Why and How to Reject a Job Interview

Really bad news about my home finances
Really bad news about my home finances

A job seeker asked me if she should turn down a job interview, and it's a very good question. Not every job interview is a good opportunity. In this case, she decided to accept the interview, and, in her situation, I think it was the right decision.

Most often, my advice is to accept the invitation to interview for a job, and see what you discover. Worst case, you'll have more experience in job interviews, and be better prepared for your next interview.

Remember, one of your goals is to discover if you really want to work for them, and if you turn down an interview invitation, you lose the opportunity to learn more about them.

However, in some situations, the right answer is to turn down the job interview invitation. Here's why and how...

Six Good Reasons to Refuse a Job Interview Invitation

Sometimes, turning down the job interview is the best option. For example, unless this is your dream job for your dream employer and you know you will receive a job offer, turn down the interview opportunity for any of these reasons:

  1. You have accepted a job offer, and started your new job. (Congratulations!)
  2. You currently have an acceptable job, and going to this job interview is risky and will be difficult to do.
  3. This invitation is for a second (or third) round of interviews for a job. You have already interviewed for this job, and don't think this job (or the organization) is a good fit to you.
  4. You have interviewed with this employer for a different job, and you didn't like the feel of the organization -- the work, the environment, the people, or something else wasn't "right" for you.
  5. You know someone(s) who works there and who hates working there, with good reason.
  6. You worked there in the past, hated it, and don't want to make the same mistake again.

Other reasons to turn down a job opportunity certainly exist -- bad future co-workers, manager, location, commute, pay, etc. But, you won't know if any of those apply unless you accept the job interview invitation.

Trust Your "Gut"

Trust your instinct, unless you are finding something "wrong" with every opportunity you have.

If something about the invitation or the opportunity doesn't feel good to you, listen to your inner voice. Perhaps communications have been very poor -- demonstrating low quality and a negative attitude toward employees. Or, maybe it just feels odd to you in some other way.

If every opportunity feels "wrong" to you, you could be just avoiding the stress of a job interview or the disappointment if you don't get a job offer. In that case, don't trust your instincts.

But, if you don't feel negative about every organization and opportunity, pay attention.

Use Employer Reviews Cautiously

Hopefully you researched this employer before you applied. When you receive an invitation to a job interview, do MORE research now, including checking the employer on sites like Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com or another employer review site.

If you have read bad reviews about this employer, take those reviews into consideration. Without referencing the negative reviews, ask a few questions, if possible, related to the issues raised to see if there seems to be a basis in fact.

I would not turn down an interview invitation based only on a couple of bad reviews, particularly if those reviews are more than one year old or applied to another location.

The Two-Step Process for Turning Down a Job Interview Opportunity

Turn down this opportunity verrrryyy carefully! You don't want to burn bridges. Think of this as a thank you note (actually, it is a thanks-but-no-thanks note).

First, Send an Email Message

Respond quickly and carefully (!) in writing via email. Your written message documents your response and the reason for your response.

  1. Be diplomatic. Don't burn bridges, and don't tell lies. This employer or these people may be exactly right for you at some point in the future, and you don't want to have future opportunities disappear because this one made a bad impression.

  • Be careful. Don't provide ANY detail about your reasons for rejecting their invitation. Those reasons could burn bridges for you or drag you into an extended and intense conversation about why you feel that way, with demands for details you don't want OR need to provide. Keep your rejection message "short and sweet."
  • Suggest another candidate. If the organization has a good reputation, check with appropriate members of your network to see if anyone is interested in a referral. You can help a friend and also make a few brownie points with the recruiter or employer, too.
  • NOTE: Be sure to have this person's permission before referring them, and get their best NON-WORK contact information to use.

  • Keep a copy of the message in case you need it later (like for a possible future connection with this organization or these people).
  • Send it to your primary contact, probably the HR person or the recruiter. If you have already been in contact with the hiring manager or other staff members, send separate messages to all of them.
  • No details are required! Keep the message short and sweet, like this:

    Sample rejection message:

    Subject: Interview invitation for [job title] [job requisition number, or other unique identifier, if you have it]

    Dear [name of person ].

    I greatly appreciate the opportunity to interview for [job title] and learn more about your organization.

    However, at this time I regret that I must decline [because you "have accepted a job" or something vague but true like you "have concluded that this field/industry is not a good fit for me at this point in my career" -- OR give NO reason at all].

    My colleague [name] is a very good fit for this opportunity. You can reach [her/him] at [personal email address and, possibly, personal phone number].

    Perhaps the timing will be better at some point in the future.

    Please reply so that I know you have received this message.

    Best regards,

    If you want to be really thorough, you can also print a formal thanks-but-no-thanks, and send it via snail-mail, perhaps registered with return-receipt-requested so that you have proof you did your best to respond to their invitation.

    Second, Follow-Up with a Telephone Call

    You don't want to leave the situation open on their end, so call them to be sure they received your email. Prepare for the phone call, and use your message as the script. Leave a voice mail if you must.

    If pressed for the reason you are turning down the opportunity to interview with them, say that the time is just wrong in this instance, given what else is going on in your job search. And, if pressed for what is going on in your job search, simply state that you are pursuing other opportunities.

    If you have suggested another candidate for the job, recommend that they contact the other candidate, providing the contact information.

    Resist the Temptation to Ignore the Employer

    This may be your first reaction, and there is NO question that many employers ignore job seekers, quite rudely. If you have experienced that lack of response, you may feel that "turnabout is fair play" and ignore the invitation. For many reasons, including maintaining a professional reputation, don't be rude, too. And, being professional may pay very big dividends in the future with this employer or these people.

    More About Job Interviews

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    Susan P. Joyce is president of NETability, Inc. and editor and chief technology writer for Job-Hunt.org and WorkCoachCafe.com. This piece first appeared on WorkCoachCafe.com.