How To Pull Out Of A Job Interview Process Without Burning Bridges

When you don't want the role but you do want the contacts, you have to be strategic.
There's a way to tell a company "no" and still get the kind of job you want there.
Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images
There's a way to tell a company "no" and still get the kind of job you want there.

Job interviews aren’t just an opportunity for employers to find out whether you’re a good match for them. They’re also your chance to determine whether the role is a good fit for you.

When the answer becomes clearly “no,” you can simply tell the hiring manager that and back out, or you can see it as another networking opportunity.

Particularly if you like the company involved, you’ll want to maintain the relationships so that when a role you like comes around, they think of you first. Here’s how:

1. Don’t drop out right before an interview if you can help it

Once you’ve decided a role isn’t right for you, it’s important to let the hiring manager or recruiter know as soon as possible so it’s not an inconvenient surprise.

Unless something urgent comes up, backing out less than a day before you are supposed to have a job interview comes off as unprofessional.

“It’s very inconvenient and could leave a bad taste in the employer’s mouth, because the interview panel has blocked off their schedule ... that’s time wasted on their side,” said Gabrielle Woody, a university recruiter for the financial software company Intuit.

2. In your rejection, mention which roles are a better fit for you

Career coach Jessica Hernandez recommends thanking the hiring manager for their time, connecting with them or their company on LinkedIn if you haven’t already, and noting what kind of role you are looking for.

If you want more of a leadership role, for example, Hernandez said you could say something like: “After carefully considering the position, I’ve come to the difficult decision that this role is not the right fit for me at this time. The biggest factor in my decision to withdraw my candidacy was my desire to step into a role with greater leadership responsibilities. ... Thank you so much for your time and support during the interview process. I admire ‘Company Name’ greatly and would enjoy working for your company in a position more aligned with my strengths and career goals. If I can be of any assistance in your search, please don’t hesitate to reach out.“

If one of the reasons you’re backing out is pay, Woody said, you can be direct about your rationale with language such as, “These are the types of bills and loans and financial constraints that I need to make work. If there is a role with a higher compensation package that could help me...”

3. Offer a referral to soften the blow

One way to maintain a positive relationship? Offer the employer a different candidate you trust for the role. It shows this is a company you are willing to recommend friends and colleagues work for, and it helps the recruiter.

Hernandez said you could share the referral offer after you let them know you are declining, with language like, “I wanted to recommend ‘Name’ for the position. I worked with her at ‘Previous Company’ for 10 years. She has the experience you’re seeking and is looking for a role like this one. I would be happy to share her contact information if you’re interested in connecting with her.”

4. If you can, do this all over the phone

Woody said if you have not got through the phone screen stage, a rejection email is fine. But for candidates who have done interviews, taking the time to call the hiring manager and tell them directly about your decision is a much more thoughtful approach.

“The phone calls really do stand out, because I’m always receiving emails. It sets the candidate apart a little more,” Woody said.

“It also helps the employer see how genuine that candidate is being. I feel like sometimes on email, tone of voice, you’re not able to really read that,” she added. “It also gives the employer the opportunity to ask any clarifying questions that could set the candidate up for success in a future recruiting process.”

5. After you back out, check in to show that you are still genuinely interested in the company

To maintain a relationship with a company you want to join in the future, save interviewers’ emails, or connect with them on LinkedIn, so you can send occasional messages that show you are still following the organisation.

In your messages, you can bring up points of commonality or the latest news about the company, like “Hey, I just saw this article that reminded me of something we talked about.” The goal is for your check-in to be a reminder about your interest, Woody said. “You’ll be fresh in the recruiter or hiring manager’s mind when a role does open up.”