How to Turn Down Opportunities

how to turn down opportunitiesHow do you turn down opportunities at work when the timing isn’t right?  Reader M wonders…

I was recently asked to relocate offices (I work at a mid-sized law firm). The relocation would be something of a promotion based on the work I’d get to do and the people I’d get to work with. I was asked because the other office is very busy and has more work than capacity at the moment. If I were single, I’d probably say yes. Or least strongly consider it. But I’m engaged to a wonderful man who is not enthusiastic about the idea of uprooting his life and his career to follow me to a smaller city with less opportunity for him. My question is, how do you turn down an offer for relocation without appearing to be uncommitted to your job? I want to signal that I love my job and appreciate the opportunity, but that it’s not the right time or circumstances for me.

I had a similar situation come up when I started dating my husband — a company I would have loved to work for started heavily recruiting me, even offering to train me in an area I was eager to get into.  The catch: it was all the way across the country.  I’ve always endeavored to stay in the same time zone as my family, but with the addition of this new guy I’d started dating (only two months in at that point!) it was an easy decision: I turned it down outright.  At the time I felt like a bad feminist, a bad overachieving chick, a bad…everything, but I have no regrets.  (Of course, hindsight is 20/20.)  Along similar lines, I know that my father turned down fairly major career opportunities when my brother and I were in high school because it would have meant uprooting the family to a foreign country. 

I’m curious to hear what the readers say, but I think it’s normal to sometimes turn down opportunities because it’s wrong for you.  (For some reason this discussion calls to mind one of my favorite graduation gifts, Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go!: “You’ll look up and down streets.  Look ’em over with care.  About some you will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’  With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.”)  The trick here is to be gracious in turning it down, and be clear that it’s due to timing/circumstances in this case (leaving the door open for possible renewed discussions at some later date in case your opinion changes).  (Depending on my relationship with the boss, I might leave the fiance out of the reasoning and just say “personal/family reasons,” and leave it at that.)  In Reader M’s case — because this opportunity is in the same company as her current employer — she might want to have a longer discussion with her supervisor about what her path to advancement might look like if she turns down opportunities like this.  If it’s standard practice to promote people by having them move from office to office, it may be time to start looking for a new job.

Readers, have you turned down career opportunities for family/personal reasons?  What are your “best practices” for turning down opportunities?

(Pictured: Wrong Way 2, originally uploaded to Flickr by Jack Zalium.)


  1. Feeling alone :

    Regular poster going anon for this one…. I have started feeling more and more lonely and isolated recently. I’m on a temporary assignment at work at a new location, recently got out of a relationship, my close friends are all coupled off (or seem to have lost interest in me), and I’m just far enough from my family to not have an easy trip home. I’m not sure what to do or how to feel better. I’m hoping this is a phase that will pass, but it does seem to get harder every day, not easier. I don’t know who to talk to about it. I even have a therapist but he doesn’t seem to help that much on this matter (thinking its just a process from ending my last relationship). For anyone who may have advice, I would love to hear it.

    • amelia earhart :

      Maybe it’s worth finding a new therapist who might look at different causes, rather than putting so much weight on the relationship ending.

      In addition to that, what about trying something through meetup dot com? Or, if by chance, you are in the Western New York/Finger Lakes/Southern Ontario area, I’d be delighted to hang out if you want a friend. :)

      • amelia earhart :

        Just as an aside, I hope it doesn’t sound flippant to suggest a new therapist. I know finding someone you’re comfortable/compatible with isn’t necessarily easy, just wondering if it’s an option.

      • Coach Laura :

        Agreed – a new therapist with a new view.

        Take care of yourself too.

    • I don’t have any good advice, but just want you to know you are not the only one who feels like this. I feel alone a lot lately, too, and it really sucks. Sending lots of {{{Internet Hugggggs}}}, and if you want an email penpal or if you are in CA I will buy you a drink. for any of the above email me at zoradances at the gmails.

    • S in Chicago :

      Being in a new location is the worst. Try not to be too hard on yourself (It’s a Saturday, I should be out doing X, etc.) That kind of thinking can be brutal. Check out . You’re temporary where you are, but they often post one day volunteering opportunities by zip code. I think the best way to meet folks and get out of being too much in your head is to be focused on an activity or cause–and when it’s volunteering you don’t have to feel like you have to be “social” if you’re just not feeling it. You don’t say how long you’ll be in the temp location, but if it’s a month or longer, check out the local Barnes and Noble or library to see if there is a book club meeting. That’s also a good way to “connect” with folks you don’t know with little commitment. Can you pick up a phone or skype with some of the paired off friends? Sometimes just a familiar voice can really help. Would you consider online dating? Just going out (even if it ends up just being dinner with someone new) or having something to look forward to in the week may help pass the time and get your mind off things, too.

    • I was in a similar situation (other than the breakup, but my BF was living in another city for work) on my first remote assignment out of college. A few things I did to help pull myself out of the funk were: join a gym and go to a regular class; join a volunteer organization that you care about and can make an impact with (I got on the local Habitat for Humanity board & volunteered at build sites); hang out with coworkers if you have them, even if you seem to have nothing in common, assuming this is appropriate for your organization and there are others in the same boat; make weekend trips home as often as possible.

      It was not easy, and I honestly never fully pulled myself out of it, but it did help me to get through it in one piece. You’ll get through it, too!

  2. amelia earhart :

    TJ – For the person looking for a Lo & Sons discount, Belle @ Cap Hill Style is doing a bag giveaway and got a 25% off coupon code: CAPHILLSTYLENOV2013

    • Back Home :

      Also they now have the OG and OMG in an amazing navy color! Really trying to resist because I already have a TT that is only a year old…

    • You are the best!

  3. AnonToday :

    I may have to turn down a job opportunity myself. I was hoping to change jobs despite the fact that I am pregnant (days away from the end of my first-trimester). I don’t love my current in-house gig, and a litigation position opened up at a firm I respect. However, they are only currently hiring for a staff attorney position which in this case is sort of like a contract position where you are renewed and then eventually made permanent. Given the uncertainty (despite the fact that they are growing and likely would not let me go) and questions re: maternity leave (which I am awaiting answers) I may have to say no to protect my family and wait to job search until after the new arrival. Given the circumstances, if it comes to it, I think I can turn it down gracefully while indicating that it is almost solely due to timing and maybe in another year we could talk again if there are openings.

    Story of my life. Timing…

  4. I’m not sure if others are seeing the Wartunes Adchoices Ad in the Sponsors section, but I am and I find it offensive.

    • The ads you see are based on your browsing history. Try clearing your cookies/browsing history

  5. I think it’s acceptable turn down an opportunity if it’s not the right time, especially when there’s a SO involved. I second what Kat said in reference to communicating this to the employer; Make it clear that it’s just not the right time for you personally, but you value your position with the company, etc.

  6. Think it through COMPLETELY before turning down that offer! I am in my 50’s now, and turned down two offers when I was in my 20’s and early 30’s. The first was because I wanted to pursue one specific graduate degree, and the place I was working at the time offered to PAY FOR a different degree if I stayed and went to school part time. Idiot me! I left the job, went into debt to go to the grad program of my dreams, and ended up hating it and leaving without my PhD. Second time: I was back in the workforce, doing consulting, and one of my clients offered me an in-house position. Like some of you, I was in a long-term relationship and didn’t want to move across the country. I said no (politely, but still no), and remained where I was. The Road Not Taken? I could be retired now, and who knows? Maybe my now-husband would have followed me. Maybe I would have done that job for awhile and moved back. I’m not saying that one should completely discount personal relationships when making job decisions; I’m just saying that twice I turned down opportunities, and now I have a certain amount of regret about both decisions. I should have viewed them, especially the second one, as an opportunity to try something different. If it didn’t work out, or if I REALLY wanted to come back to my boyfriend, then I could have quite after a year or so. It wouldn’t have been so bad to try it. Just something to think about.

  7. You don’t have to overthink this. All you have to say is you appreciate the opportunity, but can’t relocate at this time. That’s it.

  8. Do you HAVE to relocate for the opportunity? Could you do the work remotely or with some travel (one week a month, maybe even Monday – Thursday but home on weekends)? I know it was presented to you as relocation, and maybe there’s client interaction or something else you need to be in person for, but a lot of companies don’t even consider how much can be accomplished through email, phone, IM, Skype, etc.

    • M with the Q :

      I was hoping to suggest this as an alternative. Asking if I could go out there on “as needed” basis. I’d have no problem traveling there regularly or as needed. I’m currently working almost exclusively for a partner in that office, but they’ve indicated they want people on the ground in that city going forward.

  9. ExcelNinja :

    Saying that it sounds like an amazing opportunity but it’s just not the right time for you is a perfectly acceptable answer.

    • ExcelNinja :

      I’ll elaborate – about three years ago I was asked if I’d like to relocate to head office, all expenses paid, but things were just getting under way with my now DH, and going really well, and so I declined (yes Kat, also feeling like a bad feminist myself!), just saying it wasn’t the right time for me.

      About a year and a half ago they offered again and this time, the timing was perfect and I accepted – so, don’t worry so much about how saying “not right now” will eliminate the opportunity forever – because it likely won’t.

  10. M with the Q :

    Kat, thanks so much for taking the time to post my question.

    I really look forward to reading y’all’s insight on this.

    I should add, this would be a promotion in terms of the firm I’m at, but I’d be moving from a city that is exceptionally strong in my industry to a secondary market for the same industry. So, career-wise, I’d be moving away from where all of the action is.

    • That, moving away from where the action is, is a mistake in my experience, no matter how juicy-looking the new position. But I’d second using “family reasons” as an excuse instead :-).

  11. “Along similar lines, I know that my father turned down fairly major career opportunities when my brother and I were in high school because it would have meant uprooting the family to a foreign country. ”

    It’s endearing (and a relief) to learn that more than one man of my dad’s generation thoughtfully considered their families – not just their careers – as they advanced in their careers. I suspect this is a more common story than we hear.

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