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The Winner's Quandry

It's happened to many of us. You work hard at finding a new or better job. You send out hundreds, maybe even thousands of resumes, and finally, you get a response. The interview goes well for what seems like a perfect match: you really like the employer, and its recruiter says they really like you. You'll be getting an offer shortly, they promise, and so you wait.

But while you do, another employer contacts you and you go through the same drill all over again. Although you don't quite have the same enthusiasm for this organization, they actually deliver: you get an offer as you walk out the door. Not unreasonably, they also ask that you give them your answer in a week. Meanwhile, you still haven't heard from the first employer -- the one you really want to work for -- so what do you do?

I call this situation "the winner's quandary." Here's my suggested game plan for how you handle it.

First, call the hiring manager at the employer from which you haven't yet heard. If at all possible, call that person on their direct phone line. Second, use the following outline either in a voice mail message, if the manager fails to pick up the phone, or in your conversation with the manager, if you actually connect with them:

Step 1: Restate your interest in the opening for which you interviewed and the contribution you believe you can make to the hiring manager's team.

Step 2: Explain that you've had an offer from another employer, that you have a tight timeline for response, and that you would prefer to work for the hiring manager if possible. Provide enough detail -- the title of the position for which you have the offer or a description of the kind of work it entails, but not the name of the employer. This information will give your claim credibility, which is, unfortunately, necessary these days as some candidates now call hiring managers and recruiters and pretend to have another offer in the hopes of prying one out of their organization.

Step 3: Go on to say that, as you were told to expect an offer from the hiring manager's organization shortly, you were calling to check on its status. Then, stop talking and listen.

Step 4: If the manager confirms that you were selected and an offer is in process, ask them if:

  • they know how much longer it will be until you receive it, and
  • they can do anything to help speed up the process.
Make sure you tell the manager the deadline for your response to the other offer, so that they can use it to hammer away at the internal holdup. You should also recognize, however, that there is some risk in this approach as the HR Department may be displeased that you contacted the hiring manager directly. Nevertheless, I think the stakes are high enough -- you could lose the job you really want because of bureaucratic dallying -- that the risk is worth taking.

Step 5: If the hiring manager indicates that the organization has changed its mind and offered the position to another candidate, accept that news as gracefully as you can and hang up. I know you'll be disappointed and even feel as if you've been badly treated, but do not burn your bridges behind you by flaming on the hiring manager. Circumstances can and often do change:

  • the person to whom they made the offer may turn it down;
  • the hiring manager may, at some later point, have another opening for which they think you are better qualified; or
  • the hiring manager may get promoted and remember you as someone they should have hired in the past.
In today's ever changing workplace, you just never know what may happen, so you should always try to leave every personal interaction on a positive note.

This process, of course, is not foolproof. Despite your proactive intervention and a positive response in Step 4, you still may not receive the offer you want before the deadline from the other employer arrives. At that point, you have no choice but to make a choice: you can accept the offer you have and make the best of it or you can turn the offer down and roll the dice with your preferred employer. The path you take should depend on:

  • your frank evaluation of your financial situation (i.e., can you afford to hold out),
  • your judgment of how important the preferred employer and its position is or will be for your career,
  • your candid self-assessment of how good a fit you really are for the opening and with the employer, and
  • your gut feeling about of how straight the organization is being with you.
If you aren't absolutely positive about all four of those areas, take the offer you have, and do everything you can to be a success in that organization. If you are positive about all of them, on the other hand, waiting may be the better course. Do not, however, call the hiring manager again and again. They usually don't mind getting one such call or two at the most -- that shows you really are interested in the position -- but they don't like to get 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 calls -- as that simply paints you as desperate ... and a pest.

Difficult as this dilemma may seem when you're going through it, remember this very important fact: you've just had not one, but two employers tell you they want to hire you. That's impressive by anybody's standards, and it's why I call this situation The Winner's Quandary.

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Peter Weddle is a veteran as well as the author or editor of over two dozen employment-related books, including the recently released The Career Activist Republicand Work Strong, Your Personal Career Fitness System, one of the most innovative career success books in print. Both are available at Amazon.com.

Peter Weddle's Website

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