Striking a Balance Between Deadlines and Decision Making With Grad Offers
In a previous blog post, I shared my perspective on the potential implications surrounding a student’s decision to decline an offer after accepting. This blog gained a lot of attention from both the career services and employer audience, and even resulted in The Wallstreet Journal reporting on the topic. It became clear that it wasn’t only the implications of offer reneges that was a hot topic of discussion, but there was a great deal of commentary around one of the root causes of this trend—offer deadlines.
So what is the proper amount of time an employer should allow students to thoroughly assess an offer? I’m certainly not going to claim that I have all of the answers here, but I would like to give my perspective on toeing the line between reasonable and unreasonable when it comes to offer deadlines. Also, I would like to touch on some trends I have seen specifically regarding the decision-making process students go through when selecting their first career post-graduation. Lastly, I will provide some advice for employers, students, and career services in relation to offer deadlines and the offer decision-making process.
The Highly Sought After Talent—Earlier Recruitment and Multiple Offers
The organization I represent targets two of the most sought after skillsets in the student market today: analytics and computer science talent. With a growing need for these skills, students in these fields have many choices when it comes to potential employment opportunities thus resulting in multiple offers…. especially for the top talent.
It is a race to access this top talent as early as possible. Most employers that are seeking May grads are recruiting in the fall for their openings. Employers are also using internship programs as pipelining opportunities to lock in the top talent before they begin their final year of school. I have even recently heard of employers actively interviewing graduates over a year before they even graduate! Not all employers have nailed down the proper work force planning that is needed in order to understand hiring needs this far in advance, especially those new to university recruiting. This said, they may be jumping in to recruit students in late fall or early spring. You can see the recipe for issues: offers are going out earlier, and students are being asked to make decisions before all companies have put their stake in the game.
So what timeframe is considered reasonable for offer deadlines so students can feel comfortable accepting an offer without regrets?
Here’s my take on it: when employers are making offers for May graduates in early in the fall, say August—October, giving students until at least Thanksgiving before they are required to make a decision is reasonable. Universities typically host fall recruiting events in September, so students should be well-educated on employer opportunities by that time. I envision a student sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table with their family talking about their offers and coming back from the holiday with a decision.
When it gets later in the recruitment season, say December/January, I think it is appropriate to give shorter deadline windows, but in my opinion, no less than two weeks.
Here’s the challenge: most employers cannot wait for an indefinite period of time to hear back from students regarding their offer decision, and the longer the student has to decide, the likelihood of finding another great fit will be lessened. The key here is transparency. Regardless of the deadline selected, it is important that recruiters explain to the student the reason for the deadline. I have phrased it this way with students before:
“The offer you have received is filling a spot at our company. The later the deadline we give, the harder it will be for us to find another rock star like you who is still available to fill the position. You may have a classmate or friend that is very interested in this opportunity and if we give you too much time, they may not have access to the opportunity if you choose to decline (which we hope you do not do).”
This helps the student better understand the reason for the deadline instead of thinking that the pressure is being put on them for no reason. It also helps them understand the bigger picture regarding the opportunity cost of them sitting on an offer.
“Exploring All Options” vs. Strategic Career Goal-Setting
Many times I find that students want to “explore all of their options” before they commit to an offer. The more options the better, right? Or is that true? I personally get overwhelmed when I have too many options to choose from.. so why is exploring all options such a common direction for students seeking full-time employment? Is it so multiple offers can be put up against one another in order to negotiate a higher base salary? Student loans are crippling these days (I speak from experience!) so I can understand why this would be a factor.
Then I think about the heightened attention around the cost of higher education and how this may play a part in influencing students to shop around. The Higher Education Opportunities Act requires universities to conduct first-destination surveys, which provides data regarding the career outcomes of students at a particular university. What college does not want to report that they have the highest starting salary in the nation? And that their students, on average, receive 10 offers? I am not insinuating that this is definitely happening, but this would motivate the universities to advise students to shop around. But is this the right thing for the student?
I would much rather that students be guided to spend time prior to the job search figuring out what is most important to them in the career they are seeking. Is it the company? Is it the role? Is it location, compensation, the culture of the company? If students are well-educated on what they are looking for and then seek out the roles that meet these criteria, then they will have a basis for accepting the right opportunity once it is offered, or declining an offer to continue to seek out the role of their dreams.
It seems that much of the time students are asking for offer deadline extensions because they want to continue to “explore all of their options.” I would rather that the student proactively know their career goals and seek them out rather than explore all of their opportunities and then make a selection.
Career Services Policies—Providing a Baseline for Offer Deadlines
Several universities have begun enacting policies around offers that I find to be very beneficial in regulating the pressures that students are feeling from overly-aggressive deadlines. I have noticed a trend where universities are implementing an “earliest deadline date,” so an employer cannot require a student to accept an offer prior to the November timeframe. I have also worked with a few career service centers not allowing students to hold more than a certain amount of offers at the same time. I think these are great policies to put in place that help level set expectations around timing of offers between employers and students.
In summary, here are some thoughts on how we can support students in being able to make the most thorough and appropriate career choice for them:
- Give deadlines that are reasonable to allow the student the opportunity to fully review the offer and understand if it is right for them.
- Be transparent regarding the business justification behind the deadline date.
Career Services Professionals:
- Educate employers on the importance of reasonable deadlines so students do not feel pressured to make a decision.
- Help students narrow their focus and target employers and roles that align with their career goals so the decision-making process can be clearer.
- Consider implementing policies such as an “earliest deadline date” to ensure that employers allow ample time for decisions, and so employers have a benchmark on when they need a stake in the game in order to access the talent.
- Spend time prior to the job search to understand what is important to you. There are many aspects of a career. You should know your top three career priorities, and do your best to accept interviews only with the companies that meet your career goals.
- Be transparent with recruiters about your career goals and any reservations you have about accepting the offer. This way, they can set an appropriate and fair deadline that allows you to feel comfortable with making this very big decision in your life.
Below is a sample list of job factors to rank in order to help you evaluate offers:
Type of work
Culture/Values of the company
Travel as part of the job
Opportunity for advancement