on hold for reasons outside your control. There could be unexpected budget concerns, news of a restructuring, or the person currently holding the position may decide to keep the job after all. Which is why, if you do turn down other interviews, it’s wise to do so without burning bridges!

You are happy at your current job

If you are “all in” with your current company, it may be best to skip an unsolicited interview invitation. After all, an interview presumes that a company and a professional are open to the possibility of working together. If there is no chance you would leave your current job right now, it’s best to not waste anyone’s time (including your own).

You have decided that you wouldn’t accept the position if it was offered to you

Did you find yourself with an invitation to a second or third interview just to realize that you don’t feel excited about the possibility of getting the job after all?

There are many reasons why this can happen. Maybe there was a personality mismatch with your prospective boss. Perhaps the position turned out to be quite different from the job description, or maybe the company environment isn’t right for you. Some candidates experience rudeness or unprofessionalism during the interviews, which can be a major turn-off as well, while others realize that the daily commute to the office just wouldn’t be sustainable.

If that’s your situation, and if you are clear on why you wouldn’t want the job, that’s great! You may not feel great about it right now, but it’s important to remember that the whole point of the interview process is to test the fit between you and the company. If you have realized that it’s not a fit, then the interviews have worked perfectly. Now, you get to focus your energy somewhere else.

You know someone who worked at the company and had a bad experience

It’s a good idea to research company ratings on websites like Glassdoor. However, an anonymous platform allows much room for misinformation, misunderstanding, and exaggeration. So, do look up your prospective employer — but take what you find with a grain of salt.

If, however, you personally know someone who has worked at the company you are considering and hated it, that may be a good enough reason to pass on the interview. Different departments and bosses can certainly improve someone’s experience or make it miserable, but there’s no getting away from a problematic corporate culture or a dysfunctional business model.

Is it possible to turn down an interview for the “wrong” reasons?

Yes, absolutely; here are three examples.

You are afraid of rejection

Some jitters before an interview are normal. However, rejecting the opportunity preemptively just so that you don’t get rejected by the other side isn’t the best way to deal with the nerves.

If you are feeling like the world hangs in the balance because of this one interview, you could use some big-picture thinking. Ask yourself about the worst possible thing that could happen in the interview, then map out your Plan B. That exercise is often enough to remind you that there are other opportunities, no matter how amazing or unique this one is.

You are unsure that you want the job

Part of the reason you interview is to figure out whether you would like the job. It’s OK to not know in the beginning — trust that you aren’t wasting anyone’s time. As long as you go in with an open mind and explore the possibility, only positive things that can come out of it. You might discover that you do want the job after all. Or you might gather enough data to know that you don’t. Either way, this is better than guessing!

It’s the “wrong” opening — but you admire the company

If you have an opportunity to make a great impression at a company you love, it may be better to accept the interview — even if the open position isn’t a perfect fit for you. It’s your chance to get your foot in the door, and you may meet people who will become instrumental to your next career move, whether this time or in the future. You may even impress the company enough for them to create another opening just to get you onboard!

What to do if the opportunity just doesn’t “feel” right

The feeling of something being “off” is a tough one. It can show up in a variety of ways. Maybe you just aren’t feeling the excitement. Maybe you’ve been staring at the email from the hiring manager for 48 hours — and have yet to hit “reply.” Perhaps you are suddenly finding a dozen reasons why you shouldn’t go to the interview, and they have to do with catching up on the last season of Game of Thrones, scrubbing the kitchen sink, or reorganizing the junk drawer. In other words, even you can tell that those are weak excuses.

So, here’s your dilemma: Is it wise to pass up an opportunity based on something as fleeting as a feeling? Or is your subconscious trying to tell you something your rational mind may have missed? Here are two suggestions that may help.

One, consider writing things down. You might try free-form writing or a more structured approach that looks at what will and won’t happen if you accept or reject the opportunity. This can allow you to see that there are pros and cons to pursuing an interview and to letting it go. Sometimes, that’s enough to nudge you one way or the other. Another option is to talk it through with someone you trust; it may be a mentor, a friend, or a family member. The key is to choose someone who knows you well and has your best interests at heart.

You’ve decided to turn down an interview. Now what?

A good rule of thumb is to take whatever time you need to be certain that you don’t want to accept the interview. Don’t let anyone pressure you into a decision when you aren’t ready. However, once you know that the opportunity isn’t right for you, it’s time for action.

If your decision is about a follow-up interview, it’s especially important to inform the hiring manager as soon as you are sure of your decision. After all, they are pursuing other candidates, and your decision will affect their prospects. Don’t sit on your hands and inadvertently create hardship for other professionals!

In your response, be honest, direct, and professional. Acknowledge and thank the team for investing their time in getting to know you and sharing their vision for the company. Keep it brief and make it personal. Here’s an example.

Dear [Hiring Manager’s First Name],

Thanks so much for taking the time to consider me for the [position you’re interviewing for]. I’ve truly enjoyed meeting with the team and learning more about [mention something specific discussed at the first interview].

However, I have chosen to pursue another opportunity. I hope that you find the perfect candidate for this position and look forward to following the company’s success.

Best,

[Your Name]

A couple more points to help you customize your “no, thank you” email:

  • Don’t feel pressured to give a reason why. Of course, if the reason is straightforward and no one’s fault (e.g. you have accepted another position elsewhere), it’s fine to add it. However, if your reason could conceivably be interpreted in a negative way, it’s better to leave it out.

  • Be diplomatic. You never know when you may find yourself facing the same hiring manager, whether at the same company or somewhere else.

  • If you can recommend another candidate, now is a good time to do it. Just be sure you have spoken with the person you are about to introduce, and that you include their current and accurate contact information.

Turning down an interview without burning bridges

Turning down an interview is difficult. Yes, in a perfect world you would only get invited to the interviews you want, but in reality, candidates must make choices, and sometimes that means saying “No, thank you!” Even if the position, company, or timing isn’t the right fit for you, remember that turning down an interview should never be taken lightly or done in an off-hand manner. Pause to acknowledge someone’s time and effort invested in finding, screening, and interviewing you up to this point. Be professional and gracious. Who knows, a “no” today may well lead to a valuable connection or opportunity in the future!

Now that your interviews are squared away, make sure you’re properly prepared. The experts at TopInterview can help!

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