Many companies conduct a series of interviews with prospective candidates when filling a job vacancy. During the course of your first interview with a company, you may receive information about the job or the business that changes your mind about wanting to work there. The pay may be lower than you anticipated, or the job duties may be beyond your expertise. Whatever your reasons, the old adage holds true: Honesty is the best policy. It's also better to build bridges than burn them – you never know when you might be visiting with this same employer or interviewer about another job in the future. You can make a favorable impression even as you decline an interview if you handle it right.
During the Interview
Respect the interviewer's time. If your mind is truly made up that this isn't the job opportunity for you, don't beat around the bush. The interviewer likely has dozens of other people to meet with and schedule follow-ups with, and if you hem and haw about accepting a second interview or schedule one when you have no intention of keeping the appointment, you will ultimately waste his time and yours and leave a bad impression.
Respond honestly and promptly. If the interviewer says, "This position pays $45,000 a year" and you know you can't accept less than $60,000, don't hesitate – speak up respectfully and directly. You can say something like, "Mr. Jones, I respect your time and I have to be perfectly honest that I can't accept a position that pays less than $60,000 a year. If the salary isn't negotiable, I already know I wouldn't accept the job if it were offered to me." This can potentially open up early salary negotiations if you're a candidate the company is highly interested in, or it can end the interview early. If the latter, you can part on a positive note by saying, "I have a very high regard for this company, so I hope we can meet again in the future if another position opens up that's a better fit for me."
Be honest if, during the interview, you discover that your skills are not up to par for the position you're being considered for. If you know with certainty that you are not qualified for the job or cannot perform it, don't be dishonest or waste the interviewer's time. Most employers will respect and appreciate your honesty; it may even lead to an offer of a different position within the company that you are qualified for. To that end, you can turn your honest disclosure into a positive showcase of your skills: "Ms. Smith, I am an expert in XYZ program and its related software, and I also oversaw a division for 10 years that utilized ABC software. But I have to be honest with you that I have never used 123 software before, and it sounds like that program is a requirement for this position."
Decline a second interview tactfully if your reasons are against the company itself. You may, for example, be an animal lover and learn in the first interview that the company tests its products on animals, or you may have moral convictions against alcohol and learn that part of your on-the-job time would be spent in a division that sells or transports liquor. Whatever your reasoning, be tactful when you decline the follow-up interview. You can still be honest, but don't turn your interview refusal into a moral lecture.
After the Interview
Decline a follow-up interview over the phone if the company calls to schedule a second interview and you've decided you don't want the job. Again, respect their time and be honest and direct. Be personable and polite, as well – just because you don't want this particular job doesn't mean you should slam the door with the company. Even when refusing an interview you're making an impression that may matter in the future.
Send a professionally worded letter or email if you agreed to a second interview but have since changed your mind or accepted another job offer elsewhere. Be clear that you are cancelling the follow-up interview in your letter, and be polite and express your thanks to the interviewer for his time. You don't have to include a reason for cancelling the interview, but if you choose to explain, be tactful and keep it on a positive note.
Send a follow-up note if you declined a second interview in person but are still interested in working for the company should a better fit open up later. Keep the note brief but warm. Acknowledge that even though you declined a second interview for that particular position, you have a high regard for the company and would love to be considered for a future position that is a better fit for you. Thank the interviewer for his time, and include your contact information on the note or card.
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