how long should employers give candidates to respond to a job offer?

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A reader writes:

I have a manager who is interested in receiving responses from candidates about offers two days after the offer is made. I think the standard should be about one week to respond about accepting a job offer. Is this what other people are experiencing? Should there be a note in the offer letter advising applicants that they must respond so quickly based on the recommendation of the manager? Can you help?

This varies widely from employer to employer. Some employers are perfectly willing to wait a week or even weeks for a response, while others give candidates a few days.

Part of this is because employers often have time pressures that they have to work within: For instance, a position might need to be filled right away, or they might have other candidates with timelines of their own to consider. Say, for example, that I’m making a job offer to Candidate A but if she turns me down, I’m going to offer the job to Candidate B. However, Candidate B has told me that she needs to hear from me by Friday, because she has another job offer that she needs to respond to, even though mine would be her first choice. So now I need to hear from Candidate A before Friday.

Additionally, while it’s certainly important for the candidate to be sure they’re making the right decision, most employers think that by the time things have reached the offer stage, the candidate should have a pretty good idea of whether or not they’d accept an offer (assuming they can agree on money). And so if someone asks for a week or longer to think it over, it can signal that they’re not especially enthusiastic or that they’re stalling in the hopes that they’ll get an offer from somewhere else.

Regardless of where you come down on this, one thing that’s imperative is that you communicate your expectations to the candidate.  If you need an answer in two days, tell them that when you first make the offer. Don’t expect them to just magically know your timeline.

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S

    A week isn’t outrageous if the candidate has a reason for it. (Wants to talk it over with wife, or consider the finances if there was a hiccup with the negotiations, etc.) Nor is it unreasonable if a manager wants to get an answer within a couple days.

    What *is* unreasonable is if either the employer or the candidate don’t communicate their time lines! It’s simple enough for the manager to say, “Here’s our offer. Please consider it and let us know either way by 4pm on Tuesday.”
    And it’s simple enough for a candidate to say, “Ah! I’m excited about the potential to work here, but I want to discuss the offer with my wife, and she isn’t back from vacation until Tuesday evening. Would it be OK if I got back to you by Wednesday afternoon?”

    If either the manager or the candidate has a hard time with that simple communication in an otherwise positive environment (hey–the employer likes the candidate and wants her to work for the company; the candidate likes the employer and wants to work there, what could be better!?), that signals something potentially negative about communication when things are hard (under-performance, unclear expectations, not getting along with a co-worker, etc).

    OP, be sure your manager is clear on timelines, as Alison said, or it might give a bad impression of what she’s like to work for as a boss!

    1. Tamara

      This. There are absolutely reasons why a candidate might need a week for the “big decision”, but the communication needs to be within the right timeline. I think this is partially based on previous correspondence. If all other responses have been within a day or less, and I don’t hear from a candidate at all for a week, it’s going to concern me a little. On the other hand, if the process has been spread out for the interview process, it might not phase me at all. But, if the candidate is open and communicates with me, then I’m guaranteed to at least listen and work with the person (and not be concerned that they lost interest or something happened!)

  2. Ivy

    I REALLY don’t like this part of the job hunt. It turns the good feeling of “Ya! I have a couple of companies that are interested in me!” to something really stressful: “I have to try to time things between the two companies so that a) I haven’t already accepted Job A when my dream job, Job B, is offered to me, b)I don’t let Job A know I’m trying to stall them and c) I don’t reject Job A when I think Job B is guaranteed only to find myself without either.” :(

    1. Paralegal

      Definitely! The most stressful part of my post-college job hunt was when I received the first offer. I had interviewed with Company A, and then not heard anything for a few weeks (other than that my references had been contacted). I applied to Company B just to be safe, but figured that I would take the job with A if it was offered. However, within a week (and before I had heard back from A), I had an interview at B and was unofficially offered a job that Friday, pending a reference check. I figured that I would at least have the weekend to decide between the two, since I hadn’t heard from A by late Friday afternoon (A was in my preferred field, but B was a much larger and more prestigious company, with a significantly higher salary). Then A called and offered me the job–and waited for my answer. When I asked for a few days to get back to them, they asked me why. I tried to give a general answer, and they kept pushing and pushing until I admitted I had another offer and that, while I definitely wanted to work for A, I owed it to B to at least consider their offer. They agreed to give me a few days to think it over–and then called the next morning (Saturday!) and withdrew the offer.

      In the end I am glad they did. Otherwise I would be working at Company A, and would have missed out on a fantastic job with Company B.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I might be wrong about this, but the issue there might have been that they felt like you weren’t being straight with them about why you were asking for the extra time. There’s nothing wrong with explaining that you’re considering two offers, but they might not have liked the initial attempts to avoid saying it!

        1. Paralegal

          It is definitely possible, but I also got the impression they were expecting an answer immediately. When I responded to the offer with something like “Thanks, that is great, I can give you an answer early next week,” they said “Well, why do you need time?” I admit that I could have been more graceful about explaining the second offer situation, but I was under the impression that it was standard to offer a few days and I was a bit taken aback that I had to explain why I wasn’t accepting the job then and there!

          1. Anonymous

            Many companies don’t like the feeling that they’re your second choice. When I used to hire for my company, I wanted candidates to be excited about the idea of working with me…I didn’t want us to be their “better than nothing” option.

            1. Paralegal

              I guess what I find frustrating about the whole situation is that Company A *was* my first choice, I just wanted a few hours (or even a few minutes!) to collect my thoughts and make sure I wasn’t making a hasty decision. I was on the phone with them, though, and needed to say something. I think if the call had gone to voicemail, I’d probably be working at Company A today.

  3. mh_76

    It’s also OK for the candidate to ask the (potential) employer “When do you need my decision [to accept/not accept to be final]?”

  4. Wilton Businessman

    I make knock-your-socks-off offers. I expect to hear back in a couple of days, my offer is good for 5 business days. If you have concerns, I want to hear about them. If you drag it out for a week I will think I’m not your first choice and you’re not really into my job anyway or you are indecisive. If you “settle” for my job, it will show in your work.

  5. Anonymous

    By the time you receive a formal job offer, you should already be clear on whether or not you’re interested in the position, and how interested you are. You should also be clear on what salary range you expect to receive for that position, so when they name a number, it should be clear whether or not it falls into that range. So…more than a couple of days shouldn’t be necessary.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I tend to agree. Exceptions would be if the process moved so fast that you hadn’t had time to fully think it over (i.e., interviewed on Tuesday and offered the job on Wednesday), or if something in the offer was significantly different than what you were expecting (salary, location, etc.).

  6. HR Gorilla

    I agree that, after spending weeks (in some cases, months!) culling resumes, doing a round of phone screens, a round of first face-to-face interviews, a round of *2nd* interviews and meet-the-upper-management-team lunches, then reference checks and background check and then fiiiiiinally being excited to send out that offer letter to the person you want, having them put you off for markedly longer than the usual communication intervals that occurred during the hiring process is a big ol’ downer. (P.S.: Do I win the prize for longest run-on sentence of the day??)

    BUT: At a previous job, our COO would come back to me mere hours after sending an offer letter out, to ask whether the candidate had accepted. If they hadn’t accepted by the next morning, he’d often ask me to rescind the offer. Sometimes I was able to artfully dodge his email or VM, and buy the poor candidate at least a full day to consider the offer. Was frustrating!

    1. Rachel

      Note to self: *always* take at least a day to consider job offers from now on, even ones you’re 100% sure you want to accept. It will save the hassle of accidentally accepting roles working for dicks like the COO described above.

  7. Vicki

    I love the idea that “Part of this is because employers often have time pressures that they have to work within”… when this is the same employer who probably waited three weeks to call you back after the first interview, or postponed the phone screen.

    Employer Time is soooo different from Candidate Time. When you’re waiting on them, there’s no urgency. When they’re waiting on you, they need an answer tomorrow.

    Sigh.
    Can you tell ;’ve been reading AAM for a long time now?

  8. Bart

    Vicki,

    I love what you’ve said about time frames – it reminds me about a Confucius quote about leadership: “To be dilatory about giving orders, but expecting absolute punctuality, that is called being a tormentor.”

    Unfortunately, because there exists such a power disparity in the relationship (crowded job market), it kind of goes with the territory.

    I think the best balm for this was suggested above; do a LOT of research and get to know the company. Once I was in a similar situation and had to scour the land for somebody with first hand experience with a potential employer. Based on their first-hand information, I was able to answer within the 24 hour offer window provided.

  9. HR Manager

    In all honestly I’ve only had to give a deadline once and my manager had thought if they hadn’t accepted right away then they weren’t for us.
    I don’t agree with that but I tend to think that by the time the offer has come through you’ll likely already have discussed expectations surrounding salary, location, etc. so more than a day or two is not really necessary.
    The exception is if you are in final stages of another job interview and you’d prefer or like some salary negotiating leverage then perhaps a week. More than a week is just dragging it out and likely the team/manager may have a less than great impression based on that.

  10. JR

    When you are referring to a singular person (AN applicant) the correct pronoun to use is NEVER they or their.

    Why is this so hard for people to grasp?

    1. NB

      When referring to a singular person of indeterminate gender, there really is not any good way to approach it in the English language. Use of “they” or “their” in these situations has been around for over 600 years; I think it’s time for people like you to give it a rest.

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