You Got the Big Job Offer. What If You Don’t Want It?
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You Got the Big Job Offer. What If You Don’t Want It?

You can say no to a new position or assignment, gracefully–and keep your options intact.

Tue, Aug 16, 2022 11:20amGrey Clock 4 min

The plum opportunity you dreamed of is yours: a new job, a stretch assignment, a move to that big office abroad.

What happens if you don’t want it anymore?

Our ambitions are changing. Some of us are rethinking our relationship to work, prioritizing the rest of our lives over that next rung up the ladder. Others are concerned about a potential recession, the sense that if you’re last in, you’ll be first out.

“None of us have felt in control for a long time,” says Daisy Dowling, the chief executive of Workparent, a coaching and consulting company that serves organizations from law firms to sports leagues. “There’s a real sense of, ‘Gosh, darn it, I’m going to do the thing that’s right for me. I’m not going to get pushed around by circumstances anymore.’”

Still, declining an opportunity you raised your hand for, or one that used to be your dream, differs from saying no to pointless busywork or another 6 a.m. meeting. There’s the puzzle of what to say, how to say it. And sometimes there’s an identity crisis.

“Am I not a move-to-London person? Am I unambitious? If I put my hand down for this, will I ever be able to recover the lost ground?” Ms. Dowling says she’s hearing from clients.

It’s totally normal to wade through those questions. But don’t drag the boss or hiring manager along with you. Once you’ve made your choice, be definitive and emotionally neutral. “Upon further reflection, I’ve realized I need to take myself out of the process for personal reasons. This is not right for me,” Ms. Dowling suggests saying. 

Share a few details if you’d like–you need to stay put until your child finishes high school, your partner was recently diagnosed with a health condition. Then pivot, Ms. Dowling says. How can you smooth this transition or help solve this leader’s problem? Maybe you can’t move to Los Angeles full-time, but you’ll fly out once a month to help onboard the new client.

Raul Lorenzana declined more lucrative roles to spend more time with his two daughters.PHOTO: RAUL LORENZANA

In early 2020, Raul Lorenzana told himself that it was time to move up and make more money. Though he loved his job managing a restaurant in Louisiana, he enrolled in his company’s training program to become a director, a more corporate role that would require extensive travel.

Enter Covid-19. Stuck at home, Mr. Lorenzana discovered the joy of spending more time with his daughters, now three and 13, after years of working a busy, unconventional restaurant schedule.

“That year made us realize—made me realize—how little we needed to have a happy life,” he says. “Before that, it was always drive-drive-drive, push-push-push. But there was never a final number, never a goal. It was just more.”

The family crunched numbers to see what they really needed to live on. Mr. Lorenzana opted out of the training program. They moved to Houston to be closer to extended family. There, Mr. Lorenzana turned down several jobs in favor of one that paid 20%-30% less than the other offers but featured a more flexible schedule.

He took one recruiter out for tea to decline, explaining that it was a difficult decision related to his family, not the opportunity. He followed up with a formal letter to his contacts at the company, praising the process and the recruiter’s interactions with him.

“I was actually scared of it. If I get too far up the ladder, what’s expected of me, how could I be with my family?” he says.

If you can, bow out early in a search process, or mention your hesitation upfront, says Paul Pompeo, a recruiter based in Carlsbad, Calif. Bringing up concerns could eliminate you from consideration, but there’s also a chance being transparent would prompt the company to tweak the role in a way that makes it your dream job. The worst possible outcome is to have your “no” come as a total shock after rounds of interviews, he says. That makes you more likely to burn a bridge with that company, or even in the industry at large.

Christine Alemany was initially annoyed when a candidate turned down the marketing role she was offering at a technology company years ago. But the woman had been candid about how conflicted she felt about switching industries, and Ms. Alemany says she appreciated the honesty. That created a trust between them, she says, so she left the door open, telling the candidate to contact her if she changed her mind.

The candidate did, and Ms. Alemany felt comfortable accepting her “yes.” The two went on to work together for several years, says Ms. Alemany, who now runs her own marketing firm in New York City.

For Felami Burgess, a top leadership opportunity collided with concerns about burnout and flexibility.PHOTO: MARIE LAURE-ROUX

Saying no to an opportunity can be agonizing when it shatters longtime aspirations. For years, Felami Burgess, who works as a media-studies professor and runs her own production company, dreamed of ascending to a C-suite role at another organization. After spending much of the pandemic caring for her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, she began applying for jobs this spring. Soon, she was four interviews deep in the running to oversee a nonprofit in Pennsylvania.

“This is an executive-leadership role. I can do this,” she told herself. But as she prepared presentations and travelled from her home in New York to meet with the board, she began to worry about a move to a new state, the possibility of burning out and less flexibility to care for her mother.

Last month, she drafted a note to the directors, telling them she couldn’t continue with the process. As she pressed send, she began to tremble, she says, and then cry. Would an opportunity like this come again? For now, she’s holding fast to the belief that there’s nothing wrong with taking a career timeout.

“It is OK to put your mental health and well-being above all else, above money, above position, above obligation,” she says. “We certainly are free to change our minds.”

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 15, 2022.


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What We Fight About When We Fight About Money

New research tackles the source of financial conflict and what we can do about it

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When couples argue over money, the real source of the conflict usually isn’t on their bank statement.

Financial disagreements tend to be stand-ins for deeper issues in our relationships, researchers and couples counsellors said, since the way we use money is a reflection of our values, character and beliefs. Persistent fights over spending and saving often doom romantic partnerships: Even if you fix the money problem, the underlying issues remain.

To understand what the fights are really about, new research from social scientists at Carleton University in Ottawa began with a unique data set: more than 1,000 posts culled from a relationship forum on the social-media platform Reddit. Money was a major thread in the posts, which largely broke down into complaints about one-sided decision-making, uneven contributions, a lack of shared values and perceived unfairness or irresponsibility.

By analysing and categorising the candid messages, then interviewing hundreds of couples, the researchers said they have isolated some of the recurring patterns behind financial conflicts.

The research found that when partners disagree about mundane expenses, such as grocery bills and shop receipts, they tend to have better relationships. Fights about fair contributions to household finances and perceived financial irresponsibility are particularly detrimental, however.

While there is no cure-all to resolve the disputes, the antidote in many cases is to talk about money more, not less, said Johanna Peetz, a professor of psychology at Carleton who co-authored the study.

“You should discuss finances more in relationships, because then small things won’t escalate into bigger problems,” she said.

A partner might insist on taking a vacation the other can’t afford. Another married couple might want to separate their previously combined finances. Couples might also realize they no longer share values they originally brought to the relationship.

Recognise patterns

Differentiating between your own viewpoint on the money fight from that of your partner is no easy feat, said Thomas Faupl, a marriage and family psychotherapist in San Francisco. Where one person sees an easily solvable problem—overspending on groceries—the other might see an irrevocable rift in the relationship.

Faupl, who specialises in helping couples work through financial difficulties, said many partners succeed in finding common ground that can keep them connected amid heated discussions. Identifying recurring themes in the most frequent conflicts also helps.

“There is something very visceral about money, and for a lot of people, it has to do with security and power,” he said. “There’s permutations on the theme, and that could be around responsibility, it could be around control, it could be around power, it could be around fairness.”

Barbara Krenzer and John Stone first began their relationship more than three decades ago. Early on in their conversations, the Syracuse, N.Y.-based couple opened up about what they both felt to be most important in life: spending quality time with family and investing in lifelong memories.

“We didn’t buy into the big lifestyle,” Krenzer said. “Time is so important and we both valued that.”

For Krenzer and Stone, committing to that shared value meant making sacrifices. Krenzer, a physician, reduced her work hours while raising their three children. Stone trained as an attorney, but once Krenzer went back to full-time work, he looked for a job that let him spend the mornings with the children.

“Compromise: That’s a word they don’t say enough with marriage,” Krenzer said. “You have to get beyond the love and say, ‘Do I want to compromise for them and find that middle ground?’”

Money talks

Talking about numbers behind a behaviour can help bring a couple out of a fight and back to earth, Faupl said. One partner might rue the other’s tightfistedness, but a discussion of the numbers reveals the supposed tightwad is diligently saving money for the couple’s shared future.

“I get under the hood with people so we can get black-and-white numbers on the table,” he said. “Are these conversations accurate, or are they somehow emotionally based?”

Couples might follow tenets of good financial management and build wealth together, but conflict is bound to arise if one partner feels the other isn’t honouring that shared commitment, Faupl said.

“If your partner helps with your savings goals, then that feels instrumental to your own goals, and that is a powerful drive for feeling close to the partner and valuing that relationship,” he said.

A sense of mission

When it comes to sticking out the hard times, “sharing values is important, even more so than sharing personality traits,” Peetz said. In her own research, Peetz found that romantic partners who disagreed about shared values could one day split up as a result.

“That is the crux of the conflict often: They each have a different definition,” she said of themes such as fairness and responsibility.

And sometimes, it is worth it to really dig into the potentially difficult conversations around big money decisions. When things are working well, coming together to achieve these common goals—such as saving for your own retirement or preparing for your children’s financial future—will create intimacy, not money strife.

“That is a powerful drive for feeling close to the partner and valuing that relationship,” she said.


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