how long can I wait to respond to a job offer?

A reader writes:

I’ve been offered a job via a voicemail message on my phone. I’ve been hesitant to call back immediately in the hopes of hearing from a second job, which I believe is better for my intended career path, although both of them are in the same ballpark of job, so to speak.

What do you believe is an acceptable frame of time before contacting the job that had already called back and accepting the offer to wait for any response from the second job that hasn’t called back yet? Both jobs are minimum wage.

Um, call right now.

Not responding to a job offer signals lack of interest or lack of responsiveness, both of which are bad things. You don’t need to call and accept it on the spot, but you do need to call them back and say something.  It’s reasonable to ask for a few days to get back to them with an answer, but if you wait to even make contact to say that, they may assume you’re uninterested and move on to the next candidate on their list.

As far as appropriate timeframe for responding, I’d be mildly uneasy if a candidate hadn’t responded to me at all within one business day of that type of message (i.e., if I left a message saying I wanted to talk to her to offer her the job on, say, Tuesday morning and I hadn’t heard anything by Wednesday morning) … and I’d be downright worried if two full business days went by without a sound. People are usually excited to get job offers (even if they ultimately don’t accept them), and it’s not typically a call they avoid returning.

And again, it’s completely fine to ask for a few days to get back to them — but you need to say that. And once you do, you can call up the other company, tell them that you have another offer but are more interested in working with them, and ask what their timeline is for making a decision. If they’re very interested in you, they may be able to expedite things on their side.

But for christ’s sake, pick up the phone and return that call.

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Wilton Businessman*

    Wow, definitely get back to them on the next business day. As AAM said, you can always tell them you will decide by X, but you’ve got to return their calls.

  2. just another hiring manager...*

    I hire mostly minimum wage and college student jobs, and I’ve never had a candidate take more than day to return an offer call (in fact, most people call me back within 2-3 hours). I really hope that the OP made some sort of contact within, say 48 hours max. If I hadn’t heard back from a candidate for a minimum wage job after that, you better believe that I’d be moving on to the next candidate.

    If I got a call back after that point, assuming the next person in line didn’t already accept my offer, I would need the prospective employee to be mortified and apologetic that he or she didn’t call back sooner and have a reasonable explanation as to why no return call was made.

    1. Dawn*

      Because in today’s world of email and text messaging, they don’t have to. So when it comes to dealing with an actual human, people shy away.

        1. Cube Ninja*

          And I suppose I should clarify – there’s the folks who dislike talking on the phone because they aren’t any good at it and then there’s the people who just plain don’t like it. My flippancy was directed at the former. :)

          1. Kitty*

            Okay…flippancy noted. Hopefully those people can get some training to improve, so that they develop into serious competition.

    2. Heather*

      I actually had a phone phobia for a really long time because I got prank called so often in middle school (ahhh the days before caller ID). Although now I can handle it fine for work, in my personal time I vastly prefer our electronic age because I still don’t particularly like the phone even if the fear is gone. That said–I would never wait to pick up or return this phone call!

    3. Anonymous*

      I have always been shy with the phone. It still takes me a minute to think about answering the phone at work. And I’m always screening my calls at home with the ID.

      With me though, I figured out that if I can’t read your body language, then I’m not totally sure how you really are being, despite the tone of voice.

    4. Dawn*

      Oh, yes, I admit to being shy with the phone, too. I find it difficult to get my point across clearly when I speak so I tend to use email a lot. Not to mention I like having an audit trail for those times when someone says, “you didn’t tell me.” “Yes I did and I sent it on X date and X time. HA!”

      I had a very suffocating friend in high school. We went to different schools and she got home before me. Every day when I walked in the back door, my phone was already ringing! ARGHHH! That really caused me to shy away from the phone for a long time. That, and the fact that I used to get a million phone calls from other offices day in and day out.

      1. Anonymous*

        Oh my gosh, I am going to print out that post and wallpaper my office with it. I do international work, and my boss always prefers that I call people. Well, since I usually am talking to people who are (a) in another time zone and (b) not native English speakers, they always end up asking me to email them instead!

      2. Christine*

        I too am among the ranks of the phone-shy, so thank you for posting that Alison! Your reasons for preferring email pretty much mirror mine. Additionally, I tend to get tongue-tied when speaking, partly because it takes me a little extra time to process and organize/edit my thoughts; writing affords me that time. I’m like a different person when speaking. lol.

        Dawn – I can completely relate to having a suffocating friend. I always dreaded hearing the phone ring.

        1. Dawn*

          To this day I hate hearing the phone ring. I feel like it’s a demand that I drop everything and talk NOW. Ridiculous? Probably.

      3. Jamie*

        Love that post! I hate the phone. I hate that it demands immediate attention for non-urgent issues. I hate the way it almost always requires small talk, which I hate. A ringing phone is so bossy.

        I hate the phone as much as I love email. Email is immediate, yet will still be there when you get to it on your schedule. Email gives clear details (bonus if in bullet points) of issues which, if discussed on the phone, would have to be written up anyway. Email allows one to gather information before replying – saving time. Email allows one to take a deep breath and rethink their tone and wording – which saves people’s feelings.

        Email creates it’s own contemporaneous documentation making it easy to track progress on issues. Email leaves less room for miscommunication.

        With rare exceptions I could happily live my life without ever speaking on the phone again.

      4. Kimberlee*

        I am also a phone hater, as well as a talking in person hater, for the simple reason that I’m a much better impromptu writer than speaker (don’t get me wrong, I did speech and debate in college, I can handle public speaking). I get easily intimidated in person, and am much more blunt (read: honest) in writing than in person. I used to be so non-confrontational that I would honestly CRY in even very mild situations, so it put me at a significant disadvantage to have real conversations. Whereas I can (and have) say pretty much whatever in writing!

        1. Christine*

          I too am easily intimidated in person for similar reasons noted in my post above. For me though, it depends on the person I want to speak with and if they seem open to be approached. I am trying to improve my confidence for phone and in-person conversations though because I do not want to hide behind my computer 24/7.

  3. Dawn*

    I don’t know when AAM received this question (I remember her saying she was back-logged), but I sure hope OP didn’t wait until this was posted to call the potential employer.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I got it at 4:30 p.m. yesterday. I’m not always that fast (in fact, usually I’m much, much slower), but this one grabbed me and seemed time-sensitive.

      So hopefully he calls today!

  4. Anonymous*

    Hey, thanks for the Holiday offensive remark! For Pete’s sake, be more professional and don’t use language like “for Cxxst’s sake.”

    BTW for those of us that follow Him it’s capitalized.

  5. Joe*

    Great advice. But, can you leave Christ out of it? I understand it was used as a colloquialism and I doubt you meant anything by it, but for some people, using the Lord’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7) is offensive.

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