Job Offers and College Admissions

I was doing my monthly poking around in Quora when I found the age-old question “How should I handle multiple job offers?” I started writing a response there but decided to keep it for ourselves, because I hit this scenario on virtually every position we work on, from exec to junior-level tech: a candidate starts looking for a job, gets a job offer, and wants to wait to make a decision until their other interviews/offers come through. Sometimes they think that will just be a few days: this person (who, to be fair, reads as somewhat new to the working world) wants a month.

Here’s what I tell every candidate who thinks this way: the job search process is not like the college admissions process, where every letter arrives at the same time. It’s easy to understand why you would want to wait until you had all the data and then give every company an¬†answer on the same day, but that’s not how the real world works. You’re going to need to make decisions with limited information.

From the company’s perspective, letting you wait a month doesn’t make sense.

  • In almost all cases, the company or the group you’re talking with doesn’t have unlimited headcount. They’re slating you for Job X. When you are holding Job X, they can’t put someone else in Job X, and Job X is not getting done. They need a decision. (Google’s the only exception in the software industry I know of here, since they hire for the company and place you later, at least at the individual contributor level.)

  • It’s not in their best interest to give you a month. Yes, they know you’re asking for it to finish other interviews. Every company knows that you might be interviewing other places, but once they give you an offer, they don’t want you to have infinite time to consider every option, and they don’t want to be the oldest option in the book. They also don’t want to be part of a protracted negotiation for the “best” offer.

So you’re not going to get to investigate every single job offer you might get over an open-ended period. You’re going to have to make a decision. ¬†Accept, embrace, plan.

Also keep in mind that asking for more time is a negotiation point, and you might get that instead of something else with more long-term value (like salary). You can sometimes reverse this, as referenced in a previous post about negotiation, by making the trade explicit: “if you can pay me $5K more, I can decide now, else I need a few days.”

BTW, you probably can’t plan ahead on this, by scheduling your interviews in your assumed order of interest, because the followup steps won’t come together that cleanly.

(There was a time where career departments at top schools could keep companies from requiring candidates to make decisions by a certain day, but I have no idea if that’s still in vogue. Once you’re out of school, that world goes away.)