Readers’ Forum: How to Turn Down a Job Offer

In the April 12, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to turn down a job offer while maintaining a good long-term relationship with the employer. Is that so hard to imagine?

I have been pretty lucky and currently have a few job offers on the table. All the offers sound like good opportunities, and while I’d like to work for all of them, I’d probably violate labor laws and my own sanity if I actually did! Is there a right way to turn down offers? That is, so I can maintain my relationships with those I turn down, should I want to reconsider working for that boss or employer in the future?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

The best way to turn down an offer is to call the hiring manager directly (not the human resources department). Don’t just send an e-mail. Say thank you, but then demonstrate your respect to earn respect back. This is where valuable long-term relationships start. (Why don’t HR departments get this?)

How to Say It
When you talk with the manager, try this: “It means a lot to me that you’ve asked me to come work with you. I’ve been fortunate to receive several offers, and I’m taking the one where the work is the closest match to my objectives. Unfortunately, that’s not your company. This was a difficult decision, because you’re someone I’d like to work with, if not now, sometime in the future. With your permission, I’d like to stay in touch. In fact, if it’s not presumptuous, I’d like to recommend someone to you who I think would be a good candidate for this job… and I’d be glad to put you in touch….”

If you’re really impressed with the manager (Why else would you want to stay in touch, right?), recommending someone else is a nice consolation prize, and it shows how much you think of the manager. Just make sure the referral is a good one.

What if you haven’t got a referral to offer? There’s an alternative How to Say It suggestion in the newsletter that could nurture a new professional friendship. Sign up for your own free subscription, and get more tips in upcoming newsletters!

Here’s another: If the job is related to sales or marketing, offer a lead on a possible new customer, if you can. Introduce the manager to another manager that he or she might do business with. Give something back to demonstrate your respect. That’s where relationships start. Then follow up — it’s up to you to stay in touch. If you can do something for the manager in the near future, do it.

That’s how to stay close. That’s how you cultivate future opportunities.

When an employer rejects you, it’s usually with a little note that says, “Thanks for interviewing with us. Go suck rocks.” After investing money and time getting to know you, fools waste their investment and insult you. Building a network of good contacts means saying “No” with class, and with the intent to build new relationships anyway.

How do you turn down job offers? Does your method pay off?


How you get cheated out of job offers

Any good company will tell you that it loses business sometimes, to unscrupulous competitors who make promises to customers that they can’t keep, and who will quote artificially low prices to win business. The honest company loses money immediately, but it takes time for the naive customer to realize that the promised product at the lower price is of inferior quality; that customer support is non-existent; or that the vendor is just an outright fraud.

The customer gets hurt, and the honest vendor loses business.

It’s no different in the world of job hunting and hiring. While I believe people are generally honest, we’re kidding ourselves if we pretend that liars and cheats don’t steal jobs from honest job applicants.

We all know what the problem is: A troubled economy, employers that are hesitant to hire, and databases full of millions of resumes that employers pore over to find job candidates for you to compete against. It all lends itself to dishonest business.

So, you apply for a job, and you lose it to someone whose credentials are more stellar than yours. Or are they?

Liars, cheats & dirtbags

Employers today use sophisticated methods to check references, right? Quite a bit of the time, that’s wrong.

Many companies don’t check references at all, or they do only a cursory check. Worse, they outsource reference checking to naive “investigators” that are in too much of a hurry to do a good job.

Even when the human resources (HR) department does the checking, fabricated backgrounds and credentials can fool anyone but a savvy hiring manager who knows what questions to ask about a candidate’s work skills.

Just as you can buy a professionally-written resume (Is that a lie by itself, because you didn’t produce it?), you can buy fake college degrees and credentials. And now, with the help of a new kind of dirtbag “service,” liars and cheats can fake their entire background and their references. That’s who you’re competing against.

watchIsn’t that illegal?

But who would fake their entire background if it could get them tossed into jail?

Q) Is all of this legal?
A) YES! Perfectly Legal. Misinformation on a resume isn’t a crime!

So says, which will fake everything you need to convince an employer to hire you. Once you pay the fee, this fraud engine will create an entire fake record, including:

  • Fake companies you’ve “worked for,” complete with fake physical address and letterhead.
  • Fake employee bio including your actual photo on a complex and impressive, but fake, company website.
  • Fake HR managers who, when called for employment verification, will “make sure to use the FIVE HIRING BUZZ WORDS used among Human Resource Professionals” to make you look good.
  • Fake schools, including phone numbers and school websites for fraudulent verifications.
  • Fake phone numbers and voicemail boxes, answered by fakes (“Just like the REAL thing”).
  • Fake educational certificates, seminars, and training.
  • Fake resumes, dates of employment, and salary history.
  • Fake references (“We say… Whatever YOU tell us to say.”)

Is this really legal? I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t give out legal advice, but it seems that unless you’re lying to a legal authority or on a certification or contract, misinformation is “little more” than a blot on your integrity and reputation. says:

Q) What if I get caught?
A) With all things, there are risks. If the deception is discovered, you could very well be terminated; evicted or suffer embarrassment and humiliation.

In a MediaBistro interview, TheReferenceStore’s operations manager, David Everett, tells of a customer who paid the fraudster company “to build out a fake broadcast journalism career path. The new resume showed him growing in the business all the way to executive producer for a large radio station in the Great Lakes area.”

“‘We built two separate fake radio stations and one fake TV station,’ Everett explains, ‘where he claimed to have worked as an intern, writer, associate producer, and producer. We wrote a beautiful resume to correspond with the virtual history we created.'”

How does Everett sleep at night? Probably with hundred dollar bills wadded under his pillow. Beneath an image of a man praying, the website’s contact page playfully says, “Closed Sunday. And Brother??? We need it.”

Avoid liars & cheats

How do you compete with liars and cheats that use services like this?

Avoid hiring channels that expose employers to fraud.
Don’t apply via job boards or through blind resumes to the HR department, which might be suckered by candidates that supply convincing misinformation. When you get in the door through personal contacts who vouch for you, much of your competition disappears, because you’re the candidate with the proverbial inside track.

Of course, a job candidate who pays for a fraudulent history cannot claim to be from a major company — it would be too easy to check. But an HR manager may not realize that a reference call to a former boss’s home is actually being answered by David Everett. (“Just like the REAL thing.”)

Educate the employer.
How can you avoid being compared to people with glowing but fake credentials? Take along a copy of this newsletter, and offer to show the employer — right there on her own computer — how the fraud works. Ask the employer, “Do all your candidates demonstrate that they can do the job? I’m ready to do that.” (While How Can I Change Careers? is written for career changers, it’s for anyone who wants to stand out in the interview by showing they can actually do the job.)

If you feel you’ve got to join ’em because you can’t beat ’em, consider that Lies, lies, all lies just aren’t worth living with.

Well, now… isn’t this all a tad sensationalized and unreal? What if the employer Googles a fake employer or turns to higher-level verifications, like the state department of commerce where a fake company is supposedly located? Certainly, the fraud will be exposed. But not all the time. And not by all investigators. Many employers outsource their reference checking clerks who look only where they’re told to look. Then you lose. And the gamble pays off.

Employers: Get smart

What can employers do to protect themselves?

Limit the bureaucracy.
Employers should stop relying heavily on indirect candidate assessment methods like resumes, job application forms, and credit and background checks. Those are the security holes that dirtbags like TheReferenceStore are good at exploiting. They can fabricate references, but they can’t influence people you know and trust.

Recruit through personal contacts.
Have department managers talk to applicants before you put them through the mindless meat grinder. A savvy manager will spot a fraud that a greenhorn personnel jockey might not. The more personal the contact that brought the candidate through the door, the less likely the credentials are fake.

Use the legal means at your disposal.
When you recruit people that you found through personal sources you trust, the last thing you want to do is “process” them before they meet or talk with a hiring manager. But when you get to the point of filling out an application form, make sure it has teeth. Candidates should sign a statement attesting to the truth of everything on it. Don’t make it onerous, but make it a legal document. Explain to the applicant that the company does not tolerate lying or cheating: “That’s to your advantage. We try to make sure you’re competing with other honest applicants.”

Then, fire liars and publicize the fact that you do.

Playing the odds that HR is lazy

TheReferenceStore posts extensive disclaimers to protect itself legally, and makes it clear that you could get fired (and worse) by using its services. So, why do people use it? Because odds are, the next candidate a company interviews is honest. And the odds are against your having to compete with a liar or a cheat when you’re looking for a job.

That’s what TheReferenceStore counts on: Its lying, scum-sucking customers are rarities in the job market. No one is expecting them. Those customers are betting that no one will carefully check all those thousands of unknown applicants that employers process every day. Someone will slip through. To liars and cheats, those are acceptable odds. Remember: We’re not talking about people with integrity here.

But TheReferenceStore bets that employers are playing the odds, too. That’s the critical assumption in its business plan. TheReferenceStore knows that employers — rather than going out and recruiting the people they really want through sources they know and trust — will use job boards and unknown, indirect sources of candidates, because it’s easier. That’s why TheReferenceStore is in business: to capitalize on lazy gamblers on both sides of the hiring desk.

That’s how companies unwittingly hire liars and cheats, and it’s how you get cheated out of job offers.


You were the best candidate. But the other guy cheated, lied, and faked his way into a job offer. You probably didn’t even know it.

Or, your company finds its candidates on job boards and outsources reference checking because HR is just too busy handling all those thousands of applicants coming through the pipeline. Do you know who your employees really are?

Dirtbag companies that sell fraudulent identities count on you to keep moving right along after you get screwed. How do you protect yourself from cheats and liars? Have you encountered cheats? Has your company caught one — especially one that used a service like the one described here? What did you do about it?