How to Juggle Multiple Job Offers

Tips on how to entertain several job offers without burning any bridges with potential employers.

I like to tell job-seekers that launching a serious job search is a move that sets ripples in motion. Once you begin talking with employers about potential opportunities, they can grow and spread in unpredictable ways. And sometimes that ripple effect results in multiple job offers presented to you at the same time.

7 Ways Job-Seekers Sabotage Themselves

As flattering as it sounds to be recruited by more than one employer, it can also be a nerve-wracking experience. Nothing makes an applicant second-guess themselves more than a competing offer situation. Using a sample job search scenario, here are some helpful recommendations on how to keep the irons in the fire during the interview process with several companies without getting burned.

The Scenario

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You’ve been chatting with Company A so long that you and the front-desk receptionist are now on a first name basis. You’ve got a strong feeling that a job offer is within your grasp, but you have yet to receive it. In the meantime, a headhunter calls to tell you about a must-hire-now position at Company B. You figure, “I’ll go on the interview -- why not?” You’re pleasantly surprised to find that the new company loves your resume and professional experience and seems very interested -- and you really like them, too.

The reps from Company A are still calling, and that’s when you realize you’ve never mentioned to them (because they’ve never asked) that you are also interviewing at another firm. However, one day about two weeks into the process with both firms, the hiring manager at Company B calls to say, “You can expect a job offer tomorrow.” You’d already decided that you would be happy working at either organization, but a part of you still wants to hold out to see what Company A might offer. What do you do now?

Take Stock

If you’ve not already done so, decide which job opportunity is your first choice and why. It’s important to be able to pinpoint certain elements that make one of the potential career moves more appealing than the other. That way, when job offers start arriving, you’ll be able to evaluate each calmly. Your ability to compare the two or more situations will be easier when you haven’t actually gotten an offer, than it will be after the fact.

The traditional method for comparing job offers is to create a weighted list of criteria and rank each of the prospective opportunities accordingly. Another way to approach it is to visualize yourself in each position. Then ask: Where are you going to be happiest? Where do you think you’d feel most like yourself? Where would you be able to grow the most professionally? These are big questions to take into consideration that can’t be easily addressed by a list of check-off items.

Create a Strategy

You’ve identified which career opportunity is your front-runner, and which is not. That’s fine, but remember that the first place deal could fall through or your ranking among the other candidates may change as you progress through high-level interviews. Here is where you need to have a strategy for managing the rest of the proceedings with each employer.

It should include the following:

1. The key elements you require in a job offer.

2. The lowest offer you’d accept from each company.

3. Whether or not you’ll bring competing offers into your negotiation with each employer. How far will you push before walking away and accepting the offer from the other employer.

4. Your deadline for the length of offer negotiations with each company, before walking away.

5. Whether or not you’d be willing to decline both offers, if your minimum requirements aren’t met.

As long as each of the competing offers represents a job you would actually take, you can work your strategy with each hiring manager while remaining open to where you’ll finally end up. If you don’t design a strategy in advance, you’ll be reduced to reacting to a company rather than being proactive about what works best for you in the employee/employer relationship -- and that’s what you don’t want to happen.

Let the Cat Out of the Bag

Our fictional job-seeker is about to receive an offer from Company B, while Company A is unaware of the threat. Is it tacky or unprofessional to tell the hiring manager at Company A that the other firm is moving in for the kill? No, it’s smart and responsible. Imagine how upset you’d be if you were the hiring manager at Company A, and just had your front-runner candidate swept off to another organization without ever having known there was competition in the mix. Once the job offer is in the works with Company B, you should call the hiring manager -- not the HR rep -- at the other firm and give him a courtesy heads-up.

Here’s what you should say:

"Hi, John. I hope I’m not disturbing you in the middle of anything. I wanted to fill you in on some things that are going on with me, and get your thoughts. I’ve been in talks with another firm that has a pretty interesting assignment for me and they’re about to extend a job offer. I wanted to let you know, because I’m obviously very interested in your company. We wouldn’t have gotten this far, of course, if I weren’t. I wanted to make sure you were aware of this, so that if there is a real interest in bringing me on board, we would need to work on an agreement sooner rather than later."

John may ask for the details of the job -- what company, what role, etc. -- so you’ve got to decide in advance of your call whether you’re comfortable spilling all the beans. Ask yourself what’s the benefit of disclosing this information? Is John likely to tell you who else he’s interviewing for the role or what he’s planning to pay each of the other candidates? Not likely.

Calling Your Bluff

What if John’s response is, “Oh, we never compete for talent. You should probably accept the other offer”? You can call their bluff right back. Time-pressed managers aren’t in the habit of wasting days or even weeks on recruiting processes with candidates they don’t intend to hire. You can respond with, “That sounds great. I’ll do that and let’s please keep in touch.” At this point, if Company A was ever truly interested in having you join their organization, you will quickly hear back from them with an offer after all.

I can’t tell you how many high-level candidates I’ve groveled in front of over the years as a corporate HR executive. The truth is that employers need talent as badly as people need jobs. It’s not easy to let a carefully cultivated job applicant just walk out the door.

What If ‘Company A’ Doesn’t Bite?

Competition for scarce resources is part of life, whether you’re an administrative assistant or a marketing manager. If you’ve spent months slow-dancing with an employer about a job vacancy and they do decide to bail just because they’ve learned another organization is also interested in hiring you, what kind of message does that send? Consider it a blessing in disguise, because you are better off not working with a team whose view is if they don’t run the game, they won’t play ball. That type of behavior oftentimes trickles down to other aspects of how a company is run.

Moving Forward With ‘Company B’

When the official offer from Company B hits your inbox or your mailbox, acknowledge it and thank the hiring manager. If it looks too good to pass up, accept the deal -- on the principle that they like you, the offer is strong and they acted first and decisively. If there are one or two points that you’d still like to negotiate -- on the principle that it’s business, and they’ll never like you more than they do at this moment -- do so. Simply say to the hiring manager: “I love the offer and I’m really excited to join the team. To finish this up quickly and get me on board is there any way you could add (X) to this offer and we can both sign it?”

Negotiating Job Offer Terms

Many people are uncomfortable negotiating in general, and particularly uncomfortable negotiating the terms of a job offer. We’ll all be better off when we get past the social barriers that make us hesitant to negotiate job offers as aggressively as we do real estate deals.

When you’ve been taught to seek others’ approval, it can get in the way of effective negotiating. We sometimes forget our power in the recruitment process, but must remember that just as badly as we need jobs, companies need good employees. If we’re too worried about what a manager might think if we dare to negotiate, we can shoot ourselves in the foot. At this point, it’s all about business and if that’s hard to digest, keep in mind there’s no question that an employer sees its new hires as a strictly business transaction.

Delivering Bad News to a Potential Employer

When you’re juggling multiple job offers, someone is going to lose out. You’re going to have to call one of these hiring managers and simply say, “I’m sorry, Pam. It’s been wonderful getting to know you and learn about the company, but I’ve decided to accept another position.” An easy way to calm the queasy feeling in your stomach is with a memo to self: “These guys say ‘No thanks’ to dozens of job-seekers every day.”

Liz Ryan
Contributing Columnist,