In this blog, recruiting specialist Tim Heard addresses a question from a TechRepublic member. Here’s Tim:

I’m not certain if I’m an optimist or a pessimist. There are probably plenty of people who know me well who would guess one or the other, all with valid reasons for doing so.  A totally unrelated discussion for another day is that the split is probably similar as to whether I’m an extrovert or an introvert.  I’m not sure what that means other than that people can know you well and still not know you fully.

What does this have to do with our topic today?  Well, it’s somewhat about optimism. We received the following question from one of our readers:

“By the end of next week I expect to have two offers on the table from companies that are under a lot of pressure to get their positions filled. There is a third company, probably my favorite, which is not under the same constraints and is moving at a very leisurely pace.

What’s the proper etiquette for handling multiple offers and how can I best use that fact to leverage the other firm to move things along, if at all?”

The answer to this question, to some degree, depends on whether one is an optimist or a pessimist, and whether the person is a risk-taker, or likes to play it safe. I’m reminded of a candidate who I interviewed for a senior developer position when I was doing corporate recruiting.  At the end of the afternoon, having met with a couple of managers and some potential peers, he informed me that he anticipated that he would be getting some offers by the end of the week, and that if we wanted to be considered, we would have an offer ready by then.  (This despite the fact that I had informed him that we still had other candidates to interview.)  Not surprisingly, he didn’t get the job, despite his confidence.

One of the things I like to do whenever possible when addressing issues like this is to try to provide you with one or more perspectives other than my own.  While I’m generally confident that my suggestions will be pretty sound, I have been known in the past to offer advice that was soundly criticized by most readers.  Offering varying perspectives will hopefully provide us with good material for discussions afterward as well.

My first subject matter expert is Bob Waldo, a recruiter and staffing consultant with a lot of years of IT staffing under his belt.  Here’s his response:

“You absolutely need to let the third opportunity know of your other activity and the impending offers. While they may not be under the same constraints, if you are a viable candidate (and possibly their top candidate) they need to know of this activity. As for the other opportunities, you inform them that you have other activity, and that you want to see the other opportunities come to closure before making a final decision, if at all possible. If they hold your feet to the fire regarding an answer, then you have some soul searching to do.”

Dan Samenus, another recruiter with plenty of experience under his belt, both as an agency and as a corporate recruiter, offered this advice:

“It does not sound like you do have the offers in hand yet — perhaps they will come together at the same time.

Right now, let your “favorite” company know your status with other interviews; let the other companies know your situation when you get an offer. The bottom line here is open communication and honesty while not muddling things in process. It is reasonable to ask for ten business days to formally accept an offer, but with the pace you state, a company may ask for five days.

Do not rush into something if you aren’t confident in a particular role/company. Leverage your best interests for the long term. Perhaps your favorite company will pick up the pace. Your situation may also allow you to understand additional positive aspects about the other companies they had not revealed initially.”

I told Dan that his response was an example of why it’s great to get more than one perspective, because I’d never suggest to anyone to ask for ten days to make a decision. My experience as a corporate recruiter has generally been that offers were valid for 48 to 72 hours. Sometimes when weekends were involved, the 2 to 3 days might be changed to work days.  Were there instances in which candidates were allowed more time?  Certainly.  However, it would be pretty rare for an employer to agree to more than a week. It all depends on the job market and the strength of the candidate, though.

One thing we all agree on is that it is important to keep the lines of communication open.  I would even say that it would be helpful to let employers (and recruiters) know up front that there are other companies in the mix.  You need to be careful about this though.  I have known candidates or agencies to try to use the existence of fictitious job offers to pressure hiring managers or to negotiate for better offers.  Suffice it to say that nobody likes to be manipulated.

Here are some advantages to keeping open the lines of communication:

  • You will help to foster a good relationship with everyone involved, regardless of the outcome. Nobody likes to be blindsided by an offer or a competitor that they weren’t expecting at the last minute. Keep in mind that your career involves establishing long-term business relationships. The hiring manager you impress today may hire you several years from now, even if you don’t accept the job he offers today with his or her current employer. The recruiter who you impress by the way you conduct yourself may give you a call first when she has a choice position with a great client.
  • There’s a (very slim) chance that you might actually speed up the process of the slow company. (More on that to come.)
  • You might get some feedback that helps you in your decision-making process. I have been known to say to a candidate, “We’re still in the middle of the interview process, and I can’t promise an offer, but I know that the hiring manager really felt you were a good fit for this position.” What that means if you read between the lines is, “Anything can happen, so I can’t promise you an offer, but you are the best candidate there is for this position right now.” Such feedback might just help you decide if you feel like turning down a sure thing in order to wait for the company you really want to work for.

Now, here’s why you’re unlikely to speed up the process. It’s a process. Generally you are not the only candidate in the mix.  Companies are required to establish hiring processes that give everyone who’s qualified for a position a fair shot at it. So, it’s not unusual for a hiring manager or recruiter to have phone-screened quite a few people, and settled on as many as maybe half a dozen internal and external candidates who need to be interviewed in person.  Doing this often takes more time than you might assume because mangers are stretched really thin, and often candidates are too.  As crazy as it sounds, the interview process can regularly take weeks, but sometimes it can take months. Most of the hair I have lost is due from situations in which I have presented exceptional candidates to clients, only to have them take other jobs while the clients completed their interview process. I have unusual looking bald spots on each side of my head that are fist-shaped.  (Should it ever take months? No. But it still does sometimes.)

Now back to being optimistic or pessimistic. The past several years have been really rough. The fact that you are even posing this question makes me optimistic. It would have been almost unheard of, even a year ago, for an applicant to be entertaining two offers at once and have another potential offer on the horizon.  The fact is that I’m actually hearing similar stories more regularly these days. I am very cautiously optimistic that we are actually well past having bottomed out, and actually in the process of an economic recovery.  (A painfully slow recovery, but a recovery nonetheless.)  When I see Dan and other contacts of mine blog about open positions, it encourages me even more.

You are in a very enviable situation right now.  My gut still tells me that going with a sure thing is going to be the best course of action right now. You almost have to, given the risks involved if you turn down one of your current offers and the other one doesn’t materialize.  However, as Bob put it, maybe it’s time to do some soul searching.

Good luck.  I hope that things work out well for you, whatever your decision!