How To Respond To Job Offers

This is a story about when I almost blew it.

I had moved to be closer to my girlfriend (now wife!) and was looking for work. I had graduated from college a couple years earlier and during the interim had attended Military Intelligence Officer School (as part of my Army Reserve commitment following college) and had spent a a year and a half in a giftware importing business in the Chicago area.

As I looked for work, I was closing in on two opportunities: one was a sales position for a successful business telecommunications firm where I would be given a territory, a quota and would sell long-distance telecommunications services (voice and data) to large businesses in my territory, the other a “management trainee” position in a local bank, where I would spend several weeks in various bank departments before settling on one particular area.

The obvious choice these many years later was to take the sales role in the telecommunications firm. It was a better fit for my work style (on the move throughout the day instead of going to the same office every day, more room for improvisation, etc) and – again this is more clear in retrospect – it was a tiny but important part of the big technology revolution that was sweeping through society.

But the bank thing had a certain respectability about it, and many of my friends were in the banking space and doing well (I didn’t stop to consider the fact that they had majored in finance and I had majored in International Business for good reasons).  Anyhow, and THANK GOD, the telecommunications company called me first to offer me a job.

This was where my mistake happened. When I got the call offering me the job, I wasn’t sure this job was the right one for me (not really considering that I was unemployed and without significant work experience).  The guy who called me was a senior guy in both age and experience, and I could tell he was thrilled to be offering me the job. I was the guy they chose.

And I played it very cool.

Instead of dropping to my knees and screaming “I’ll take it – thanks!” over the phone, I immediately switched into “super cool negotiator” mode. I even asked when they would need an answer because I was expecting another offer from a local banking company.  I could tell the guy was somewhat taken aback and deflated.

I won’t belabor the rest of the story. I got great advice from my Dad (“Take it!!”) and others, and the bank thing was dragging along (which was a harbinger of my career to come, destined to pound my head on bank conference tables in frustration while banks dithered over software purchases).

I took the job, started to learn some hard lessons about selling in a tough territory (newbies don’t get the plum territories) and started to pick up on technical terms and concepts. The rest, as they say, is history.

I have since spent most of my career actively hiring employees, and have often been on the same end of the phone as that guy who offered me my first “tech” job. Some observations:

  • Every hiring manager has received bad news in their career when they didn’t get a job they really wanted, and every hiring manager has been elated when they DID get a job they really wanted.  Hiring managers know how emotional this is.
  • When a hiring manager selects her preferred candidate, she has to do some work on behalf of that candidate prior to making the offer. This work can involve convincing other internal stakeholders that you are the right right person, and some of it can be administrative – making sure the budget is approved and getting an offer letter put together and approved.  Therefore, she is pretty invested in this by the time she makes the call to you.
  • Once you accept, the manager is going to make one or two very difficult calls to the other candidates who didn’t make the cut. She knows this and isn’t looking forward to it.  Your call is the “fun” call.
  • For the reasons above, the manager is super-excited to give you the good news!  In fact, this is one of the greatest things about being a manager. It is a lot of fun to call someone and say “So, Tom, how would you like to join us here at ABC Corporation?” (that’s usually my first line when the candidate answers the phone).

I can tell you that I now understand why the guy who called me all those years ago sounded deflated. I’ve had the same experience a number of times, and I can tell you that the enthusiasm to hire someone can disappear in an instant if the candidate doesn’t seem excited.  Doubt creeps in quickly.

This isn’t to say a candidate should always say “yes!” immediately, if ever. It might not be the right fit at all, or the offer could probably be sweetened a bit with some modest negotiations.  But let me share some tips that might be helpful for you:

  1. Most important: when a company makes an offer to you it is a BIG DEAL. Treat it as such. Even if you have decided you don’t like the company and there is no way you’re going to work there, the appropriate answer is this exact phrase or a close approximation (said with genuine enthusiasm):  “Thank you very much for this offer.  I’m honored to receive it.”.
  2. Do not pass “Go” and do not collect $200 before uttering that phrase. Return to it at the end of the call as well.
  3. In some jobs, a little bit of negotiation is expected.  I have always tried to follow this rule in any negotiation: give the other party a choice between two alternatives, both of which are good for you.  This gives the other party a sense of control, which they appreciate.
  4. If you decline, do it quickly and do everything you can to not burn your bridges.
  5. If you accept, do it quickly and do everything you can to reinforce the fact that you were the best choice.  You can’t wait to start!  Thank you!

Receiving a job offer is a precious gift. Treat it as such.

Good luck!