In the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter I introduced a new feature recently: the Readers’ Forum. I ask you how to answer a question, solve a problem or deal with a situation. So step right up…

In the July 14 edition, I published a Forum question from a new college graduate. She enthusiastically tells a company she wants to work there. So the company makes an offer — and thinks the applicant’s acceptance is a foregone conclusion! Meanwhile, the new grad has two other jobs cooking… and asks for an extension on the time to make a decision. The company gets ticked off…

I’m a fresh grad and I just received a job offer from a company I really want to work for (Company A), but I have a pending interview at Company B.  Company A gave me 24 hours to make a decision, and just before the deadline ended, I asked for an extension of less than a week’s time, explaining that I want to evaluate all my options.

The person who interviewed me then told me they were surprised about this because in the interview I told them that I would be prioritizing Company A over my pending application at Company C. But at that time I didn’t see Company B as an option yet. She said that one of the reasons they offered me the job is because I seemed to have a strong interest in the company and because I sent them a thank-you note that reiterated my interest. In fact, they were leaning toward another candidate but because I seemed “100%” about it, they chose me. Nonetheless, she gave me an extension for my final decision.

Should I apologize to her? I still want to work for the company, and I am planning on confirming it in a few days. I don’t want to have any bad blood between us. Did I mislead her in the interview when I told her my thoughts at that time? Should I not have sent a thank-you note? I thought these were the things interviewees usually said/did during interviews. Could they rescind the offer because my interest level waned a bit after they gave the offer? What should I do?

Whoo-wee! Good news, bad news! Did this new grad blow it? I’ve already shared my thoughts with her via e-mail, and I’ll post what I said later on. I even wrote an article about this sort of situation… quite some time ago.

But this is the Readers’ Forum. And you’re up next… What’s up with this situation? What would you tell this new grad? Was she wrong to express her interest during the interview? Or does the company representative have a screw loose? Is an apology due?

21 Comments
  1. As someone who has been on multiple job interviews, has told multiple companies of my interest in working for them, has sent many a thank-you note, and *still* has yet to receive even one job offer, I’d say the company has a right to be upset; and, this person is probably spoiled and has not been job-searching as long as many of us have.

  2. Apparently this letter-writer sent us both her question, because I received it too! I posted my answer to her here:
    http://askamanager.blogspot.com/2009/07/did-i-offend-company-that-just-offered.html

  3. Better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission, I would have accepted the offer in the time allowed and if something else comes up afterwords you than can make you decision. The employer will have no guilt of laying you off or terminating if things are not right and they can always find a reason during the probation period. Unprofessional? Bull shit, You have to take care of number 1 FIRST

  4. Am I understanding the timeline correctly — they were wanting a decision within 24 hours of the time the offer was made? That’s pretty demanding.

    I can understand the interviewer being surprised, if the candidate was indicating that this company was her number one choice. But there’s more to a job offer than which company you’ll work for. You also have to evaluate salary, benefits, and the exact job you’ll be doing. Starting date and relocation issues can also be considerations.

    There may be more to this than we know from the candidate’s description. But I suspect the interviewer is trying to intimidate the ‘recent college graduate’. Using the thank-you note against her like this is b.s.

  5. As someone who is both a hiring manager and currently looking for an upgrade in employment, I don’t believe the grad did anything wrong. I have had my top candidate decline the offer, sometimes to work in the same office for a department that he/she thought was a better fit. I don’t begrudge these folks, they made the choice that was right for them. They are happy and I survived to hire another day. I am even helping to mentor one of them now, because she is an asset to the organization and her success is our success.

    If a potential employer wants me to put them ahead of myself BEFORE I start working for them, what will they expect AFTER I begin?

  6. I agree with James. They were playing this person. 24 hours notice for a job that may last years and have a profound effect on this person’s career trajectory is unreasonable.

    It’s very important to understand that a job interview is adversarial. Each side is attempting to secure the best possible deal with much of the power weighted on the corporate side.

    The fact that this organization plays these games with their candidates is good indication of what kind of treatment this person can expect if they accept the job.

  7. I think the applicant made a newbie mistake by disclosing too much information when she told A that she was also applying to C but she preferred A. She was right to tell A how much she was interested in A and that it’s her top choice (no matter how many other places she was interviewing), but disclosing any details of your job search to a hiring company is a big mistake. It was tacky of them to use it against her, though, and makes me wonder what it would be like to work there.

    Once the offer was made she should have said she was carefully considering all aspects of the decision to undertake a career there and that would take her X days. Extending the number of days was a mistake, I think, because it makes her look flakey. And if I were a hiring manager and had an applicant who couldn’t or wouldn’t make a definite decision in 2 – 7 days, I would move on to my second choice.

  8. As an employer, I’ve had this happen to me a couple of years ago when a candidate I was making an offer to told me that he was waiting to see if he got a better offer from another potential employer.

    It made me feel that he would only come work for us if he didn’t get anything better. I turned around and hired the second in line. It turned out that a couple of weeks later I was in need of another employee, so I called him back and he accepted our offer immediately.

    Actually, he turned out to be one of the best hires that we made. However it did make me feel like second best.

  9. I don’t think the recent college grad made a mistake at asking for a time extension to make her decision. She is making a serious choice about her career path, and it is important to take some time, not too much, to go over things to be sure. A very respectable company extended an offer to me recently, and they actually insisted that I take a few days to think about the offer and talk it over with my family because they wanted me to be certain that I was ready to accept the offer.

    I took the days to think things over and ask a few more questions of the hiring manager, and I’m glad that I took that time. During the initial excitement of receiving the job offer, I really was not thinking of everything other than how great it was to get the offer. Having a few days really grounded me back in reality, so I could focus on the important aspects of making my career switch.

    Now that I think about it, no job that I have ever held has required an answer in as little as 24 hours.

    I think any reasonable HR person or hiring manager understands that most job candidates are working more than one avenue at the same time. Talk about putting all of your eggs into one basket. Why would any job seeker only apply and interview with one company? Would a successful and competitive company really want to hire someone with such little initiative?

    Demanding a response within 24 hours is a bit unreasonable unless there was some discussion and agreement during the interview that there was an urgent need, at which time I would have been very careful to ask further questions. We are talking about your career here.

    I do understand what some of the other writers a referring to when they state that at least a job offer was made. Some people are in positions where they desperately need a job because they must put food on the table, but I don’t get the sense that this question came from someone in that predicament. Sometimes you do need to take a job just to get by. Other people, even today, are fortunate enough to have multiple offers or time to be thorough in their search.

    One thing about the 24 hour answer timeframe that bothers me is that it seems like a tactic a used car salesperson would employ. They don’t want to give you enough time to fully inspect everything and notice the less desirable aspects or form too many questions. The fact that the HR rep extended the time is positive. Maybe he or she is being told to fill that position right now or else, but that is not your career issue, it is the rep’s issue.

    My advice would be to try and make your decision within the new time frame. Either way you decide, I think it would be best to express your gratitude for the the extension and the time the company spent throughout the hiring process. I don’t think it can ever hurt to express gratitude, even when you decline an offer, because you never know if you’ll meet again or who that person knows. Good luck with you career decisions. I think it was most difficult for me to understand my first job as a career when I first came out of college. I was so focused on just getting hired that I completely neglected looking out for myself at that stage.

  10. I agree with Tyler, James and Mike. The employer sound like “hey, we give you the opportunity and you bastard”. If the company wants to get rid of the employee, if you are not good at your work, it will fast forget about your interest.

    They only think about your interest in terms of “you are going to work harder for me for less”.

    -We offered me the job is because you seemed to have a strong interest in the company.
    + Oh, that’s bad, I think you offered me the job because I’m the best candidate for it, I think you should select a new candidate.

    If you can, go for another opportunity, if you are good you will have no problems.

    @Michelle, well, maybe that’s what was true. I take this work because I can’t take a better one.What’s wrong whit that? What’s better? Lying?

  11. Ahh, the 24-hour “exploding offer”… Naturally it is perfectly legitimate, and even expected, that the candidate evaluate all her options before making a decision. The hiring manager knows this, they’re just using dodgy negotiation tactics to apply pressure on the (inexperienced) candidate.

    My advice: don’t let yourself be pressured by their tactics. They chose you because you are the best candidate, not because they felt like doing you a favour.

    Just keep in mind that if you do end up accepting the offer, you shouldn’t be surprised if you encounter this kind of behaviour further down the road…

  12. A number of good observations shared already. 1st, an apology is not needed. She did nothing wrong. Yes, the employer could recind the offer, but it sounds like the employer is invested in her as the candidate. The 24-hours could be associated with still being able to get the other candidate if this new grad now rejects the offer. Last, sounds like the person making the offer went to bat internally to extend this offer and the fact taht the candidate now wants to “consider other options” exposes the person making the offer to some challenges internally (real or imagined).

  13. I always ask for a written copy of the offer, and a copy of their employment agreement. That always causes a few days’ delay. And I’ve sometimes been questioned about the request to see the employment agreement, but never refused. If any had refused the copy of the agreement, it would have meant it contained things they didn’t want me to look too closely.

    I’ve been doing consulting work and once turned down a project because of the employment agreement: it amounted to a “we own the world, and anything you claim as yours needs to specified in detail, in writing”

  14. I agree with G: it is a mistake to say “yours is the company I really want to work for.” I have my clients say, “your company is one of my top choices to work for” rather than identifying any company as their first choice.

  15. I agree that the only mistake the candidate made was in saying that Company A was the 1st option. Beyond that, the organization (or the HR rep) is trying to pressure the candidate unreasonably.

    2 or 3 days to make a decision of this magnitude is more than reasonable. Better yet, for a recent grad, a week would give them time to talk to the requisite friends and family.

    The interviewer should not be surprised by a candidate being prudent and deliberate, and the candidate should be concerned about if this attitude is merely that of the interviewer, or part of the larger corporate culture.

  16. I think the issue isn’t so much that they gave her a deadline (which they then extended at her request), but rather that she first told them that they were their first choice, but then said she needed more time because she was waiting on other offers. I think it’s fine — desirable, even — to ask for more time to consider an offer, but I think she made a mistake in mentioning that it was because she was waiting on other offers. It made her earlier statement about them being the first choice sound disingenuous.

  17. It is clear that the company wants this candidate more than he wants them. They probably have numerous other candidates that would jump at the opportunity. The fact that they gave him an extension is evidence of that.
    I do think it is unreasonable to expect a response within 24 hours.

    It isn’t clear to me where in the interview offer stage the other company’s are? I think this candidate should have tried to expedite the interview process with the other companies explaining that he/she is really interested in their firm and opportunity but has an offer on the table that he needs to respond to in short order. He can then assess if it is worth the risk of asking company A for an extension and how much of an extension he will likely need. This is probably water over the dam at this point.

    Company A will get over their upset at not having you jump at their opportunity if/when you get on board and demonstrate your good work and how excited you are at adding value to their firm.

    It is like asking someone out on a date and having them say let me think about it and see if a better opportunity comes along.

    In a tight market they’ve decided you are worth the wait! Congrats!!

    Just remember they can pull the offer off the table at any time.

  18. Lots of great points – some not so obvious at first glance of this situation. Here’s some of what I wrote to this new grad when I first rec’d her note:

    “No, I don’t think you did anything wrong. It was a bit presumptuous of Company A to expect an immediate decision. Expressing your enthusiasm is a good thing, but it does not bind you to a decision while you are talking with other companies… It’s not a good idea to imply a decision during the interview process. Saying you’d like the job does not mean you accept an unknown offer… So you can say you want to work there, then explain that you’d like to study the details of the offer… that gives you more time.

    “If another opportunity intervenes, there’s nothing wrong with [revealing] that, but in brief only. I just got another e-mail from a reader with the exact opposite problem. He was told he’d get an offer, then they put him on hold because they met other candidates… it happens all the time.

    “…If you accept the job with A, my inclination would be to accept enthusiastically but do not refer to what happened. Then be a great employee right off the bat. Better to let them see how you feel, than to start explaining it…”

    I don’t think an apology is owed. It’s good to be gracious, but it’s also important to remember that this is business. And I agree with others who point out this new grad is still learning how to deal with employers. It’s not wise to suggest you will accept ANY offer until you actually see it in writing.

    Here’s the article I was referring to: Juggling Job Offers. http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/hajuggling.htm

    Lots of people have used this approach to deal with similar situations.

    Some will disagree with the rational decision process I discuss in that article. Unless you have other bona fide offers, sometimes you have to make a binary decision. And if another, better offer comes along later, you have a (possibly painful) decision to make.

  19. Nick, as always, is more eloquent. Here’s my take:

    – No apology; a 24 rush decision shows they want to lock you in, which means they want you to join. Once a company wants to hire you, it’s hard for them to let go until you say no (or let too much time lapse.

    You are a new grad starting out, so there is a lot more angst with the first job. After you’ve had a few, you will feel different. Remember this: do you think they will “give you time” when they decide to lay you off without notice? Of course not – it’s employment at will.

    And yes, they can rescind a job offer at any time; I’ve know dozens of people who got job offers, only to see them later rescinded (leaving them in a lurch.) Do you think the company cared about “hard feelings”? Hell no.

    I would accept offer A, but continue interviewing with B. If B turns out well, then you switch. If not, then you have a job to fall back into.

  20. Oh, by the way, there are a lot of companies out there that think “Given the economy, you should kiss our shoes and accept immediately.”

    They are dumbfounded when applicants want time to think it over.

    They don’t get that it is actually a bigger decision for the applicant than the company.

  21. I don’t think any apologies are due but I would caution the grad to be careful in the future about saying so much that it may easily be misunderstood. While some may say the company should apologize for giving such a short deadline, I think she handled it well.

    Those fist few days should be where she shows that she is professional and can do the job well. In a way once she starts as an employee, the gloves are off and time for the rubber to meet the road. I wish good luck in the position and hope it is all she wants it to be.

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