How to Drop Out of the Hiring Process Without Burning Bridges

You’re applying for a job, and you’ve gone through a battery of interviews and tests, but perhaps the role isn’t what you thought it would be. Or now that you’ve had a closer look at how the business works, maybe you’re not all that comfortable with the culture or technology stack. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that you don’t want to continue with the hiring process.

What should you do? What’s the proper etiquette? How can you bow out gracefully without damaging your reputation?

Here are some ways to remove yourself from the hiring process without burning a bridge. 

Withdraw Promptly

If you’re going to say “no,” it’s better to say it sooner rather than later, explained Megan McCann, CEO of IT recruiting firm McCann Partners. Limiting damage is hard enough, but it only makes things worse if you leave an employer hanging for days (or weeks!) on end.

“I always encourage candidates to take the first interview so they can find out more about the opportunity and see if they are a good fit,” McCann said. “If you have doubts, however, either say ‘no’ on the spot or take a day or two to think things over, but show respect for the employer by withdrawing as soon as you decide.”

For instance, if you realize at the end of the first interview that the job may not be the right fit, thank the hiring manager for their time, and mention that you enjoyed the conversation, before closing with something like this:

“You have definitely given me some things to consider. I’d like to review my notes before I give you an answer.”

Dropping hints at the appropriate time can soften the blow and keep your rejection from coming as a complete surprise to HR or the hiring manager.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

When it comes to communicating your decision, saying less is better.

“Don’t get mired in the details or criticize the company; have a ‘feelings’ conversation,” advised Bruce Powell, managing partner with Toronto-based recruiting agency IQ PARTNERS, Inc. “Just say that you’ve thought it over and that you don’t think this job is the right move at this time.”

Essentially, you want to mimic the style of a standard employer rejection letter: “Be non-specific, use positive language and keep things at a high level,” McCann said. Keep the needs of the employer in the forefront by emphasizing that you don’t want to waste their time.

If you’ve made a decision to exit the hiring process and not be considered for future roles, going on and on about the low salary or unsuitable duties may be misinterpreted as a negotiation strategy or lead to an awkward discussion. Once you’ve gotten to that point, it can be almost impossible to make a graceful exit.

Also, don’t offer any details if you’ve accepted another position or are being pursued by a high-profile competitor,because you don’t want to come across as arrogant or boastful.

On the other hand, if you’d like to keep the door open for future opportunities or stay in touch with the hiring manager, close the conversation by politely stating your request.

Here’s a sample withdrawal email:

Dear Hiring Manager,

Thank you for your time and the opportunity to learn more about your organization and the junior developer position. I enjoyed our conversation and sincerely appreciate your interest. After giving it some thought, I have decided that this positon is not a good fit for me at this time and must withdraw my application.  

Again, thank you for the consideration and best of luck with your search,

[Signed]

Protocol

If you are working with a third-party recruiter, he or she will convey your decision to the company, but you should still close the loop with an email thanking the hiring manager for their time and the opportunity to be considered for the position.

If you applied on your own and have met with the hiring manager several times, it’s more professional to break the bad news over the phone, followed by a confirming email. Provide a brief reason for your decision if you’ve built a relationship, but script out what you want to say beforehand to avoid getting down in the weeds.

Rejection is just part of the hiring process, and it doesn’t warrant a lengthy explanation or apology from either party—but it does require tact. “Protecting your professional reputation has become more important than ever in the age of the internet,” Powell noted. “Modern careers are long and burned bridges are hard to repair.”

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