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How to Decline a Job Interview

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Have you ever had second thoughts after accepting an invitation for an interview? Or found yourself in the awkward situation of realizing that a company or post wasn’t what you had initially thought it was and dreading having to slog through a formal interview?

The good news is that we’ve all been there. The bad news is that you will definitely have to face the music and formally decline that interview, and the sooner the better. Of course, there are ways to do this and not end up burning the bridges you have built with your contacts at that company, and done right, might even lead to better opportunities with the same.  

interviewer and job seeker going through interview

Dos and don’ts when turning down a job interview

There are a few key points that an applicant must remember when they find themselves in the unenviable position of having to inform the hiring manager of their decision to withdraw from the hiring process.

Always do it in an email

Instead of calling the company to inform them of your decision, it would be better to write them an email. Keep in mind that you are trying to avoid an awkward situation, not create one. An email can be revised, edited, and repeatedly checked for tone without ever revealing your emotional state to its recipient. It also helps you avoid the inevitable back-and-forth of having to explain yourself and having them accept with as much grace as they can manage.    

Always make your decision known as soon as possible

The importance of this cannot be stressed enough. Do not spend the next couple of days deliberating and then sitting on your decision. If you have made one, tell the company right away. You will show that you respect their time and they will appreciate that you did so.

Always be polite but firm

In part, this is why declining a job interview over the phone, unlike calling to inquire after one, is ill-advised. Most hiring managers will ask potential applicants why they chose to bow out and more likely than not try to get them to change their mind. If you have a problem saying no to persuasive people with a good argument, then it is likely that you’ll cave and get roped into the interview, which you still don’t want to do, after all.

Never say anything that disparages the company

You want to be able to revisit this situation when it is more favorable to you. Therefore, to be able to do so, choose your words carefully.

Always watch your language

This is another tip that is made easier by writing instead of calling. For example, if you believe that there are certain aspects of the job or the company you don’t necessarily feel comfortable with, you can phrase it in a way that doesn’t sound like you’re criticizing them. For example, if you find that the hours are unreasonable and that the current employees complain of burnout, say “Upon further reflection, I have come to realize that I would prefer to be in a company that allows me more personal time for my family in the evenings.” Phrased like this, your reason becomes more introspective, and less about them.

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When is declining an interview the right thing to do? 

While you may have come here to read about how to decline a job interview, have you considered if you are doing so for the right reasons? Here are a few good reasons for choosing to not proceed with an interview. Do they line up with yours? 

Changes in relocation plans

If your job application was part of an upcoming move to another city or state, and something happened to delay that move or put it off indefinitely, then it’s highly unlikely that you will be seeking employment there in the near future. If that happens, one  of the first things you have to do in terms of your job search would be to inform any hiring manager with whom you already had an interview with, and then to withdraw any other pending job application in the area.  

You’re worried you might not be a good fit

Confidence is a great thing to have, but so is awareness. If you suddenly realize that you might be biting off more than you can chew, you are well within your right as a jobseeker to decline the next step of the job application process. However, don’t let it discourage you. Instead, let this become a marker of sorts to arm you for your next job search. Take a class to learn a new skill or upgrade your skill set.  

You realized the office culture don’t align with your values

Sometimes it pays to do a little digging into the corporate culture and background of the company that you’re seeking employment with. Does it treat its employees well, is the turnover suspiciously high, have there been any social movements against it recently? It’s well within an applicant’s rights to ask an interviewer about some things during a second or even a first interview, but you might find out more going on the internet and asking people who have worked for the company or are currently working there. Be careful about keeping your anonymity, but do your homework. It could save you a couple of unhappy years.

You’ve been offered another job

No one expects you to apply to a single company and sit there to wait for their decision. Because of that, sometimes timelines run into each other and another company offers you a job just after another has booked you for an initial interview. Weigh your options, and if the offer is something you want and offers better value than the chance you will get at the company you’re interviewing at, get to writing that email declining the interview even before you start writing your acceptance of the job.  

You don’t see anything coming out of the interview

Sometimes you come in for a second, or a third, or even a fourth interview that all feel like a first interview, and never seem to lead to anything more. Consider that in respect for both your time and theirs that it could be best to terminate this cycle.

hiring manager listening to job seeker

When should you reconsider declining an interview? 

We may all have our reasons, but not all of our reasons are actually reasonable. Before you hit send, take a few minutes (not too long, mind you) to ask yourself if the reasons you state in your letter are actually the real reasons you are declining to interview with a company that you felt you had to send a job application to only some weeks ago. 

You’ve heard unsubstantiated rumors

First, it must be said that you can’t believe everything you see or hear about on the internet. If it truly bothers you, do some actual research by asking in forums for people who have worked with the company. Sometimes you can be surprised at how damaging a baseless rumor can be to a company’s reputation. 

You’re afraid you won’t do well

We’ve all been there and we all know how bad performance anxiety can get, but you can’t let it get the best of you. If you do this often enough, you can cripple your career. Ease your mind by letting yourself off the hook and trusting yourself to present yourself as best as you can. Preparing for the interview also helps immensely with the pre-interview jitters. 

You’re just “not feeling it”

You’ve been to interview after interview and you have not bagged a single job offer and it’s beginning to feel hopeless. This is not the time to shoot yourself in the foot, however. Instead of letting job search burnout defeat you, step back and take a break. But do not cancel that interview schedule. You will feel better after you take the time to get into a better headspace, and you don’t need any regrets clouding that space up for you.

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