Gets, Regrets, and Good Decisions: Jobs I’ve Said No To

I did a slew of informational interviews right after college, because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do except that it could be “something related to the environment.” To my surprise, one of these interviews led to a job offer. Even though I didn’t know what kind of job wanted, I knew I didn’t want this job. It was an environmental compliance job and I’d be poring through tedious documents and learning the nuances of the California Environmental Quality Act.

“But honey,” my mom pleaded, “you just need a job.”

My friend Lessie had a similar experience: an offer to work in the approximate field she wanted, but with a weird office environment. She was offered the job and said no without any hesitation. For the both of us, rejecting these opportunities was easy—not because we had better things lined up, but because we were still young and hopeful. Luckily, we both landed better jobs within a few months.

There are many reasons to say no to an offer. Sometimes it’s not a good fit; the position isn’t exciting, the company culture isn’t right, or the salary is too low. Sometimes, after going through the interview process and envisioning what your life will look like in the position (that you’ve yet to accept), your real priorities become clear. I’ve had a few opportunities to say no to job offers, which I recognize is an enormous privilege, and it hasn’t always been a good thing. There are a few types of jobs that I’ve said no to:

 

The One that Got Away

Saying no means an opportunity passed up, with the potential for regret. I have a job that I think of as The One That Got Away. Every so often, usually on the train home after a bad day at work, I daydream about what could have been if I’d said yes to this offer.

I rejected the One That Got Away many years ago, when I was only a couple of years into my career. I was working at an energy consulting company at the time, but yearning for more creative work. The job offer was at a design and advertising company, and it held the potential for a major career shift. As I was contemplating the offer, my coworker left and I took over her responsibilities, leading a major project. I ended up saying no to the creative work, and took the promotion instead. Although things have worked out fine, every so often, I can’t help but wonder … what if?

 

The One I Should Have Said No To

Then there are the jobs that we wish we’d said no to. After grad school, I was underemployed and still—with several years of work experience and a masters degree—figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I decided to try my hand at environmental mediation. I contacted a school alum and he seemed thrilled to have me help out, and had a particular project in mind.

My trek out to his inconvenient office to meet with him was unpleasant. I was running late and ran into bike problems. I was sweaty and grumpy when I arrived, but put on false cheer and got through the interview. I was too busy clinging to my last shred of agreeableness to notice what I was agreeing to. All of a sudden, I’d committed to making this trek twice a week for no pay, but the chance to see what the business was like and maybe put my name on a publication.

I cried when I got home.

I couldn’t tease apart why I was crying: I had started off in a bad mood, so it might have been nothing, or just the legitimately depressing feeling of being an unpaid intern at the age of 30. I overrode my gut and got myself to the office twice weekly, where I would sit behind a computer almost as old as me and chip away at revising a paper on a facilitated process to designate marine areas. Often, it was just me and the administrative assistant and I saw very little of what the work of mediation actually looked like.

My determination to make it work gave me enough momentum to finish a first draft of the paper. I quit after a few months. I’d learned little and had little to show, other than a firm belief that my gut had really known best.

 

The Big Opportunity 

Recently, someone I used to work with called. “I’ll cut to the chase, are you happy at your job?” she asked. She wanted me to join her growing company. It was a thrilling opportunity with the potential to own part of the business and have a say in the kind of new work we took on, and one that made my palms sweat and my stomach queasy.

After the debacle with the mediator, I knew to give my gut some say in decision. After thinking it through, and talking the ears off of many friends and family members, I said no. It was clear to me that this was a great opportunity to help grow a new organization. It was exciting and full of potential, but could easily overrun my life. My gut was telling me that this job wasn’t where I wanted to pour my time and mental energy.

Weighing this offer against my current job has made me appreciate what I have. That was three weeks ago, and since then, my work has been more interesting, I’ve felt more grateful to be here, and felt more confident in myself.

Saying no to a job can feel empowering: you are wanted, but also in charge of your own fate. Of course, saying no should be considering carefully, and done politely. You don’t want to burn bridges with people in your field since, really, you never know when people are going to pop back up.

Make sure to thank your rejected employer, let them know that you were excited about some part of the offer (like working with them, or being a part of the organization), but that you need to decline. Some explanation is good, but it can be minimal—”I’ve decided this isn’t the right time in my career for this opportunity” or “There are still opportunities at my current position that I want to explore.” If it’s true, it’s nice to say that you’d like to work with them again in the future.

Readers—what jobs have you said no to? Any regrets or good stories?

 

The Grindstone” is a series about how we work today by Billfold writers Leda Marritz and Stephanie Stern. Looking for advice? Want to see a specific issue covered in the future? You can email them here.

Steph Stern works in energy and environmental policy in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes about careers and life choices at Small Answers (or follow on Twitter: @smallanswers).

Photo: Kevin Dooley

---
---
---
---
---
---

12 Comments / Post A Comment

meatballsub (#5,401)

I said no to a job at Dana Farber even though the team & manager I interviewed with were awesome and the interview felt more like conversations with old friends. At the time I was freshly laid off and I didn’t want to stay in the print production field but now that I look back on it, I kind of regret it and view it as The One That Got Away due to the people I could’ve been working with. Also, cut to two years later and guess what field I’m STILL in? Urgh.

jennonthego (#5,366)

I’ve rarely said no to a job offer, but there is one that remains a “What if?” in my mind.

When I was in college, I was interviewing for a summer internship in television. One internship was for “Wheel of Fortune,” which tapes on the Sony lot in Culver City. The other internship was for a small commercial production company, with three directors (one of whom was Bob Dylan’s son). I was offered the “Wheel” job first, but put them off until I heard from the other company, which also offered me the internship. I took the small company job, believing their promises of working on shoots and seeing how directors work close up.

Turned out that it was all lies, and I worked as an unpaid receptionist for two months with four other interns. The closest I got to the directors was the day I sat at their assistant’s desk while she went on an audition. The closest I got to a set was logging director reels in the mailroom. I was mad at myself for a long time turning down the chance to work on a real show on a real studio lot.

I left the television industry a year later and haven’t worked in TV in over a decade, but I still wonder how my career path might have been different if I’d gone for “Wheel” instead of spinning my wheels in midtown.

Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

My weirdest one: I turned down a job offer for a position (that I never applied for, but was recruited for) designing and managing models of the Canadian economy for a well-known data company. The job was supposed to be based out of a place about 40 minutes’ drive from where I lived (on the east coast), but they intended to eventually move me to Toronto (which the hiring manager told me was “not as bad for young people as it used to be”). They made me an offer after four rounds of in-person interviews at their office (again, 40 minutes away from the big city I lived in, knowing I didn’t have a car), and then called me back two hours later to tell me that the offer was actually for $10k less than they had previously said on the phone. Between the money and the weirdness and the lack of a timeline/possibility of shipping me out of the country, I turned it down.

Competing against me for this job was a friend of mine from school who I don’t think ever really forgave me about it (after we both made it through four rounds of interviews to become the final two candidates for the job, which I was offered — she even drove me to some of the interviews because they offered to put our interviews in a row so we could carpool).

I do not regret turning it down, though.

nell (#4,295)

It wasn’t exactly a job, but a month or two before I graduated from college I did two interviews with a large, well known advertising agency. Fast forward a couple of months, I had accepted a job at the much smaller agency in a smaller city where I had been interning, moved/signed a lease, and taken on financial responsibility for my boyfriend while he was in grad school…and lo and behold large, well-known advertising agency called me for an interview with one of their creative directors. At the time I felt like I had made a commitment to the job I was in, and I had just been through so much upheaval between graduating and moving that I couldn’t even countenance the thought of quitting, breaking my lease and moving again. I’m in a totally different field now, but I still think about what might have happened. Older me is still peeved younger me didn’t at least go to the interview.

Heather F G (#6,074)

I had a job once that tended to take advantage of my being one of 2 or 3 people in the department that pulled my weight, which got incredibly frustrating after a while, so I’d send out resumes just to see if Fate would intervene and to feel more in control of things. No one really bit, except for one company that was in the falling-apart industrial town 30 minutes north of where I lived. Red flags at the interview included:

1. The job was in the office of a manufacturing company, and when I asked what said company manufactured, they told me that they really couldn’t say until I accepted the position and signed a confidentiality waiver.
2. But whatever it made involved huge amounts of carbon, and the dust coated EVERY surface of the factory. The interviewers kept warning me not to run my hand on things and not to wear nice clothes “when” I got the job. Not to mention, this town had a really terrible, national reputation for toxic waste, and I worried for my future health and that of my future children even just for the 30 minutes the interview took.
3. The interviewers also stressed the fact that I was going to be the “only lady” there and how “up front” I had to be with “kinda rough guys not used to women.”
4. The job itself was described as “a mess to be fixed,” and when during an awkward silence I somehow let it slip that my mom worked in HR they asked if I could call her about some “legal stuff.”

That was the only job I ever actually turned down. I still kind of worry about my future children.

meatballsub (#5,401)

Oooh I forgot about one where I had a warning by HR over the phone about the hiring manager being “difficult” and hard to work with. Then during the in-person interview, a colleague of the hiring manager’s spent her entire interview time saying how the hiring manager had a reputation in the company (of 200+ ppl) and that I’d have to have thick skin to deal with her. The hiring manager didn’t seem that bad when I talked with her one-on-one but everyone puts on a good face during interviews. I got an offer 2 days later but declined even though they kept alluding to more $ than I initially asked for. I do not regret this one!

Tripleoxer (#5,676)

This was timely for me, as I think I may be facing this type of decision soon. I have been at the same place for 4.5 years and have had the same title the entire time despite having taken on tons of new responsibilities (though I have gotten bonuses). I like the culture, my boss, my coworkers, and the commute, but I am a bit underpaid for what I do. I have my 4th interview with another company tomorrow, and if I get a job offer, I’ll have a tough choice. The salary will be better, and there might be more chance for growth, but the commute will be pretty bad, and their culture seems kind of stuffy, especially in comparison to my current company. And I’ve had a similar experience to the poster above– they are 40 miles away from me, know that I work full-time, and they are having me come back for a fourth interview even though they know how difficult it has been to get time off. It seems a little inconsiderate of my time.

I turned down another better-paying job a while back because the commute would have been long and arduous, and I still think about that, because I connected so well with my would-be manager.
I really agonized over leaving my last job to come to my current company, but they ended up going out of business a year after I left, so that worked out well for me at least.

meatballsub (#5,401)

@Tripleoxer I’ve never gone beyond 2 interviews. Four seems so unnecessary; they should know by now if they want you or not! Good luck w/the interview and your final decision!

Tripleoxer (#5,676)

This was timely for me, as I think I may be facing this type of decision soon. I have been at the same place for 4.5 years and have had the same title the entire time despite having taken on tons of new responsibilities (though I have gotten bonuses). I like the culture, my boss, my coworkers, and the commute, but I am a bit underpaid for what I do. I have my 4th interview with another company tomorrow, and if I get a job offer, I’ll have a tough choice. The salary will be better, and there might be more chance for growth, but the commute will be pretty bad, and their culture seems kind of stuffy, especially in comparison to my current company. And I’ve had a similar experience to the poster above– they are 40 miles away from me, know that I work full-time, and they are having me come back for a fourth interview even though they know how difficult it has been to get time off. It seems a little inconsiderate of my time.

I turned down another better-paying job a while back because the commute would have been long and arduous, and I still think about that, because I connected so well with my would-be manager.
I really agonized over leaving my last job to come to my current company, but they ended up going out of business a year after I left, so that worked out well for me at least.

rorow (#1,665)

Also timely for me, and I’m hoping someone has some advice.

I took a job about a year ago that was a more specific set of responsibilities than I’d previously had. It came with a bump in pay, and I’m currently very well paid for my circumstances, but I’m not happy. I’m not creatively engaged by the work, and I’m not passionate about the industry.

I came across a cool company that’s growing a lot (recent acquisitions, recent funding, new CEO) in an industry I care about a lot (a practical side to sustainability) and applied for a job in my old type of work. Went down the process, and got a verbal offer – but to head a different department, somewhat linked but quite different than what I’ve ever done. It would be a huge jump in title, a very different set of challenges, and it could be really interesting… but it’s also a 25% pay cut. I know they’re trying to make a role for me, which might be a good thing, but it’s a risk. I’m currently negotiating, but although I may be able to bring it up a a bit, it will still be a drop in base pay – though there will be a bonus and stock package worked into it.

What should I do? I want the challenge and the opportunity, but am scared about the number of years it will take me to work my way back to up to where I was. In terms of lifestyle, I can afford the pay cut.

flickafly (#4,808)

@rorow I think age/lifestyle factors a lot into this sort of question. There were risks I was willing to take in my 20s that I’m not in my 30s. I took a $20K paycut and moved to another state for my “dream job” (the career path i thought i wanted, doing good for my community, etc). Ultimately the job was a nightmare – I worked 50-60 hour weeks for this smaller salary with no overtime. Despite being in a cool city, I never got to enjoy it. I was burned out and tired and broke. And it sucked and I ended up going to a much higher paying job in my old line of work and built my savings back up and marked that one off as lesson learned in my late 20s that I can’t afford to learn again.

I guess what I’m saying is that every job has its downfalls and it’s hard to see them even when you do a good job of researching and vetting. If you really think your career will better because of the move and you can financially and emotionally deal with that (again i think it’s easier to do in your 20s than later) – go for it. Otherwise, make peace with your current state of affairs.

dulchinea (#6,901)

I’m kinda in that situation now, but in choosing a college. I accepted a place at a small liberal arts college in New England but part of me still wonders if I should go with an offer to Columbia. It’s a sensible (logical) decision, since I would graduate with no loans and a semester earlier at the LAC…but the prestige of Columbia & excitement of living in Manhattan is oh so tempting. Back in my 20s, as someone else mentioned, I would likely have made the opposite decision.

Comments are closed!