3 Reasons to Turn Down a “Good” Job Offer

That "great" offer may not be so great!As the economy continues to rebound, more job opportunities are opening up, increasing your chance of landing a new role. Accepting the wrong offer, however, can actually cost you dearly. As one client put it: “I should never have accepted their offer; it was a toxic environment and I was not set up for success, but I was blinded by the money and prestige.” You can reduce the odds of accepting the wrong job offer by asking yourself three questions:

  • Will I be set up for success?
  • Am I taking this job for the right reasons?
  • Will I fit in?

If the answer to any of these questions is clearly “no,” then keep looking. Here’s how to properly assess the answer to each question.

“Will I be set up for success?”

Aim to understand as much as possible about your boss’s expectations, the resources you’ll have available to meet these expectations, and how much the organization itself will support your success. If something doesn’t add up, either negotiate that aspect of the job to make it work for you before accepting, or do yourself a favor and take a pass.

  • Expectations: Ask questions like “What does success in this role look like a year from now? How will we know if I’ve been successful assuming I’m the new hire?”
  • Resources available to meet expectations: You might ask things like “Given these expectations, what challenges do you see around gaining the cooperation of key stakeholders?” “Will I have access to ‘X’ (fill in the name of the resource) that I’ll need to be effective?” If you’ll manage a team and haven’t interviewed with any of the people reporting to you, ask to meet some of them before accepting; you’ll want to get their view of the challenges and assess their capabilities. One client, going for SVP of Information Technology, requested to meet more of the people who would be reporting to her. From these conversations, she found that, with current resources, her team would never meet the ambitious nine-month IT transformation goal that was expected of her. She was able to negotiate an agreement before accepting the offer that included more resources and the opportunity to re-purpose existing staff.
  • Organizational support: It’s not uncommon for me to hear a client say something like “My department got re-organized one month after I started in my new role; now my job is different than the one I accepted.” Sometimes an unexpected change like this can be good for you, but too often it will drive dissatisfaction or even a layoff.

To gauge the likelihood of an unwelcome surprise, do some external research. Is the organization struggling or in downsizing mode? Consider asking your prospective boss “Do you expect any reorganizations that could impact my role in the next six months?” If the offer comes from a public company, for example, check out the “Investors” section of the company website. Does your department fit in well with the company’s strategy?

If your job involves working closely with a colleague, ask to meet them. Are they looking forward to the prospect of working with you? Worst case, do you get a sense that they think your role is unnecessary, or that they should have your job? If so and you’ll need them to be successful in your role, turn down the offer!

The timing of your questions is important. Prior to receiving an offer, focus on selling yourself. Put off asking any questions that might suggest lack of motivation on your part until after you’ve received the offer. At that point they will no longer be thinking about other candidates and will want you to start yesterday, so it’s easier to negotiate.

 “Am I taking this job for the right reasons?”

The right reason to take a new role is that it fits in with your longer-term vision for your career and your life. Also, ask yourself whether you’ll enjoy the work and be good at what you do.

Occasionally, you will need to take a job you know isn’t right for you. This can happen when you need to buy time while working towards your longer-term vision, or when you need to gain experience that will help you to achieve your real goal, which is the job after this one (or the next).

“Will I fit in?”

To avoid mistakes stemming from culture clash or bad chemistry, pay attention to the following red flags:

  • Comments from people who worked there, including in online reviews, that are consistently negative in similar ways.
  • Too many strange or inappropriate questions during interviews.
  • You’re discouraged from meeting those who would report to you prior to accepting the offer.
  • You receive an offer and they don’t give you time to think it over, when the norm is days, a week, or even more.

Finally, one client experienced an interview process characterized by four last-minute or no-notice meeting cancellations with no apologies. She put up with this because she really wanted the job. Eventually she got and accepted their offer. What a mistake! While she liked the work, she couldn’t abide the culture of disrespect. Within three months she asked me for help finding a new job.

While seeing any one of these five red flags could be enough of a reason to turn down the offer, if you see two or more then this isn’t the job you were looking for.