One of the most common points of confusion with new interpreters is how to decline a job with an agency. If you’ve never worked freelance before, saying “no” can be a strange new experience. If you’re a people pleaser this can be even more cringe inducing. For many of my colleagues entering the field, they intend to show commitment and gratitude in partnerships. Refusing a welcomed offer can often seem confronting and insulting. 

The great news is, that saying “no” is such a normal part of this work most colleagues eventually become quite comfortable and confident with it. We couldn’t possibly do every job. Any agency operating with a pool of freelancers is expecting multiple no’s throughout the day. In fact, most agencies welcome many categories of refusing offers and appreciate that it can improve your relationship with them. 

Some potential reasons why you might decline a job are:

  • You’re unavailable
  • You’re not comfortable with the content/environment
  • You don’t/can’t/won’t work with the service user/client
  • You’re already booked
  • You don’t feel well
  • You just don’t want to. 

First and foremost, know that you never owe an agency an explanation. Seriously. If they ask why for the sake of understanding your boundaries better, enter at your own risk. You are free to disclose as much or as little as you want. With agencies I’ve just partnered with, I tend to consider things from their side and do try to explain my reasoning here and there to give them a better sense of my practice. With agencies I’ve worked with for years, they’ve often already predicted my response and won’t care for any explanation. Of course I never want to come off as cold or deliberately rude at their requests but I keep my disclosures in check as I know the humans on the other end of the email may make their own assumptions… as humans often do.

If you do decide to disclose however, consider why you’re doing it and if the information you’re providing is an overshare. I’ve had some colleagues ramble off their 100 reasons for needing to decline a job in an email only to realize that this was indicative of a newer practice and if they weren’t familiar with agency etiquette, I might have to work harder to educate them in other areas with clients. An overshare with an agency isn’t the end of the world but reducing your sharing can help establish you as a well informed practitioner in their eyes. 

So, how do you politely decline a job?

You can always simply respond with “I am unavailable”. While this is a perfectly acceptable response, if an agency is receiving this for every job they may begin to assume that your schedule is increasingly limiting the potential for picking up work with them. It may not be the message you want to send. It shouldn’t but may come off cold depending on your positioning with the agency. 

Most of the interpreters I’ve worked with over the years have profusely apologized and I hate it. It’s one practice that I can hardly bear but I understand why it’s done. We apologize for everything, all the time. Saying “Sorry, I’m not” is the equivalent of “I’m afraid I can’t.”

I use sorry in this fashion often with agencies. I appreciate them emailing and I understand they’ll need to reach out to someone else next. However, no one is expecting me to keep my schedule entirely clear to remain at their beck and call. The over emphasis  or insistence of “sorry” tells me that we clearly have two different perspectives that do not meet in the middle. They perceive their worth as a practitioner as something I can decide. 

So here’s my advice for the best way to decline a job:

  • Stop apologizing and be direct
  • Thank them for considering you
  • Offer to be helpful if it’s a niche request for a space you dominate

Here’s some additional options I’ve used over the years:

  1. If I’m unavailable
    • I’m not, but I have a few hours later in the day if it gets pushed. 
    • Already booked at that time but if it’s ongoing, I’d love to check it out!
  2. If I don’t feel comfortable
    • This is a really awesome request but it’s a topic I really wouldn’t be comfortable doing.
    • I don’t think I’d be comfortable taking this on alone. If I can get a Deaf interpreter team, I’d love to!
    • I haven’t played around in this space enough to feel confident accepting the offer right now. If you’re struggling to find someone, I can ask a colleague who is very seasoned in this arena.
  3. If you can’t work with the client
    • I’d love to but that client and I are really not a great fit.
    • Knowing this client and I have struggled to make it work in the past, I’d rather not represent you for this gig. I think you could find a more preferred fit. 
  4. If you’re already booked but would prefer to do that job instead
    • I’m actually in another gig with you #0000 at that time. I would love to switch into this though if finding coverage for that would be easier 
    • I’ve got another gig happening at the same time but if doable, I think I’d be a better fit here. Give me an hour to get back to you?

Leave a Reply