Editor's note: This is the fifth article in a new nine-part series on making a job transition as a lawyer, which is featured on lawjobs.com News & Views. Links to the previous article in this series, as well as to articles in other series by the authors, follow this article.
One of the best problems a job seeker can have is figuring out how to successfully juggle multiple offers. Ideally, all offers will be on the table at once, after interviews with all prospective employers are completed, so you can make an informed choice between them. An offer may come earlier in the search process, however, before you have fully explored all your options. The question then becomes how to hang on to the earlier offers while finishing your job search process.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
It is important to clarify your job search goals before sending out your first resume. That way, you will have a better idea of which positions would best move you toward your desired career destination. With that in mind, as offers come in, you can determine which are worth pursuing; conversely, you can feel comfortable immediately letting go of any which are not a good fit for you. Don't grab the first offer that comes along just because it's there. On the other hand, if the offer is exactly what you have been seeking, there is no advantage to playing hard to get.
DON'T PLAY GAMES
Do not pursue or hang onto an offer which you know you ultimately would not want to accept solely as a bargaining chip vis-à-vis your current or other potential employers. That tactic can backfire and make you look greedy. Furthermore, do not accept an offer on the theory that if you get a better one you simply can change your mind. There can be legal ramifications in breaking a contract in addition to possibly ruining your reputation in the tightly-knit legal marketplace. It also can make the firm that you chose over the first prospective employer question your integrity, which is not a good way to start your working relationship.
For the best chances of having your offers on the table concurrently, send out all job search inquiries as close in time as possible. Monitor your progress so that all of your prospects are either being weeded out or proceeding at approximately the same pace. Keep your overall timing in mind when arranging initial and follow-up interviews. You often can create a little leeway by taking a day or two to provide writing samples or references versus e-mailing them right away, or speed things up by arranging an interview for tomorrow versus a few days from now.
Be open with your interviewers throughout your search regarding where you are in your process, and how your other prospects are progressing. Let them know of your time constraints. Most prospective employers will assume that if you are an attractive candidate for their hiring needs, others will be interested in you, as well. In fact, having some competition may make you an even more desirable candidate in their eyes. It is not necessary to disclose the identities of their competitors, however, even if they ask. Do not invent competition or time constraints, as that strategy can backfire. The prospective employer may cut you loose with the justification that they cannot move quickly enough and do not want to interfere with your chances with your other (fictitious) job prospects.
Once an offer is on the table, and you have determined that it is one that you want to seriously consider, but other prospects with potential remain pending, you need to carefully manage your timing. Let the offering employer know that you are very pleased and flattered to have received their offer and that you want to give it serious consideration. State that you want to have all the facts before making this important decision so that you are sure that it is the right one for both you and them.
If you are still interviewing with other firms, let them know that you need to wrap up that process, but that it is not your intent to shop for offers. Assure them that you are not initiating new inquiries at this point. You can legitimately delay giving an answer by requesting a copy of the offer in writing, asking for clarification of its terms or expectations regarding advancement, requesting a meeting with the benefits administrator to go over details of the package, or asking to meet more people at the firm.
Ask any employer who has made a potentially desirable offer what their timing is, whether there are other candidates on hold pending your decision, and when they absolutely must have your answer. Let them know your best estimate of when you will have completed your search process with all prospective employers and when you think you can have an answer for them. Keep the lines of communication open. Give them your answer just as soon as possible and definitely on or before your agreed-upon date.
If it looks like you will need even more time, you may need to ask for an extension on the offer. This is a perfectly acceptable practice, but should be done with tact and care. Let the offering employer know as soon as possible about your new time constraints. Emphasize your interest in continuing to consider their offer, and set a new date. Understand the potential employer's time pressures, as well, as they may need to withdraw your offer in order to pursue other candidates.
NARROW YOUR OPTIONS
When you receive an offer which you believe you might want to accept, immediately cut off the process with all prospective employers who are less appealing to you. At the same time, inform all of your remaining prospects that you have an attractive offer on the table, but that you continue to be interested in their opportunity. Ask them where they are in their hiring process and for an assessment of where you stand in comparison with any other candidates they have under consideration. If you are not high on their list, that will give you a better idea of how to proceed. Let them know when you must respond on your existing offer, and ask if they can accommodate your timing by completing the interviewing process as soon as possible. Understand that they may not be able to move fast enough for you. Then you will be forced to give up either the offer in hand or the possibility of others coming to fruition.
When juggling multiple job offers, keep your job search objectives in mind. If you are looking for something in furtherance of your ultimate career goals, you will be able to make a solid choice and not be distracted solely by dollar signs or other less important factors. As soon as you have the information you need to fully evaluate the offers, make your decision and communicate it to all parties immediately. You will then be in the enviable position of starting your new job knowing that your choice was the best the market had to offer.
Valerie Fontaine and Roberta Kass are senior legal search consultants with Seltzer Fontaine Beckwith, based in Los Angeles. Valerie Fontaine is the author of "The Right Moves: Job Search and Career Development Strategies for Lawyers" (January 2006, NALP). They can be reached at (310) 839-6000, or visit www.sfbsearch.com.
Read articles in the "Lawyer Transitions" series:
Read articles in the "Interview Strategies" series:
Read articles in the "Older but Wiser" series: