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An offer you can refuse: When to turn down a job opportunity

Turning down a job offer can seem risky and reckless. No matter how long you've been on the hunt, saying no to a steady paycheck just seems wrong, especially with the job market still struggling to reach full recovery.

In the long run, however, accepting the wrong position can hinder your career more severely than passing up a viable opportunity. Here are several reasons why turning down a job offer might actually be your best move:

Opportunity blocks
Saying yes to an offer means saying no to any others that might be just around the corner. Especially if you recently started your search, passing up a reasonable but uninspiring opportunity might turn out to be, in effect, a very wise investment. On the other hand, if the offer is the only nibble you've had in months of determined searching, rejecting it is a risk.

If you're considering accepting an offer despite serious misgivings -- thinking that you can always bail out after a few months, for example -- don't bother. Doing so not only creates a question mark on your résumé, but it also subjects you to the challenges of starting a new job without yielding the benefits of sticking around.

Waning excitement
Ask yourself which job you're really considering: the one you imagined when you first learned of the opening or the one that you've since learned much more about? Has your enthusiasm intensified or faded over the course of the hiring process? Any loss of interest is likely to intensify during your first -- and potentially only -- months on the job.

Missing fit
Don't let a generous offer blind you to subjective factors such as cultural fit. How comfortable have you felt during your visits to the office and in your interactions with your potential boss?

Don't overestimate your ability to adapt to work and communication styles that don't match your own. In the long run, such intangibles are likely to be much more important to you than the exact number of hours you work, vacation days you enjoy or dollars you earn.

Dead-end ahead
An otherwise suitable job might not advance you along a satisfying career path. If the apparent potential for advancement leaves you feeling claustrophobic, you're likely better off continuing your search. After all, the most important aspect of your next position might be the breadth and quality of the jobs it prepares you for. Make sure you understand the advancement, training and development opportunities your prospective employer will provide.

Old hat
Do you find yourself focusing on everything about the potential job -- commute, compensation, schedule, culture, dress code -- except the work itself? Take a closer look at the duties that will make up a typical day.

In some cases, a role that seems like a perfect fit won't provide enough fresh challenges. A role that doesn't require you to keep learning and growing might not keep you engaged for long. If no element of the prospective position makes you at least a little bit nervous -- in a good way --you might want to wait for a stiffer challenge.

When in doubt, ask
Don't hesitate to talk to the hiring manager about any issues that are getting between you and a decision. Some job candidates, fearing that any misgivings could insult the employer, keep their concerns to themselves. All that does is keep them from making a fully informed decision about the offer and, if they decide to accept it, gets their new professional relationships off to a secretive start.

If the company values you enough to have made you an offer, it will likely be eager to address your concerns. Employers are often willing to negotiate starting salary, for example, if you're hoping for a few more bucks.

If you still have trouble making a decision after following up, forget for a moment about the position in question. Write down the most important qualities of your next job. Then re-evaluate the position with those aspects in mind. Doing so might help you cut through distracting factors and get closer to an opportunity that suits your needs and goals, whether that's the offer at hand or the next one that comes along.

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