Saying “No” can be an emotionally loaded experience. Just the thought of having to say “No” often brings on a level of anxiety.

  • We don’t want to let others down.
  • We’re worried what people will think of our decision.
  • We agonize over whether we’re doing the right thing.
  • We wonder if it will be too uncomfortably long before we’ll get the opportunity again to say “Yes.”

There’s deep psychology behind saying “No.” In my work as a Job Search Coach, I most often have to help people say “No” to the wrong employment opportunity.

When you’re in the job search process, opportunities often come your way and they’re not always the right fit. Figuring out what you really want out of your job search and then staying the course to only accept a position that aligns with your intention is incredibly challenging. And doing it with grace takes practice.


The Importance of Knowing What You Want

Part of what comes up when we feel we should turn down a job offer is the lack of a good argument, ready to go, for the friends and family members who will wonder what the hell we just did.

The best way to defend your “No” decision is to understand why you made it in the first place. Completing an activity, such as my Dream Job Sketch Worksheet, will help you understand what you do and don’t want out of your next job. Then, when an offer comes, the worksheet gives you something to measure against – it helps remove some of the emotion and allows you to think more clearly about your decision.

For instance, say you wrote in your sketch that you wanted to be a Software Engineer but this role is for a Quality Engineer with a bit of extra coding. You wanted a 10-minute commute. This is 25 minutes – on a good day. You wanted to make $90,000. This job is $85,000. It’s time to ask yourself some hard questions:

  • Am I truly comfortable forgoing all of the points on my Dream Job Sketch?
  • After the honeymoon wears off and I’m nine months into the job, will I feel challenged and motivated?
  • Will I be proud of my decision?
  • Will I have any regrets that I didn’t look harder for what I really wanted?
  • What opportunities will be available to me after having this job for 2 to 5 years? How will this role brand me?
  • If given the choice between this and another opportunity, would I still say yes?
  • Is my body clenching anywhere when I think about accepting this offer?
  • Does the idea of saying “No” bring an immediate level of relief and lightness?
  • Am I trying to talk myself into it? (Does this sound like what’s going through your head? “Things may not really be that bad. Maybe the boss is nicer than he comes off. Maybe the feedback on Glassdoor is only from a small number of disgruntled employees. Maybe I’ll get more opportunity to travel then they’re anticipating. Maybe it will be less travel than they’re warning me about.”)

Don’t accept a job because you like the company and believe that you can get promoted out of the role into something you actually want to do. This is a very dangerous game to play. What if circumstances never result in that promotion? What if you’re overlooked and the ideal role goes to someone with more tenure or the company brings in someone from the outside? Make sure a company is hiring you for the level where you belong.


Your search will last as long as your emotional and financial runway will take you.

Who Are You Also Saying “No” To?

Sometimes the real hesitation in turning down an offer comes from our fear of what others will think. Too often we try to live up to others’ expectations of our lives. Kids do this when they pick a major to please their parents rather than what truly stirs their souls. When you know you don’t want a job, justifying the decision to friends and family is often the real challenge. How will they understand? Ask yourself, “If everyone agreed with my decision and supported me, would I still say ‘Yes’ to this company?”


Sometimes “No” is “Not Now”

While working for a corporate manufacturing company in a recruiter capacity, I once approached friends about joining their placement agency in a business development role. It was a complete change up from what I’d been doing and I was ready for a new challenge.

Ultimately, I decided it wasn’t the right move and I bowed out gracefully, letting them know I wasn’t as ready to make the change as I thought. Several years later, when my corporation was acquired and I was downsized, I went back to that agency. We resumed our conversation, I started working for them, and enjoyed a five-year employment run. In that instance, it was all about timing. I wasn’t saying “No” to their organization, I was saying “No” to the timing of it all.

If you get an offer from a company you’re excited about but it’s not the right offer – perhaps it’s too far back down the ladder from where you’ve come, or the department and job duties aren’t quite right, or the pay isn’t in line with where you want to be – tell them your reasoning when you turn down the job. Explain how much you are intrigued by the company but that this specific position they’ve presented isn’t in line with your career path. Ask them to leave the door open for future conversations should the right opportunity present itself.

Saying “No” is not the easy route. It forces us to hold ourselves to a higher standard. It’s the epitome of an intentional career search, the hallmark of my coaching practice. There are certainly times when a bird in hand is the better choice but think things through based on facts, not emotions. Evaluate your financial runway through a clear lens. Do you have to accept a role to keep your house and feed your children? If your finances are good for a while longer, is it worth doing the hard digging to find the right opportunity, not just an opportunity? Saying “No” requires courage and vulnerability but sometimes it’s exactly the option that allows us to grow. Don’t settle. Find the courage to say “No.”

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