How to politely turn down a job offer

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Not too long ago, I was forwarded the following email, which probably circulated among tens of thousands of attorneys. I will quote it in full below, since it is so instructive:
How to politely turn down a job offer
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes
From: ###
Sent: Friday, February 03, 2006 9:23 p.m.
To: @@@
I have thought about this email numerous times since I received it and believe it is very useful for framing any discussion regarding how to turn down an offer. Invariably, most attorneys and law students eventually find themselves in positions where they receive offers from employers and decide—for a variety of reasons—to turn down those offers. When you receive an offer you are going to turn down, there are several things you need to remember.

First, regardless of what city you are in, the legal community is small. Even in a city as large as New York, you are likely to come across attorneys in your practice area again and again throughout your career. You will run into them at bar events. You will encounter them in the course of your practice. Some of these attorneys may join firms or companies you are with in the future. Numerous encounters will happen. You always want to have good public relations on your side.

If you burn bridges or anger people when turning down an offer, they will resent this, and they will most likely get back at you in some way. You need to be very careful. No one is omnipotent.

Second, if you received an offer, there was most likely some sort of connection between you and the employer—something clicked. You received an offer because someone liked you and believed that you could do a good job with his or her firm. You need to embrace people who believe in you and treat them well. Not doing this is a huge mistake. The most important people to you in your career are the people who believe in you. Do not forget this.

I remember hearing a very famous and successful lawyer address a group of people. I would estimate that this particular attorney had a book of business in excess of $10,000,000, and he was very impressive, personally and professionally, on numerous levels. This attorney stated that the biggest mistakes he made in his career were not being better friends with people in law school and not getting closer to attorneys he met when he was younger. I thought a lot about this and realized that one of the biggest mistakes people make is not having better relationships with people. You never know who can help you along the way to success in your career.

Third, in the future you may need a job at the firm whose offer you turned down. The marketability of an attorney in a given practice area or firm can change at the speed of light. One day corporate is the hottest practice area; the next it is the worst practice area, and attorneys are forced to change careers because it is so slow. You simply never know, and you need to be very careful. Do not overestimate yourself.

Throughout my career as a legal recruiter, I have seen many an attorney receive an offer and turn it down for a job at a larger firm, a higher-paying job—you name it—and then several months later lose the job or decide that the job is not what he or she wants. You need to understand that where you are today in terms of your marketability may not be where you are tomorrow. Regardless of where you went to law school or what firm you are currently at, everything can change in an instant. Do not forget this.

Fourth, if you conduct yourself well, the employer may come back with a counteroffer. I have seen associates offered partner positions after turning down less desirable offers from the same firms. I have seen salaries increased and all sorts of other great things happen. You do not need to give specific reasons for turning down an offer—but you need to remember that, if you conduct yourself with class, you do not know what sorts of good things may happen. Be very alert that something that seems like a negative could turn out to be a real positive if handled well. You just never know.

This brings me to my answer to the question. When you turn down an offer, you need to make the party whose offer you are turning down think it is the hardest decision you have ever made. You want that person on your side. You want turning down the offer to be a positive experience for both of you. You want that person to be your advocate in the future—you want him or her by your side, regardless of what you may believe at this moment. You need to create a positive aura around you and your career; use the offer as an opportunity to do this.

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About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About LawCrossing
LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.LawCrossing.com.

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About Harrison Barnes

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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