You've been interviewing with three different companies that all sound promising, and Company A is the first to give you an offer. You're excited, but you are still interested in what Company B and C might have to offer. What do you do?
It's not uncommon for job seekers to be getting multiple offers right now. According to Ryan Sutton, a district president at staffing agency Robert Half, "hot candidates" that have in-demand skill sets are averaging three offers.
"We've seen candidates pull many more than that. We've seen candidates with upwards of five-plus offers," Sutton said.
With more than 10 million job openings, it's a job seeker's market.
"In a tight labor market, you may have more leverage, but employers know that time kills deals, so rest assured, the employer is going to be pushing you for an answer," said Tessa White, CEO of The Job Doctor.
Responding to Company A
If the first job offer you get wasn't from your top choice, it's fairly customary to ask for time to think it over. But how much time is reasonable?
Career counselor Karen Chopra said asking for up to 10 days to evaluate the offer is fair game when still interviewing with other companies, but not too much longer than that.
"After a while it gets hard to ask someone to hold a job open for you. So 10 days feels reasonable," she said.
Chopra suggested saying something like: "Thank you, I am so excited for this offer. I am in the middle of interviewing with other organizations. I would like to complete those. Would it be all right if I got back you in 10 days?"
If you aren't comfortable disclosing you are talking to other employers, you can keep the response more general.
"You can be very general and nondescript," said Brenda Cunningham, career manager at Push Career Management. For example, you could say: Thank you so much for this offer, I would appreciate up to two weeks to go through my decision-making process.
Another discreet way to buy yourself more time is to ask to speak to potential colleagues to get a better sense of whether the position will be a good fit, since scheduling those discussions can take a few days, recommended White.
"Outside of that, unless there is really high trust it's hard to say, 'Can I wait and see what the other one says?'" she said.
The negotiation process could also provide more time before having to give a final answer.
Putting off a potential employer for too long comes with risks.
"I wouldn't recommend going past a week," said Sutton. "Past five days, the law of diminishing returns falls into play."
If you have a dream company, he suggested focusing on only that employer during your search right now.
"Why entertain a back up? In this kind of market when it's this hot.... You don't have the same risk of: Is there going to be another opportunity out there? Yes, if you have a good skill set that is in demand, there are going to be plenty of opportunities out there."
When asking for more time to consider an offer, Chopra recommended talking with the hiring manager, if possible.
"They are most invested in this going well. They want you to say 'yes' and have an incentive to be nice to you. They know how much flex they've got... they have the authority to do the negotiation."
And this isn't a conversation to have over email or text.
Having this discussion on the phone allows you to better evaluate the situation and respond accordingly.
"The problem with email is there is no vocal tone and you are not getting immediate feedback," said Chopra. "You can't hear the pauses, you can't hear how begrudgingly they say 'sure you can have those 10 days.' You can't do any repair work or assure them."
And if a company asks for more details about who you're still interviewing with, don't feel pressured to give in.
"Hold your cards close," said White. She added that it's fine to say it's in the same industry or for a similar role, but not to give the names of the companies.
If a company wants an answer right away but you aren't sure it's the right job, White said to slow the process down by asking for more details or to meet with additional people. "Push the company you want the offer from, but try and slow down the company making the offer."
Getting Company B & C to speed up
If you are able to get some time from Company A, you'll need to get things moving with Companies B and C.
"Your job is to help them understand the time crunch you are under without forcing the matter," Cunningham said. "This is a sensitive area and you need to tread carefully."
She recommended telling the company you have another offer and phrasing the request as a question, something like: "Is there anything we can do to accelerate this decision making process? Is there any information that I can provide quickly to influence your decision?"
How the companies respond to this request can be very telling of how the relationship is going to play out during your career, she added.
"If this organization doesn't understand the basic conundrum you are in, consider how they will respond later when you are a part of the company and you ask for a raise, or a promotion or unplanned time off? Is it going to be these same levels of red tape and bureaucracy that you are going to have to deal with?" Cunningham said.