Further Questions: Do you have any etiquette tips for candidates who have received an offer?

This week I asked people who hire librarians to talk to me about job offers.  My question was:

Do you have any etiquette tips for candidates who have received an offer? How quickly would you expect a response?  Do you expect candidates to negotiate things like pay and benefits? Can a candidate decline your offer without burning a bridge with you?

Laurie PhillipsEtiquette tips: No etiquette tips other than to be open and honest. Don’t play games.

Response time: I would expect a response within a couple of days unless there were extenuating circumstances or if the person was considering two offers. In that case, I would like the person to be open about what would sway the decision, so we would have a chance to respond.

Negotiating: I expect candidates to negotiate pay, but candidates should understand that there are limits based on budget and where they would fall salary-wise against other recent hires, unless they are coming in with more experience. We can’t create salary equity issues when someone new is hired. I discuss the salary offer with the Dean of Libraries but I do not extend the formal offer nor am I the one to negotiate salary. Benefits are non-negotiable in my organization. They are what they are and I would suspect that is the case in most libraries. We have finalists meet with someone from HR/Benefits when they visit campus so I assume they would understand that before an offer is made.

Declining an offer:If a candidate declined with good reason (a better offer or in a better place), I would understand, but they need to be professional about it.– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

Marleah AugustineSome of these things are handled differently by me, since I hire only part-time staff who work at close to minimum wage. After the application and interview process, when I’ve narrowed down who I would like to hire, I call that person on the phone and ask if they are still interested, and I expect a response at that time. There really is no negotiation of pay and benefits to be done in that case – I’ve already given them pay/benefit information at the interview so they are aware, and the position pays what it pays, and that’s that. I have had people decline once they learn about that, but there are no hard feelings. If a candidate declines, I figure they have good reason and that they have truly given the job fair consideration.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Emilie SmartEtiquette tips and response time: Candidates should acknowledge the offer as quickly as possible.  If there is another potential job on the table at the time my job is offered, I would appreciate that information, and would appreciate a timeline for when to expect a response on my offer so that I can make plans in case my offer is turned down.

Negotiating: No.  Pay and benefits are pretty much non-negotiable in the classified civil service realm.

Declining an offer: Generally, a declined offer will not burn a bridge with me.  I am aware of what openings are available in my area (and what the pay and benefits packages are), so I know what my competition is doing.  I use the interview to assess what the employment goals of the candidate are, i.e., need for highest income possible or best benefits package, desire for broader experience, location preference, so I’m rarely surprised if our offer is declined.  I most often lose a candidate when the job I offer doesn’t fit their needs.  I can’t hold that against them.
A candidate who does not communicate about other irons in the employment fire will burn a bridge with me.  Dragging out the acceptance process will make me question the candidate’s commitment to my position and could lead me to question the sincerity of their interest in any future application.

– Emilie Smart, Division Coordinator of Reference Services & Computer Services at East Baton Rouge Parish Library

Etiquette tips:

  • Be gracious even if you decline.
  • Be professional the whole time no matter how excited you are or whether you have to decline.
  • If you have to decline, try to say something nice.
  • Be honest. If you are waiting for a better offer, tell me nicely.
  • DON’T EVER accept and then rescind the acceptance, except in circumstances of dire family situations. Don’t create a fake dire family situation just to rescind the acceptance. Bad karma. If you are using my job offer as leverage for your own negotiations at your current place of business, then don’t accept until you talk to them. If they can’t get back to you by my deadline, then you have a problem. Don’t leave me hanging.

Response time: 

  • I need to know ASAP so the sooner the better. I will usually say “I need to know by X date”. Let me know one way or the other on or before the date I have given you. Don’t leave me hanging. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


  •  I won’t negotiate with Library Assistants at all. The job is what it is and the pay is what it is. I don’t usually have much room to deal on benefits or vacation.
  • The firm will sometimes negotiate on salary, but we try to offer fair salaries that offer room for growth.

Declining an offer:

  • Definitely. Business is business and job hunting is a business. The way the offer is declined is important, however.
  • Don’t be rude. Don’t tell me you are worth more money and my offer wasn’t in keeping with your skills or fabulousness. Hiring someone is a leap of faith in the best of circumstances. I will fight for you AFTER you prove your value to me. Out of the gate you are still an unknown.
  • The Library world, especially the law library world is small. Everyone knows everyone, so I will meet candidates again in some other circumstances or at some meeting. It is best to be civil in all dealings.
  • Candidates will burn a bridge if they accept and then rescind their offer. As soon as person accepts an offer, a lot of processes start in order for that person to get ready to start work. A lot of people are involved and rescinding their offer means a lot of wasted effort.

– Jaye Lapachet, Manager of Library Services, Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass LLP

John StachaczI tell people being offered a position that they have a week to respond. That way there’s no ambiguity. I have always had a response in that timeframe.  However if they didn’t respond my next step would be to contact them.

I’m never surprised when a candidate does try to negotiate, but a lot of times this is out of the managers hands.  I would be less willing to negotiate with someone who doesn’t respond in the timeline.  After all, we may have other, qualified candidates in the pool.

As long as there is a good reason for a person to decline a position (I.E.  discovering after interview that it’s not the right position, not the right salary; or not really geographically suited)  and  it is done in a professional manner then no bridge will be burned.  Sometimes it just simply isn’t the right job.  Be honest and move forward.

– John C. Stachacz, Dean, Farley Library, Wilkes University

Petra MauerhoffGenerally, my experience has been that we are eager to fill the position and want (or need!) a position filled as soon as possible. However, of course I recognize that there are often logistics that need to be taken into consideration. I don’t mind when someone has to take a few days or a weekend to think things over. If the response is going to be negative, however, then I’d always prefer to know sooner rather than later, so that we can move on in the hiring process.
 I don’t mind if a candidate tries to negotiate pay and benefits, but often I am not able to budge on whatever the offer is. Our extended health benefits for example are clearly defined by our provider and vacation is set by policy, so there is not much I can do about that.
Yes, a candidate can decline an offer without burning bridges, if they do it in a reasonable and polite manner. The positive attributes I saw in the candidate that led me to make the offer in the first place will still be there.

– Petra Mauerhoff, CEO, Shortgrass Library System

We appreciate brief, timely responses.  The type of work we do requires considerable experience,  we have no objection to being approached later by someone who earlier found the work too complex.

– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Colleen HarrisHmm, these are good questions, with complicated answers. At our library (at a public university), the offer is first done verbally via phone call with our dean; we expect candidates to negotiate pay, though we usually only have a little bit of wiggle room in that area. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask, just that you should be aware that the initial salary offer is not usually too terribly far off from our maximum offer.) Start date is also negotiated then. We don’t have any control over benefits, so what you see is what you get on that score. Once the details are hammered out in the verbal offer, it takes some time to get the contract in writing and have it approved by the various offices; once we mail out the contract, we do hope to have it back as quickly as possible. Note that until we receive the signed contract back we do not contact other candidates to let them know the search is closed, so your return of the contract is not just a service to us, it is also a service to your fellow job-seekers. A big complaint is that folks don’t hear from the hiring party for a long time – part of this is because we don’t close the search until the signed contract is on file. Once we receive the contract, we can close the search, contact the unsuccessful candidates, and the search committee can have their work lives back.

A candidate can absolutely turn down an offer without burning bridges. Our attitude at my library about this is that if the person thinks the fit for them is off, better that they turn us down than come work for us and be unhappy (or, on a brighter note, if they got an even better offer than ours, we are disappointed to lose them but happy that they’ve done so well for themselves!). We have even had people withdraw right before we brought them in for an in-person interview – again, such late notice is disappointing, but understandable. We fly our top three candidates in for their full day interviews, which is expensive in terms of money for plane tickets and hotel, as well as time commitment from our entire library staff during interviews. If you know before then we’re not for you, letting us know saves us all time, trouble, and money, and we absolutely appreciate that. My recommendation on this score is to be as professional as possible, and to let the library know as soon as possible so they can get on with their search.

More problematic is the situation where a candidate has accepted the job offer and sent back the signed contract, then called to withdraw their acceptance. In addition to the disappointment, because the search had been closed both at the Library and in the University’s HR office upon receipt of the contract, it forces a brand new search. We are usually very happy to wait a week or two for a candidate’s final answer if they have multiple interviews – if you’re in that great position, mention it during the discussion of the verbal job offer. Far better to ask the library to wait a week or two for your answer than to sign a contract and then back out, which will be remembered – and not with kindness.

Essentially, this is professional life: just as we ask that candidates don’t take not being hired personally, we as the hirer should not take it personally if someone decides they don’t want to work for us once they have more information about our library. Do be aware that just as you expend time and resources on your job hunt, the library is doing the same. As long as you are professional about it, you’ll be fine.

– Colleen  S. Harris, Head of Access Services & Assistant Professor, Lupton Library,University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Terry Ann LawlerI generally expect a yes or no within a day or two.  Since I work for a large city, pay and benefits are non-negotiable (thankfully they are both decent!)  And, yes, certainly they can decline an offer without burning a bridge.  I understand that our process is long and something else may have come up.  I know that when I was first offered an Assistant Librarian job with my city xxx years ago, it had taken so long to hear back that I had actually taken another job instead.  I assumed that I had not been chosen!  Things happen and as long as you are curteous and kind, you won’t burn a bridge with me.  I suspect this is the case with most others as well.

– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library

Marge Loch-WoutersWe hope they are excited but we don’t press for an answer.  We basically give the candidates a deadline to get back to us with yea or nay – couple of days. We ask if they have questions they want us to consider or answer and then tell them to call us if they have anything else of concern. This opens the door for the candidate to get with mentor/BFF/significant other to discuss the package we are offering. If the candidate does not get back to us on that deadline, we are MOST unhappy and things may decline from there unless they have a most excellent reason.  Those who get back to us quickly before our deadline are golden.

If we are hiring someone from another professional job with significant benefits, we expect negotiation. If the candidate has family commitments (chil(ren) in school; caring for aging parents; a consulting business) that affect what we offer, we expect negotiation. If it someone just dinking around with us on salary/benefits (we often have a pretty good idea of what their current situation is and as librarian-researchers know how to pick up the phone to get the information we might need in complete confidence without revealing the candidate or that we are making an offer), we are less flexible. If we REALLY crave a candidate who would bring us something we are lacking we are again more amenable to negotiating.

A candidate can certainly decline and we wish them the best. We hope to see them often and work with them professionally. Conversely, when we break the bad news to a candidate who will not be receiving the job, we also hope for the same things. Jobs and candidates have to match from both directions.  As I’ve said before the best candidates are hiring their library as well as the library hiring them. When that mutuality is not met, it is always best to part ways before a bad match is made and unhappy results occur.  I am always happy to see top candidates hired at another institution and thriving there!

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library


Please understand that the hiring process (at least in an academic library) can take 4-6 months. It’s tremendous amount of work for all involved.  Don’t take the process lightly. Respect the amount of time and money that’s gone into the search.
If you receive an invitation to interview, you should start thinking seriously about whether or not you would be willing to relocate, what your salary requirements are, is it a job you really want? If, on reflection, you decide you really don’t want to uproot your family and move across country, then withdraw quickly so the committee can move on. Don’t accept an interview if you have no intention of taking the job, if offered.
If you are offered the job you can ask for a few days ( a weekend) to mull it over, but anything more than 2-3 days is counterproductive (obviously there are exceptions, but don’t expect more than a week).
If you are a strong candidate with lots of relevant experience, ask if there is any wiggle room in the salary. Are there start-up costs available, moving allowances, any other areas for negotiation (housing?).  If you have some professional experience already, and it’s a faculty position, ask about service credits (i.e. negotiate a shorter amount of time for the tenure-track process. But understand clearly how one or two years of service credit may shorten the amount of time you have to fulfill the expectations for tenure—a double-edged sword).
In your next conversation with the person offering you the job (chair of search committee or Dean, or hiring manager) negotiate any counter offers, and clarify any details, but be prepared to accept or decline.
Can you decline without burning bridges?  Depends. If a search committee has put a lot of energy into trying to hire you the first time, don’t expect them to be willing to try again. They need to move on. Sometimes that means moving to their 2d choice, sometimes it means starting over from scratch. It can leave a sour taste if the committee feels the candidate was just trying to negotiate a higher salary at his or her current job.
If you decline, make sure to go through official channels. Notify the chair of the search committee, not just  a member of the committee you happen to know well.
It’s a small world, and you may well be running into members of the search committee at conferences or workshops over the coming years. Both the job seekers and the job offerers need to feel like it was an honest and fair process.
Good luck!
– Anonymous
Thanks as always to our hiring librarians for answering this week’s question!

If you have an opinion to share, the comments are open.  If you are also someone who hires librarians and are interested in being a regular participant in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thanks for reading!


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Public, Special

2 responses to “Further Questions: Do you have any etiquette tips for candidates who have received an offer?

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