Receiving a job offer can be exciting -- or extremely gut-wrenching. It may be a great opportunity, but perhaps you just aren't quite ready to commit to a major career decision (and when you're married, your job choices affect your hubby too!). On the one hand you don't want to be rude to your potential employer or even miss the opportunity, but on the other hand you don't want to make a premature commitment. While there's no standard time to reply to a job offer across industries, you can make some smart decisions that will ensure that you're handling the situation responsibly and in your best interest.
Knowing What Employers are Thinking
Most employers provide a response deadline when they offer a job. Deadlines vary depending on the industry, the quality of the candidate pool and how immediately the employer needs the position filled. If you're the top candidate, and you can't respond before a deadline, employers may be willing to cater to your needs because they don't want to lose you. However, they still have their own needs and deadlines and won't necessarily bend over backwards for you. When you're considering a job offer and how and when to respond, put yourself in the employer's shoes. Would you still want to hire yourself based on how you're responding to the offer?
Acknowledging the Offer
You don't have announce your decision right away, but it is always courteous to let your potential employer know that you received the offer. Do this as soon as possible -- like the next business day. A good rule of thumb is to respond with the same mode of communication you have been using over the course of the application process. Thank the employer for the opportunity and acknowledge that you understand the terms of the offer -- or ask for clarification, when necessary. If the employer has provided a response deadline that is reasonable, indicate that you will accept or decline the job by that time. If the employer hasn't specified for a deadline, ask for one.
Accepting the Offer
When you know that you are ready to take the plunge into your new career, call as soon as possible. You don't have to wait until the deadline. Try to speak to your contact in person instead of leaving a message or email. Immediately afterward, send a confirmation in writing, repeating the exact terms of the offer (such as salary and start date) just to make sure that everyone is clear. You can send an email if that has been your main mode of communication, but a hard copy is more formal. Once you've accepted the offer, withdraw from consideration for other positions you've applied for.
Declining the Offer
If you've decided that you don't want the job, it's still courteous to respond to the offer with a polite decline, on or before the specified deadline, when applicable. You never know -- you may be knocking on the employer's door in the future, and you don't want to burn any bridges. Call first and then send a formal letter.
Requesting an Extension
In some cases you'll find that an employer provides a response deadline that you just can't meet. If you need more time, ask for an extension. Don't wait until the last minute to make this request; the appropriate time to ask is when you first acknowledge the offer. Give a specific reason for why you need an extension and offer an alternative deadline. It's okay to mention that you're waiting to hear about another specific job you've interviewed for, but it's unprofessional to indicate that you're just waiting for a better opportunity. It's best to negotiate an extension over the phone and then follow up with an email.
Even if you're feeling the pressure to respond to an offer, never accept unless you are willing to commit to it. If you accept the job verbally or in writing, you are bound to your commitment, even if you haven't signed a contract. Backing out is called reneging and is unethical in the professional realm. This is why it's important to withdraw from the job search process once you've accepted an offer.
- Virigina Tech Career Services: Acknowledging a Job Offer
- National Association of Colleges and Employers: Reasonable Offer Deadlines Guidelines
- Virginia Tech Career Services: Accepting a Job Offer and Withdrawiing from the Job Search
- Virgina Tech Career Services: Declining a Job Offer
- Virginia Tech Career Services: Requesting Extension of Deadline to Accept or Decline Offer
- Virgina Tech Career Services: Ethical Issues Related to Accepting a Job Offer
Gina Poirier has a professional background in nonprofit administration and management, primarily with youth development organizations. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from the University of Washington and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage.