Just Say No – Sometimes it’s the best thing you can do for your career

By Hallie Crawford

Many of us are taught to always say yes, especially when it comes to our career. You have probably heard “a job is a job” and “don’t let an opportunity pass you by”, and so on. Yet sometimes, saying no can be the best thing you can do for your career. The key is to know when and how to do it.

When can you say no?

Here are 6 situations when it is better to say no than to say yes regarding your career:

1) Say no to a job that is not a fit. In the long run if you are not going to be happy it is not worth it. If you have to take a job to remain or become financially stable that is one thing, but have a plan for that. Only stay for a short time, work on your ideal career on the side, do what you need to do to move into something that would be a fit. But in the long run, it is better to hold out for the right fit than just taking the next thing that comes your way. You will be happier, more productive and more successful. Here is an example: My client Hailey in New York had an interview for a business development position. Through coaching with me she became very clear about what she wanted and after the first interview, she knew the job was not a fit. She decided not to go on the second interview. She politely declined the interview, said thank you and sent me an email saying it was one of the most empowering things she had ever done.

2) Say no to a new project that is not going to help you in your career progression. If it is not going to help you achieve your long term career goals, why do it? Identify the purpose for working on that project and how it will help support where you are going long term. Will you learn a new skill, gain new experience, meet new people or gain exposure to another side of the business? Any of these reasons are valid, but you need to know why you are doing it if you are going to invest the time. Do not spend the time if it is not going to support your goals. This could distract you from other opportunities to gain more relevant experience. There may be other reasons you say yes. For example, you need to pitch in to be a team player so you agree but – you choose to limit your time on that project perhaps. If you are saying no, speak with your boss or the person running the project about why so they understand. Politely and professionally decline.

3) Say no to a corporate culture that is not a fit. My client Ben had just left a bad situation when he started coaching with me. His boss was difficult, the work environment was unpleasant, and so on. While we were coaching he identified a great job he was very excited about. But after the interview he was disappointed. He was able to tell that this company’s culture at this position was similar to his last job. He knew he could not take it. While it was tough for him to say no because he had been so excited in the first place, we knew he could not just talk himself into it hoping it would be better. The best thing to do was to say no.

4) Say no when it is not within your skill set. If you are asked to do something outside of your range – your skill set or experience – consider saying no unless it is an opportunity for you to enhance that skill set. Client Casey has found her ideal career, she is thrilled. Recently she emailed me to explain how saying no was one of the best decisions she has made. She was asked to do a project at work that was completely over her head. It was not her expertise and she was not comfortable in pretending it was. She wanted to be honest. She told her boss “That sounds like a great project, but it is something I am not particularly skilled in so I’m not completely comfortable. I would love to be able to do something like that in the future, do you provide training on this or is there a way I can be involved in the project on a lower level to learn and get my feet wet.” Her boss appreciated her honesty and agreed to send her to a class to learn more.

5) Say no to doing something unethical so you do not get caught in a bad situation. This is straightforward. And typically we know in our gut when something is wrong, we just do not always listen to it. If your boss or a peer asks you to do something you sense is not ethical, say no. Better to avoid a sticky situation than get caught in something that could ruin your career.

6) Sometimes saying no does open the opportunity you were looking for. It can be scary to say no to a job that is offered, especially if you have been looking for a long time. While I was working with client Anthony on finding his ideal career, he had two job opportunities that he was interviewing for, one week apart. He was offered the first job before he had heard back from the second. Something did not feel right about the first job, and he felt like he should turn it down. He went with his gut instinct, which was difficult because he did not know what would happen with the second position. As it turned, he did land the second job and has been very successful in it for 8 years. Sometimes we need to listen to our gut instinct and say no even when it is scary.

Keep in mind that saying no is sometimes necessary in order to progress in your career and achieve your career goals. You say it politely, professionally, up front and before another decision is made based on your response. A lengthy explanation is not usually required; a succinct answer usually will suffice unless you feel your reasoning behind your decision is necessary. Keep it short and sweet unless you need to say more.


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