3 Tips for Handling an On-the-Spot Job Offer

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Pat yourself on the back, because you just nailed the interview. It was a long, exhausting day that left you with a lot to think about, but now you're just focused on rewarding yourself with a glass of wine and a Netflix binge.

Except – wait – what's this? Your interview finished minutes ago, and these guys are offering you the job! Oh, by the way, they need to know if you'll accept within 24 hours.

Yay, but also oy. There goes your night of vegging out. Cue panic mode: Make all the phone calls, do all the soul-searching and weigh all the pros and cons – ASAP. Maybe hold onto that wine.

These on-the-spot job offers are becoming increasingly common, says Ryan Sutton, a district president for the specialized staffing firm Robert Half. "Companies, rightfully so, are afraid they might not have the opportunity to get a candidate back in for one more step," he says.

Some companies have had an opening for months and are eager to pounce when they finally find a good fit. Others are giving you only, say, 24 hours to decide in an effort to avoid the counter-offer, Sutton says, or to prevent you from considering your pipeline of competing opportunities. "They're almost trying to catch the emotion of the job search, versus the intelligence of a job search and making sure it's a good fit," Sutton says.

Don't be caught off-guard. Here's how to prepare for and handle an on-the-spot offer:

1. Prepare yourself before job searching. These offers can be stressful for job seekers who haven't mentally prepared for this fast-paced hiring process, Sutton says. "When you're in the job market, you should know before you start searching what your current role or career is missing," he says. "It shouldn't take a second- or third-round interview to have you start to open your eyes and ears to what was really driving your search to begin with."

If you're considering a career transition into a new type of job or industry, U.S. News Careers blogger Arnie Fertig suggests taking a self-assessment test, like the Myers-Briggs, to learn more about what you have to offer. "Moreover, it makes a great deal of sense to arrange for informational interviews to learn more about your intended path forward from those who have already traveled it," Fertig writes in a post about things to do before applying to a job.

Also talk with trusted family members, significant others, friends and professional mentors before launching a job search, Sutton suggests. These folks know you best, including your strengths and what makes you happy, he points out. Their intimate insight but outsider perspective may help guide your search.

If you load up on soul-searching, personality assessments, informational interviews and insight from loved ones now, you'll already know what you want (and don't want) when opportunity knocks. "That will allow you to be prepared so that if a company does move faster than you were anticipating, it doesn't rush you," Sutton says. "You can still make the decision that you want to make in their timeline and not have to slow down the process and lose an opportunity."

2. Study up on the company that's interviewing you. Of course, you know better than to walk into an interview cold. You know to research the company online; familiarize yourself with the prospective role and team; practice (and practice and practice) your answers to common interview questions; and come up with your own questions to ask interviewers. (And if you don't know all that, check out this checklist of pre-interview homework.)

But your research shouldn't stop there. Sutton urges job seekers to use LinkedIn or college alumni groups to track down folks who work at the prospective company and talk to them about their experiences. "That way, going in, you have an idea if this might be a place you want to be," Sutton says. "It's almost like you're checking references on the company proactively."
It's fine to ask the folks you meet with about their hiring experiences to gauge how quickly the process may take for you, Sutton says. However, he adds that you should take their answers with a grain of salt, given that their timelines​ were likely dictated by the economic cycle they were hired in. The company's speed of hiring even only a year ago​, for example, may have been much slower than it is today.

As for other ways to learn about the company from real people, Sutton points out that, sure, you could look at review sites like Glassdoor.​ But, he warns, employees often feel compelled to comment on these sites because their experiences were either fantastic or terrible. Talking to a real person who you've simply found on LinkedIn will likely give you a more neutral view, he says.

3. If you're offered a job, respect the company's – and your own – timeline. Congrats – the interviewers recognize a quality employee when they see one, so they ask you to accept a job offer. Like,​ now. "It's more than OK to ask for more time to accept," Sutton says. "A company that's not willing to give you 24, 48 or 72 hours might show you that there may be a red flag."

However, he adds: "You're going to have to give ​[an answer] in a timely matter." If the timeline is unclear, Sutton suggests specifying with your interviewer, when, exactly, he or she would need an answer from you. And stick to it, so you don't miss out on the gig.

Plus, you've already mentally prepared and done your research. So follow your gut. "Beyond 72 hours, that's where it starts to take too long," Sutton says. "Either it's the right opportunity, or it's not."
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