- Setting up the decision tree for selecting among the offers. Even if you have only one offer, you should still go through this exercise. On a piece of paper, list the pluses and minuses associated with each job; put down everything no matter how trivial. Using this list, on a second list organize your priorities. Pick those items that are most important to you and put at the top of the new sheet; next to each item list how each offer does. Then at the bottom list the unessential items.
Have I got my priorities straight? For starters, here is list of possible important items: salary compared to cost of living; geographical region (area, city/rural, close to family); scientific/technical quality of the department (group, division, whatever) and of the whole institution; possibility for positive relations with other people in department, institution, or living area; possibilities for advancement at that institution (is there a recognizable path for advancement if you are successful); job possibilities for significant other/spouse; quality of start up package (am I being given a good chance for success?); time given for making a decision. Not all of these (and others you can think of) can be of top importance. If you maintain they are, you are lying to yourself, and you will not decide sensibly.
Am I fooling myself? After you have picked the most important items and how each offer does on those items, but before you have made a decision, discuss your reasoning with people you trust. This may include your most immediate supervisor and, if possible, some more senior, trusted person who has no vested interest in your decision. In talking you may discover that you have some of your priorities wrong. A common mistake is to place too much attentional on geographical region or on a perceived, but not carefully researched, opinion of the actual and potential quality of the department/institution.
- Making the decision. If you have been honest with yourself, the most important elements should be clear. You must make sure you understand how each institution scores on these essentials.
Getting more information. Often you will discover you don’t really know. Go back to the person who made the offer to get additional information. That individual should not be surprised at this step; if you detect surprise, ask yourself whether this is because you have selected items that the offerer does not think are important (then you have to decide who is correct) or because these are weak points associated with offer/institution/area. Anyone really interested in attracting you will provide frank information and direct you to others that can supplement their information. This is a very important step.
Distinguishing between getting more information and negotiating — the uncertainty principle. In the process of asking for more information, you may stimulate a negotiating process. There is no way to avoid this; nor should it be avoided. If changes in the offer would make a difference, then you should find out.
- Concentrate on essential points (the list!). If you start a renegotiation on minor points and then discover other elements are more important, you will both undermine your negotiating position and make the people at the institution wonder whether they have selected the correct person. This could negatively affect how you are viewed even if you do accept and could really hurt your reputation if you turn down the offer.
- Don’t just negotiate for the fun of negotiating. Keep whole process professional. You are not buying a used car from someone you will never see again. You are in the process of making a decision that will determine the course of your professional and personal life.
- Do not accept any offer you don’t have in writing. This seems a simple point, but many forget it. Only written offers constitute real offers.
- The moment of truth. Within a reasonably short time — a few days to a few weeks — all the questions will be answered as well as they can be answered. Make the list of really important items one more time and how each offer stacks up. Then make the decision. Sleep on it over a night or a couple of days. If it is the right decision, it will come to seem the only decision. If it is not, you will have second doubts. If this occurs, either you have been lying to yourself or two of the jobs are essentially indistinguishable. Try going through the analysis stage at the start of this paragraph again watching for place you are fooling yourself. This is particular a good time to go back to some senior person you trust who may be able to point where you have mixed up priorities. Normally the first decision will stick, and you will experience increasing confidence in it.
- Announcing the decision. Accept the offer by calling the person who made it. You will need to follow this up immediately with a letter of acceptance. In the letter you should acknowledge the explicit offer you are accepting including any changes that occurred. Keep this simple. Further say when you will/can start. Do not forget to convey how enthusiastic you are at the possibilities this new job offers. Make the person who made the offer happy with the process.
Graciously turning down the other offers. Call immediately after you have accepted the offer with a rehearsed, short speech. Typically start out, saying how great the offer was, how much you appreciated the effort that went in constructing it, and how sad you are that you have decided not to accept it. The offerer has probably worked hard to get the resources for the offer and will want to be able to put as positive a spin as possible on your rejection. Someday in the future this person or the department may be able to do you a favor. In your rejection, you should strive to maintain the high regard the individual and the department has of you.
Don’t tell what offer you have accepted. No rejected suitor wants to be compared to the successful one; they can’t do that if they don’t know. A skillful rejection will deflect that question. One possible procedure is to suggest you took another offer for personal reasons the offer could not have affected, e.g., a (much better) job for a spouse, family responsibilities. If that possibility doesn’t exist, gently but firmly refuse to provide the information. Finally decline the offer with a letter designed to the good opinion of any institution that made you an offer.
Using these insights draft a sample letter to accept or reject an offer and upload for this week’s assignment.