How Do You Properly Say No?

How you say no is critical for your present and future circumstances.

We all know how to say yes to a job offer, but how do you say no?  Saying no the right way leaves the door open and shows respect to the hiring manager and the firm that you said no to.  Doing it incorrectly leaves a bad taste all around.  You’ll want to know how to say no in a way so that there are no hard feelings or any other negative impact that surrounds the disappointing information.

Need Advice?

Today’s topic is an interesting one, and I am sure one that very few bloggers ever discuss. I am sure Chat GPT could whip up some advice on the topic, but it would not be personal.  Here I will share personal examples so that you can learn from them on how you say no.  Saying no is just like saying yes; it is an art.  One that regretfully is not taught in any business school or elsewhere for that matter.  Saying no should leave the door open for other opportunities should your situation change.  The key to saying no is to say it as early in the process as possible.

I’ve Got A Feeling…

If you see that things are just not feeling right in the process, listen to your gut and say no as soon as you get that feeling.  You know the one I am talking about. It’s when the hair on the back of your neck starts to rise, or you have that empty feeling in your gut.  You are just not excited anymore as you continue with the interview process.  Dragging on the interviews when you know it’s not the right situation for you only hurts you as well as the firm that you are currently engaged with.  It wouldn’t be the right time or way on how you say no. That’s not to say that you should not be open to discussing your feelings with a professional recruiter if you are using one before you say no; however, talking with a recruiter that you are working with may help you get the jitters out of you or the fear of making the move, which could trip a knee jerk reaction not going further.  But barring this when it’s not right end it soon.  For example, I had one candidate who went on vacation, came back, and said they were going to end the interviews. I realized this was more of a case of “this is feeling real” and emotions kicking in.  I had to get them over that feeling, as I could tell that nothing of substance was suggested to end the interview process.  We gathered our thoughts and started the process over again. At this point, the candidate had not had a conversation with the hiring manager for over four weeks and that is what caused the lack of excitement going on. 

Does It Really Warrant A No?

In another example of how you say no, I had a candidate this past week who had a great first interview and wanted to move forward but asked for a bit of time to think about taking a second interview.  He came back to me after pondering the situation and said it was not the right fit.  For his reasons I completely understood, and the interview progress was stopped.  Here was a perfect example as to why the interview process was concluded: because this candidate knew exactly what he wanted before he could contemplate a move.  Knowing what your current circumstances are and why you are leaving a firm is important. That plus knowing and verbalizing what you are expecting is crucial for the candidate.  Once that is not being met, a no is certainly warranted.

The Present Time

How you say no is so important.  If you have had a series of interviews, the client has flown you out, wined, and dined you then a more elaborate no is appropriate. Usually, a phone call is at least warranted.  Conversely, if you have just had one interview then an email is certainly acceptable.  No one likes to share bad information, especially when a client likes the prospect.  Either way, what we suggest is to use the following statement when saying no. “At the present time, I do not believe this is the right opportunity for me.”  The reason for this statement is that the present time can change, and the opportunity could be correct.  I can count the number of times that a candidate who has said no to a position one day has asked me to reopen the dialogue as their situation has indeed changed.  Please, for your sake and the client’s sake, say no early in the process.  If you have to say no after numerous interviews, do it appropriately so that everyone feels great about the end game. 


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About Harlan Friedman, JD & Founding Member, H. Friedman Search LLC. Harlan is a thirty-year veteran Public Finance Banker turned recruiter who specializes in the placement of all levels Public Finance Bankers, Healthcare Bankers, Municipal Advisors, Compliance Officers, Issuers, and Bond Counsels.