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6 Best Practices for Accepting (or Declining) a Job Offer

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You’ve not only aced your first- and second-round interviews, but received an offer—congratulations! Now, it’s time for you to make a tough decision.

Accepting or declining a job offer is a delicate matter that must be met with measured doses of assertiveness and professionalism. Yes or no, your answer needs to contain certain key pieces of information. To help you out, here are six best practices when preparing to accept or decline a job offer.

Know Your Worth

Knowing what your experience, education and skills are worth on the market today is crucial, especially if you’re entertaining competing job offers—or if salary is a make-or-break issue for you. And if you’re not sure what you can reasonably ask for, there are free online salary calculators that can help you out.

Your best bet is to set a range before going into a salary negotiation—for instance, by asserting that you're willing to negotiate between $50,000 and $60,000 in base salary. You’ll thank yourself later, because that range gives you some leverage to negotiate if the company comes back with an offer that’s toward the lower end of your specified range.

Prepare for Both Scenarios

Think through what trade-offs you’re willing to make. For example, would you be willing to forgo certain benefits? How about less paid vacation time in return for a higher salary? Now’s the time to think through these and other possible trade-offs.

Try to arrive at a sense of the conditions that must be met—in terms of salary, benefits, paid time off, remote work options and more—in order for the job to be the right fit for you. Write these down, and use them as the basis for your decision to accept or reject a job offer.

Show Your Appreciation

Getting notified that a new job offer is pending—whether that happens by phone, letter or email—is cause for celebration, of course, but you should also exercise a bit of careful restraint. While you want to express your enthusiasm, you don’t want to imply that you’ll accept the offer sight unseen.

Today, it’s totally acceptable to ask to see the offer in writing before you accept. This may prove useful if you’ve got competing offers and want to make exact comparisons—or if you simply want to buy yourself a little more time to think.

Write a Letter of Acceptance

If you’ve decided to take the job, follow up with an acceptance letter that reiterates the negotiated terms of employment. It might go something like this:

Thank you for offering me the position of ____. I’m delighted to accept your offer. As discussed, my start date will be ____ and my starting annual salary $ ____, with ____ days of paid leave. Again, thank you so much for the opportunity. I can’t wait to start working with you and the rest of the team at ____.

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Or, Write a Rejection Letter

Whether you’ve decided to stay in your current job or accept a different opportunity, the company deserves a prompt, honest answer. A good job offer rejection letter expresses gratitude for the opportunity and is specific about why the offer is being declined. That way, you’ll ensure you don’t burn any bridges. You can begin with:

Thank you very much for the offer of ____ at ____. It was a pleasure to meet with you and I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to consider my candidacy.

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The next part is where it gets somewhat tricky. Was the salary not high enough? Did the realities of the role in some way not align with your expectations? Whatever the case may be, you should be sure to communicate it. For example:

  • After much thought, I’ve decided to take a position at a company that will give me more opportunities to grow my skills.
  • This position seems like a great opportunity, but I’ve decided now is not the right time to leave my current workplace.
  • I’ve been offered a higher salary at another company, and so it is with regret that I decline your offer.

Of course, a determined employer might return with a counteroffer. Be prepared for that outcome, too.

Finally, you never know when you and your interviewers might connect again professionally in the future, so you should end your rejection letter on an optimistic tone. For example:

It truly was a pleasure getting to know you. I hope we meet again.

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Sign on the Dotted Line

No job offer is complete without a written acceptance, whether that means a counter-signed offer letter, employment agreement or some other form of signed contract of employment. However, never feel pressured to sign your contract in front of your manager or the HR team. Instead, ask if you can bring the contract home for review. This will give you the chance to go through it with a fine-toothed comb.

If you have any questions or objections, itemize them in a follow-up email—and make sure you have the answers you need before you sign the contract.

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