How to gracefully handle multiple job offers and come out on top

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For those who have never had more than one job offer in hand simultaneously (or an offer and an interview process rolling), this topic alone may make you roll your eyes. Because, come on, who doesn't want to have multiple suitors clamoring for you? Please.

How to gracefully handle multiple job offers and come out on top

However, for anyone who's been in this boat (or who's currently in this boat), the challenge is real. It's overwhelming, and the stakes can seem quite high. How do you manage the process? How do you keep one company at bay while you finalize exploration of that other thing? Do you tell the companies about one another? When? How?

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

It's only insanely complicated if you allow it to be. Let's break it down into a straightforward, humane process that will give you your best shot at your favorite opportunity and keep you rolling forward in a professional, ethical manner.

Let's assume our scenario looks something like this: You're interviewing with two companies that you like, ABC Company and XYZ Unlimited. XYZ Unlimited, which is your second choice, comes forward with an offer first, and wants an answer within 48 hours.

You have a final interview with ABC Company in 72 hours. What to do?

1. Make sure you have a written offer before you make a move

Verbal offers are not offers. So before you get all in a twitter over any of this, make sure you have the real thing in hand. If you don't, this actually could work in your favor by buying you a day or two. Simply go back to the HR person or recruiter who presented the verbal offer with something like, "This all sounds fantastic. I'm eager to sit down and review all of the details. When should I expect to receive the written offer?"

2. Make sure you're only negotiating with offers in hand

You're heading to ABC Company in 72 hours, right? This means that you do not have a written offer in hand from them, yet. Thus, you don't have endless leverage with XYZ Unlimited. However, this does not mean you should sit silently and do nothing right now. Just realize it's not tangible until it's literally printable, no matter who has promised what.

3. Be honest and ask for a bit more time

Unless you strongly suspect that the company that wants to hire you is going to freak if you divulge you're in conversation with another potential employer, I always recommend being honest with the HR person or recruiter who made the first offer.

I suggest something like this: "I am so grateful for the offer and excited about the possibility of joining XYZ Unlimited. I know you want my response by Thursday. I have one final conversation booked this week with another company, and I'd like to see it through. Would it be possible to have one to three extra days to firm up my decision?"

In the worst case, they'll likely say, "No, sorry. We really need your answer by Thursday," in which instance you can decide if you want to accept (knowing that you don't have the other offer in hand) or spin the wheel that you'll land the role at ABC Company. Note: I'd only go with the latter if you truly don't want to work at XYZ Unlimited.

More than likely, they will appreciate that you were honest—and, even if they're antsy to get your offer acceptance, will honor your request for a small extension.

4. Alert the other suitor, but time it right

OK, so let's say you've bought yourself a bit of time with the first offer. Now, what do you do about that second opportunity? Should you keep your lips zipped entirely? Can you use the one as leverage? And, if you are going to alert them, how and when do you do it?

I'm a proponent of alerting the other party, but you must use extreme care that you don't look like you're looking to pit one employer against the other in some kind of bidding war. And you want to time it right. I typically recommend that a job seeker wait until the end of the final interview. By that point, you'll have a strong hunch about how you stack up in the race, and hopefully a feel for their decision-making timing.

Assuming you're a front-runner, now is the time to bust out something like this:

"I'm so excited about the possibility of working for ABC Company. Thank you so much for considering me. I think I will really be able to make a quick impact on [insert thing you know they care about a lot]. I wanted to make you aware of something that's developed this week and see if you have a recommendation for me. I've unexpectedly received another job offer. While ABC is by far my top pick, there are aspects of the other role that appeal to me. They would like a response within the next couple of days. Do you anticipate that ABC Company will be firming up a decision shortly?"

At the least, the person with whom you're interviewing will likely appreciate your honesty. And in the best case (assuming they really want you), ABC Company will accelerate their decision so that they don't lose you to a competitor or other opportunity.

5. Wrap it up with a big round of thank-yous

When it's all said and done, there's going to be two winners (among them, you!) and one loser. While it may be difficult to do (because no one likes interacting with people who are disappointed in us), you absolutely must close out the process with a genuine, heartfelt round of thank yous to everyone involved, including the company whose offer you decline, and especially if you decline it after they give you extra time and consideration.

Handle it directly. Handle it elegantly. And then sashay your way off to that great new opportunity.

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