Know When To Say “No”: Job Seekers


“Are you still a firm candidate for this role?”

I hesitated. Everything I had found out about the school seemed promising.

The head was remarkably upfront about the stage of the “journey” the school was at; the students who led me on the obligatory tour were respectfully blunt about the school’s shortcomings; and being allowed to sit in the staffroom between tasks had been a delicious revelation into the salacious love lives of the junior members of staff. 

And yet, something didn’t feel right. 

“No,” I said.

This is never an easy answer to give. The high stakes of job hunting and the stress of an interview situation can make it tempting to say what you know the interview panel wants to hear.

But this can sometimes lead you to make the wrong choice for yourself. So when should you say “no” to a job?

Education insists upon an immediate and irreconcilable response to a job offer. But there are many opportunities throughout the application process where you can pause to information gather and review.

Here is your timeline for opting out, and what you should do at each stage to help you make the right decision.

Prior to application: find out as much as you can
  • Forensically examine the school website, read the Ofsted reports, and consider what is relevant to your prospective role. 
  • Talk to someone who works there. Use your networks to reach out, and ask questions you wouldn’t dare ask at interview. What time does everyone start and leave? How well do senior leadership look after staff?
Prior to your interview: reflect on what you know
  • Consider how the school’s communication has been so far. Has it been clear? Timely? What have you been asked to do for the tasks, and how long were you given to prepare? What does this tell you about their care for work-life balance?
  • Think, too, about your own non-negotiables? What are the things that you will need guarantees on? Some examples include: salary, working hours, flexibility and support to complete external work or passion projects.
Arriving for interview: stay alert
  • As you come across staff, look at them carefully. Are they moving briskly and purposefully? Are they frazzled? Do they smile and stop to say hello? Are they interacting positively with the students? What do these behaviours tell you about how you would fit in?
During the interview: ask your questions
  • Does what the interviewers tell you match up with what you have seen and experienced at the school so far? Think about the dynamic between the panel – is anyone dominating? Is anyone being shut down? What might this suggest about the harmony of the school?
The offer: your final opportunity to say ‘no’ 
  • Convey your non-negotiables. Are the hiring managers able to accommodate them? 

Even following all this advice, it can be difficult to say “no”. To make sure you don’t make a rushed decision at the offer stage, a simple “Can I have an hour to discuss it with my partner?” could afford you this space you need to mull things over.

A school is not just any workplace; a school is something special. If you intuitively know that you don’t belong, saying “no” is always the right answer.

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