How do I Balance a Job Offer with Potential Offers?

Last Updated May 28, 2010 8:00 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady, 

Let's say I have an offer in hand. I'm also waiting to hear back from another two companies. After six months of searching, I expect to find myself in this situation shortly. How do I handle myself in this economic climate?

Do you know that if you place 2 toddlers in a room with 100 identical toys they will still fight over the same toy? Okay, I have nothing more than anecdotal evidence on the preceding sentence, but instinctively you know it's true.

Corporations tend to have the same maturity level as toddlers when it comes to such things. You suddenly go up in value when someone else wants you. This is why it's easier to find a job when you already have a job. If someone else values you, then other people suddenly view you as more valuable. This is great news for you.

Let's not screw it up, though.

When you are juggling a job offer and two potential job offers you want to be very careful that you don't lose the offer in hand by taking too many risks or counting on an offer that hasn't materialized. Countless times the just-around-the-corner offer never materializes. When the company says, "We'll let you know Tuesday," and Tuesday comes and it's, "Well, Bob was out of town yesterday, so the hiring committee hasn't met yet. We'll let you know Friday," and then Friday becomes next Monday and that gets bumped to Thursday and then the recruiter stops returning your calls. If it hasn't happened to you, it's happened to someone you know.

The other thing is that recruiters and hiring managers are wise to the "I'll lie about competing offers in order to get them to increase my salary," game. It can work, but it's awfully dangerous. You don't usually know what candidates they have in the wings. It may have been an extremely close call and when you say you have a better offer elsewhere, they may say, "Congratulations! Thanks for meeting with us. We'll go ahead and make an offer to a different candidate."

My advice? Be up front and honest with all parties. With the company that has given you an offer, say, "I'm very interested in this position and I'm excited about the offer. I do need some time to think it over, as I've also been meeting with other companies. Can I give you an answer by next Friday?"

With the two companies that you feel will make you an offer, but haven't, say, "I've received another job offer. They need an answer by next Friday. However, I'm very interested in [your company] and [this position]. Can you let me know as soon as possible, so I can get back to this other company?"

Now, they will immediately assume, hey this guy has been out of work for 6 months and he wants us to believe he really has another job offer? We are not that stupid. So, they will probably want to know what company and details.

Now, whether you want to share salary details or not is up to you. However, it sure will give your claim more credibility if you say, "It's for a Marketing Manager Job at Company Name. The starting salary is $85k with a potential bonus of 20 percent."

Now, they know what they are dealing with and they can make a decision. If they say, "Well, it will be at least two more weeks," then you are probably better off taking your job offer and withdrawing your name from the other companies. I say withdraw because who needs to psychological torture of being called up on your first day of your new job and receiving a better job offer? (And yes, it is possible to take it anyway, but the bridge you are standing on will be burned to a crisp.)

Once you've got multiple offers you can use them to help negotiate your salary, but not until then. (Of course, you should always be negotiating your salary. Sometimes the answer is no, but sometimes the answer is yes.)

Congratulations on your offer and potential offers. May you get the job and salary of your dreams.

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