In the past three days, I have met with a handful of students who asked for guidance on the etiquette for telling an employer they are not going to accept an internship offer. Each student had accepted an offer from another firm and wanted to let the other companies know of their decision without burning any bridges for future opportunities. I applauded each student because each had the foresight to realize they needed to communicate to the other employers and that their communication could affect their future dealings with the rejected firms.
What a good problem to have, multiple offers to choose from. However, when it is the first time you are facing this situation, and you are a 20 or 21-year-old, it can be intimidating. So, I would like to offer some thoughts on how to say “No” to an offer of employment.
Call, then Email: It is very tempting to shoot off a quick email stating that you have accepted another offer of employment and would like to be removed from consideration for the XYZ position. An email avoids any emotional responses and being blindsided by employer questions – but an email is not the professional way to handle the delivery of difficult news. If one truly wants to keep the bridges open to future opportunities, I recommend taking the personal route and making the phone call. Although the chances are higher for a difficult or awkward conversation, if handled well you will demonstrate a high level of professionalism to the recruiter.
When calling, if you have to leave a voicemail, I recommend following up with an email reiterating what you just said on the voicemail. This way, you have an electronic paper trail that you did communicate your status to the employer in a timely manner.
Timing: The minute you accept an offer of employment with one firm, you should begin preparing to communicate with the other employers about your need to “remove myself from consideration for the XYZ position.”
Waiting until the 11th hour to let a company know your decision can cause the employer to see you in a negative light. Some employers may believe you “strung them along”. Once you are certain you are not going to accept an offer of employment, you should let the organization know your stance.
Content: What you decide to tell an employer as to why you are not accepting a position is up to you. Many recruiters will ask what offer you did accept and what were the factors in your decision – recruiters will track to see if there is a pattern of why they are losing candidates and to whom. Sharing information can be a good thing – the recruiter sees you as open and honest and maintains a positive image of you into the future. This is especially true if you have been forthright throughout the process and have a well thought out reason as to why you are accepting one offer versus another.
Tone: Polite and professional is a good approach to all communications in life, and in the case of employment offers it is very important.
Thank you for taking my call today – I wanted to let you know that I would like to remove myself from consideration for the marketing research internship with Acme, Inc. It was a very hard decision and I appreciate the opportunity to interview with your team and visit the facility. I would like to stay in touch as I am very interested in Acme and the marketing division, and hope there may be opportunities down the road where I could contribute to Acme.
Saying no is never easy to do nor easy to hear. When handled well, many good recruiters will share their disappointment and offer to remain in contact in order to discuss future opportunities within their organization with you. They realize that they may have not heard the “yes” from you today, but they may hear “yes” from you in the future.
When an employer does not react well – ex: making accusations as to your truthfulness during the process or disparaging your choice of employment – stay calm and be glad that you did not sign on to work with that individual. This happens more often than one would think, and often given 24/48 hours, the employer will see that if you were not 100% on board with being an employee at their company, it was a good call by you to say no.