The Job Hunt: Offer in the Hand Better than the Offer in the Bush?

A Bird in the Hand

Image by Furryscaly via Flickr

After a few months of patient networking as I’d coached him had not produced the new job my client sought, frantic had begun to set in. He could see that his current job was one or two more bad quarters away from a likely company shut down.

While he might have some time, he didn’t know how much time before he had no job.

Then – predictably if you work the process – famine turned to feast as four different job prospects surfaced. The quandry shifted from how do I find a new job to which job do I really want?

And in the end it was mostly simple; accept a job offer in hand or a  job offer than might soon come down the pike?

The answer, as happens in many cases, is it depends. There is no one right answer but the way my client thought about the prospects, and where he ended up landing, has a lesson or two for you.

The offer in hand required little travel, was a less demanding role than he’d had before, paid less initially than he was currently making, was close to home, and was predictable. Steady but perhaps boring.

The bird in the bush? That role required regular travel, was right in the sweet spot of what he liked to do, and paid more. But while all the signals from the firm were that they liked him a lot as a candiate, their slow moving culture meant they would not be a in a position to offer him a job before he had to tell the other employer know whether he was their accepting or not.

So what did he do?

He accepted the job offer in hand, and kindly thanked the other firm for their time and interest. Even in a big city it’s a small world; perhaps he’ll end up crossing paths with the other firm again in 5-10 years.


Three significant reasons: 1) With smaller kids at home, the steady but not sexy job gives him a shot at some work life balance while his kids are younger; 2) His spouse works outside of the home too, and while no one wants less income, the prospect of no income if his present company tanked was much less attractive than slightly less income, and; 3) the other firm was great, but despite promising signs, there was no guarantee that an offer would eventually arrive.

So in this case – but not all cases – the bird in the hand was better than the bird (or three) in the bush.

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.

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