The Wait is On
In 1965, basketball player Wilt Chamberlain became the first NBA player to earn $100,000 in salary. But that didn’t sit well with Bill Russell, who had already led the Boston Celtics to 8 championships in the previous 9 years. As the story is told, he went to the team and demanded a salary of $100,001, which he promptly received.
If only asking for and receiving the job and salary you wanted could be that fast and easy for everyone.
If you’ve been job searching for some time, then you already know the frustration it can bring. According to one report, the average length of the interview process has nearly doubled from 12 days in 2009 to 23 days in 2013. Candidates are now often subjected to five, six, or even seven or more rounds of interviews before companies finally make an offer.
But once you DO beat out all the other candidates and are told you’ve got the position, the game is finally over, right? Not so fast. I’ve seen two examples recently where people find out that’s not always the case.
Just Hang in There...
The first case was a client, “Susan,” that was laid off in November of 2013. Fortunately, she was forward-thinking and had seen the writing on the wall, so when she reached out for negotiation help, she already had her next job lined up. But looking back at our timeline, it’s a little bit disturbing:
- After her interviews late in the year, she was told “You should know something by the end of December.”
- As the days on her calendar ticked by and the company told her they needed more time, it was easy to blame it on the rush of the holidays.
- January 29: Several more weeks passed before she had a specific call to talk salary, and we mapped out a strategy at that time.
- February 5: “You should know something by Friday.”
- February 18: “There’s been some leadership changes, can we meet after the 25th?”
- March 6: “You should know something by Friday.”
On March 7, things got REALLY interesting. She was in a crowded restaurant and overheard her name mentioned at a table nearby. She elbowed her husband to shush and listen in, and it ended up being someone in management at the company she was interviewing at. They were complaining that, because their company took so long to hire people, they always lost good candidates. It had become a topic of public conversation!
On March 10, she received a verbal offer. But we all know what that’s worth, right?
It wasn’t until March 22 – about FOUR MONTHS from her initial interviews – that she finally signed an official, written offer. Insane.
Good Candidates Can't Wait Forever
Another client, “Linda,” had a similar story. She interviewed in late January, the company gushed about how much they wanted her, but kept dragging things on for weeks on end.
After nearly 2 months of indecision, another offer fell in her lap and she had to abandon the previous opportunity – which she would have preferred – just because she couldn’t afford to wait any longer.
So what can you do about the long wait? Here are three major tips.
1. Watch Your Attitude
I’ve written before about the simple sentence you need to say at the end of your next interview to make your job search less stressful, but here is the first thing to remember.
The first thing you need to do is get your own psychology in order. From the moment you are laid off or decide to pursue an opportunity, know that the process is going to take much, much longer than you think.
At every turning point… applications, interviews, negotiation, and offer, get it in your head that there WILL be delays, there WILL be rescheduled meetings, and assume that things will take double or triple the amount of time. Then, if things do work out a bit faster, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
2. Watch THEIR Attitude
As the hiring team comes back to you with delay after delay, keep a close eye on their communication and try to read between the lines.
In some unfortunate cases, yes, a company might be leading you on. Maybe there’s not even an official position open, and they’re just testing the waters to see what’s out there. If they keep you in the dark, don’t communicate well, and are vague in their answers, it might be best to move on. In the most frustrating cases, despite seeing dozens of candidates or even being told you’re a finalist, at the end of the entire process you discover that the company decided not to hire anyone at all.
In Susan’s case, the delay seemed to stem more from bureaucracy, not malice. It was a giant, old-school company, and the conversation she overheard confirmed that not only were candidates frustrated with the delay, but managers within the company as well. She was able to keep her eye on the prize and know that it was the system that was the problem, not her or her future managers.
In Linda’s case, she asked me if she should make an ultimatum to the company and force them to give her a date that they would make a decision. I responded by asking her three questions:
- What is her current situation? Is she out of work and desperate for money or does she hate her current job so much that she needs to get out immediately?
- Does she actually like the company and want the job?
- How are they handling the situation?
2. Watch THEIR Attitude (cont'd)
Her first answer was that her current job was fine. There wasn’t a pressing financial crisis or issue in the workplace so she was ok coasting along for a bit longer, but it was definitely time for her to make a change soon. And yes, she really did want to work for this new company.
Furthermore, the emails that the company was sending her felt very, very genuine. They kept emphasizing how much they wanted her for the position, apologized for the delay at every turn, and explained thoroughly that they were reorganizing their structure internally, and it made sense to wait until that played out before bringing her in.
After hearing that, I definitely recommended against giving an ultimatum. After all, what good would it do? While I understood that she was getting impatient, she could remain at her current job a bit longer and see how things played out. I actually turned the tables and said it could be an advantage … that maybe it’s a good thing that the company is trying to sort things out before she arrives, vs. bringing her into a chaotic situation with lots of changes right off the bat.
3. Keep Your Options Open
By far the number one thing a job-seeker can do is to relentlessly keep pursuing new jobs right up until the moment you sign an offer. When you only have one option, you start to obsess about that one option.
Even if the company tells you “you’re our top candidate.”
Even if they say “you’ll definitely have an offer by Friday.”
Even if they are extremely apologetic and say that everything will be resolved very shortly.
The best course of action is to keep the pipeline flowing. Keep networking. Keep applying to new jobs. Keep your options open.
This will result in 3 things, all of them positive:
- If the first company comes through, great, you got the job! At least you were keeping busy and not obsessing about it the entire time.
- If the first offer falls through, then you’re not starting up your job search again from scratch… you already have things in the pipeline.
- And finally, the best scenario. If you keep your options open and receive an offer from a new company, now you have increased leverage. It’s at this point that you can go back to the first company and press them for a date a decision can be made. You now have two choices for your next career move, which lets you more effectively negotiate your salary.
Patience Is a Virtue
In the end, both candidates ended up happy. Susan kept an even keel as she sailed the wave of red tape for several months, and is now loving her new job, while Linda ultimately moved on to the next company since the first one still wasn’t ready to act.
While the entire process might not be a slam dunk, if you’re patient and keep your eye on the prize, hopefully you’ll end up happy in the next stage of your career, and making at least a little bit more than the next guy.
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