Find Your Dream Job, Episode 171:
How to Turn Down a Job Offer, with LaKiesha Tomlin
Airdate: December 26, 2018
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the publisher of Mac’s List. It’s an online community that connects talented professionals with meaningful work.
I believe everyone can find a job they love. But to do this, you need to learn the skills to build a successful career. From professional networking to personal branding, you’ve got to get good at job hunting.
This show helps you do this. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I interview a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find the work you want.
This week, I’m talking to LaKiesha Tomlin about how to turn down a job offer.
LaKiesha Tomlin works with talented leaders in science, technology, and engineering. Her clients often receive multiple job offers.
In our conversation today, LaKiesha encourages you to think about your personal needs before you say yes to any job offer. Even if it’s the only one on the table.
Lakiesha tells me that you need to get full value for your skills and experiences. If the offer’s salary and benefits don’t meet your requirements, turn it down.
But LaKiesha also advises you to say no with professionalism. And don’t worry that rejecting a job offer hurts your prospects at a company. She says that no one tracks the number of offers you receive or how you respond.
Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I interview LaKiesha Tomlin about how to turn down a job offer.
LaKiesha Tomlin is a career coach for talented leaders in science, technology, and engineering. She’s also a mechanical engineer who has worked as a manager in the aviation and technology industries.
LaKiesha’s company, Thriving Ambition, helps clients improve employee engagement and retention, grow careers, and build five-star networks. Her work has been cited in Forbes, Self Magazine, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
She joins us today from St. Louis, Missouri.
LaKiesha, thanks for being on the show.
Thanks for having me, Mac.
Well, it’s a pleasure and our topic this week, as you know, is how to turn down a job offer. This is something that is hard for a lot of people to do, isn’t it, LaKiesha?
Yeah, it is. Especially because the hiring manager and HR teams, they’ve spent a lot of time putting this offer package together and to tell them, “Thanks, but no thanks,” is very difficult. Any kind of bad news, actually, is very difficult to deliver.
Why do people sometimes feel pressured to say yes even though they know it might not be the best offer?
Yeah, that’s a common problem. What I believe is that people don’t want to generally disappoint others. I don’t fully know where that comes from but I just remember as a kid, being told, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”
It’s unfortunate that people still approach job offers with this same mentality. I believe that that saying should be caveated with some extra things. As far as, “If the opportunity is not good for you then, hey, you should speak up”, but, of course, people don’t say that.
When people get an offer, LaKiesha, and they’re considering it, what kind of factors should they take into consideration in making a decision that might, in fact, lead them to say no. What do you encourage your clients, when you work with people, to consider before responding to a job offer?
For me and the clients that I serve, the advice that I give is, first, what does your gut tell you? I’m a very intuitive person and this intuition for me has come with age and experience. First of all, what is my gut telling me to do? For me, my gut reaction is usually the most correct.
If I have a feeling that, “You know, this opportunity is great, but it’s not fully what I’m looking for,” or it’s lacking a certain number of predetermined things that would make me happy and want to do my best work in the position. Those are some of the key factors that I look at when considering a job offer.
One thing that I tell people to do is, before you even go into an interview, write down what are some of those things in a job you want to look for and you want to have out of it? If you know what you want upfront, then it’s much easier for you to make a decision whether or not you want to accept or decline the offer when it’s presented to you.
When you work with your clients, LaKiesha, and they make those lists, do you see the same things come up again and again? Is there a top five list of elements that most people hope to get in a job offer?
Yes. Of course, this list looks a little bit different for everyone. Of course, the number one thing is salary. Everyone has this target salary that they want to get from this particular job offer. Salary is number one.
For some people, it may be the opportunity to have a flexible schedule. Especially people that have younger kids. They want to be able to do things with them, and there’s daycare and a number of things that go along with that.
Another thing is, some people don’t want to have to work weekends or don’t want to travel. Those are a couple of things that come up consistently, but like I mentioned before, salary is number one for people.
Oh, and health benefits. That’s another one as well. Great health benefits for the family.
That’s a great list. Another one I see come up when I talk to job seekers is commuting time.
Oh, yes, that’s another great one. Especially if you’re in a big city, such as San Francisco or New York. Just any place where there’s a lot of traffic. Like LA or DC. All of those things have to be taken into consideration.
You have that list, we touched on four or five items. What’s the next step, LaKiesha? You get the offer, do you attempt to negotiate before you say no? Does it depend on every case?
Generally, it’s an offer that you know in your heart, and based on this list that you created, that it doesn’t meet your criteria.
It depends. I think for the most part if it’s something that you’re considering, like you like the job but maybe the salary should be higher, and of your list of say, five things, your salary piece is the only thing that is missing, I believe that it’s worth your time to try to negotiate a higher salary.
Know what your aspiration salary is. That would be the salary that would be your highest dollar amount that you would try to get. Then there’s also your bottom line. That’s the minimum amount that you would like to get for this particular job.
Knowing those numbers going into, even the interview, is very helpful. It gives you some sort of target to shoot for.
Going back to your question of whether or not they should turn it down, if it doesn’t initially meet their criteria or if it depends, the answer is definitely, it depends. On the other side, if you have a list of five things and the job doesn’t meet three, or maybe even four, because that has happened, of your criteria, then it’s a good use of your time and everybody else’s time if you just go ahead and decline that offer.
I don’t believe that it’s worth the time and effort if it’s a position that you’re only just somewhat happy with. If that makes sense. I believe that you should make the best use of your time; not waste it if the job is truly not a good fit.
I want to talk about how to say no but before we do that, I can imagine listeners thinking… well, what would you say, LaKiesha, to people who might not be crazy about the job? It doesn’t meet all of your criteria but it meets, maybe three out of the five. Most importantly, you’ve got to pay your bills.
How do you counsel people who are…particularly folks who might have been unemployed for a while and the bills are mounting? They haven’t had an offer before this and they don’t know when the next one might come.
How do you see people manage that?
Typically, in that situation, people will just take the position. They’ll say, “Okay, well, it doesn’t meet five out of five or four out of five of my criteria but it’s at least more than fifty percent. I don’t know when I’m going to have another job offer here. Let me go ahead and accept it.” But they’ll still be looking for opportunities that are a perfect fit for them.
Like you said, people have bills and they have a lot of other responsibilities that require money, so if the money is in your lap and it’s not a hundred percent or even eighty percent, just go ahead and take it but be open to looking for better opportunities.
Do you think people should make, when they say yes, particularly to a professional position, do you think they should make some kind of commitment before they pursue their next opportunity? Say six, twelve months.
What are your thoughts about that?
I would say in that situation, it really depends. I’ve heard of situations where this one guy, he got an offer for a position and he was only in the job for three weeks before he left and went to another company with better salary and the job was just overall better.
In that, it was that sort of situation, and you really have to be careful. Because even after talking to this hiring manager, or the hiring manager for this guy, he was still mad about it. This was like a year later.
Chances are this guy that left after three weeks won’t get a good recommendation from the hiring manager. He definitely will not be invited back. At least to this group, because he left only after being there for three weeks.
If you don’t want to burn bridges, I’d say give it, I try to give positions at least a year. I know that there are a lot of different situations that could happen where a year is not possible. At the same time, I don’t believe that if your dream job pops up, you should just be like, “Oh, well, I planned on giving this particular job a year. Let me stay a year.”
That opportunity may not be there. My overall message here is to use your best judgement when it comes to pursuing different opportunities. Especially if you just started a position and another great position comes along three months later, just make sure that you do your best not to burn bridges.
That’s not always possible, but just leave the best way you can, if you decide to leave to pursue that better opportunity.
Okay. That’s good advice. It is a ticklish situation and it’s a tough one. I really like your point about trying to avoid burning bridges. Whatever field we all work in, it tends to be a small one, doesn’t it, LaKiesha?
Everybody knows everybody else.
We’re going to take a break. When we come back I want to talk more about the how once you do make that decision to turn down a job offer.
Stay with us. We’ll be back in a moment.
Have you ever looked at a job posting and said this to yourself: “I could do that.”
Now, it’s not your dream job. And it’s not what you told people you want to do. It’s not even what you do now.
But you have some relevant experience. It sounds interesting. And yes, with a patient boss and lots of training, you could probably get the job done.
So you apply. Usually, you hear nothing back. Every now and then, however, you get an interview.
But when you talk to the hiring manager, you struggle to explain why you want the job. And it’s hard to show how this position fits into your career. You leave the interview room with a bad feeling.
This happened to me. Early in my career, I applied for a lot of jobs I thought I could do.
Because I’d prepared a few grant applications, I applied for fundraising jobs. Because I’d written some news releases, I applied for communications jobs. And because I’d helped edit a newsletter, I applied for editorial jobs.
But I also didn’t know if I wanted any of these gigs. And the employers who interviewed me could tell I wasn’t clear about my career goals.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t get any offers.
Here was my problem: I didn’t have a job search goal. So after seven months of unemployment, I focused on figuring out my goal. And in less than two months I had a job I loved.
Before you send out your next application, get clear about your own goals. Stop chasing every lead.
I’ve got a new resource that can help. It’s called Finding Focus in Your Job Search. You can get your copy at macslist.org/focus.
It’s a free step-by-step guide. And it will help you figure out what you want in your career and in your next job.
To get Finding Focus in Your Job Search, visit macslist.org/focus.
And now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with LaKiesha Tomlin, the owner of Thriving Ambition. She’s a career coach who works with leaders in science, technology, and engineering. She joins us today from St. Louis, Missouri.
LaKiesha, before the break, we were talking about the factors you should take into consideration when deciding not to accept a job offer. Let’s talk about how you say no once you’ve made that choice.
What’s the next step? How do you communicate with the people that you’ve been negotiating with?
Once you’ve made that determination that, yeah, this job is completely not for me or whatever, you need to make sure that you plan that conversation that you’re going to have. Either with a recruiter or the hiring manager. Planning for this is key.
It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Basically, you just have to jot down the points that you want to convey in this conversation. Also, anticipate what the other side may say. This will help you come up with different answers, just in case.
That way you’re not caught off guard. Planning is number one in this case for turning down a job offer.
What kinds of questions should listeners think about that the hiring manager or the recruiter might have that they should be prepared to answer?
The first question would be something like, “What motivated your decision to turn down this job offer?” You have to have an answer prepared for that. It could be whatever the criteria that you created pre-interview, maybe commute time or the salary or benefits or something like that.
You don’t have to give them an in-depth explanation as to what your reasons are for turning it down but they would like to know something. I would suggest that people share as much as they’re comfortable with.
Just know that they’re not obligated to tell everything when it comes to turning down this job offer.
Are there things that people shouldn’t say? Reasons that might matter to the job seeker but if shared with an employer might be annoying or perhaps hurt the job seeker’s reputation.
I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that they shouldn’t say. I believe that the overall goal is in this should just be to be professional. Basically, put yourself in that hiring manager’s, or the HR person’s, shoes. How would you want someone to break the news to you?
I think if you keep that frame of mind it really helps you plan your conversation. To be as professional as possible so that way you don’t burn bridges with that company. You just never know if… and if a better opportunity pops up that at company and you’re interested in it, you want to make sure that you are a contender for that cool position.
Professionalism, in this case, is key.
How do you recommend people deliver the message? Should it be done in person? By Skype? By telephone or email? What’s most effective?
I believe that in person is best. Of course, that’s not always possible. I think that just giving a simple phone call would be a good way of breaking the news to the hiring manager or the recruiter. I personally use that method and it’s been fine.
Sometimes the person is not able to jump on the telephone. That’s when you would resort to email. I feel that email should be the last resort after you’ve tried to talk to the person face to face, or get them on the telephone, or even Skype. Some companies use Skype or FaceTime to conduct interviews. If neither of those are options, then email would be the last resort.
Any common mistakes you see job seekers make when delivering this message of no, that people should be aware of?
The common mistake that I see is just lack of professionalism. Where someone will brag about, say if they have another offer, they would brag about how much more this other company is paying them for the same job or whatever.
Like I said before, it’s not necessary for you to give all the details about why you’re turning down this offer. Just let them know that, “Hey, I’m turning this down.” You can share as much information as possible.
Always keep it professional. Any boasting like that should definitely be excluded from those conversations.
Do you recommend people stay in touch with hiring managers? Particularly if they’ve been in the field for a while.
Most definitely. I believe that connections are everything or relationships are everything. I believe that it is very important for you, even after you’ve delivered this bad news, to ask the person that you’re talking to, whether it’s the hiring manager or the recruiter if you could keep in contact with them. If there are other opportunities that are a better fit for you at that company or in that organization.
I can imagine that for many listeners that’s an important point. If they want to work at a very large organization, because it may be, this opportunity doesn’t work, isn’t right for them in one division, but they remain very interested in finding another opportunity at that company.
Exactly. Then sometimes, it’s just timing. Where the opportunity may not be a good fit for you. Maybe there are a lot of things that are happening in your personal life and the position requires you to work a lot of hours or travel a lot, either domestically or internationally. Maybe you have little kids and you don’t want to leave them at home.
There are just all types of situations.
Speaking of large companies, I know some people may think, “I should say yes to this offer even though it’s not the best one for me professionally because I want to get my foot in the door at this organization.”
What would you say to people who are thinking that, LaKiesha?
That’s often very common. You will hear recruiters and hiring managers say, “Well, this would be a good position for you to get your foot in the door. We tend to promote from within.” Depending on the organization, that may be true or that may not be fully true.
Especially if it’s an organization that you’re familiar with. Maybe you have friends or family at the organization and they could give you the inside scoop on what’s happening. I believe that it really just depends on the situation that you’re in.
If it’s, like I said earlier, if it’s a job where it doesn’t check all of the boxes but a majority of them are checked, it may be a good opportunity for you. The key is to make sure that the role will help you build new skills
The more skills you build the more marketable you will be for either a promotion internal to the company or a promotion at some other company.
Well, speaking of opportunities or multiple opportunities in a company, I tweeted earlier today about the fact that you and I would be talking and asked if my Twitter followers had any questions for you. I got a reply from Dave Watts who is the host of The Redundancy Podcast in the United Kingdom.
Here’s his question, LaKeisha. He writes, “I’ve been unemployed for ten months since being made redundant. I have an interview on Monday,” and we’re recording this on a Wednesday, “for a role that pays 45% less than my last job. I have another interview, same organization, seven days later, for a job paying 20% less but one I’d prefer.”
“What should I do if the company offers me the job on Monday?” What’s your advice there, LaKiesha?”
That’s an interesting problem to have. What it sounds like is, he wants to decline the position that is 45% less. I would say to him, if it’s truly not a good fit for him in his situation, that he should definitely decline it.
Make sure that when he does decline it he is being as professional as possible and that he asks to stay in touch with the people he is communicating with in case there’s a better opportunity at that company for him to interview for.
That would be my advice to him.
Okay, terrific. I would add, it’s hard to tell from a Tweet, but it sounds as if, too, he might say yes to the first opportunity if the second one doesn’t come through. In which case, that’s a different conversation.
It is a tough one, but those are good tips.
Well, LaKiesha, it’s been a great conversation. Now, tell us what’s next for you?
The next thing for me is, basically providing more content at my website, thrivingambition.com. I am hosting a course on building relationships. Basically, it’s how you land your dream job through building connections. Your truly beneficial, professional connections. I’m hosting this this fall and then also in early 2019.
It will be a very interactive class for people to ask questions and learn how to search for their dream job without using job boards. Through connections that they have or build new ones.
I had a chance to look at your website before our interview and you have some material there about this course. It looks like it’s going to be a great class. I know people can find out more about it by visiting your website, thrivingambition.com/network.
LaKiesha, thanks for being on the show today.
Thank you so much for having me, Mac. This was a really great opportunity.
It’s been a pleasure. Take care.
There were two big takeaways for me from my conversation with LaKiesha. The first, it’s important to know what you want. She talked about having a list of criteria for considering a job offer.
At whatever point you are in your job search, you need to know what your goals are. By doing so, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble. You’ll also be able to make the best decisions for you, professionally.
The second big takeaway was the importance of not burning bridges. Whatever fields we work in, we’re going to keep running across the same people again and again and again. Keep that in mind in all your relationships and all your professional dealings. Especially when you say no to a job offer.
You want your search and career to be as easy as possible.
Here’s another way to make your next job search easy; get my new resource, Finding Focus in Your Job Search.
It’ll help you put together, not only your job search goals but help you think through that criteria that you need when considering a job offer.
It’s on our website. Again the title is Finding Focus in Your Job Search. And it’s free. Go to macslist.org/focus.
Thank you for listening to today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.
Join us next Wednesday when our guest expert will be Serilda Summers-McGee. She’s the chief human resources officer at the City of Portland.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.