A reader writes:
What is a reasonable period of time to let a candidate consider a job offer and what is best way to phrase that window? I hate to say “you have 48 hours to think it over!” but candidates generally request a week if I ask them for a time frame. In most cases, I have other qualified candidates that I might lose if I give the candidates as much time as they want. So what is reasonable and what is a way to say it to not sound unreasonable?
I’d try to give people a week if at all possible, because you’re asking people to make a major decision that will have a huge impact on their quality of life, finances, and overall fulfillment for at least the next couple of years and possibly longer.
If possible, try to position yourself to be able to do that by building a buffer into the timeline you’re giving to other candidates. If you’re telling all your candidates “we’ll let you know by the 15th,” then you’re creating artificial pressure on yourself to do that, even if you don’t make someone an offer until the 13th.” But if you build additional time in there (or don’t nail yourself down to a particular date, or even a particular week), you can get rid of that pressure.
However, there are times when you know that you risk losing your second or third choice candidates if you drag out your process too long — such as if one has another offer that they need to respond to quickly. In that case, you should explain the situation to your first choice candidate so they understand the context of your request: “You’re our first choice and we’re eager to bring you on board. However, some of our other candidates have deadlines for responding to other offers that we’re trying to be sensitive to. Would it work to get us an answer by Monday?”
The other thing that you can do is to make sure you’re giving people enough information through the hiring process that they’re going to be well-positioned to make a decision pretty quickly after getting an offer. Ideally, if you’re doing your job well, by the time you reach the offer stage, your top candidate should already pretty much know whether she’d accept the job, as long as the salary is right.