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August 26, 2014 at 1:00 AM

Don’t count your job offers until they’re dispatched

At the risk of exposing my advanced age, Tom Petty was right: Sometimes the waiting really is the hardest part, especially when your career is riding on news of a possible job offer. You may have spent six months searching for work, but somehow the phrase “We’ll get back to you by the end of the week” can feel like a lifetime prison sentence.

There are many reasons why the silent treatment still happens. The folks in charge of hiring might be waiting to hear from another candidate and they’re hedging their bets with you. They might need a sign-off from a key executive who’s away on vacation. They might be dealing with a complex and time-consuming HR infrastructure.

In this “gray area” of employment, applicants must exist in two worlds — part active job seeker and part incoming employee. Try these dos and don’ts if you find yourself in this twilight zone.

Do call back. If you’ve been promised an offer by a certain date and that date has passed, don’t prolong the agony beyond two or three days. Call the hiring manager and ask how the process is going. You want to let him or her know you’re still on the market, however.

Don’t halt your job search. You might have had a great third or fourth interview; you might even have a verbal offer. But you still have no guarantee that the employer wants you to come in on Monday morning. Keep plugging away with your networking efforts until an offer letter is in hand.

Do read the fine print. If you finally get the official offer, you’re probably safe from having the job rescinded, but read the language carefully. Most offer letters contain a clause saying the employer can terminate employees “at any time,” including the period before your expected first day at work.

Don’t bluff. While some hiring managers like a take-charge attitude, stay away from ultimatums. If you say, “I have another offer on the table and I have to decide by tomorrow,” you’ll put them on the defensive. If you do so and they’re in a quandary, you’ve just given them an excuse to say, “OK, take the other offer.”

Do stay in touch. Ask questions about the job, or offer to read up on manuals or other background information before your first day. The more you engage with the company, the likelier it will be to give you the green light.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at randywoods67@gmail.com.

More in Work Life Blog | Topics: etiquette, interviewing, job search strategy, offer letter

Blog contributors

Randy Woods Writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Former contributors

Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

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