I'm looking for a job, so in the usual networking fashion I emailed all my professional acquaintances asking them if they know of any opportunities in my field. In particular, I emailed my former boss, who I really disliked working with, but who is good at networking and likely to give me a good reference, so I thought it was worth asking for his help.

Unfortunately, his reply mentions that he is looking to hire someone with my qualifications. (He also says that he'll be happy to provide me with a reference and to give my CV to other people in the department etc, which is good.) I definitely do not want to work for him again, but I also don't want to burn any bridges - we parted on good terms, I don't think he's aware of my issues with him, and it's definitely not a conversation I want to have. How can I politely say that I'm not interested in working for him, but I am still interested in other potential jobs he might be able to get me in contact with? Note that the other potential jobs include ones in other units in the same department as him, so I can't tell him I don't want to work in this city or in this field or at this university, because saying that would remove the possibility of him helping me out by putting me in contact with nearby people - that's the difficult part here. Is there any inoffensive generic refusal reason that can work in this situation?

Options I've thought of so far, none of them very good:

  • I could just say something along the lines of "I don't think we work well together" - but I don't think that conversation is likely to go well and we'll end up back in burning-bridges territory.
  • I could just decline without explaining, but he'll probably either ask for an explanation or just feel offended by the unfriendly refusal and not help me any further. I can do this if I have to, but I'd rather find a better option.
  • I could ask him for details about his open position and hopefully find something specific about it that that I can use as a reason to say no (low salary or something - this is information I don't currently have), but 1) that would be misleading and a waste of everyone's time, and 2) it would be even more awkward if I didn't find any problems with the position but then refused anyway.
  • I think the answer very much depends on what makes the "bad boss" a "bad boss", so maybe you should explain that.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 28, 2016 at 0:22
  • @gnasher729 Not sure I want to go into that on a public forum. Nothing horrible, just lots of various general workplace unpleasantness that he seems in denial about. Is "I don't want to work with him again but I don't want to tell him why, so I need another plausible and inoffensive reason" not an answerable question without the details?
    – weronika
    Aug 28, 2016 at 0:33
  • Depending on the actual issue, there may be a way of presenting it that contains enough truth to be convincing without offending your ex-boss. Aug 28, 2016 at 3:25
  • @weronika: The question was really: Is the boss a nice person who is just a scatterbrain who is impossible to work it, or someone who is nasty and would want revenge if you refused the job?
    – gnasher729
    Aug 28, 2016 at 11:47
  • @PatriciaShanahan I don't think there is - one of the issues is that it's impossible to have an honest conversation with him about anything even slightly negative.
    – weronika
    Aug 28, 2016 at 20:54

3 Answers 3


A friend of mine suggested "I want to take this as an opportunity to expand my horizons" / "try something new" / "I'm looking for new challenges". I think something along those lines sounds like a good positive reason why I specifically don't want to work in the same group I was in before, while still being interested in otherwise similar offers from other groups.


"Thank you, but I'm not interested in coming back at this time." Or simply ignore the offer. Companies aren't required to interview uninteresting candidates; candidates aren't required to interview with uninteresting companies, and neither has to justify those decisions.

  • Yes, but given that he's my former boss rather than some random company, he'll probably take that as an unfriendly response, and won't help me out with the job search or will give me a worse reference. Of course, maybe that's the best I can hope for given the situation, so I'll do that if I can't come up with anything better.
    – weronika
    Aug 28, 2016 at 2:43
  • 2
    If he was going to give you a good reference, the fact that you're looking elsewhere was already going to be obvious. It isn't unfriendly to say you want to see other parts of the industry or that you are looking for something a bit different, and you don't have to specify which or what -- you'll know it when you see it. ... But seriously, if he is halfway sane he isn't going to be offended. He made an offer, not a demand or threat.
    – keshlam
    Aug 28, 2016 at 6:23
  • I see what you mean, thank you! I hope you're right that I'm just worrying too much. And yeah, "looking for something a bit different" or similar is the kind of friendly-but-general response I was looking for.
    – weronika
    Aug 28, 2016 at 20:51

You need to practice keeping your own counsel and kick the habit of blurting everything and confessing everything to your former boss including that you'd rather not work with him. There are people who are eager to confess anything and everything when the cops call them in for interrogation - practice not being one of those.

There are many reasons why you might not want to work for him including the commute, the state's tax rate, the benefits, getting job offers that tickle new career possibilities, etc. Your objectives and your priorities might not mesh with his, and you are under no moral obligation that they mesh.

You are doing your former boss a favor by compelling him to look for and hire somebody he might be happy with, rather than have you working for him as an unwilling subordinate.

  • 1
    Yes, obviously I'm not going to tell him that I don't like working with him, which is exactly why I asked this question! And yes, obviously we'll both be better off if I don't end up working for him, so I have no intention of doing that. Most of your alternative reasons don't work because I would still like his help with finding a similar job, possibly in the same university department, so I can't tell him I have an issue with the commute/taxes/benefits.
    – weronika
    Aug 28, 2016 at 2:02

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