Spring is more than just tulip time. By my unofficial reckoning, we’re also in the season for job offers. At about this time every year, I see an uptick in clients calling for advice on negotiating with potential employers.
Inevitably, an increase in offers raises the chances of a wrong-fit position. In recent years, when the job market was more difficult, job seekers might have felt compelled to take offers that weren’t quite right, fearing that nothing better would come along. Now that the market seems more accommodating, it’s easier to justify turning down a position. The only problem is figuring out just how to do that without burning bridges or hurting a connection.
To start, you’ll want to understand why the job being offered doesn’t feel like a fit for you. As best you can, filter out the things that may not really matter, such as a prickly recruiter, or issues with the location when you’d be largely telecommuting anyway. It may help to compare your professional goals with the potential future of this position, in case it could grow into the ideal job down the road.Another approach is to ask yourself: What would need to be different for this to feel like a fit? If your list is relatively short, you may have a chance at problem-solving through negotiation with the employer – particularly if the items on your list are not core to the position. On the other hand, this exercise may confirm what you’re already thinking, and catapult you to the “No, thank you” step.
You also need to identify who to have the conversation with, or who should receive the correspondence if you’re planning to exit the process. If there’s a recruiter involved, that’s a natural choice – but only if you haven’t yet met with anyone from the company. While you don’t want to make an end run around the recruiter, neither should you risk having your carefully crafted message relayed to the manager as simply “S/he dropped out of the process.”
Here are a few more tips to consider as you navigate the waters between fixing the offer and exiting stage left.
1. Always express gratitude, and appreciation for their time in putting the offer together, or for whatever conversations / interviews have happened so far.
2. Be tactful. For example, if you’ve lost interest because the job or organization is too small, choose your words with care. It’s never cool to “size-shame” a young or small company (as in, “I swim in bigger ponds, so come back to me when you’ve really made it”). A graceful response could be “I’m excited about what you’re doing, but I think I’d be more use to you later when the projects we’re discussing are launched. I’d like to stay in touch…”
3. Consider mentioning what’s “wrong”. If you’ve identified the one key thing that would need to be different, you could present that as part of your turndown. For example, “I’m not sure we’re at the same stage in our paths right now. At this point in my career, I’m most excited about managing and planning the kinds of projects we’re discussing, but I know that right now you need someone to implement what you’ve already started. I hope we can keep the door open because I’d really like to loop back when you need more team members at the planning level.”
4. Keep the right tempo for the process. If they have a lot of process around the hiring, there’s no need to exit the situation quickly. Let it play out a bit and you may find you have leverage to reshape the job as things draw out.
On the other hand, if they’re clearly trying to hire someone quickly – and you’re clear that it’s not going to be you – it makes sense to either negotiate to improve the job, or simply remove yourself from the candidate pool.
5. Write a letter for their files. Even if you’ve come to a nice, tactful goodbye in person or by phone, it’s both strategic and professional to follow up with an email or letter. Not only can you better express your gratitude for the opportunity and your desire to stay in touch, but you’ll also be leaving a trail for the file, in case your name comes up again for a different position.
6. Stay in touch. Of course! Anyone who wants to hire you is worthy of being on your contact list or in your LinkedIn circle. Remember that you have special status as “the one that got away” – but they can’t offer you something better next year if they’ve lost your contact information.
Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.