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

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

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?

Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: Response time to an offer depends a bit. For a library faculty position I think two weeks is probably the maximum I would prefer to wait. That should give a candidate time to consider the offer, think about what else they have out there, and make reply. Quicker is always better but two weeks seems fair. For staff positions I usually ask the person to communicate back within the week. It’s not uncommon for some staff candidates to accept at the time I offer. I always tell them to think about it for a day, double check benefits, and then get back to me.

Our library faculty are members of the faculty union so there are minimum salary levels for all ranks. Benefits are non-negotiable because they are in the union’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. That’s where the negotiating happens. I could offer start-up funds (well, I could if had any discretionary budget) and it used to be that we might offer a new faculty member some reassigned time (course release) in the first year if they asked for some benefit we could not provide or we really wanted to sweeten the pot. That is also no longer an option, at least for the foreseeable future. I have had a library faculty candidate ask for a higher starting salary. At the time I offered some additional faculty development funds (the librarians also have annual funds for this through their contract). That was acceptable to the candidate.

How we might consider a candidate who turned an offer down is mostly a hypothetical. I don’t think, in over 25 years with hiring authority, it has ever happened to me. I have had people reapply for positions when they were not offered a position the first time (or two). If I thought a candidate was promising enough to make an offer, I’d like to think I would do it again if that person turned out to be a top candidate again. There are a lot of reasons why someone might turn down an offer.

My etiquette tips are for the hiring side to communicate clearly and accurately about time line (and keep in mind that candidates are waiting while you are, too), follow up if things take longer than anticipated (following whatever HR guidelines you need to), and try not to drag any negotiations on for too long. My tips for candidates are to try to reach a decision within a reasonable time, to ask and negotiate for what you want once you understand the parameters of what might not be negotiable, and to consider all of the pieces that go into making a big decision like this.

Anonymous: I have received some really good tips from mentors in the past and am happy to share them! Unless someone has a very good reason to wait longer, I think 2-3 days would be the latest that I would expect a response. I don’t necessarily expect someone to negotiate pay and benefits, but they should if they feel that the pay should be higher. The best piece of advice that I received was when I was offered my current position. I really wanted it but wanted higher pay than was offered. My mentor suggested that I respond by thanking them for the offer, tell them that I was very excited about it and excited to join the institution, and would like to discuss a higher salary. Be prepared with a counteroffer and data to back up your request. In my case, I was able to use ARL salary data to back up my request. Another option to consider if the employer is unable to budge on salary is to ask for additional benefits, such as extra funds for conference travel, hiring assistance for spouse/partner, etc. People accept or decline offers for a variety of reasons, so no, I would not see a candidate declining an offer in a bad way.

Dr. Colleen S. Harris, Librarian, John Spoor Broome Library, CSU Channel Islands: We always hope for a response as quickly as possible (the relief of completing a successful search after racing against the ever present possibility of losing the position, a reality working in a public organization during budget crunches), but of course expect the candidate to consider for a few days. Yes, we expect candidates to negotiate pay, but in higher ed I also expect them to negotiate startup packages (office technology & software, travel/professional development funding, specific office furniture if needed, not everyone realizes you can ask for these). And yes, of course candidates can always decline an offer without burning a bridge. A lot of things go into taking a new job, and even if it’s a good fit professionally (not always the case), life circumstances can always intervene and prevent a candidate from accepting. That’s just the way of work, it’s not personal.

Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: There’s nothing wrong or unprofessional about a candidate asking to consider an offer before accepting. We know that we aren’t the only employer they are considering, and they have families and other jobs and school schedules and all kinds of things to consider. I’d rather them take a day to be sure than accept and then decide it wouldn’t work out. However, once they have all the information from us, I generally expect a response in one business day. Anything longer than that usually indicates that they’re waiting on an offer from an employer they prefer, and will leave once something else is available. 

Of course there are extenuating circumstances sometimes. If someone’s relocating, waiting on a spouse’s job, etc., they may need longer to know whether the position will work out. In those cases just be honest about what you’re waiting for, e.g., “I’ll know next Monday whether my partner got the job they were applying for and then I’ll know whether I can accept.” For me, this shows you’re taking the position seriously and communicating openly. Note that some employers may feel differently, and prefer employees who are too desperate to even consider another offer or delay acceptance! But discovering that before accepting an offer might be a good thing. 

It’s fine for candidates to negotiate pay, and I’d estimate that about one-third of our new hires do it. Unfortunately, as a county department with a fixed budget we usually don’t have that flexibility. We do give information about starting salary and benefits upfront at the time of the interview, so at least there are no surprises. 

As far as declining offers, it does happen occasionally, and it’s up to the candidate to decide whether to burn the bridge. Just don’t ghost us! If the pay isn’t enough, if the interview made you think the job duties weren’t what you expected, etc., just say that. Not only does it leave a positive impression if you ever apply here in the future, it helps us make changes to the position to make it more attractive, and changes to the advertising and interview process to make it more transparent and informative. 

Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: We obviously want someone to be excited about our position, so we would love someone to respond quickly, but that’s not realistic. Just be honest about needing more time and how much time you need. Remember, others have interviewed for this position and are waiting to hear back, and your decision may affect the outcome for them. Benefits, in our case, are not negotiable. We all get the same benefits and even our vacation is contractual. I would say that, if you don’t know the salary at the time of an interview, you should ask. I have had situations where I had to specifically ask a candidate if they understood the salary and would take the job at that salary. We generally don’t have a range. We have an amount we have budgeted and we would not offer less, and we can’t offer more. You could negotiate start date. Yes, I would say that a candidate could decline an offer without burning bridges. We want to know if the job isn’t right for you before you accept and things don’t work out. 

Gregg Currie, College Librarian, Selkirk College: A prompt response is always appreciated, even it is just to say “I need to think about/talk with my partner first”, and a time frame in which to expect a firm answer.

One of the benefits of working in a unionized environment is that pay scales are pretty much set so there is not much to be negotiated. Librarians are paid at scale based on years of experience so some room for negotiation there, and post pandemic we might now be negotiating some work from home days.  Otherwise things are set.

A candidate could decline without burning bridges as long as it was done professionally, and a good reason for declining was provided.  

Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: 

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

While it certainly isn’t required, it is helpful to get a follow up note from a candidate who hasn’t said yes or no yet but are confirming their interest in a position, identifying why they think they are a great match for the job, clarifying an answer to a question or adding new information they fell pertinent to the search Notes can also clarify why they can’t answer immediately or speculating on a date for getting back to you to solidify when you *can* expect a specific answer.

How quickly would you expect a response? I think my response of “within a week” is colored by our current urgency to fill our vacancies. So perhaps it isn’t fair, but I have lost second choice candidates when the first choice takes too long. If we didn’t have such a push to hire, probably two to three weeks is more reasonable; however, the reality is:

  • I expect applicants to make some decisions or gather information prior to an interview about the community etc.
  • The best applicant – taking too long – can often cause irritation within the hiring group or the rest of the institution as the process remains ongoing.
  • Applicants hoping to turn this position down but reapplying when their situation has changed may “burn their bridges” by leaving the organization waiting too long.

Do you expect candidates to negotiate things like pay and benefits? I don’t handle this part of the hiring process – our Human Resources department does – but there is possible discussion given the parameters such as: Did my second masters get counted? Is the dollar amount the maximum relocation dollars available? Were all of the years of relevant experience included in the offer? 

Can a candidate decline your offer without burning a bridge with you? The easiest but most accurate answer is “it depends.” And it depends on some obvious things to all of us…what could make us lose interest for future work or reapplication? 

  • the applicant waits too long to consider the offer
  • the applicant appears to be less than honest with their reason for turning us down 
  • the applicant is told what our negotiation can’t include but tries to negotiate and then turns us down when we can’t meet the requests
  • the applicant says they will accept but don’t want to go to a specific location and seek another location within our system instead (which – sadly – means we will not hire them as I think it is critical that managers get to build their own teams)

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, over at Mastodon @hiringlibrarians@glammr.uson Twitter @HiringLib, or whistled in the style of Andrew Bird. If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

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