How to Withdraw a Job Application without Burning Bridges

Removing yourself from consideration for a job doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Illustration of a man at his office talking to the phone with a woman who appears in a floating bubble on the left side of the image

Have you applied for a job, only to have second thoughts about it? Have you realized that you’re perfectly happy in your current job or concluded that this new opportunity doesn’t quite align with your long-term goals?

You’re not the only one, and you certainly won’t be the last.

But what do you do about it? Do you brush it under the carpet and ignore the hiring manager’s emails and phone calls, or do you take a more direct and proactive approach?

Newsflash: it’s the latter.

The best way to go about it — if not for the sake of your professional reputation, then for the sake of common courtesy — is to reach out to the hiring manager and formally withdraw your job application from consideration.

So, how exactly do you let them know you’re just no longer interested in the opportunity and, most importantly, how do you do it without burning any bridges in the process?

Step 1: Make sure you really do want to drop out

First things first, are you certain you want to withdraw your job application or are you just afraid of change?

It’s not uncommon to be scared of changing jobs, but if that’s your main reason for deciding to withdraw your application, you might want to take a couple of days to mull things over.

Once you’ve thought about it — really thought about it — and you’re absolutely sure you want to drop out of the hiring process, then by all means: pull the plug. But if there’s even an ounce of doubt in you about withdrawing your job application, chances are your conscience is telling you to reconsider.

Remember: once you formally withdraw your application, there’s no going back. You could rescind your withdrawal, of course — there’s no rule against it — but you’ll appear indecisive, and a lack of confidence isn’t a personal quality that employers look for in potential hires.

Step 2: Let the hiring manager know ASAP

As soon as you’ve decided you no longer want to pursue the opportunity, reach out to the hiring manager and tell them so. This will enable them to focus on other candidates who’ve applied for the position, and it will also allow you to continue with your job search or, if you choose to stay put in your current job, focus on rising through the ranks.

If you haven’t been through the interview process yet, a brief withdrawal email will suffice. But if you’ve decided to withdraw your application after an interview or a job offer, a phone call will be more courteous and respectful, followed by an email confirming your withdrawal.

Whatever you do, don’t let things drag out and wait for an interview invitation or a job offer to inform the hiring manager of your decision. You won’t only end up wasting their time, but you’ll also risk looking unprofessional and unreliable, especially if you fail to show up for your scheduled interview or, worse, what would’ve been your first day on the job. Needless to say, this can — and will — come back to haunt you if you apply for any future opportunities with the same company. After all, they’re still a prospective employer, so stay on their right side.

Step 3: Be specific

Don’t beat around the bush. Make sure you make it clear from the very start that you’re wanting to withdraw your application for the job. If you’re writing an email, make the subject line clear: “Job Application Withdrawal — [Position Name/Job Reference]” will suffice. If you’ve decided to call the hiring manager, it’s best to briefly introduce yourself and explain the reason for your call at the very beginning.

It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out conversation, but you need to make it clear right at the start so there’s no miscommunication.

Step 4: Offer an explanation

While no one’s stopping you from emailing a simple message that says “Please accept my withdrawal from the hiring process”, it’s more polite and professional to explain why you’re removing yourself from consideration for the position.

Felicity Dwyer, a UK-based career coach and the founder of The Heart of Work, shares this advice: “Give a reason you can fully own. For example, you might explain that you’ve realized you’re not yet ready for the role and need a couple of years’ more experience. Or you might say that, with reflection, you’ve realized that you’re more suited to a customer-facing role, for example, and so you’ve concluded you wouldn’t be the best candidate.”

Of course, you don’t have to go into great detail about it. For example, if you’re dropping out of the hiring process because the job is too far away, you don’t have to mention how it would take you an hour to drive to work and another hour to drive home or how relocating isn’t an option because your kids go to school on the other side of town.

That said, the hiring manager might press you for details. If you choose to divulge a little more about your decision (the key word here is “little”), the important thing to remember is to be professional, diplomatic and respectful in how you communicate that information.

Step 5: Keep it positive

Whatever your reasons for withdrawing your consideration from a job, make sure you do so on a positive note. Even if your interview experience was an awful one or if the job doesn’t sound all that good, you don’t want to burn any bridges (exceptions apply, of course). It’s best to remain positive so you’re remembered for the right reasons.

“It’s always wise to aim to maintain a relationship with the organization involved and potentially keep your options open for the future,” says Ms Dwyer. “Avoid any criticism or negativity about the job, even if in reality you have some concerns about it. And always be courteous, and thank the recruiter or company for their time.”

Any criticism or negativity will only show you in a negative light, and this should be avoided.

Step 6: Express what you liked

Something about this job or company initially caught your eye when you saw the job description; otherwise, you wouldn’t have been interested in the position in the first place.

Whatever it was that appealed to you, mention that to the hiring manager — unless it was simply for the salary. This will reiterate to them that you’re still interested in working for the company in the future if the right position becomes available.

Step 7: Show you’re open to other opportunities

While this particular position might not be a good fit for you at this moment in time, a position could come up in the future that is perfect for you. Let the hiring manager know that you’d be open to future opportunities at the company if any arise. That way, they might just keep your résumé on file if anything suitable comes up.

However, if you attended an interview and saw some red flags or felt like it would be a toxic workplace, it’s best to skip this part, as nobody wants to work in an environment like this.

Step 8: Recommend someone else for the job

Now, every situation will be different, but if you’ve been working in the industry for a while, you might know just the person that would be perfect for the role you’re withdrawing from. If you have someone in mind, make it known to the hiring manager (if you feel it’s appropriate) that you know someone that would be highly suitable. It could save them a huge chunk of time trying to find the right candidate. Plus, you’ll be helping out a former colleague who might return the favor in the future.

If you’re unsure how to phrase it, you could simply state: “If you’d be interested, I can recommend a candidate with similar experience and skills to mine who might be interested in the available position. Let me know if you’d like me to pass along their details for consideration.”

Step 9: Follow a template

If you’re not quite sure how to put your job application withdrawal into words, you could always use a template to help you. If you decide to use a template, remember to change it so it’s relevant to the job you’re withdrawing from. We’ve provided an email and telephone script below for your inspiration, so feel free to use them if you’re stuck.

Email example

As mentioned previously, if you haven’t reached the interview stage of the hiring process, you should send a letter of withdrawal via email notifying the hiring manager that you’re withdrawing your application.

The following is an email template to guide you in crafting your own email message:

Dear [hiring manager’s name],

I very much appreciate your consideration for the [position name] with your company. After much thought, it is with regret that I withdraw my application, as I [short explanation/reason for your withdrawal].

I really liked the company’s values and, while this position isn’t right for me at this stage in my career, I would love to be considered for any future positions that fit my profile.

Thank you again for your time and consideration. I wish you the best of luck in your search for the perfect candidate.

Kind regards,

[Your name]

Phone script

If you’ve already met the hiring manager, the best way to drop out of the hiring process is to call them directly.

Below is a phone script to show you how the conversation might go.

*Ring, ring*

Hiring manager: Hello?

You: Hi, [hiring manager’s name]. John Smith here. We met on Tuesday when I interviewed for the marketing manager position.

HM: Oh, hello John. How are you?

You: I’m well, thank you. And you?

HM: I’m fine, thanks. How can I help you?

You: I’m calling to let you know that I would like to withdraw myself from consideration for the position.

HM: Oh, that’s a shame. May I ask why?

You: Well, as you know, one of the reasons I applied for the role was because my partner and I were planning to move to Los Angeles. But since our meeting, he was offered a promotion at his current job, and so we’ve decided to stay put.

HM: I understand, and thanks for letting me know.

You: Thank you again for your time and consideration.

HM: That’s quite alright. Take care!

You: You too! Bye!

HM: Bye!

*End of call*

Meanwhile, don’t forget to follow up your phone call with a brief email confirming your withdrawal:

Dear [hiring manager’s name],

Following our telephone conversation, I would like to confirm my withdrawal from the hiring process, since my partner and I have ultimately decided not to move to Los Angeles for work.

Thank you again for your time and consideration, and best of luck with your search!

Kind regards,

John Smith

Final thoughts

Withdrawing a job application is a tricky and delicate business but, done right, you can upkeep your professional reputation and avoid burning bridges with the company. You just need to be tactful and graceful when breaking the bad news.

Got a question, or want to share your own experiences about withdrawing your consideration from a job? Join the conversation down below!


Originally published on February 15, 2016. Updated by Hayley Ramsey.