how can I get a clearer time frame from an employer that might hire me?

A reader writes:

I’m a third-year law student currently in the hunt for post-grad jobs. I clerked at the same small firm for both summers during law school, and I still do piece work remotely for them (working with a partner on a project now). I would be thrilled to become an associate with the firm once I’ve graduated (in May). I have heard from multiple sources that they were very happy with me. I have an inside contact there who has told me that there has been talk of hiring me, but that there was also some pushback due to money. They know I am actively looking for post-grad jobs, because some of the partners have been a reference for me (for clerkships and fellowships, not for jobs with other firms). I have very clearly indicated that I am interested in working there.

Is there some way to find out a time frame on when they might make a decision? I would really, really like to have a job locked down (obviously) but I don’t know how to push for it, as there has not been a conventional application/interview process that I could follow up on. Is there anything I can do?

Yes! Just be straightforward.

Talk to the contact you’ve been speaking to there and say something like this: “Do you have any sense of when you’re likely to be able to move forward, or when you might know if you won’t be moving forward? You’re obviously my first choice and I’d love to return, but I’m talking with other firms, of course, and would love to have a sense of what your timeline looks like.”

It’s completely reasonable to ask for a sense of their timeline when there’s been talk about hiring you. That doesn’t mean you’ll get one, of course — they may simply not know and may have bigger priorities to focus on first — but it’s entirely reasonable to ask.

Meanwhile, though, while you’re waiting for this to play out, do not feel as though you’re in limbo. You need to conduct the rest of your job search as if this conversation with your old employer isn’t even happening. In other words, pretend this job isn’t an option and do everything you’d be doing it if weren’t — moving aggressively forward with applying for other jobs, networking, and so forth. The mistake many people make in situations similar to yours is that they figure they have a good enough chance with Job A that they don’t really pursue other jobs as wholeheartedly as they would if Job A weren’t in the picture. And then if Job A doesn’t actually come through, they have far fewer options than they should. Plus, for all you know, Job A might offer you a position but it might be with terms that you don’t like as much as you anticipate — whether it’s on salary, or projects, or who you’d be working with.

If you do get an offer from a different employer, then at that point you can go back to your old employer and say something like, “You’re still my first choice, but I have another offer that I need to respond to by ___.”

In other words, ask them to give you a better sense of their likely timeline simply because it’s useful to understand what you can probably expect, but until you have a formal job offer in hand, proceed as if you’re not counting on anything at all.

{ 4 comments… read them below }

  1. Aaron*

    Hey, you’re in the same boat I am (third-year law student) — best of luck! I would point out to other readers that a semi-unique problem here is that hiring happens so far before you’d start work–even after graduation, you need to spend the summer preparing for and taking the bar, so we’re probably not talking about a full-time job until next August or September.

    At a small firm, then, it’s entirely understandable that the workload is unpredictable enough that they don’t know if they can support another attorney. And, because much of the market has already (in large part) cleared, they may not feel pressured to extend an offer. So frustrating!

    I’d only point out that Alison’s advice is doubly correct in this case, because even if you somehow talk them into giving you an offer, they can always revoke it, or lay you off, if work dries up by the time you start. If you get some other offer, and then you also get this job, you can compare the risks–but in the meantime, continuing to job-search certainly doesn’t hurt.

  2. Joey*

    I always find that you’ll get a decision much faster and with more committment if you already have a job in hand. Although it shouldn’t be this way people tend to want you more when someone else wants you too.

  3. SarahJ*

    I think you hopped over here from Corporette! Be prepared for the answer to be, “I don’t know.” Small firms are much less lockstep than larger ones.

  4. dejavu2*

    I’m a recent law school grad, and judging from the experiences of so many in my peer group, the answer is that their timeline is their timeline, and nothing will speed it up. Honestly, it’s worth asking once, but beyond that you’ll probably just annoy them.

    Good luck. You’ll need it.

Comments are closed.