Job offer acceptance deadline? Proceed with caution.

The topic of the dreaded job offer acceptance deadline came up in my circles this week. Unfortunately I expect these to become more common in the near future. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a red flag. Let’s look at why businesses put deadlines on offers, and what they reveal in doing so.

Job offer acceptance deadlines are a power move, intended to force an individual’s hand. But they are also a sign that the company is insecure.

Why job offer acceptance deadlines are a jerk move

deadline on job offer
When you put a deadline on a job offer, you’re not negotiating from a position of strength. An exceptionally qualified candidate will ask what you’re hiding.

Putting a deadline on a job offer forces the prospect into a rush decision. A job change isn’t a decision that one should take lightly. Let me recount an actual conversation I had when I received a career-changing job offer. I won’t use quotes because I don’t remember precisely what each person said.

My soon-to-be boss called me and said he’d been told to extend me an offer. Then he asked whether I planned to accept it or turn it down.

I was honest with him. I wanted to accept the offer, but the job was going to require some adjustment. My wife and my kids needed a chance to talk with me about it first. If they were OK with it, I would accept the offer, but I needed to give them a chance to tell me what they thought.

When a company gives a prospect 24 hours to accept an offer, it forces a rush decision. This specific company didn’t give me a stated deadline, but asking the question that way implied one. I asked for a little time, and they respected that, especially given that I wanted to take time to talk to my family first. Everyone should understand that.

My experience with hard deadlines

I’ve had job offers with deadlines on them before. I declined the first one immediately. Well, two minutes.

I accepted the second. It wasn’t the worst thing I ever did, but my tenure with that company was short. The company had very poor Glassdoor reviews, which I found concerning. I asked about it in my interview. They blamed it on disgruntled Java programmers.

The interview went well. I liked how they thought, and they liked how I thought. The company had an outstanding benefits package, one of the best I’ve seen. In spite of the red flags, there was a lot to like. I accepted the offer, in spite of the deadline. I had several job interviews scheduled that week. When I called to cancel those interviews, almost everyone said I was making a mistake to accept a job with a deadline on it. I wouldn’t like what I’d find, they said.

When I got in, I found a troubled company. Or at least a troubled IT department. It wasn’t just the Java programmers who were unhappy. And the CTO’s nickname was Scarface. Not because he had a scar, but because he was as merciless as we imagined Al Capone. The place had higher turnover than a fast food joint. And it wasn’t a poor performing IT department. He was firing people for things they wouldn’t get fired for in other shops.

Needless to say, a lot of people left on their own too.

Why a company might put a deadline on an offer

Companies put deadlines on their offers to pressure you into taking the job quickly and prevent you from entertaining other offers. They’re trying to get you to do exactly what I did: cancel any other interviews you might have scheduled and take the job right away.

That’s what they’re doing. Why do they feel the need to pressure you?

It’s a sign of insecurity. It shows they think the next offer you get will be better in some way, so they’re trying to pre-empt that.

Imagine what would have happened if I’d given my wife a 24-hour deadline when I proposed to her. Do you think she would have said yes? She would have asked what I was afraid of. Either before or after she threw the ring back at me.

If you’re a company thinking about putting a deadline on an offer, think about the message you’re sending. You’re negotiating from a position of weakness, not a position of strength. Sell me on the offer. Tell me why this is the best offer I’m going to get this job search. That’s a position of strength.

Offering from a position of strength

The latter is what someone did to me in 2017. I was interviewing with two companies in the same week. If that was a mistake, my mistake was interviewing with only two, but we won’t get into why it was only two. Either one was going to be great. The first offer came in on a Thursday. The offer came in my e-mail and my phone rang almost immediately afterward.

I simply told them the offer looked great, and I wanted a chance to talk it over with my family and to sleep on it. I asked if it would be OK to call him in the morning.

He said of course. And of course I had my conversations, called him in the morning, and accepted.

The second offer came in on Monday. I’d accepted the other offer on Friday. The person making the second offer told me this was the best offer I’d ever see. I told him I was sure it was either the best or second-best. But I received the other offer that’s in the running with him last week and I’d already accepted it.

The second company found a position of strength to speak from, even when they knew from the start of the conversation they’d already lost. And if my other offer had a deadline attached to it, I probably would have listened to the entirety of what he had to say, and he might have been able to turn that loss into a win.

What to do if you get a job offer with an acceptance deadline

I can’t exactly tell you what to do if you get a job offer with an acceptance deadline, but I’ll tell you what happened in my case and what I think I should have done.

I had at least two other interviews scheduled that week that I cancelled. One of those companies ended up hiring one of my then-coworkers. He only stayed about two years, and so did the guy who was interviewing me. Not the ideal place, but two years isn’t a bad run these days.

I know less about the other place I was scheduled to interview. I wasn’t as far along, but could have done the job and had nailed my phone interview. The Glassdoor reviews there were positive overall. This may have been my best option.

If I could do it again, I would have called their bluff. I had three places interested in me, and I had a job. I was unhappy there, but my job was in no danger. My position was a position of strength.

I figured if I pushed back at all, they’d rescind the offer. And that’s entirely possible. But it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, and I’m not completely sure of their motive. Were they just desperate, or trying to figure out how desperate I was? Well, I sure told ’em I was desperate.

What really happened

In my case, I accepted the job. And it was like a bad relationship. It was a right-to-hire position, so I was a contractor for six months and then they’d bring me on full time. They dragged their feet. Six months passed without a word, even though I asked. And I don’t remember the complete sequence of events anymore, but at the nine-month mark, things got weird.

I didn’t go looking for another job, but other opportunities started finding me.

I had two companies who were very familiar with me, pitching me a promotion and a raise to jump to them. And in the middle of all that, they finally exercised their right to hire. Or, maybe I should say, they started the sequence that would eventually lead to them exercising the right. And that didn’t get very far. My boss was convinced I was looking for another job, and that turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. I had no reason to decline a sure thing to talk to these other companies. And I honestly don’t think both of those companies were in the picture when we had the conversation. I think the second one came out of the blue that night.

But with no sure thing, I did what I’d do if I thought the end was imminent. I got my interviews scheduled. I nailed my interviews and in a matter of weeks I was working for someone else. I’m not complaining. I turned out fine.

But for a time I was in a worse position than when I started with them. I was in limbo with a company that was convinced I was going to leave them, and with no concrete offer anywhere else. Like a bad relationship that doesn’t get any better once you get engaged and/or married, this professional relationship that started with an offer with a deadline didn’t either.

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