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Summary: I have two great competing offers, A and B. I would like to politely decline A but also maximize the chances that I can get that offer again later, once work with B is done


I've been browsing the internet for 12 hours now trying to figure out the correct way to decline a dream job (that I'd like to be considered for in the future). In short, I'm declining a professorship to work at a non-profit that desperately needs my help.

I'm trained in a niche field of science related to endangered species, and the non-profit's animal facility is crumbling due to gross negligence of past employees. The non-profit is giving me a fancy title, work-space, underlings etc to get things running smoothly, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't prefer the professorship role (which also pays slightly better than the non-profit).

I'm first and foremost an educator, but I feel a social obligation to past employers/advisers and a moral obligation to the animals to accept this other role (of which only a dozen people in the country are qualified to take).

Additionally, the non-profit offers more job security because, with our economy soon to be tanking, new professors will be booted first when there's low enrollment.

How would you go about declining a dream job?

It seems disingenuous to say I was offered another position that more closely aligns with my career interests and to be honest I'd work both careers if it were physically possible. The hiring team was incredibly kind to me, so I intend to let them know by call rather than by writing a brief email.

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  • What stage you are at for the job search process? Contacted? Interviewed? Offered a job? Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 14:54
  • @SouravGhosh if they're declining, they've been offered.
    – Ben Barden
    Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 15:07
  • @BenBarden Well, then the question is - why advance to a stage where you have to (sadly) decline, rather asking them to get back at a later time at earlier stage? Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 15:14
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    @SouravGhosh may not have expected to get the nonprofit offer.
    – Ben Barden
    Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 18:22
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    @aaaaasaysreinstateMonica OP wants to say no in a way that won't offend the professorship, and will maximize the chances that they can maybe get that offer again later, once work with the nonprofit is done.
    – Ben Barden
    Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 18:23

1 Answer 1

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Your best bet is to say what you've said here, a bit more selectively, possibly tuned up a bit. The professorship position is fantastic, and at any other time you'd love to take it (and, indeed, would love to have it in 2ish years, if you could somehow arrange for a delay) but there's this other spot that showed up that needs you, and for (various reasons) you feel morally obligated to take it.

Ignore the job security and social obligation factors. The idea here is to take the truth and tell a story out of it. The story of feeling a moral obligation to animals desperately in need that only you can properly help (assuming that that's actually true) has to be a pretty compelling one for the sorts of people who work in your field. Then, you underline the "but if I could work for you, I really would" by actually talking with them about coming to work for them after a few years if that's possible for them (once you've managed to unhork the nonprofit and perhaps the economy has recovered).

As @Kevin notes, you may also want to tone down the humblebrag of it a bit. Saying "only a dozen people in the country can do what they need me for" is pushing it (and if you're incorrect, it'll make you look bad). Saying "It's a job that really needs to be done, and I don't think they'll be able to find anyone else who could actually do it" or something like that, it gets the same idea across without quite so much patting yourself on the back.

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    I'd also add... try to make the tenor a bit less humblebraggy. If someone told me, "I feel a moral obligation to the animals and a social obligation to my past advistors", or "only a dozen people in the country can do what they need me for," I'd have to work awfully hard not to roll my eyes.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 19:26
  • @Kevin could also give me the impression I can manipulate OP to a sub-standard compensation package if I hit the right social or moral pressure points next time. I.e. I'd make this just about OP having the strong personal desire to do that other time-limited project right now, but might be available after. Going the "moral obligation route" can work when they share your morals and paint you as weird if they don't. They don't need to know the details, just that it was a close decision, and that the other thing is time limited and there's interest to pick this up later. Commented Mar 28, 2020 at 15:11

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