It can happen to any job seeker: you’re searching for a new job and applying for positions with multiple employers. You have an interview with one company and are making your way through the multi-step interview process when a second employer — the one that was your top choice — reaches out and makes you a job offer. What do you do? It’s a great position to be in, but your next move will have a lasting impact on your professional reputation.
Or, here’s another scenario. What if you go through the first interview but realize that the position or company isn’t what you thought it would be — or that the company culture is much different than what you are seeking? Knowing how to decline a second interview or cancel a job interview for a position you realize you don’t want are essential skills for job seekers, but not something many people talk about. And yet, these are scenarios most people in the workforce will encounter at least once in their careers.
To withdraw from an interview without damaging professional relationships, it’s necessary to develop a game plan. But it can be tricky. Whether you are an employer who wants to withdraw an interview invitation or a candidate who has to figure out how to bow out of a job interview politely, there are both standard protocols and unspoken rules of professional etiquette that you should follow.
Here, we will explore how to decline a job interview or back out of the interview process as a candidate without burning bridges.
Withdrawing from an interview process dos and don’ts
Like all recruiting professionals who have spent significant time in the industry, I’ve seen countless examples — good and bad — of how applicants, candidates, and employers choose to remove themselves from the interview process.
Here are two first-hand examples—one good, one bad—from candidates withdrawing from an interview process.
A good example of how to withdraw from an interview process as a candidate
When a candidate was involved in the interview process for a position with one of our clients, they called our office 24 hours before the final interview to inform us that they accepted an offer with another company. The candidate also sent an email to us that was addressed to the hiring manager. This message thanked them for their time and referred a colleague they believed would be an excellent fit for the position and company.
This was a great move by the candidate because it informed us of their change in circumstances with a decent amount of notice, which allowed us to remove them from consideration with enough time to schedule an interview with another applicant. Furthermore, writing a letter to the hiring manager demonstrated that the candidate valued their time and wanted to provide them with value in return by recommending someone else who could fill the role. While a live conversation is always appreciated, writing a letter to cancel an interview is always a good measure for record-keeping purposes.
In this prime example of how to decline a job interview without burning bridges, the candidate:
- Was transparent about their change of circumstances,
- Quickly informed us about their change of intentions,
- Saved us time by recommending a colleague who could perform the role well.
Circumstances change, which most professionals understand – especially those in staffing and recruiting. The best thing you can do when it happens during your interview process is to be upfront and proactively let the appropriate stakeholders know with as much notice as you can feasibly give.
A bad example of how to withdraw from an interview process as a candidate
A candidate did not show up to a face-to-face interview with company X. The candidate had another interview scheduled for the following day with a different company, company Y. Although they worked at two separate companies, the hiring managers knew each other and had already communicated about the candidate. Company Y learned from Company X about the candidate’s no-show, and due to the candidate’s reported unprofessionalism with the first company, the hiring manager for Company Y canceled the candidate’s interview.
In this example, the candidate ghosted one interview in favor of another but burned himself on both opportunities because he didn’t consider the possibility that the hiring managers were connected. This happens more frequently than you might think! Some candidates may not realize that even in a big city, it can still be a small world, especially in niche industries or job types.
When a candidate ghosts a prospective employer by not showing up to an interview or failing to communicate with them, it speaks volumes about the candidate — and not in a good way – and word can get around fast. It’s not just the employers, either. Third-party recruiting and staffing companies inform clients about these occurrences to keep them dialed into what is happening with their positions, applicants, and candidates. Always treat any company you’re communicating with in a way you’d be proud of if others were to hear about it.
Tips to withdraw from an interview process gracefully
Do it promptly
It’s best to let the employer know you’re not interested in moving forward as soon as you’ve made a decision. Don’t leave them hanging for days or weeks, even if you know they’re considering other candidates. You never know what decisions are being made behind the scenes, and it’s a professional courtesy to give them the information they need to proceed with their search for the best candidate.
Choose the right channel
If you’ve been communicating with a hiring manager primarily via email, sending your notice electronically is okay. If you’re further along in the hiring process, have established a relationship or particularly strong rapport with the hiring manager, or if you previously talked to them on the phone when they made you an offer, it’s best to use a phone call to break the news. Do your best to reach them; avoid leaving the message in a voicemail.
If you’ve been working with a recruiter in your job search, it’s fine to break the news to them and let them share it with the employer. Or, if you want to write a personal message to the hiring manager like the example we mentioned above, that works, too.
It’s not necessary to give a reason for withdrawing from the process. If you decide to provide an explanation, present your reason simply without going into too much detail. “I’ve decided to accept another offer” or “After learning more, I’ve decided the role isn’t a fit for me” are perfectly good options.
This is not a time to air your grievances about the job, company, or the interview process. If the employer wants this information, they’ll ask for it separately, using a candidate feedback survey sent via email.
Always thank the hiring manager for the opportunity and note your appreciation for their time. Even if things didn’t go as you’d hoped or you were treated poorly, keep it professional on your end. As with our “bad” example earlier, you never know who you might have mutual contact with, and you want to maintain a positive reputation. You also never know when you might run into a hiring manager down the road, perhaps at a different company; people seem to have a way of popping into our lives later when we least expect it.
Finally, there’s always the chance that you might want to apply with this company again under different circumstances, so it’s best not to eliminate that possibility with pettiness or rudeness.
We hope these recommendations help you better understand how to withdraw from an interview process without causing lasting damage to your career and relationships with prospective employers.
Sample withdrawal email
Thank you for considering me for [position] with [company]. After careful thought, I have decided to withdraw my application for the position.
I appreciate you taking the time to tell me more about the role and the company, and wish you success in your search for the right candidate.