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How to decline a job interview: What to do when in demand

October 20, 2022 - 13 min read

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Is it unprofessional to decline an interview?

Why refuse a job interview?

How to decline an interview (respectfully)

Email templates for declining an interview

The bottom line

“Hello, I hope you’re well. I’m reaching out because we’re very impressed with your professional background. Would you have time next week for an interview?”

Under normal circumstances, you would be excited to receive this email. Job applications are a lot of work, after all — It feels good knowing your efforts paid off. Plus, the fact they liked your CV and cover letter is a nice ego boost.

Despite this, you might decline the interview for many reasons. Perhaps you already accepted a position elsewhere so you’re no longer in the job market, you’ve done some informational interviews and don’t think you’d fit with the company culture, or your current company gave you a promotion and no longer want to leave.

Whatever the case is, you’re well within your rights to cancel your application. You won’t seem unprofessional or ungrateful, so long you do it politely.

Saying no to a job prospect can be uncomfortable. We naturally fear disappointing others, and we feel pressure to live up to their expectations. So after receiving a flattering email complimenting your work history, it’s normal to want to reciprocate by attending the interview.

The dilemma of choice only complicates things more: we want to make the best decision possible, but having too many options can cause analysis paralysis. Refusing an interview — and potential job prospect — might feel like you’re limiting your chances of maximizing your career.

It can all be quite daunting. But in this guide, you’ll learn how to decline a job interview and feel good about it.

 

Is it unprofessional to decline an interview?

Let’s start by putting your mind at ease: no, it’s not unprofessional to decline an interview. On average, job postings receive at least 50 applications. Hiring managers will reach out to about six of them. Yes, you’re part of an exclusive club of interviewees, but you’re not leaving them empty-handed by withdrawing an application for a job.

Declining an interview is similar to declining a job offer, but with an important caveat: neither of you has invested a ton of time into each other. There’s less pressure to protect the relationship because you barely have one. If done tactfully, you won’t burn any bridges by pulling back your application. 

The trick is to keep it short and sweet. You don’t need to overexplain your decision, but you should offer a high-level rationale if you think it’s appropriate. You also need to be 100% sure this is what you want. Once you pull out, you can’t go crawling back if you make the wrong choice.

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Why refuse a job interview?

Refusing a job interview is easier when you have a reason for it. This requires self-awareness about your needs and how this job would fit with the rest of your life. 

Clarifying your reasons should quell any lingering fear of missing out related to this job. It will help you rest assured, knowing this is the right decision at the moment — even if your situation changes down the road.

Here are some examples of reasons you might decline an interview.

Young-man-at-job-interview-how-to-decline-a-job-interview

1. You accepted another job offer

If you’re at all like the average job seeker, you likely filed between 21 and 80 applications before receiving an offer. Not all of them will get back to you right away. It’s normal to have interviewed and accepted a job when a company gets around to reading your resume.

If you’re excited about your new role, there’s no reason for that to change. Your only reason to proceed with the interview now is if:

  • You feel like you’re settling for your current position 
  • The requesting company can provide you with your dream job

2. The company is showing too many red flags

You may have done extra research between now and when you originally applied for the role. And during your investigation, you may have found some things you didn’t like. Perhaps they have low employee engagement, the company isn’t diverse enough, or you simply don’t like the dress code.

These are all valid reasons, and you’re entitled to your dealbreakers. Feel free to refuse the interview offer accordingly.

3. This was always a low-priority job

When you’re frantically conducting a job search, not every application will be for a “dream job.” You should have a ranking system for identifying the best roles for you — even if it’s an unconscious one. If this new opportunity is a lateral move or otherwise ranks lower than your current job, you don’t have to accept the interview invitation.

4. Your life plans or career goals have changed

What seemed like a great job opportunity before may no longer fit with other areas of your life. Perhaps you were open to moving cities but now want to stay put. Maybe you were fine with working the occasional weekend, but other responsibilities now demand that time. Whatever it is, your work should fit into your life — and you don’t have to interview for a job that won’t.

5. You can’t (or won’t) put in the time

Some interview processes are demanding. Between the multiple rounds of interviews and skills tests, you may simply not have time to jump through hoops — even if you’re curious about the role. Unless you want to practice your interviewing skills, you don’t have to feign interest in the hiring process.

long-haired-man-making-a-list-how-to-decline-a-job-interview

How to decline an interview (respectfully)

It’s tempting to say yes to every request that lands in your inbox. But sometimes, the timing just isn’t right. Mastering the art of refusal will help you avoid burning bridges while making the right choice for you.

Here’s how to go about it.

1. Respond quickly, but not too quickly

You want to demonstrate that you gave this a lot of thought because you did! Take the time necessary to mull over your decision. 

You have to strike a delicate balance here. Responding too quickly will leave them wondering why you applied in the first place. But if you wait longer than a day, you’ll waste time they could have spent reaching out to other job candidates.

2. Be courteous and show gratitude

Your goal here is to avoid burning bridges. Even if you discovered this is the worst company on the planet, word travels fast in some industries. Your network might find out if you were rude and condescending.

Be respectful and thank them for the opportunity. Stay professional and keep the door open to future opportunities.

3. Keep it light on details

This is another case of striking the right balance. If your message is too short, it will come off as blunt and rude. But if you launch into all the specific reasons you don’t want the job, you’ll leave a bad taste in their mouth. It’s okay to provide some justification, but keep it vague. A high-level “my needs have changed” should suffice.

4. Recommend someone else, if you can

If you know someone who would be a great fit, feel free to mention them. This can create a win-win scenario where your friend finds a new job, and the company fills their vacancy. Just make sure your friend consented before you put their name in.

poeple-shaking-hands-being-introduced-how-to-decline-a-job-interview

Email templates for declining an interview

So what do these tips look like in action? Here are some sample emails to help you craft your own message.

Template 1: Short and sweet

Hello [name of recruiter],

Thank you for inviting me to interview for the role of [job title]. This is a great opportunity, but after careful consideration, I will have to decline at this time.

I sincerely appreciate your time and interest in my application.

Best regards,

[Your name]

[Email]

[Phone number]

[Linkedin URL]

Template 2: Recommending another candidate

Dear [name of recruiter],

I’m honored to be considered for the role of [job title]. Thank you for taking the time to review my application and reach out.

I’m afraid I must politely decline this interview for now. Since applying to [company name], I’ve received and accepted an offer at another company. 

But if you need recommendations, I have a colleague who would be great for the position. Please let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll happily pass along their information.

Thank you again for reaching out, and I hope we have a chance to work together in the future.

All the best,

[Your name]

[Email]

[Phone number]

[Linkedin URL]

plus-size-woman-typing-email-how-to-decline-a-job-interview

The bottom line

Between now and when you first applied for the job, your needs may have changed. And that’s okay — life happens. But when you receive an email requesting an interview, you’ll have to communicate that you don’t want to go through with it anymore.

You may feel obligated to explain why, but you really don’t have to. Whether you need to be home with your kids or you found a great salary elsewhere, your reasons are your business. You only need to worry about how to decline the job interview invitation without damaging relationships.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. As long as your message is short and courteous, the recruiter will understand. They’ll appreciate that you took the time to respond. And who knows? You may have a chance to work together in the future.

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Published October 20, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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