How to Leverage Job Offers

In a tight economy, most job searching literature focuses on the struggle to get in the door for an interview, but there are always the fortunate few who have more job prospects than they can handle. Sharon Armstrong, a human resources trainer and career counselor, offers advice on the best possible scenario – what to do when you receive more than one job offer.

Armstrong has over more than 20 years of experience in human resources and career counseling. Since launching her own consulting business in 1998, Sharon Armstrong and Associates, she has consulted with many large corporations and small businesses. Armstrong is the author of Stress-Free Performance Appraisals – Turn Your Most Painful Management Duty into a Powerful Motivational Tool, published by Career Press in July 2003; The Essential HR Handbook – A Quick and Handy Guide for Any Manager or HR Professional, published in 2008; and The Essential Performance Review Handbook, published in May 2010.

Question: If you are offered more than one job, what is your advice on how to weigh each offer?

Armstrong: First of all, if a person is fortunate enough to generate more than one job offer, he/she has worked hard to make things happen for themselves. I hope that the job seeker also took the time at the beginning of the process to reflect on what they really wanted in their next job. From the skills and abilities they want to use — to the level of responsibility — to what’s important in the work environment. There are additional things to factor in such as compensation, benefits, commute time, job title, telecommuting options, and reputation of the organization, among others. But these career needs really need to come from the job seeker. What really matters to you in your next job?

Following the interview, job seekers usually put pen to paper and prepare a pros/cons list for each opportunity. They have generally already prepared the points in their head, but it remains a very worthwhile exercise to see it all in print.

Question: Should you accept the first offer or hold out for the ideal job?

Armstrong: You should accept the job offer that meets most of your requirements. Never take a job that won’t be satisfying to you. You don’t want to find yourself miserable after a few months. By the same token, if the job meets most of your career needs, accept it and work hard. You can always continue to look passively and keep networking.

Question: What should you do if you have already accepted a job, but get a better offer for another job?

Armstrong: This can get dicey. You want to be aware of the impression you leave and reputation you are creating by your actions. It’s best to think long and hard before you accept a position. Do you really want that particular job? Why? If you can’t quickly answer that question, you haven’t done enough thinking. If you have doubts as to the match, it might be best to keep looking.

Question: How do you know a prospective job is a good fit for you?

Armstrong: Is the job a good match for your skills? Does it satisfy the other items on your list of demands? Have you done your homework about the company and the environment? Would you feel good about working there?

Question: What are some questions you can ask in an interview to get a good sense of the work environment?

Armstrong: You must ask questions in an interview. It’s essential. You want to demonstrate your interest in the position and the company; you want to uncover the interviewer’s needs; you want to get enough information to make a decision as to whether it’s a good match for you.

In addition to asking about the environment, ask substantive questions about the work itself. You will get high marks for any question that shows an understanding of the company and probes regarding the details of the work.

Here are some of my favorite questions:

  • I’m a very goal-oriented person, what are three major changes or improvements would you would most like to see brought about by the person who takes this position?
  • What qualifications and personal qualities do you feel the successful candidate will have?
  • How is performance measured?
  • How would you describe the culture of your organization?
  • And my final zinger: Are there any other questions that I could answer for you to let you know that I am the best-qualified applicant for this position?

Question: If you have been offered more than one job, what is your advice on leveraging the offers with each employer (i.e. -saying you have been offered a higher salary by another company)?

Armstrong: Prior to accepting the first offer, you can sometimes leverage that offer to determine if another offer is pending. Timing is critical here and it often doesn’t work out. Once an offer comes in, the most important thing is to show enthusiasm. It’s the beginning of a critical relationship and you want to start that relationship on a firm and friendly foundation. That said, you have every right to ask for a few days to make the best decision for you and for the company. You usually cannot delay giving a response relatively quickly. But immediately after you have the offer, you can contact Company #2 and let them know that you have received an offer. Then gently ask if there is a chance that you are still in the running for their position. If it’s genuine, tell them that they are your first choice. But if the timing doesn’t work in your favor, commit to the company who has offered the job and continue to maintain a relationship with Company #2. It might be a wonderful ‘next’ job.

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