Here's the basic scenario: You've had a few job interviews, and you received an offer from one of the companies. However, it's not an offer from your top choice. You're still waiting to hear back from your preferred employer.
What should you do in this situation? What are your options?
I've come across this sort of thing a lot while advising job seekers as a recruiter, and I know that most people are leaving opportunities on the table because they get nervous and don't know how to handle this.
What Not to Do:
Don't just assume you're helpless and that the companies involved don't care about your predicament. I frequently see advice along the lines of, "Just forget it and take the job offer you have." That's the worst advice you could possibly give or receive.
If an employer wants you, there's a reasonable chance they'll "rush" the process or go slightly out of their way to make the hire happen – especially if you tell them about your situation the right way (more on this in a second). Sure, it depends on your industry and level, but it's worth trying! Don't listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.
Next, don't be apologetic. I'm going to show you how to contact both companies to manage this process. When you're talking to your top choice, you're not bothering them or asking for a favor. You're providing them valuable information and giving them the opportunity to make a competing offer before you're off the market. You're helping them. Don't forget that.
What to Do:
Call or email whoever has been scheduling your interviews with your top choice and tell them you have received an offer but feel their position is an extremely good fit. Communicate that you're still very interested in seeing the process through. Ask what they can do to expedite the process. If you have a deadline on the other job offer, tell the employer about it.
Assume your preferred employer is interested in you as a candidate. If they aren't, they'll tell you – and you'll know you're free to accept the offer you already received.
If the employer is interested in you and can fit the rest of the hiring process within the deadline you provided, great. If not, you might need to ask the original company for more time.
Everyone should contact their preferred employer as outlined above, but this next step comes with some risk. Only you can decide if it's worth doing.
In this step, you'll go back to the company that gave you the first job offer and ask for more time to decide. The (relatively small) risk here is that they will take away the offer. It's incredibly unlikely if you follow the advice I'm about to offer, but it could happen.
Here's what to say: Tell them you are excited about their offer but are in the late stages with another company and would like the opportunity to see the process through. Make it very clear that you're not starting the process with new companies, sending your resume out, or anything like that. You simply want an opportunity to finish the interview process you've already started. You can also tell the employer you'd do the same for them if it had happened in reverse. Do all of this on the phone, not via email.
Any good company should understand where you're coming from.
At the worst, a few might say, "We understand, but unfortunately we can't let this offer sit for any longer. The original deadline we gave you stands, and you'll need to let us know your decision by then." Not the worst thing in the world, right?
This is how many top-tier job seekers would handle the situation, so you'll be in good company if you follow the steps outlined above. If you've struggled to find a job, you might feel anxious because you're scared of losing your offer. Remember: What you're doing is common behavior among top talent.
Stay confident as you go through this. If you follow these steps, you will seem professional and responsible. You will not risk upsetting either company. You'll quickly find out if your top choice is interested and capable of making an offer in the required time frame, and you'll protect the current job offer at the same time.
Biron Clark is an executive recruiter, career coach, and founder of careersidekick.com.