How to Juggle Multiple Job Offers: “Jessica’s Dilemma”

The current job market is generally a seller’s market: qualified applicants significantly outnumber available openings. Unlike the early part of the decade – a buyer’s market – it means that employers can be (and usually are) very selective in whom they hire, and buyers – job applicants – don’t have the ability to be very highly selective due to the undersupply of job openings.

But in a land where St. Teresa of Avila’s line from the 1500’s still rings true – “more tears shed by answered prayers than unanswered ones” – what do you do if you may have multiple offers but they won’t land at the same time?

It’s the dilemma my nice Jessica faces following the completion of her masters degree program in higher education: some interviews for some good jobs and good prospects, but the opportunities are unlikely to occur in parallel. In other words, she may have to decide on any one offer as it comes along, without knowing if it will be the only one, or one of several  offers, she might receive.

It’s a well-researched phenomenon that variety – or more options in this case – can change your mind. (And by the way, the more competitors the less well you do, and your dog if you have one, relaxes you.) The job that looked great one minutes looks less great when you have another option or two to choose from. The same is true in dating: one minute he’s a hunk, the next minute he’s a dork. The difference? Choices.

Job hunting and dating have another corollary: it’s a small world and however you act and behave begin defines you. And in the case of potentially job competing job offers, doing the “right” thing may be the best thing.

Qualifiers already out, I’ve got some advice for her to take, all with a big grain of salt. I’m highly confident that she’ll land a job that she is enthusiastic about. Here’s what I think she should consider:

  • You are what you do. As noted in an earlier piece about “brand” – Time to be Greedy: Your Brandthis small world of ours mostly means that however you behave is likely to define you. Behave “well” and it defines you one way; behave “poorly” and it defines you another way. My advice? Do the former.
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. There are very few “sure” things in life so while’s its tempting to want the two choices rather than the one, I generally recommend opting for the choice in hand rather than gambling on the one you don’t have.
  • There are ways of increasing slightly your chances to get choices hitting at the same time, tho’ I mention this with a big caution. Authenticity, just like honesty, should seldom if ever be compromised. The worst thing someone whose brand is founded on honesty can do is to dilute it.
  • How to up your chances? Ask for reasonable time (days, in a real stretch, a week) to respond to an offer. (I’m really excited about the offer, it’s an offer I’d hoped to receive because I think it’s a really good opportunity, and I’d like think it over for a few days because this first job out of grad school is so important. My grandma  also just died so I’m  reflecting on that as well: may I get back to you in two to five days?) for an offer that you receive.
  • Never lead anyone on for an offer that you have no intention of accepting. After receiving an offer, preferably call and talk to other employers who might be close to making a decision to see where they are in their process: I wanted to check in with you as I am excited about the opportunity with you and I may need to make some job decisions soon. I had hoped that I would be fortunate enough to have an opportunity with you to consider. Why not e-mail? Calling is more personal, there’s more information (words, tone, inflection, etc.) from a phone call than an e-mail.
  • Make a decision. Sometimes that means saying no to job in hand and sucking it up to the consequences of having no other offers hit. In her case, given her background, and high motivation, it seems unlikely. But it could happen.
  • Last, not least, keep actively job hunting until you’ve landed a job. And once you’ve landed, you follow up with everyone with whom you spoke or interviewed with a note (I want to thank you again for the time you spent with me earlier this year on my job search and to let you know that I’ve accepted a position at XYZ. I also wanted to pass along me updated contact information. If your ever in the area I’d enjoy catching coffee or lunch, and I want to thank you again for your time and help.)

I sympathize with my niece, and in part because I was in a similar situation when I got out my grad program. A summer of sending off (old days: paper, not online applications) applications with few interviews and no job offers, and then one fateful three-city, three-school trip (Carroll University, Penn, and the University of Southern California) which resulted in three job offers.

I ended up working on staff and faculty at USC, and the job was really great (hard, long hours, and fun)  – and a foundation for much of the work I do today. Sometimes you get lucky. I suspect my niece Jessica will too.

[Updated] June 25th: My niece took her first offer, and accepted a position at the University of Pittsburgh. Good role, good school. She had called a couple of other schools from whom she anticipated possible offers to let them know she was in decision making mode. Post-acceptance, both schools (major universities out east) were disappointed that they had not been in a position to offer a job first.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.