Don’t tell Backup Firm – but tell Dream Firm
First of all, you want to avoid making Backup Firm feel like, well, Backup Firm. Avoid saying words to the effect of, “Thanks for your offer – I’m just waiting to hear from my first choice, and then I’ll decide on whether to join you”. That’s going to be just a little bit awkward if you do end up taking the offer – no one wants to feel like the second choice. They may even reconsider their enthusiasm about you if they feel it’s not going to be reciprocated when you get there.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t tell Dream Firm about the situation. They, on the other hand, will be happy to learn that they are your first choice (I’m sure you told them at the interview, but everyone says that – you probably told Backup Firm the same thing!) And hopefully, it will hurry them along – fingers crossed they will empathize and give you some clarity on when you’re likely to hear a result. If not? That’s tricky – but maybe it’s a sign you’re not their number one priority – and maybe they shouldn’t be yours?
Buy some time with good communication
Now, almost as bad as telling Backup Firm that you don’t really want to join them as much as their competitor would be to leave their invite hanging. Communicate well, and communicate early. For example, you could tell them you’re grateful for their offer – but you just need a bit of time to discuss it with your family. That’s perfectly understandable, and won’t make them feel like they’re playing second fiddle to a rival.
Of course, you probably told Backup Firm at the interview that you were applying elsewhere too – and after all, there’s nothing wrong with that. Another tactic would be to reply immediately – and enthusiastically – to Backup Firm, thanking them for their offer and saying that you just want to allow some time to complete the process in your various job applications before making a final decision.
The difference here is that you’re not telling them they’re a backup – it leaves open the possibility that you’ll get all the results in, and still choose them. The key, though, is to reply straight away so that this seems like your immediate reaction to hearing from them. If you wait a long time before letting them know it might seem like you’re stalling – which will clue them in that you’re not treating them as number one.
Think about your priorities
Maybe we’ve been a little harsh in calling the company issuing you an offer ‘Backup Firm’. After all, if you applied to the role and went through the interview, you must be able to see yourself working there – otherwise you shouldn’t have applied. How about we call them ‘Alternative Dream Firm?
If you really can’t get Dream Firm (your first choice) to hurry things along before your deadline expires for confirming with Alternative Dream Firm, then you have a tricky decision to make.
Is it better to take the bird in hand? At the end of the day, you never really know for sure what it’s like working somewhere until you get there. Would Dream Firm really have been all that dreamy? Sometimes we have to cherish what we’ve got and stop admiring the grass on the other side. Alternative Dream Firm might turn out to be exactly what you were looking for all along. If not, then Dream Firm will still be there in a year’s time – and you’ll have demonstrated that you did everything you could to work there, but had to take a solid job offer (an understandable and sensible move).
Of course, it all depends on your own circumstances. Think it over carefully – and be thankful for the choice!