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Job offer acceptance deadlines - why they're there and how to manage them

Congratulations! - You've received your first job offer and, like most offers of employment, it probably has a deadline attached. When making an offer, most employers will give candidates a date by which they must either accept or decline the offer. While the date you've been given can sometimes seem like it's been chosen at random, there are many different reasons for offer expiration dates and usually the employer has given careful consideration to each one.

Top Reasons for Offer Deadlines -

  • Recruiters have a limited number of positions to fill and you were selected to be in their first round of offers. At the same time, they realize that some of their top choices will accept offers from other companies leaving them with positions that still need to be filled - so they need to know early on if you're not interested while there is still time to make offers to their next round of selections.

  • In a competitive hiring market, each company is looking to gain an edge in securing top talent - locking a potential hire into an offer early on in the recruiting season is one way to achieve this. They want to get to you before another company does and think an early accept deadline will force you to make a decision. Deadlines create a sense of urgency around an offer and ensure that their company and offer is in the forefront of your mind.

  • College recruiting follows a specific hiring life-cycle and human resources professionals have timelines for their own hiring needs. The deadline you have been given has been factored into their full-cycle recruiting plans as the "new-hire" process usually operates on a pre-determined timeline and is coordinated across several different lines of business. The employer wants to make sure that there is enough time to complete all of the steps in the process, such as background checks and education verification, before the start date.

  • The recruiter wants to get you off their "outstanding offer" list. Until you accept the offer, you are still unfinished business and require time, attention and frequent contact.



Why does this matter and what you can do next --

If you have interviewed with multiple companies and are in different stages of the hiring process with each one you can anticipate different offer deadlines. First thank the company for the offer and express your continued interest in the position and the company. Then ask for an extension, but be prepared to say why and be honest.

Let the recruiter know that you are still interviewing with X number of companies and that you would like more time to see where you are in the hiring process with those companies. Do this tactfully and with humility - you don't want to appear arrogant or come off as if you think the offer on the table is your fall back offer or last resort. This type of attitude can result in the employer rescinding the offer. Remember, they want to think that the people they are bringing on are joining the company as their top choice, not the consolation prize.

If you ask for an extension, be specific about how much time you will need and try not to make the timeline too long - i.e. it's ok to ask for two weeks, it's not ok to ask for two months. Before asking for the extension, contact the recruiters from the other companies you are interested in and ask where you stand in their process and what they think their timeline will be to help you map out your strategy for managing several deadlines.

"No-one gets an iron-clad guarantee of success. Certainly, factors like opportunity, luck and timing are important. But the backbone of success is usually found in old-fashioned, basic concepts like hard work, determination, good planning and perseverance."
-Mia Hamm


Authored by Elisabeth Zimowski.