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Why and How to Turn Down an Interview Invitation

By Susan P. Joyce

How to Smartly Accept Emailed Interview InvitationsNot every job interview represents a good opportunity, but you don't need to make any enemies. So a graceful rejection is smart.

Sometimes rejecting an interview invitation is a good idea because the level, the commute, or the employer are not right for you now.

On the other hand, if you can do the interview without putting your current job at risk, my advice is to accept the invitation to interview, even when you are not particularly interested.

Particularly if this interview is a phone interview, the risk is less (assuming you don't take the call at work) and the reward may be substantial. So, turning down a phone interview many not be smart.

Discovering if you really want to work for an employer should be a major goal of every job interview. If you turn down an interview invitation, you lose the opportunity to learn more about them and to expand your network by meeting people who work there.

However, sometimes turning down the opportunity is the best idea. Here's how to handle that...

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Resist the Temptation to Ignore This Invitation

This may be your first reaction, and there is NO question that far too many employers ignore job applicants, quite rudely! So ignoring them feels like an appropriate response.

However, for many reasons, including maintaining your reputation as a professional and NOT burning any bridges in the future, being polite and professional is a very good idea.

The good news is that being professional may pay very big dividends in the future with this employer or these people because you have left a good impression even though you turned down this opportunity.

Don't Say "NO" Too Quickly

You usually have at least one day to respond with an acceptance or rejection, so use that time. Or, ask for that day if it isn't offered.

Trusting your inner voice can be very smart -- most of the time. Particularly if your initial response is to immediately reject the opportunity, take some time -- at least a few hours -- to carefully consider the opportunity. Do some research to confirm your instincts, or not..

However, if every opportunity feels “wrong” to you, you could simply be avoiding the stress of a job interview or the disappointment if you don’t get a job offer as a result. In that case, don’t trust your instincts.

But, if you don’t feel negative about every organization and opportunity, pay attention. You may be right...

Good Reasons to Turn Down a Job Interview Invitation

Sometimes, turning down the job interview is the best option for any of these reasons:

  1. This employer has been laying off staff or profits and/or revenue are down, and taking a job there feels like a risky thing to do. (Research the employer before you accept an invitation! More on how below.)
  2. You are currently employed, and going to this job interview would be taking a big gamble. The risk is greater than the potential payoff because the job doesn't seem particularly interesting or special.
  3. This invitation is for a second (or third) round of interviews for a job, and this job and organization don't feel like a good fit to you.
  4. You have interviewed with this employer for a different job and didn't feel like the organization was “right” for you.
  5. You know people who work there, and they hate it.

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.

Research the Employer Carefully

Hopefully you researched this employer before you applied. When you receive an invitation to a job interview, do MORE research now:

  • Know anyone who works there now or who worked there in the recent past? Reach out to ask about their experiences there.
  • What information do the employer review sites like Glassdoor.com have about this employer?
  • Test a few Google searches to discover if any negative things have been happening with this employer, like a product failure or a recent layoff. For search query ideas, read 50 Google Searches to Avoid Layoffs and Bad Employers.

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 a different location.

Without referencing the negative reviews, very carefully ask a few questions during the interview, related to the issues raised to see if there seems to be a basis in fact.

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

If you decide that turning down this opportunity is the right decision for you (read more below), proceed very carefully! The people you are communicating with now may be in a position to hire you into a position with your dream employer in the future.

The best approach -- think of this as a thank you note (actually, it is a thanks-but-no-thanks note, of course, but maintain the thank-you-note mindset).

First, Send an Email Message

If you are 100% certain that this is not an opportunity you want, respond quickly (within 24 hours) and carefully (!) via email. Your written message documents your response and the reason for your response.

  1. 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 each of them.
  2. Be diplomatic. Don’t burn bridges, and don’t tell lies. This employer and/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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. Keep a copy of the message in case you need it later (like for a possible future connection with this organization or these people).

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 this opportunity [give NO reason at all, OR add "because I have accepted a job” if that is appropriate].

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].

Hopefully, the timing will be better at some point in the future.

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 timing is just wrong in this instance, given what else is going on in your job (or 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 and provide the contact information.

Bottom Line

Sometimes turning down an interview is the right thing to do. However, if you really aren't sure you reject this opportunity down, read How to Smartly Accept Emailed Interview Invitations.


About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.


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Guide to Successful Interviews

Essential Job Interviewing Requirements:

Navigating the Interview Process:

Succeeding at Different Kinds of Interviews:

Steps to Prepare for Your Interview:

More Information About Successful Interviews:


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