Career resources content posted on NEJM CareerCenter is produced by freelance health care writers as an advertising service of NEJM Group, a division of the Massachusetts Medical Society and should not be construed as coming from, or representing the views of, the New England Journal of Medicine, NEJM Group, or the Massachusetts Medical Society

By Nisha Mehta, MD, a physician leader whose work focuses on physician empowerment, community building, and career longevity in medicine

The job search is hectic and stressful, and we put so much effort into finding the right job and trying to get the job offer that we rarely think about how to decline an offer. And yet, it is prudent to do this well.

Many people mistake dragging their feet on contracts while they entertain other offers, and then just letting the discussions fade away instead of formally telling a potential employer that they’re not interested. I’ve been guilty of this myself. In general, it’s always good to close the loop and make sure everyone is on good terms. We know how frustrating it can be when an employer doesn’t get back to us about the status of an application, and this goes both ways. Each side invests time and money into the process, and in many cases, other decisions are contingent on the hire.

Additionally, you never know if your paths with the people you interviewed will cross again.  Maybe the job you took instead doesn’t work out, and this was a close second choice, and you want to approach them again. While you are looking in a particular job market, and the partners at the practice you turned down go to school with your children. Or perhaps you find yourself searching for a new job and someone you interviewed with is now associated with another practice you’re interviewing at or happens to have been a co-chief resident with members of the new practice.

In reality, the physician world can seem very small. Although there may be about 1 million practicing physicians in the United States, you’ll see that worlds often collide throughout your career. In today’s interconnected world, it’s more and more likely that someone you interact with in one context will turn up in another. Maybe your practices will be part of the same network, or maybe you’ll see people at a conference.

Consequently, it’s best to let the other party know as soon as you’re sure you’re not interested so that they can move on with the hiring process and adjust any related plans accordingly. Furthermore, how you do it, matters.  If this is a group you’ve spent a lot of time talking to who was recruiting you heavily, get on the phone with them and explain why you went in another direction instead of notifying them via an email or text. Take the time to reiterate that you appreciated the offer and their time, and hope to stay in touch, if there’s constructive feedback, you can give them about why the job ended up not being the most attractive offer, do so (tactfully). Maybe it’s just that your spouse couldn’t find a job in that town or you decided you wanted to move closer to family, but sometimes it is about the salary or the call structure or a vibe you got at the practice. Most groups will appreciate the feedback so that they know how to market themselves in the future.

The hiring process is very personal, and chances are, you’ve gotten to know multiple people on the other side of the process very well, and it likely warrants a few personalized messages to express appreciation, rather than one communication to the head of the group. Maybe there’s an HR director or realtor you’ve worked with extensively, or a partner who really took the time to answer all of your questions or host you at their home for dinner. Take the time to email them separately and let them know how much you appreciated their help. Ideally, don’t drag your feet on this because you’ll likely forget to do it later. As an added reason to do this, if you ever need to interact with or ask a favor from any of these people in the future, it’ll be a lot less awkward to reach out.

When in doubt, think about how you’d like to be treated if you were the one who was being declined in that particular situation. Who would you like to hear from, and what feedback would you have wanted based on your conversations and interactions? Although these things add yet another item to your to-do lists, your networks are your greatest assets, and ensuring positive residual feelings will likely end up being a worthwhile investment.