Turning Down the Job Offer

walk away
Modified version of “Walk away (Wong Kar-Wai) by lo_lozd, via Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

During my last year of graduate school, I spent plenty of hours working on getting my next position.  Everyone in my class, too, was working on applications and interviews and discussing with significant others about relocation.  Due to the economy and the state of the job market, we were all abuzz with job anxiety.

So, when I was offered a job in January, why did I turn them down?

I’m not going to go into huge details here – in part because I believe it is best not to call people out when nothing egregious happened.  But I will give generalities and some advice.

(Now, I have a disclaimer.  I come from a privileged place.  I still had four months of school and five or more months of income from my current assistantship.  And while my housing was a bit precarious (once May hit), I could find a short-term lease.  I had some cushion when I was offered that job and turned it down.  Not everyone has that luxury.)

At my interview, (I felt) I aced their questions.  The people who interviewed me, who I would have been working with were nice-seeming.  The library was thrilled to have me as a candidate.  I probably wouldn’t have been miserable in my job.

But there were other things that added up.

I want to work with a diverse patron group, and I also want to live in a diverse community.  I realize that most PWI won’t be ultra-diverse; and I realize that historical redlining still affects current day housing and communities.  So, I’m not likely to find some utopian version of diversity.  But this institution and geographical region were unbelievably (to me) homogeneous.

Then, this library was located in a strange real estate market.  As a young professional – and a young person – I’m not ready to purchase a house.  But this housing market had high rent prices and low mortgages.  My housing situation looked precarious to start.

This precariousness became even more important in my decision to decline the job – when I found out this library refused to negotiate on salary.  I’m a librarian, I understand that libraries across the country are strapped for cash.  I also understand claims that we should have set salaries, rather than negotiable ones – but this job market doesn’t have set salaries.  So, an unwillingness to negotiate even a small increase in salary was strange and strongly put me off.  When a library (or any employer) refuses to negotiate with a female potential employee, it makes the employer seem sexist because so often women are treated differently than men when talking money.  Would this library have put down their foot with a man for a 5% salary increase?  I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.

In the end, I’m without that job.  Yes, I feel guilty.  I know that so many people can’t say no.  I feel unsure.  I don’t know if I might have been okay, that it wouldn’t be so bad.  I felt greedy.  I had turned them down at least in part for financial reasons.

I think it will be awhile before I am no longer conflicted about my decision.  But I keep telling myself that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable having taken the job.  While I didn’t foresee issues with my immediate coworkers and the library wanted me, I had to consider if I would be happy with my decision to take the job.  Did I want to be in a location I didn’t like, paying high rent prices, and working for an employer who gave hints that it might have been (perhaps unconsciously) discriminating against me?  Probably not.

The moral of the story?  Well, if there is a moral, it is: it’s okay to turn down a job offer.  You have to balance your job with your life, your desire for a job and your intuition. Hopefully, then, you can have a job that you like.


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