what does it mean when an employer says, “let us know if you get any offers”?

A reader writes:

When an employer says “let us know if you get any other offers,” can you explain what that actually means?

I had a great first interview, and a great second interview where they said that. I don’t get it. Why do they say it at all? I am still interviewing for other jobs, but I really want this job, yet have heard nothing. Should I keep hoping and waiting or write it off?

It feels like the equivalent of a date saying, “I’ll call you” after a fun evening but he doesn’t. Thoughts?

“Let us know if you get any other offers” means “It’s possible we might want to hire you, although we haven’t decided that yet, and if you’re about to accept another offer, we want to know so that we have the chance to decide to make you an offer too.”

You might think, “Well, then why not just decide that right now, rather than waiting until I have an offer from somewhere else?”

Generally, there’s a reasonable answer to that: They want to talk to a certain number of candidates before making a decision because that’s responsible to do when you want to ensure that you’re hiring the best person for the job. Or there’s a candidate who seems great but who can’t interview for another two weeks, and they don’t want to make a decision until they’ve given her a fair evaluation. Or they’d ideally like to wait another few weeks in order to iron something out — a budget question, or an issue with the job description, or there’s a chance that Bob might be leaving and if he does, they’re going to tweak the role you applied for a little bit. Or all sorts of other things.

But even with those scenarios, if they like you enough, they might be willing to expedite their decision if the alternative is losing you entirely. And that’s where you get statements like “let us know if you get any other offers.” They’d prefer to take their time for any of the reasons above, but not necessarily if it means losing you over the wait.

Now, some people hear that and think that they should bluff and say they have another offer even if they don’t — and then, hey, they can get a faster answer and not have to deal with the frustrating waiting period. But that can backfire hugely — because “let us know if you get any other offers” doesn’t mean “because then we’ll hire you faster.” It can very often end up meaning that you instead hear “We’re not ready to make a decision yet, so go ahead and take that other offer.”

So this isn’t something that you want to bluff about.

As for whether you should keep waiting or write them off all together, the answer is neither.  I mean, you should move on mentally, because you should always move on mentally after applying or interviewing for a job because you have nothing to gain by agonizing and wondering, but what you shouldn’t be doing is reading into all of this and trying to interpret it and getting frustrated when you think they’re hinting at things and not being clear and  not following up in the way you want.

Paraphrasing the Flight of the Conchords, an interview isn’t a promise of anything more, no matter how great the conversation seemed to go. It’s just an interview. The same  is true of requests to let them know if you get another job offer.  The best thing that you can do for your sanity is to remember that (and to watch the linked video).

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