40

A little over a year ago I changed my job. Now my previous employer (a small startup) has contacted me asking what it would take for me to come back. While the place was not at all bad and I left on fairly friendly terms (as much as possible when your leaving itself hurts the company), I really love my current workplace and have no desire to go back. I've already decided on a "no" for an answer, but I can't come up with a good way to put it that minimizes the chances of them being upset. I don't want to burn any bridges, who knows what the future holds.

At the same time, I'm a person who really dislikes conflict, so when people try to pressure me, I tend to give in just to keep the peace. They, on the other hand, have no issues with pressuring people, and they could reeeeally use my help, so that's another thing I'm worried about. I know I will not give in, but there is the potential for me becoming reeeeally uncomfortable. I'm looking for some way of answering that leaves them with no further recourse but to accept it; where it's pointless to try and pressure me.

Some options I've considered:

  • Saying that I want to come back, and name a salary too large. This is risky. Obviously, there is some price at which I will move. If they promise me a million euros a month, I'll do it, of course. But where is that line? The real answer to that question I don't know myself. If I name the price too ludicrously high, I'm afraid it'll sound like I'm blowing them off. If I make it plausible, there's a chance they might actually offer it to me and then I'll have to either accept it, or tell them that I was lying. In addition, even if they do accept a very high salary, I'm not certain how long they would be able to pay it out. They have made some too optimistic decisions at past.
  • Saying that I won't come back because there are some "personal" or "family" reasons. That's nonspecific enough and would prevent further prying (I think), but I also feel like this still sounds too much like an excuse. It's obvious that I'm not telling something and trying to avoid conversation. I doubt they will be happy with this.
  • Telling them the truth by simply saying that I like the new place better. I believe this would be just followed with more questions about what exactly do I like here better, insistence that their place is pretty good too, more offers of a bigger salary, and other kinds of pressuring.

So... How can I politely decline a job offer from a previous employer, avoid them challenging my reasons for doing so, yet not burn bridges?

P.S. Almost forgot - as for my culture, I'm from Europe. Hope that's enough.

  • 4
    To close voters, please explain why this would be offtopic? Just because this is about work and might fit on TWP, doesn't mean that it wouldn't be on-topic here. As I see it, this question is about communicating the no to the employer, which seems like IPS might be useful. – JAD Aug 31 '18 at 13:51
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    This question seems like a phrasing request or finding arguments to use. It would be great if the question focused on how to be more assertive on your 'no' than what argument to use. But as it currently stands, I understand the question to be asking what argument to use to get rid of the previous employer's pressure. – Kaspar Scherrer Aug 31 '18 at 14:23
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    @JAD, as far as I can see, we're here to answer questions about Interpersonal Skills, not to brainstorm on ideas or 'variations of the above'. That might very well fit our 'what should I do' close reason, or been seen as asking for 'what do I say'. Nothing that can't be fixed with an edit though :) – Tinkeringbell Aug 31 '18 at 17:19
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    @Tinkeringbell - I'm... not really sure what the difference it makes and how your edits improved my questions, but if you feel this is better, I'm OK with it. – AnonymousClone Aug 31 '18 at 19:23
  • 1
    If you've already left the company without burning bridges, what makes you feel that turning this offer down would change things? – DaveMongoose Sep 3 '18 at 10:31

13 Answers 13

59

Don't waste anybody's time on this one. You decided on no, so tell them. Don't lead them on by making any outrageous demands. This will give them the signal that there might be something to negotiate, which is something you don't want and is a complete waste of their time.

Say no, and if you want give the reason you don't want to follow up on their offer. If they try to pressure you into accepting either way, you can just ignore them. You have given your answer.

  • 4
    I don't want to waste any time, believe me. Ideally I'd like to make it a <1min phone call. This seems rather abrupt though. I'm afraid I might offend them this way. – AnonymousClone Aug 31 '18 at 14:55
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    @AnonymousClone Text is more difficult on this front than calling - nearly all business emails are brusque by nature. If you're on a call, you can say a lot more with tone and conversationality than you can in an email for this reason. – Aza Sep 1 '18 at 4:46
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I could have written this question around a year ago, of course changing euros for CAD. ;) Seriously, this can be a tough place, especially if you knew (and know) the old boss quite well. You don't want to make them feel like you're cutting them off, but you have to be honest. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Means of communication. If at all possible, avoid making the discussion a face to face conversation. As a non-confrontational person, I knew before even trying that if I tried, my boss would either leave me feeling like I was responsible for cutting him off or he would end up getting me back part time or, or, or. If you can, make the conversation written (email, chat, etc.). Barring that, make it a telephone call. It's a little less personally engaged, and consequently it's easier to treat the situation objectively.

  2. Wording. On the one hand, if you did enjoy the work there, you can focus on the positive memories, but also be clear that you have found your niche at the new company. Something like,

I enjoyed working for you, but I'm really happy at my new job, and I just don't feel any reason to change right at the moment. I seem to have found my place here.

or

Thanks for the offer! I really appreciate the value that you put on my work. However, I've really found my niche at [xyz company] and unless something changes, I'm going to continue working for them.

Be straightforward. Don't hang off about it. You have the right to choose where you work, and they have to understand that. But also be careful not to throw a negative light on their company; your goal is not to put them down; it is simply to show that it's not the place for you.

  • 1
    The problem is - they already started with "What would it take for you to move?" This doesn't really answer that question, and if I say it, I strongly suspect they will simply state the question again - "OK, I get it that you're comfy where you are, but what would it take for you to get out of that comfort zone?" And I'll be back at square one. :/ – AnonymousClone Aug 31 '18 at 14:53
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    @AnonymousClone yeah, that was what I was trying to address with You have the right to choose where you work, and they have to understand that. My point is to point out some tactful techniques for getting the point across in the first place. If they refuse to listen, you'll just have to follow their game. If they get more forceful, you'll have to be more forceful in your rejection. – anonymous2 Aug 31 '18 at 17:14
  • @AnonymousClone It does answer the question. It's just a frame challenge when the question was an XY-problem. =) (Y = what offer would attract you, X = whether you're interested to begin with.) – jpmc26 Sep 3 '18 at 19:55
24

In essence your previous employer is kind of a "recruiter" in this situation so you could try a not-so-canned variation of the phrase which I use when recruiters contact me with relevant opportunities:

Thank you for your interest in me but at this time I am not looking for alternate employment.

There is zero reason to mention anything personal such as liking your new job too much, or that you are working on an intense project which you enjoy, or saying anything bad about them, and definitely don't hint that you do have a breaking point.

If they continue to press the issue and you wouldn't mind working for them again then just make sure you negotiate compensation to your liking and specify a minimum employment duration which entitles you to a substantial payout if they cannot maintain you for the agreed duration.

  • 1
    They're a former employer that you have an existing relationship with, not a recruiter who's sending automated emails to thousands of candidates. Don't use canned responses. Instead say that you really enjoy the new job and don't wan't to move. Keep the reasons positive about the new job, but don't move from the position of "I want to stay in my current job". You have a reason to mention personal things because you know your old boss as a person. – UEFI Sep 3 '18 at 14:21
  • @UEFI You are correct, a cold response is not appropriate so OP should definitely tailor it to be less cold but still maintain succinctness. – MonkeyZeus Sep 4 '18 at 12:47
13

You are considering what lie to tell. This is unproductive. Consider how to tell the truth - you're happy where you are and don't want to leave. "Thank you for the offer I'm flattered, but have no plans to leave my present job at the moment".

  • 1
    See my comments on AnoE's answer. – AnonymousClone Aug 31 '18 at 19:23
11

Before you answer their question, you need to understand it. As you suspect, it’s not a simple inquiry as to what it would take to get you to return, it is in fact an attempt to get you to return. It is the first step in a process that is intended to end with you working for them.

From a *Churchill quote site:

Churchill: "Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?"

Socialite: "My goodness, Mr. Churchill... Well, I suppose... we would have to discuss terms, of course... "

Churchill: "Would you sleep with me for five pounds?"

Socialite: "Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!"

Churchill: "Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price”

They are trying to get you to agree in principle so they can then haggle over the price. Unless you want to haggle over the price, don’t go there. Use a simple “thanks for the interest, but I am not interested”.

While it may be true that you have your price, unless you think they can and will meet it, there’s no reason to mention it. If they reiterate that they want to know what your price is, stick to your answer “I’m not interested in changing positions right now”. Doing so isn’t going to upset them or burn any bridges because their actual question is: will you name a price that would make you want to return to work for us. And you are responding with a polite no.

If they are actually interested in getting you at any price they can afford, they will stop trying to get you on the cheap, and start making offers until you accept.

The above is from an IPS perspective, from a workplace perspective, asking you to name a price is tactic used to pay the lowest price. IMO if they really wanted you and weren’t concerned about cost, they would simply make an offer and if that didn’t work, increase it. Payroll is typically important in total, not individually. They could probably offer 2 or 3 times your current/former salary if they thought it was important enough. Or since it is a startup, equity.

*That the quote is actually from Churchill is disputed.

7

I have not been in a similar situation yet, so this is just my line of thought, rather than personal experience. I would not mention anything salary related, nor anything about the workplace, but build my answer around the work itself. Say that you find your current topic / project / assignment / whatever too interesting to leave in the middle of it. As you said, salary and workenvironment are points they could challenge. But dedication and interest in your current projects are a) making you look good, b) hard to argue against and c) hard for them to overbid. It also does not burn bridges, as after the projects are over, you might be on the market again.

4

As per PO's additional information, they asked:

What would it take for you to move?

This is the perfect opportunity to reply with:

Nothing, I am not interested in changing jobs, thanks again for your interest.

Or if you already answered it you can backpedal:

Sorry for the miscommunication/misunderstanding, but there is nothing that will make me change my current job, I appreciate the offer.

Keep it brief so it doesn't invite responses.

After you get a response, respond late (few days later, even 1 week is fine) and just reply "Sorry again but I'm not interested," and maybe: "let's keep in touch." etc

3

You're an alumnus (or alumna) of the old company now. This means that as you quit on positive terms, it is fine to feel some kind of attachment to them, if just for memory's sake.

Having options is always good. You may not want to change jobs right now, but things might be different in your new company later, and you might change your mind in a year, or three. Or you may meet colleagues from the old company in some job function later. So, I would not only not burn bridges, but even take opportunities like this to make a positive impression.

You have already said that your answer is "no" right now; and you don't want to give them a too abrupt "no".

Some options I've considered:

Naming a salary too large.

This is a form of lying - you'd lie about your intention to come back. It is totally uncalled for and will get you into all kinds of troubles (not legal ones, but your conscience will remind you about it, later).

Saying that there are some "personal" or "family" reasons.

Again, a form of lying. This line is appropriate if there is a somewhat hostile environment anyways; it is a somewhat unattackable defensive line if you simply do not want to disclose something which you are not legally enforced to disclose.

That's nonspecific enough and would prevent further prying (I think),

It would still leave a bad aftertaste. Your old employer would think about what on earth could be "personal" reasons that were so important that you could not come back, but could not disclose.

Simply saying that I like the new place better.

That would be burning bridges, to a degree. I mean, obviously you like the new place better, or you would not have quite in the first place, but still.

At the end, my way would be to thank them kindly, and then firmly say no, while leaving a line open:

Nice to hear from you again, we had a good time together. I'll stay at my new company for the foreseeable future, but is it alright if I keep you in mind and contact you if that decision should change?

Obviously, this leaves a certain line of attack open for your erstwhile employers; e.g. they could just come nagging next month ("so... have you made up your mind..."). If you find a way to formulate this to make it clearer that you are talking about the "long-term" future, all the better. But if they do that, then on their next request, you can give a firm no:

Hi Xyz,

thanks for thinking highly of me, but I will stay at Company B.

Kind regards, AnonymousClone

If they still do not get the message:

Hi Xyz,

I'll stay at Company B, and have no intention of changing jobs.

Kind regards, AnonymousClone

If they still ask again after that, make a new IPS post with the new information. :-)

Finally: I also am conflict-averse and one way I found that helps is to really emotionally detach yourself from your mails (or if it's a phone call, make up your line up front, maybe even write it down, and deliver it in cold blood). Even if writing a single "no" kills you internally, sometimes it's just necessary.

Good luck, and have fun practicing the "no" skill!

  • I don't really want to lie. In fact, I very much hate lying, to the point I don't feel comfortable with people entrusting serious secrets to me. However I consider the responses above to be truthful, if deliberately incomplete. How I see it: The salary argument - well, as stated above, there is some point where the salary is large enough that going back just makes better sense than staying. I'm just not sure how large it is, and I'm worried of grossly misjudging that. [continued] – AnonymousClone Aug 31 '18 at 19:18
  • "Personal" reasons - "I like it better where I am" is a personal reason. "I'm worried about the long-term stability" is a family reason (yes, I have a family that relies on my income), but I'd rather not say that to their face. As for your solution - I'm 90% certain that they will continue prying along the lines of "But why?" and if I give them some answer ("I like X better here") then they'll say that it's just as good at their place. – AnonymousClone Aug 31 '18 at 19:22
3

You answered your own question when you said:

I really love my current workplace and have no desire to go back.

The sun rises. The sun sets. Seasons change. Jobs come and jobs go.

Simply state:

“Thanks, but while I enjoyed working with you at that time in my career, I really love my current workplace and have no desire to go back to XYZ company.”

I believe that this will work because being direct and honest in professional—and even casual—situations like this is the best tactic. Additionally, if you like your current job and do not want to go back to your old job, that is simply the answer: You like your current job and do not want to go back to your old job.

And if somehow your old company doesn’t want to take “No…” for an answer, you really need to double down and state:

“I’m sorry, please do not take this personally but I have moved on and cannot see myself going back for any reason.”

At the end of the day, you can only do so much to make someone else—or some other company—feel happy. And in my opinion, being honest, clear and succinct is the way to end up in the best position for yourself.

  • 1
    Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? Why do you say to take this course of action? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer. We require that answers provide some sort of explanation for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that. – user58 Sep 2 '18 at 21:30
3

I had something similar happen to me, and one major element for me -- which might also be appropriate for you -- was that I didn't want to rule out ever working with them again, but it sounds like the time is not right for you.

So you might consider answering along the lines of:

Thank you, I very much enjoyed working with you and would love to work with you again. But I don't think the time is right for me to change jobs right now.

This has the advantage that you're making it clear that you don't want to burn any bridges. If they try to push for reasons why you don't want to move right now -- which would be fairly rude -- then you're perfectly at liberty to say that you've got personal reasons, and you're not going to expand on them.

  • 1
    That would kindle some hope in the former employer that there is still a chance to get the OP back. I'd just leave the and would love to work with you again out. The last part should make sufficiently clear that the OP doesn't want to switch back as of now. – Robidu Sep 3 '18 at 19:10
2

This frequently happens to me and usually I answer something of the sort of:

Thank you for thinking of me, but I am happy in my current workplace and am not considering changing my job in the foreseeable future.

I think this answer is in no way offensive and will definitely leave the opportunity to reconsider in future. At the same time it is firm enough so that they don't bother you for a while (in my experience about 6 months to 1 year).

  • You could also add more about the previous company, to keep in touch (for the future) "Thank you for reaching out, I also had a great time working with you, nonetheless I am happy in my current workplace etc..." – toto Sep 4 '18 at 10:03
2

There are some great answers here and I cannot add to them in terms of your immediate question.

However, I think you've hit upon a bigger life issue when you said

I'm a person who really dislikes conflict, so when people try to pressure me, I tend to give in just to keep the peace.

A lot of people mistake "giving in to keep the peace" with "defusing conflict." In fact, you're not defusing the conflict - you're perpetuating it. Conflicts arise, in many cases, because two parties haven't agreed upon an acceptable way forward. They are in conflict. Conflict doesn't have to be violent or angry - it can be congenial and polite. All negotiations are, at their heart, conflict resolutions.

Key to all of this is

They, on the other hand, have no issues with pressuring people, . . .

You appear to equate "polite" with "respecting another's boundaries and backing off." (A very European attitude!) Your former employers probably don't. (How American of them!)

First and foremost, you need to consider yourself. The only person you will live with for your entire life is yourself. If you do not provide the minimum necessary for yourself, you will be unhappy. Consider how you will feel if you "give in" and return to your former employer. Will you have protected yourself?

1

Been there before. Almost like I wrote the question but I was on a phone when I was asked that, so I had to respond immediately.

I said that "currently I put myself through lot to learn the process and the domain that it would be bad for me if I quit, and letting down others who count on me".

No one wants this. You can also offer your help after working hours to his project because you believe what is he doing and enjoy working with him (if you don't want to leave him feels bed).

If he still insist - he is a bad for you and you should not care about the burned bridge. Why? Telling him this would put him in a state where he will force you to do something you believe is wrong for his own personal needs.

No lies. No direct approach.

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