How to Gracefully Withdraw from an Interview Process

Male professional leaning back in his chair as he talks on his cellphone

It can happen to any job seeker: you’re searching for a new job and apply 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 professional reputation hangs on the line with regards to your next move. 

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 different than what you were seeking? Knowing how to decline a second interview or how to cancel a job interview for a position you now realize you don’t want are essential skills for job seekers, but it’s not something many people talk about. And yet, these are scenarios most people in the workforce will encounter at least once in their career. 

Thus, it’s necessary to have a game plan for withdrawing from an interview process without damaging professional relationships. 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 politely bow out of a job interview, there are both standard protocols and unspoken rules of professional etiquette that you should follow. 

Here, we’re going to explore how to decline a job interview or back out of the interview process without burning bridges as a candidate.

What to do and what not to do when withdrawing from interview process

At 4 Corner Resources, we are professional staffing experts who work with clients across the U.S. in a variety of industries from our headquarters in central Florida. As such, we’ve seen countless examples — both good and bad — of how applicants, candidates, and employers choose to remove themselves from the interview process.

Here are two recent examples—one good, one bad—we’ve seen 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 reached out to us via phone 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 whom 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 as well as have time to schedule interviews with other applicants. Furthermore, taking the time to write 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. That also accomplished putting it in writing, which is always a good measure for record-keeping purposes. 

This is a prime example of how to decline a job interview without burning bridges. The candidate:

  • Was transparent about their change of circumstance,
  • Quickly informed us about their change of intentions,
  • Saved us time by recommending a colleague who could perform the role well.

Circumstances change, and most humans understand that. 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 communicated about the candidate. Company Y learned from Company X about the candidate’s no-show. 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 dumped one interview in favor of another but ended up burning himself on both opportunities because he didn’t consider how connected professionals are within the industry. This happens more frequently than you might think! What some candidates may not realize is that even in a big city, it can still be a small world, especially in niche industries. 

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. As a professional staffing and placement agency, we inform our 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 within a way you’d be proud of if others were to hear about it. 

4 tips for withdrawing 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, it’s okay to send your notice electronically. If you’re further along in the hiring process, have established a 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. Just be sure you actually reach them; don’t leave it on 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 include a personal message to the hiring manager like the example we mentioned above, that works, too.  

Don’t overshare

It’s not necessary to give a reason for withdrawing from the process. If you do decide to, though, 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 definitely not a time to air your grievances about the job, company or interview process. If the employer wants this information, they’ll ask for it separately, like with a candidate feedback survey sent via email. 

Stay professional

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 a 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 on when we least expect it. 

Finally, there’s always the chance that you might want to apply with this company again in the future under different circumstances, so it’s best not to burn the bridge 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

[Contact name],

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. 

Kind regards, 

[Your name]

Discover new career opportunities with the recruiting experts

Maybe you’ve been sending out endless applications but aren’t hearing back from employers. Maybe you’ve landed a few interviews but nothing seems like the right fit. Perhaps you’re in a niche field where job opportunities are few and far between and you need a little help tracking down your next great opportunity. If any of these are the case, the recruiting experts at 4 Corner Resources can help you take the next step in your professional life. 

Based in Central Florida, we’re a team of headhunters that’s passionate about connecting qualified candidates with interesting, challenging job opportunities with some of the top companies in the region. We place talent in contract, temporary, part-time and full-time roles from entry-level all the way up to management. To speak with us about our open positions, send your resume to connect@4cornerresource.com today. 

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.