Too Much Of A Good Thing: How To Handle Competing Job Offers

Lawyers with specific skill sets are in high demand in today’s marketplace, and the best candidates may find themselves with several opportunities and/or offers presented to them in quick succession. If you are a transactional lawyer with three to seven years of experience, for example, you are desirable to both companies and law firms. If you are an experienced pharmaceutical lawyer with compliance and/or promotional review experience, your skills are also in high demand. Healthcare lawyers, securities/corporate governance lawyers, and intellectual property lawyers are finding that they are in a good market as well. It is exciting to have several opportunities to consider, if you are interested in making a move. Successfully interviewing at several places is a boost to one’s ego and knowing that you are marketable is affirming and exhilarating. What could possibly go wrong with your job search when you are so in demand? Is there any way that being so marketable can work against you? Yes, it can – you can wind up having to make tough decisions about opportunities with deadlines imposed upon you by companies and firms. Ultimately, you will likely have to forego some opportunities, or even the ability to complete the hiring processes that are currently in progress, in order to secure one of your top choices. Although everyone will tell you that having multiple opportunities and/or offers is “a great problem to have”, it can be difficult to navigate through the process. Here are some pointers to consider:

1.   TIMING IS EVERYTHING AND NOT OFTEN ON YOUR SIDE! Be forewarned that timing will likely NOT operate in your favor. We always tell our candidates to expect that the timing of several opportunities will not work out perfectly, as planned. In other words, if you are interviewing with multiple employers, you need to prepare yourself for the fact that it is VERY rare to obtain multiple offers during the same general timeframe. Life would be easier if you received an offer on Monday, another on Tuesday and one more on Wednesday, so you could adequately compare/contrast your options. Unfortunately, your job search will typically not work out that way. Inevitably, one company/firm’s interview process will drag on for months, while another may be decisive and concise in their process, and the timing of the offers will not match up. You may be forced to accept/reject an offer from one opportunity before you know whether you will be receiving an offer from another opportunity.

2.   DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE “BIRD IN THE HAND”! It is an adage that we have all heard countless times, but it really does have applicability to your job search. If you have a good offer in hand from an opportunity about which you are genuinely excited, then think twice about jeopardizing that offer by waiting for another one to come in the door. Feeling really marketable can go to your head and cloud your decision-making. You need to ask yourself this question – if I had no other opportunities in the works and I received this offer in hand, would I be hesitating to accept it? The allure of knowing that another offer may be forthcoming can really mislead and misdirect lawyers into missing out on the opportunities they are really seeking. As lawyers, we are inherently competitive and analytical people, and those traits often get amplified when going through the job search process. To some, it feels almost reckless to accept an offer before knowing whether another one is coming in, even if the first offer is really the job he/she wants! Frequently, lawyers tell us that they just need to compare the offers in order to make the best decision, but as stated above, timing does not always permit that, so you have to be able to be analytical yet decisive. The reality is that more often than not, lawyers know whether the offer and job opportunity “in hand” is right for them – sure, there may need to be some negotiation and explanation of the offer details, but that is par for the course. We spend a significant amount of time talking through offers with my candidates and drilling down about what they are really seeking so that we can uncover whether the offer “in hand” is right for them.

There are times, however, when you might feel genuinely conflicted about opportunities and not sure which one is right for you. In that instance, you have to decide whether it is worth “pushing” the other opportunity forward to see if they will give you an accelerated offer, because you already have one in tow. This can be risky and if not handled with care, can be difficult to navigate.

3.   REALIZE THAT PROCESS MATTERS. Hiring processes do matter and can (to some extent) offer a glimpse into what it is like to work at a certain company/firm. You are allowed to take that into account when making a decision.   We worked with a lawyer who received two offers within a similar timeframe and process was a big factor in his decision. The first offer came in fairly, clearly and decisively after a very organized and enjoyable interview process. The second offer came in disjointed without many details after a very protracted and confusing interview process, in which the lawyer often felt that he was being interrogated. The second offer was better financially, but not by an overwhelming amount. The lawyer made a list of pros and cons, which we discussed at length. Our discussions always wound up focused on “process”. The analysis is as follows: if Company X’s hiring process is so protracted, confusing and uninviting, then what in the world is it going to be like when I am working there? It is easy to tell yourself that the process is just a hurdle in getting hired and it does not reflect the company’s culture, but I think process does matter. If you take the time to analyze how you feel during the interviews, you will be better equipped to make the right decision.

4.    DO NOT ENGAGE IN GAME-PLAYING. Put simply, most lawyers want to negotiate offers and believe that the first offer they receive is never the company/firm’s best offer. We have no problem with handling this negotiation when it is done fairly and with the right intent. If you receive an offer for your dream job, but you really feel that it is a bit under-market, we will talk that through with the company/firm and see what can be done. If you, however, have more than one offer and want to play one against the other to see who will be the highest bidder, that is dangerous territory and we would strongly urge you to rethink that strategy. In the short term, it may seem advantageous to pit two offers against one other and negotiate up both of them, but it is not fair to the companies/firms and will undermine your professionalism. Let me be clear – there is nothing wrong with informing a company/firm that you have another offer, but the details of that offer do not need to be shared. What needs to happen is your own internal analysis and thinking about the offers. You should ask whatever questions you have about each opportunity and then decide which one is right. If you decide you want job A, but you need more on the base salary or a better title, we can try to negotiate that. Such negotiation happens only if and after you have decided that is the job you want. Remember what I said about process – you can judge a company by its hiring process, and they have the right to judge you by how you handle the offer process. If you engage in game-playing, it will only hurt your reputation and leave someone with a very poor impression of you.

5.   GO WITH YOUR GUT. Do not belittle those gut feelings that keep popping up and guiding you a certain way. Do not over-analyze each offer and opportunity to the point where emotion and feeling are no longer part of the analysis. You need to trust your gut instinct and the impressions you had during the interviews. If you just got the feeling that the General Counsel was going to micro-manage you, and that does not work for you, trust that feeling. If you perceived that the law firm was saying “all the right things” about promotions and partnership, but you felt that it was disingenuous, that matters! We often counsel my candidates to write down their impressions immediately after their interviews, so they can accurately remember how they really felt during those meetings. It is so easy to get caught up in the game of impressing others and wanting to get an offer from every single opportunity that you can lose your own gut instincts about what you want in your next opportunity. Not going with your gut is choosing the highest bidder and accepting an offer that is $5K more than the other one, despite that nagging voice in your head that says you will not be happy there. Not going with your gut is getting so mired down in negotiating offers that you choose the employer that caved to more of your demands, despite your feelings that the other opportunity is a better fit.

Sometimes, having several choices actually makes decisions more difficult. Do not overlook the fact that securing a good offer with a solid company/firm that interests you is a “win”. There is no extra prize for obtaining additional offers because you can only accept one. You are in this profession for the long haul and do not want to burn any bridges. An offer is not an accolade to collect; it is an invitation to join a team, and you need to make sure that it is right for you.

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