Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Career > Work

5 Experts Share How To Turn Down A Job For The First Time

Firsts are freaky, but they don’t have to be. In Her Campus’ series My First Time, we’re answering the burning questions you might be uncomfortable asking about IRL. In this article, we tackle turning down job offers for the first time.

I’ve always been a “yes” person; I’m usually the first person to tackle a huge project from an editor, even if I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s a quality I’ve prided myself on because I know it makes me reliable for my editors, but I’ve also never learned how to say “no” to things. Especially when it comes to turning down job offers.

Last month, I received an internship offer from a major broadcast company, but I just didn’t feel it was the right match for me. I would have had to commute to New York City from Philadelphia three days a week during my senior year, a time in which I feel it is important to soak in every minute of my college experience with my closest friends. My mom was shocked when I told her I wanted to reject the offer, she didn’t understand that despite interning at a majorly impressive organization, I really wouldn’t love what I’d be doing there. 

I had exactly 24 hours to make a decision that would have an impact on my life, and I decided to reject the offer. However, the only other offers I rejected in the past were ones from companies who had reached out to me after I already signed on with another company. I had no idea what to say to the company’s recruiter and I was terrified of ruining my reputation with a company that I might want to work for in the future with a different opportunity. 

This isn’t a unique experience. So, I talked to four career experts —Tye Smith, Sudhir Khatwani, Finn Wheatley, Avalon Fenster, and Maria Opre — to learn how to reject a job offer for the first time without burning bridges with a company. 

Take a step back and look at the facts.

If you’re a college student, then you know internships often have three categories: non-paying, stipend (occasionally with a for-class credit option), or hourly pay. It’s important to pick opportunities that align with your personal needs, but it’s equally as important to assess other qualities of a job or internship offer like benefits or paid time off. 

“Pay is certainly important, but [Gen Zers] should also consider the potential benefits, such as health insurance, paid time off, and retirement savings plans,” says Tye Smith, a human resources consultant. “They should also think about the job itself, such as the potential for growth, the work environment, and the company culture.”

You should ultimately be looking at the bigger picture; think of this opportunity as a place to grow. If it doesn’t match what your goals are for the future or doesn’t match the track you want to take, then it might not be the best fit for you. 

Most Gen Zers want flexible work arrangements, common causes, fair pay, and support for mental health needs in an environment that welcomes everyone, Forbes reported. 

Many companies openly promote their goals and values through their mission statements, and it’s normal to want to align yourself with an organization that has similar values. If it’s extremely valuable to you that you’re working with a company that is dedicated to helping the environment, then you shouldn’t settle for anything less. 

Another important way to determine if this position is best for you is to analyze your short and long-term career goals, says Avalon Fenster, otherwise known as the Internship Girl. 

“I think it’s really important if there’s a career opportunity that’s posed to you to ask yourself, ‘How does this opportunity fit into my short-term goals? How does opportunity fit into my long-term goals? And is this an opportunity that I’m also going to be able to benefit and learn from?’” Fenster said. “Not just ‘Is this an opportunity for me to contribute to someone else’s project?’”

It may seem difficult to think about where you see yourself five years post-graduation, but a way to make that seem more manageable is to break the position down into pros and cons. Sit down and think about what beneficial things you can get out of this position, and what your non-negotiable deal breakers are.

Honesty is the best policy.

It took me an hour to come up with the perfect response email for rejecting my offer. I overthought almost every single word because no one tells you exactly what to say when you’re rejecting an offer. I watched multiple TikToks for advice and curated an email that met my standards. 

However, rejecting an offer doesn’t have to be this massively complex issue that stresses you out for hours. 

“If a recruiter pushes for more specifics about why you’re declining and you just didn’t vibe with the role, honesty is the best policy,” says Sudhir Khatwani, director of The Money Mongers, Inc. “A response like ‘I just don’t feel this role is the best fit for me at this stage of my career’ should suffice.”

Remember to also thank the recruiter for being considered for the role, even if you don’t love the position it’s still always thrilling to be considered. 

“When declining a job offer over email or phone, Gen Zers might consider expressing gratitude for the opportunity and providing clear yet polite reasons for the decline,” says Finn Wheatley, a former risk manager. “Phrases like ‘After careful consideration’ or ‘I believe it’s in the best interest of both parties’ can be beneficial.”

If the company doesn’t align with your personal beliefs or ambitions, there’s a way to politely say that too. 

“If approached for further clarification, mentioning that you’re looking for a role that better aligns with your personal values and ambitions is fine,” Wheatley says. 

However, if you’re uncomfortable with giving an exact reason as to why you’re turning down an offer, you don’t have to say anything. There isn’t a requirement for telling recruiters why you’re choosing to decline. 

“The recruiters and hiring managers as lovely as many of them are, are never entitled to an explanation of why you turned down the offer,” Fenster says. 

Instead, you can just say thanks so much for the opportunity, you appreciate the chance to go through the hiring process and you’re grateful for the offer, but unfortunately are unable to accept due to extenuating professional and personal circumstances that have come up, Fenster added. 

Regardless of what your reason is, your number one takeaway should be to say thank you! Being kind can go a long way, and you never know if a rude email could be sent from one recruiter to another, so it’s best to just be nice.

Keep the networking door open.

At the end of your email or phone call, you always should mention something along the lines of wanting to stay connected. Turning down opportunities is also where the phrase “never say never” comes into play, says Maria Opre, a senior analyst. 

“Just because the job wasn’t a fit today doesn’t mean opportunities won’t knock in the future,” Opre says. “Touching base occasionally, maybe sharing an insightful article or just sending festive greetings, can sustain the bond with a recruiter. Building relationships, after all, isn’t always about immediate gains.” 

Networking may seem like a foreign subject when most of our interviews and interactions with employers are completely online, but 85% of jobs are filled through networking

Because the recruiter took an interest in you to make it through the process this far, they might be more inclined to utilize your resume for other applications if you follow up with meaningful communication. You don’t have to reach out to them multiple times per month, but it’s always great to build your contacts in whatever field you’re going into.

Rejecting a job or internship offer can be an extremely difficult process, and it might feel awkward to say no to something if you’re like me. You need to look at the bigger picture when accepting or rejecting an offer, and a company name isn’t the most important aspect of the job. 

As we all step into our first positions, it’s important to remember that our first years post-graduation or first internships are still about learning, and if you aren’t growing then it might not be the best fit for you. 

Julia is a national writer at Her Campus, where she mainly covers mental health, wellness, and all things relating to Gen Z. Prior to becoming a national writer, Julia was the wellness intern for Her Campus. Outside of Her Campus, Julia is a managing editor at The Temple News, Temple University's independent student-run paper. She's also the Co-Campus Correspondent of Her Campus Temple University, where she oversees content for all sections of the website. Julia is also a student intern at the Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting, where she works on the data desk and is assisting her editor in building a database. She has previously interned at The American Prospect. In her free time, Julia enjoys going to the beach as much as possible, watching reality TV (specifically Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules), and editing stories.