from Guide to the Job Hunt on Mar 12, 2023
How to handle an early offer deadline
Inevitably, one of your offers will arrive much sooner than the rest — be it a fast-moving company or an internship return offer. Take a deep breath and don't let the time pressure cloud your judgment. Here's how to respond.
Time pressure is one of the recruiter's best weapons. In this post, we'll cover strategies to specifically help you control the timeline — giving you the time you need to collect and weigh your options.
Step 1 — Keep it unofficial.
To keep your options open, keep the offer unwritten if possible. In its unwritten state, an offer is fairly malleable — the compensation, deadline, benefits, and more.
If your offer hasn't officially been issued, set a new deadline far out. Your recruiter and hiring manager need a timeline, so they can plan accordingly. Left to their own devices, they'll set a deadline for you. However, before an offer is generated, you have leeway in influencing that timeline.
- Set a date you'll make a decision by and communicate that date, as we discussed in How to plan your job hunt. No wishy washy timelines, like "end of March". Be specific about the date, such as "Friday March 25", and commit to making a decision by then.
- In my experience, hiring managers will agree to the date if you bring this up early enough and with enough certainty. Quite simply, your hiring manager needs to know if they should consider you for this quarter's headcount or the next quarter's — they can accommodate your timeline only if you know what your timeline is.
Here is an example snippet for proposing a far-out deadline.
If your offer and deadline have already been committed in writing, continue to the next priority.
Step 2 — Maximize preference information.
Deadlines are associated with written offers, so once the written offer is generated, it takes more work to extend the deadline — namely, additional paperwork to generate a new offer. As such, written offer deadline extensions are additionally limited by your recruiter or hiring manager's patience, as well as any approval processes that may exist.
If you'll have more information in the short-term, in approximately 1-2 weeks, ask for an extension.1
- Explain your situation if that makes you more comfortable. No need for specifics — just that you'll get more information in the coming weeks. Perhaps you would like to have all your options on the table at once, perhaps you're chatting with a key mentor in the next week, or perhaps you're chatting with key members on the team.
- If you feel the need to provide specifics, say that you're reaching out to friends at that company — it demonstrates serious interest and consideration. To buy time, say anything that suggests granting you more time works in the company's favor.
If you won't have more information, you're only punting the decision down the road. It may be worth keeping the current deadline, so that you can have peace of mind with one fewer deadline to stress over. At this point, you aren't deciding yes or no — just when to make that decision.
- If you ask for an extension anyways, without the possibility of more information in the next few weeks, don't procrastinate. Message friends or potential future teammates, and chat with them to learn more. Maximize information in the time you have.
In short, you can buy time at the early-deadline company by asking to meet with the hiring manager, your skip level, or potential future teammates.
To buy time, say anything that suggests granting you more time works in the company's favor.
Regardless of which route you take, your goal is to maximize the amount of information in your pocket. In particular, maximize information that can help you decide against or in favor of each offer. More concretely, use these calls and chats to help you (1) add criteria you care about, or (2) to understand how this company ranks, for those criteria. For more on setting criteria and rankings, see How to make big decisions.
Here are several email snippets to help you buy time:
Step 3 — Know your ranking.
Time pressure is designed to force a hasty decision, so take the necessary steps to ensure your decision isn't one you'll regret. At this point in the process, remember you aren't deciding between n offers. You're considering just the one early-deadline offer against all your other offers.
Don't let time pressure make your least exciting offer more attractive.
There are several situations where the decision is relatively straightforward; to sus these obvious situations out, ask yourself sincerely: If you had no time pressure, would you have taken this offer?
To determine this, run through the decision framework we discussed — go through your criteria and rankings, and check with your gut. In short, pretend you had all of your offers in hand. The decision right now is binary: would you pick the offer with an early deadline? Or any of the others?
- If this is your dream job, go for it. Do your best to make a decision without the time pressure factor. If you're waiting to see if there's an even better offer, is it really that much likely? If you'll love this job, and you already know it, it makes sense to accept.
- If the offer is already not competitive, pass. Maybe the compensation is much lower than the competition, the opportunity is not one you're excited about, etc. In which case, it makes more sense to decline. This is especially true if the offer is your "backup". Don't let time pressure make your least exciting offer more attractive.
In short, rank your offers and to-be offers. If the early-deadline offer sits at the top, accept; if the early-deadline offer sits at the bottom, decline. If your situation is clear-cut after putting aside #fomo and the need for a backup, then your decision process may end here.
However, in the likely scenario that this decision still isn't clear cut, let's weigh the possibilities of additional offers.
Step 4 — Maximize candidacy information.
This section discusses signals you can leverage to make bets on your candidacy. Say you've received an early deadline offer, but you're still interviewing at your dream company. At this point, you're not sure whether to accept the current early-deadline offer or wait for your dream company. In this case, get as much signal as you can:
- If post-onsite, poll your hiring manager. If you just aced the on-site, ask to schedule a one on one with your hiring manager at the dream company. If they're eager to meet, that's a good sign. Furthermore, if your hiring manager spends the call trying to convince you to join them, it's a sign the manager vouched for you and is awaiting approval. This is a relatively safe bet.
- If pre-onsite, don't bet on this offer. If you haven't yet done or scheduled the on-site, then it's a tossup. This is not an offer to bet on at the moment, and I would not count on this offer being made. If this is any company other than your dream company, I would discount the possibility of an offer here in your decision-making.
Here are several other notes that may affect your assessment of your candidacy:
- Whenever leadership wants to meet with you, it's a good sign. This may be a skip level or executive, for example. Leadership beyond the hiring committee are usually tapped for sales pitches, not evaluations. As a result, they're calling you to convince you of the bigger-than-life mission that the organization or company is pursuing.
- Follow-up interviews after the on-site are generally a good sign. In rare cases, recruiters may schedule a follow-up interview after the on-site. This could swing either way, as it simply means an interview did not offer enough signal. However, another interview scheduled during negotiations is a good sign: One interview's feedback may have been weak, and they're looking to strengthen your case with stronger interview feedback.
- Lack of responses are generally a bad sign, beyond two weeks. The exact time frame depends on the company. In particular, this means you reached out, and the recruiter and hiring manager didn't respond. At large companies, turnaround times for email may take longer. However, most recruiters will at least followup with a status update, if you ping them and your candidacy is strong.
In sum, if you're not sure about your candidacy, reach out. Get as much information on your strength as a candidate, before making a decision. At the end of the day, your objective is the minimize regret.
- Would you take any other offer over this one, even if the other offer has 5% higher compensation? Your excitement for your work, enthusiasm for the manager, and potential for growth may matter more than a relatively small difference in compensation.
- Would you regret committing to this offer, if all your other offers pan out? Another way to ask this is: Would you renege this offer, if any other offer was successfully made? If any of your other offers seem likely, then you may not want to make a rushed commitment you aren't interested in.
At this point in time, you have all the information you could possibly have.
Step 5 — Discuss with your support group.
As with all major decisions in the job hunt, I suggest discussing the matter with your support group — be it your partner, your friend, a mentor, or a rubber duck. I'm serious about the last one; voicing your thoughts aloud is far better than thinking yourself into a hole, in silence.
In your conversations, make sure to split up considerations according to the priorities above. Keeping your discussion well-organized will make discussions more productive:
- Opportunity rankings: Categories of items you care about, such as manager, team, salary, equity, benefits, etc. as well as how each opportunity stacks. It's important to know how your early-deadline opportunity stacks. The ordering among other opportunities doesn't matter as much.
- Opportunity likelihood: All information you have about the likelihood of receiving an offer. This is nice information to have on hand and it can roughly guide your decision process. However, I would not advise spending too much time on predicting the future. Focus only on explicit information — for example, if a recruiter said that the feedback was strong.
Once you've held at least one such conversation, you should be better-equipped to make a decision for this early-deadline offer.
In sum, tackle an early-deadline offer by maximizing information. You can delay the deadline if more time would buy you more information. These are the steps to take for your early-deadline offer:
- First, keep the offer unofficial. This makes all the offer details more flexible. If the offer is already officially issued, move on to the next point. Right now, email a proposed decision date.
- Second, learn more about your preferences. Do so by talking to potential future colleagues, and mention these chats to buy more time if need be. Right now, email a request for a meeting if you haven't already met with your hiring manager, post-onsite.
- Third, rank your opportunities. Include all opportunities, regardless of where you are in the process. Right now, list all your opportunities and rank them by gut. Check your gut by breaking down opportunities into criteria and rankings.
- Fourth, assess offer likelihood. Know how strong you are as a candidate. If you've finished the on-site, there are clear markers of an upcoming offer you can poll for. Right now, email a request for a meeting with the hiring manager if you're unsure of their stance on your candidacy.
- Fifth, discuss. Voice your thoughts aloud at minimum, and if you have time, schedule chats with friends or family. Right now, schedule a time to discuss with friends or family.
At the end of this 5-step process, you'll be much better-equipped. If you're still feeling stressed, remember that the absolute worst-case possibility is to accept now, and consider a renege later. With that said, the above process should weed out any easily-avoidable reneges. Do your best, and you won't regret it.
Especially for small companies and startups, extensions should be more easily granted. At large companies, there may be more restrictions in place. ↩
Got a question? Ask me on Twitter, at @lvinwan. Want more tips? Drop your email below, and I'll keep you in the loop.