Julie Brush

Falling in love doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. It also takes energy, dedication, sacrifice, careful assessment, contemplation … and the courage to commit. So when an employer signals to the world that you’re The One by extending an offer, their time and effort to reach that point should be appreciated, respected and given the professional courtesy of a live response.

I don’t know a single hiring manager who jumps for joy when his/her offer is rejected—regardless of how smooth … or rocky the road may be to get there. Disappointment is a given—and at times anger and frustration ensue. These are normal reactions that are part of the interview process. So upon your rejection of this offer, there’s no doubt this employer will experience negative feelings…some of which may be directed at you. Confronting this dynamic requires you to deal with the conflict and the discomfort that goes along with it. It’s a situation most everyone wishes to avoid if possible. And many do. But avoidance is not the highest quality path. It’s not the right path. And it’s not the path of an A player.

So what’s the best approach?

Don’t Drag Out The Offer Window.

If you know it’s a no-go, don’t ask for a week to “think things over” or “consult with your significant other”. That’s valuable time for an employer to lose in the hiring process. Take a day … maybe two to prepare for your discussion and then allow the employer move on.

Provide an Answer.

That’s right, you read that correctly: Provide an answer to your offer. It would seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of candidates who don’t even provide the professional courtesy of a response to their offer. And there’s no better way to make a terrible impression than to go through an interview process and then disappear. Regardless of how uncomfortable it may be or how much you are dreading the conversation, muster up the courage to decline your offer real time. It’s Professionalism 101.

Meeting vs. Phone Call vs. Email.

In this situation, a live phone call is an appropriate medium to have your discussion. An in person meeting is not required—and not realistic given the context and busy schedules. So send an email to schedule time for a live call. If you receive the hiring manager’s voicemail, leave a short message asking for a return call to discuss the offer. Some people prefer to send an email … which is fine, but I’m not a fan of this approach. Why? Because this employer and his/her team (and you) have invested a lot of time and energy in the process. It’s also likely that you have spent a decent amount of time together and built some relationship equity. So out of professional courtesy, make the effort to talk real time. Yes, it may be uncomfortable, but you’ll be glad that you did.

Prepare!

In order to reduce anxiety and fear that will inevitably arise, you need to be clear on how you feel and why you are turning the offer down so you can provide an articulate … and genuine message to the employer. So preparation is a must. In a quiet place, think and write it all down. Then create your message … and practice out loud in the mirror, in the car or with a friend. Also, be prepared for a variety of reactions: anger, frustration, pleading, full court press, understanding. The prep may not completely quash your fear, but you’ll feel more confident heading into the conversation.

Be Honest.

Many times employers will probe more deeply into the reasons behind a rejected offer (everyone wants to know why they were turned down). And they can detect B.S. from a mile away. You don’t have to go into the weeds, but higher-level honest responses will earn you more respect than hiding the ball. If you’re prepared, being honest with the right communication will come more easily.

Express Thanks and Appreciation.

Your message should include a genuine expression of thanks and appreciation for the opportunity as well as the employer’s time and dedication to your candidacy. Being grateful is a staple part of any such discussion and will not go unnoticed.

In today’s increasingly active legal market, the rejected offer is becoming more commonplace. And when it occurs, the result isn’t easy for either party. For employers, it can be the source of disappointment, frustration and anger. For candidates, a source of anxiety, fear and guilt. And it is these feelings that can drive candidates to act with diminished courtesy in order to avoid the conflict.

But as a candidate, it is vitally important to remember that how you carry yourself in the interview process is a reflection of You, from the beginning … to the very end. And your last impression is just as important as your first. So face your fear and extend the professional courtesy to decline your offer real time. You’ll feel better … and will be the better professional for it now and in years to come.

Julie Brush is the founder and author of The Lawyer Whisperer (www.thelawyerwhisperer.com), a career advice column for legal professionals, also found on LinkedIn. She is co-founder of Solutus Legal Search, a legal search/consulting boutique firm, serving as a strategic adviser to lawyers, law firms and corporations.