Further Questions: If offered a job, what is an appropriate amount of time to take to either accept the position or decline the offer?

Every other week or so, 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.

This week’s question is from a reader:

If offered a job, what is an appropriate amount of time to take to either accept the position or decline the offer?

Head shot of Laurie Phillips, Who wears burgundy glasses and is posing in front of a bookshelf

Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Information Resources and Systems, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: In most cases, I think a few days is an appropriate amount of time. Obviously, you may need to consult with important people in your life before deciding to make a big move, but if you’re on the market, you should be prepared to know what you’ll accept and where you’re willing to go. If you are interviewing for other jobs, it’s okay to ask for a bit more time, but it can’t be a month. We have a timetable and need to move forward, or know if we need to consider another candidate.

Headshot of Jimmie Epling, who wears a suit and glasses and smiles into the camera

Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System: As a public library, our custom is to inform a candidate of our deadline, usually no more than a week, for making a decision on who to hire.  We believe it is a courtesy to the candidates to not leave them wondering about their status in the process.  This said, it is understandable candidates would like some time to make a decision on accepting our job offer.  We will give a candidate two to three days to make a decision.  We believe it is a courtesy to candidates to make our decision within a reasonable time and we expect the same from a candidate.

Donna wears glasses and a red t-shirt. She is feeding a bottle to a kangaroo wrapped in a grey blanket.

Donna Pierce, Library Director, Krum Public Library: Within days of receiving the offer.

Anonymous: No more than a few days in my opinion. However, if you have a reason for taking longer, let the org know. Maybe they want you bad enough to wait.

Celia is running across the finish line of the Clarence Demar Half Marathon

Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: For a library faculty position I have been comfortable with up to two weeks. That may seem like too much for some people. I might ask for a response in a week but be ready to wait a bit longer if asked. I have asked for some additional time when offered a job so I appreciate why it can be helpful. Any offer that will require a relocation, could possibly also need to factor in a job for a partner or school for children, is substantial enough that I want to try to give the candidate time to consider everything but also get a response that will give me time to offer the position to someone else if our first choice turns us down. For staff positions I am usually more firm about a response within one week.

Amy G., Head of Adult Services: How much time I’m willing to wait for an answer depends first on the position I’m hiring for: I’m willing to wait longer if I’m hiring for a full-time professional position than for a part-time support staff role. For those examples, I’d say a couple weeks for the former, and no more than a week for the latter. Of course, how quickly I need to fill the role, and how many other qualified candidates I interviewed will also factor in. If I’m struggling to find qualified candidates, I’ll wait a little longer to hear from my top pick rather than go back to the drawing board. If I need someone to start ASAP, I’ll only give candidates a few days to decide before moving on to the next name on my list. I suppose the only way to know what sort of timeline your prospective employer is working with is to ask. “I need some time to consider/weigh my options. When do you need an answer from me?” If they say they need an answer sooner than you’re prepared to give one, I’d ask specifically if they can wait for the amount of time you need. If they say no, then you can consider if the job is worth giving up if your other options don’t come through. 

Headshot of Alan Smith, who wears glasses, a tie and suspenders

Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: It’s pretty common for candidates to need some time to think about an offer, but when discussing I like to set a “let me know by…” date. I think up to three days is generally reasonable — that’s enough time to sleep on it, talk with a significant other, think about changes to commutes or insurance plans, etc. If someone needs longer than that to decide, it tells me one of two things. One, they’re waiting for something else to fall into place, like an offer from another employer, and even if they accept the offer, those things could fall into place later and they may end up leaving quickly. Two, they’re just not sure if they want to work here. Either way, it gives me reservations about hiring. 

There are exceptions, too. Particularly with higher-level management positions that involve relocating, they may just need longer to look at housing, schools, a spouse’s job, etc., to make sure they can afford it. I understand that and it’s not necessarily a red flag; just give some indication of the reason. “I need a couple weeks to make sure I can find somewhere to live” is better than “I need two weeks to think about it.” 

Alison M. Armstrong, Collection Management Librarian, Radford University: If you live locally, by the time you get an offer, you should pretty much know whether or not you will take it. The only consideration would be around salary and benefits at that point. You will likely have a figure in mind and they will reach or exceed it, or not. I would say you should be able to make a decision within a few days. If they were to offer you a position while you are still in the interview, you likely need a bit more time to process what you learned during the interview before you say “yes”.

If you don’t live locally, there is a lot more to consider and, between the interview and the offer, you may have researched more earnestly the cost of living and the prospect of finding affordable housing. Or, you may have qualms about how long it might take your partner to find a job in the area. You might need more time to consider the salary and the move. There are a lot of stories of the “follower” struggling to find meaningful work and, often that trade-off – one person feeling accomplished and fulfilled and the other one feeling frustrated – does not lead to a happy home. Often, the couple ends up moving after a few years to try to find a location where both people can succeed. I would say it should take no more than a week to make the decision.

If you have lingering questions or concerns about the area, places to live, or job prospects for your partner, it doesn’t hurt to communicate that. I was offered a position and wanted to start as soon as possible but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to find housing quickly in another state. My indirect supervisor-to-be offered me a home she was getting ready to sell that was empty and available for us to stay in for a few weeks until my husband and I could secure an apartment.

If you are having reservations about the job, institution, area or people you will be working with by that point, there is probably a good reason. You have likely seen some red flags and are trying to dismiss them as cold feet. Ignoring them often comes with a cost.

Julie Todaro, Dean, Retired: Many applicants these days complain (as well they should) of the length of time it takes for an organization from posting to hiring and start date. This does not; however, mean that the successful applicant can take the same amount of time or “take their time” responding as we all know. That being said, applicants should ask about “selection timeline” or the organization’s “preferred start date” for this position – rather than the general approach usually taken of “Where do we go from here?” or “How long does it take now?” or “What’s next?”

 Applicants should always (and especially if they aren’t asked) ask about what the organization is expecting. The answer is typically revealing and usually the more interested an organization is in an applicant, the more likely they are to be specific with the timeline. But after determining what they might need, the successful applicant should be rapid – if they haven’t already – in researching the cost-of-living, transportation, their extrication from their current situation or position and any additional employment opportunities are potentially in the area for family or friends. With certainty, during the offer call – the specific date should be requested and if that isn’t given or isn’t specific enough – at the low end – within two weeks should be enough time (being quick isn’t being needy), and extended periods of time can include an applicant calling the organization to ask if additional time is possible. Organizations should also be quick and specific as needed to answer likely questions about things like:

  • the specific location the successful candidate will be placed (if it wasn’t possible to know in advance)
  • any specific questions on “hours of work” if that discussion was not possible during the process or “yet”
  • any specific management question (who, location, etc.)
  • any additional questions such as possibilities of hybrid work (again if they weren’t included in previous discussions)

And given the size of the profession, applicants refusing offers should be forthcoming with the information – realizing they don’t have to be issue specific as issues may change! So “not the best match at this time” or “circumstances changed” or “after careful consideration I took another position that best meets my future plans” are all fair and acceptable. In addition, and I realize I may have said this before, a candidate should avoid their own shortcomings such as “they didn’t do the research either in the potential location or at home” and now “realize they can’t live there or ever buy a house there.” Also – if push came to shove and HR or the interviewing manager asks for specifics, the applicant might carefully add their concerns such as:

  • “My partner began looking for a position months before I did and nothing is available and we are a two-income household at this time.”
  • “When I turned in my resignation, my organization offered me a raise and a new area of responsibility – which – in the long run – better meets my long-term goals and current interests.”
  • “Your position, or location or environment is not going to work given my household situation.”
  • “I realized I need teamwork in my work life and wouldn’t be happy or as productive working alone as I thought.”

If you’re a job hunter I have a survey for you! Will you please fill it out?

If you’re someone who hires LIS workers, the current survey is still open. There’s also a mini survey on cover letters.

And if you’re in either or neither of the above categories but you have your own personal professional website, here’s a survey for you!

Other ways to share your thoughts:

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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