Career Poll: Take a Mediocre Job Offer?

Time to analyze the “Career Poll” entry I posted last month — and publish a new one for your contemplation!  As a refresher, here’s the poll question I threw out to you all back in late October…

“If you had a so-so job offer in hand, but a much more promising interview coming up in a week, how would you handle it?”

The five response choices were:

1) No-brainer; take the “bird in the hand”
2) Try to stall Company #1 for a week
3) Be honest with Company #1; ask for time
4) Accept Job #1, then renege if #2 arrives
5) Don’t settle; hold out for your dream!

To date, 45 people have weighed in on this particular question, and while it’s tough to see what’s going in in the small graphic below, you can click here to cast your own vote or access the full set of results.

The Analysis? For starters, this poll question wasn’t as “hypothetical” as usual, because at the time I authored it I actually had several clients lucky enough to be receiving (or close to receiving) multiple job offers — and who were agonizing over how to field these opportunities, given that the timelines in question didn’t always overlap in cooperative fashion.  And while I know it’s tough for many unemployed professionals to sympathize with those folks fortunate enough to have such a choice to make in today’s tight market, I assure you it can be a very traumatic situation.  Over the years, I’ve witnessed many cases where the possibility of “buyer’s remorse” in these cases can be an extraordinarily stressful and paralyzing experience for an individual.  If and when you should find yourself in this type of situation, trust me, you’ll understand!

Back to the poll, though.  This time around, I think the masses actually got it wrong in terms of the majority vote.   The most common answer selected in the poll, out of the five options, was option #2, the one that suggested you try to stall employers for a week once they’ve extended a formal offer.  A full 40% of you voted for this option.  And while this approach might make sense if we happened to be in a “seller’s market” with a low unemployment rate, right now, my personal belief is that it’s a very risky strategy to pursue.

Why is this the case?  Because as unfair as it may seem, especially if a company has subjected you to multiple interview rounds and months of hurry-up-and-wait behavior, most employers are still going to expect an almost instantaneous answer once they pop the question and offer you the assignment.  Once they arrive at the decision that you’re the anointed one, they (like most of us, as consumers) expect instant gratification and will assume you’re going to say yes to them — since you’ve most likely come this far without expressing any serious reservations about the job, plus, they also know it’s a tough market out there.  They’re itching to put this particular “hiring need” to bed and move on to lots of other pressing problems.

So while in most cases, you’d probably have no problem getting the employer to grant you 24-48 hours to talk to your family about the decision, and to review the final written offer, asking for a full week could potentially raise all kinds of red flags.  Are you indecisive?  Have you been insincere about your interest in the job?  Are you playing games with them to gain negotiating leverage?  Are you entertaining another offer you’re significantly more interested in, suggesting that you consider their offer to be a “sloppy seconds” scenario?

While these fears on the employer’s part aren’t ALWAYS fatal to the negotiating process, raising these suspicions certainly doesn’t bode well for your candidacy, either.  So unless you are a master of diplomatic finesse or have a set of skills the company truly can’t live without, stalling for a week should be tried only as a very last resort, in most cases.  It’s often better, I’ve found, to take the “bird in the hand” rather than holding out for another pending opportunity down the road that may (or very easily may not) materialize in the form of a viable offer.  Or to cheerfully accept the “second choice” opportunity and then resign should an even better alternative materialize a week, a month, or a year later.  I know this rubs up against some of the ethical principles many of you hold as loyal, committed professionals, but times have changed out there.  Just as many companies today will cut you and your salary loose at a moment’s notice, the moment they feel it becomes a business necessity, you’ve got to reserve the reciprocal right to walk away from a less-than-desirable job and do what’s best for you and your family, should a better assignment materialize.  It will sting at first, and you’ll feel bad about it, but it happens all the time — and trust me, they’ll get over it.

Most importantly, it’s the best way to preserve YOUR leverage in these situations and make sure the final decision is made on the terms most favorable to YOU, versus the whims of other parties who may not have your best interests at heart.

That’s my two cents, at least.  As always, feel free to chime in with your comments and/or arguments to the contrary, if desired.  And let me also issue a final disclaimer, which is that every negotiating scenario is unique and highly context-specific, so there will definitely be cases where EACH of the five choices presented above could be the most suitable strategy.  But in general, based on the generic situation I presented, I’ve found option #4 to be the smartest and most practical path for many people to follow.

As for the final poll question of 2010, I’ve just created a brand-new LinkedIn survey (click here to cast your vote) that asks the question: “What single adjustment in a person’s job hunting strategy will typically have the biggest impact on their success?”


6 Responses to “Career Poll: Take a Mediocre Job Offer?”

  1. I do agree with you Matt, there must be balance, and the end result is to achieve the best possible employment for the individual situation.

    That may mean backing out of an offer. I have found that people are truly valuable, even in today’s climate employer know this. Even if they don’t admit it publically.

    By communicating with company A, they are putting themselves in great position to negotiate a better deal and now they have both a “bird in the hand” and “two in the bush”.

    Additionally, you never know when the hiring manager will move to another company. Most have a good memory, integrity sticks out in their memory.

    So, just more for the conversation. Thanks for letting me participate.


  2. Jeff: Thanks for your reply and I certainly can’t fault anybody who is promoting the idea that people, and companies, should always act from a position of truth and integrity. And yet many people have to balance this with the practical reality that they are in very serious need of a job — sometimes after a year or two on the market. So while I, too, have found that straight-shooters are rewarded “more often than not” when they lay all their cards on the table in the negotiating process, I’d rather shoot for a 100% success rate, which is what you get if you accept any reasonably decent offer — and then consider backing out, should something substantially better come along down the road. While in the old days, one might say that this strategy lacks integrity, I don’t think this is the case any longer — it just catches up to speed with the standard of “integrity” that most employers now practice these days, which is to let employees go on a moment’s notice if there’s a wrinkle in the revenue stream. There are exceptions and other variables to consider, of course, but this was the main point I was trying to make in my post. Thanks for adding to the dialogue!

  3. I deal with many job seekers and “new employees” every day. I have found that those that are honest in their dealings with business find that they are rewarded more often than not.

    A gentleman, lets call him James, had this exact same scenerio play out a couple of weeks ago.

    He told the first company the situation and they realized that he had a skill set that was undiscovered during the hiring process, offered him a better job and more money.

    This is what truth and integrity bring you.

    Keep up the good posts.


  4. I started reading Matt’s opinion on this, and at first I was thinking “no way, Matt! It’s obviously better to stall company #1 for a week.”

    But as I read on and thought about it, I came to agree with Matt more and more. You’d have to be a pretty gutsy risk-taker to turn down a sure thing for a potentially better offer – especially if you have a family to think about.

    Good call, Matt!

  5. The word “income” in the above post should be “outcome”, and is most assuredly a Freudian slip.

  6. I am surprised that a full 26% (so far) have responded with “be honest.”

    Once again, I agree with Matt that every option has it’s contextual place, so this may be an option for some people. But for the garden variety “multiple suitor” scenario Matt outlines, my opinion is that this tactic is least likely to generate a favorable income.

    This is a classic case of the “right/wrong – smart/dumb” decision making matix.

    The “right” thing to do is to be truthful. I also value how efficient telling the truth is.

    But depending on your objective, it might be a real “dumb” thing to do.

    It may be more important for an individual to put more weight on the “right thing to do” row than on the “smart thing to do” column, but one should also make decisions that are in alignment with “real time” objectives and requirements.

    Currently, my decision making is dominated by the “smart” column.

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