Job search is a game of numbers, and only a foolish person will send a single job application. Waiting for a call from the lone employer, they may as well wait forever. In a typical case, you will send dozens of applications (ideally tailored), trying to improve your chances of getting some phone interviews, face to face interviews, and eventually some job offers.

What happens often, however, especially if you did things right, is that you get more interview invitations, spanning over a month, or even a shorter time period. And since you do not want to accept the first offer, and want to talk to more managers and see how things work in this and that company, and find the best match for your expectations and personality, you may often experience an occurred situation:

You get a job offer, but you can’t accept it. At least not immediately. Simply because you have also other offers, or other interviews, and you want to wait until everything ends to make the most qualified decision. But how to explain this to an employer, without losing your chances of eventually working for them? We will try to find the answer in this article. Enjoy!


Rule no. 1: Never say them that they aren’t your first choice

If you said to the hiring managers that you waited for other interviews, or negotiation processes to end, with other companies that had priority on your list, you could immediately forget about this opportunity.

Nobody likes to be the second best, let alone the third or forth on the list. That’s the worst explanation you can give them. If they really are your second or third choice, and that’s why you are waiting, you should avoid talking about any choices or ratings in the interview. Do not give them any labels, unless they are actually your first choice.

You can simply say that you haven’t decided yet, that you see some pluses and minuses in each company, and do not have a clear winner. Because you are a loyal employee, and do not want to hop from one job to another, you prefer to wait. Once the interview processes end, you will have your idea about each company, and will make your decision.


Rule no. 2: You should give them a deadline, and it should not be three months away

If the hiring managers like what they are seeing in the interviews with you, they won’t be in an extreme hurry. At the same time, however, they do not interview people today so they can hire them in six months time. They want to see you onboard as soon as possible. And of course, this also depends on the urgency of the placement.

What I try to convey here is that you should give them a realistic deadline. Then more genuine you are in your explanation at this point, the easier it will be to retain your chances.

For example, if you clearly explain that you have one interview next Tuesday, and another one on Friday in two weeks time, and that you’ll decide immediately after that one, is a fair point and also a reasonable waiting time. Unless they are in an extreme hurry, of course.

* May also interest you: Decline an interview in style.

Rule no. 3: Have a clear explanation ready why you can’t accept their offer straight away

Saying that you have other interviews waiting for you won’t be enough for most hiring managers. Because they will wonder about a lot of things:

  • In which way are the other offers better than their offer?
  • What is the showstopper in this case, and is there anything they can improve about their offer to convince you to accept the job on the spot?
  • Is there anything else that holds you back that you concealed from them?

Once again, honesty works best at this point–but not a brutal honesty. You can say, for example, that you’d like to meet the management from the other company as well, to see the way they communicate and present the offer, to judge their leadership skills.

Or that you would like to experience a working environment in the other company, just to see if it is not a better match for your personality and preferences. You do not have to go into details here, because if you started talking about details, they may try to convince you, explaining how these “details” are better in their business.


Rule no. 4: Refer to the salary offer only if that’s the deciding factor for you

A rule of a thumb is to not initiate the talks about salary in your interview. It does not shed a good light on you and your motivation. At the end of the day most of us work for money, but you should at least try to not make it obvious in the interviews. Let them start the talks.

On the other hand, if their salary offer is the only showstopper, you can be honest, and say it. But you should elaborate on your answer. For example you can say that you like everything about their company, and believe to be a good match for the job.

But you have bills to pay, dreams to follow, and perhaps also kids to feed, and their competitor offered you (or advertises, if you haven’t interviewed with them yet) better remuneration package. That’s the only reason why you hesitate. But if they can offer you the same amount, or at least something competitive, you will accept their offer on the spot.

Bear in mind that this is a risky strategy. It typically ends in two scenarios–either they offer you a competitive package and the job, or they say they can’t offer you that and you will lose your chances. Proceed carefully if you decide to refer to the salary as the reason of your hesitation…

* May also interest you: How to know if you failed a phone interview?


Samples of telling the employer that you have another offer

I am grateful for your offer, and have a great impression from this interview. But I can’t accept it straight away. Trying to approach my job search responsibly, and stick to the promises I made in other companies, I still have two more interviews to go to. One is on Wednesday, and the other one on Tuesday next week. As soon as I end my last interview next Tuesday, I will be able to tell you whether I decided for your company. The odds are high I will, but I still would like to give a chance to the other employers, especially because I promised to come to the interviews. Sorry for any inconveniences, and I hope you can wait until Tuesday.

Speaking honestly, I already have one offer from another employer in the city, and I am not exactly sure what to do right now. I interviewed with them a week ago, but I like what I heard here more, except of one thing–the salary offer. They offered me $50K annually + a company car. While money isn’t the deciding factor for me, I have a family and bills to pay. Hence I am not sure if I can afford accepting $40K with you. Isn’t there anything you can do with the salary offer, considering your budget for this position?

Thank you a lot for your offer, but I cannot accept it straight away. It means a lot to me that you gave me a chance in this interview, and I also enjoyed what I heard about the company, and about the position. However, I am in the midst of interviewing for jobs, two interviews behind me already, and three other waiting, the last one on the 27th of this month. As you can certainly understand, I prefer to attend the other interviews as well. I am not a job hopper, and I’d like to choose the best position for me, one I will enjoy, and a place where I can bring the most value as an engineer. After the 27th, I will summarize everything, consider the offer, and make a decision. I hope you can wait until the 27th. I really like what I heard here, and so far you are my first choice.


Conclusion, next steps

Employers are not naive. They cannot expect you to accept their offer straight away, unless they are called Google or Amazon… As long as you manage to explain clearly that you have another offer (or another interview), and tell them when you will announce your decision, they should accept it.

Of course there’s always some risk involved in telling them this. For example if they made a close call in the interviews, and the 2nd best candidate is ready to accept the offer immediately, they may as well offer them the job, and you will lose your chances.

But that’s how it goes in the employment market, and also in life–everything relates to everything, and sometimes we have to take risks…. you can at least follow our guide to minimize the risk. I wish you good luck!


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Matthew Chulaw
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