Today I got a call offering me a job that sounds interesting, but not as intriguing as another job still in the early interview stage. I would rather have the second position, but I hesitate to reject the first without the other offer in hand. I want to be fair and honest with everyone involved. What should I do?
All of us who have received an invitation to the Prom from the wrong guy can relate to your predicament. Fortunately, corporations’ egos don’t bruise as easily as teenage boys’. An employer wants you to be truly enthusiastic about joining its team. Generally, your potential manager would rather wait until you are sure about taking the position than make a costly hiring mistake. To be fair to everyone, try the following process:
Call the company that offered you the job to find out its sense of urgency. If its recruiter wants an answer in the next few weeks, you have some breathing room. If she expects a response ASAP, tell her you need time to think about the offer and you’ll get back to her in three days. (If she presses you to move faster, her motive may be suspect. People who want important decisions on the spot often have something to hide.)
Contact the employer with the job you really want. Be candid about your situation and ask him to be truthful as well. Find out how interested he is in you. If you know he has already eliminated you from contention, your decision about the offer will be much easier. If he wants you on board, he may speed up his interview/hiring process to scoop the competition.
Should you be offered the preferred position (in writing, if possible), you can graciously decline the other. When you do, mention the good things about the job you aren’t taking to soften your rejection a bit.
If firm number two doesn’t plan to extend you an offer or is unwilling to condense its interview cycle, you’ll have to decide whether to take the job in hand. To make an informed decision, compare your offer with your ideal job description. Consider how well the opportunity reflects your skills, interests, values and personality. Accept it if you genuinely believe there’s at least an 80% match with your dream position. Otherwise, it’s better for everyone if you decline.
Unless you are in grave danger of being evicted, accepting a job that doesn’t light your fire is unfair to both you and your potential employer. You both deserve better.