How to Handle Job/Internship Offer Deadlines

In the midst of recruiting you’ve struck GOLD! Your number one employer has offered you a position! There is just one catch, they’ve stated they need a reply ASAP. Yes, the infamous “Exploding Offer” (noun: a offer, especially of employment, that is retracted if not accepted within a very short period of time.) If you feel your adrenaline rushing, fear not! Here are some resources to guide you through this process. Have more questions? Schedule a meeting with a Career Advisor to discuss.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself When the Clock is Ticking on an Offer

1. Are You Feeling Hesitant?

You’re probably really excited right now. With that said, it’s also completely normal to suddenly feel hesitant about accepting—even if you spent the past few weeks dreaming about this moment. If you fall into this category, you should know that you’re not crazy. And it wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to ask for a little more time to think through everything. After all, you’re probably asking yourself if this is how the company conducts all its business—fast, stressful, and full-of-pressure.

How to Buy More Time

If you’re excited about the opportunity, but blindsided by your deadline, I’m going to suggest something a little bold: Pick up the phone and talk to the hiring manager about how you’re feeling. (An email might come off as a little colder than you’d like, especially if you’re seriously pumped about the job.) Make sure to express your enthusiasm and gratefulness about the offer, but also ask for more clarity around why you were given a deadline. One of three things will likely happen: the hiring manager will share a valid reason for the deadline, the hiring manager will extend the deadline because it wasn’t mean to be exploding, or the hiring manager will, in a way, confirm that this is how the company operates.

2. What Questions Do You Still Have About the Role?

Again, this isn’t a huge surprise, but an exploding offer can exacerbate some of the outstanding questions you had after your final interview. No matter how excited you are about a particular gig, it’s natural to still want to discuss a few things. So be honest with yourself about any concerns you have about the role before signing anything.

How to Buy More Time

I’d still suggest that you pick up the phone to have this conversation, but avoid leading by saying that you need more time. Instead, feel free to ask any of those lingering questions that you have on your mind. If you get the answers you’re looking for, that’ll make things pretty easy (and you should be excited to accept). But if you’re still feeling like you need more time to think it over after you hear the responses, it’s perfectly OK to ask for a deadline extension so that you could think this new information through. A week extension from the time of the verbal offer is the most common time frame requested. Check out this resource on Reading and Understanding Offer Letters for more information.

3. Are You Interviewing Anywhere Else?

If you’re deep into the job search, odds are you’re in final rounds with a few companies. Most exploding offers are given to really great candidates because the hiring manager knows they likely have other options on the table. So, if this is the case for you, don’t ignore those other options. And don’t be shy about letting this employer know that you have a few other positions you’re considering.

How to Buy More Time

Here’s where I’d actually suggest being a little more straightforward. Let the hiring manager know that you’re considering other options and, if possible, need a few more days to consider. Remember: If you want this job, you need to make that clear during this conversation—the last thing you want to do is make the hiring manager think he’s your second choice. If an employer is completely unwilling to budge for you, that’s a pretty good indication that this company runs itself a certain way—and that’s certainly something to keep in mind as you make your decision. In the meantime, now’s a good time to reach back out to those other hiring managers and let them know the situation.

Juggling Multiple Offers

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. For help on understanding negotiation, check out this guide.

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. Once you accept a job or internship offer (verbally or in writing) whether via Duke’s recruiting program or in your independent search, you are expected to withdraw completely from the search and interview process. Reneging is inconsiderate and unprofessional and jeopardizes Duke’s reputation as well as your own in the employment community. Reneging may also negatively impact other students’ opportunities with that company.


A Guide to Juggling Multiple Job Offers and Coming Out on Top

3 Questions You Need to Ask Yourself When the Clock’s Ticking on a Job Offer

Recruiting Policies for Duke Students and Employers

What if I’m Not Sure About an Offer?

By Nicole Mitchell (she/her)
Nicole Mitchell (she/her) Associate Director, Career Readiness