The Modern Recruiter series: Setting acceptance deadline on your job offers

Published • By Nikunj from CutShort

I recently asked our Talent Acquisition WhatsApp community if they give a deadline to accept their job offers.

Almost everyone said yes, which is expected. However, I dug a bit more and asked

What deadline you give to the candidates to accept your job offers?

I heard back a wide range of values:

  • 24 to 48 hours (surprisingly common answer)
  • 3 days to 7 days
  • 7-14 days

Some also said the deadline depends on the context of each candidate. Like one recruiter who explained like this:

Our legal offer letters don’t have an expiry clause. It is subjective to HR discussion. We follow through and revoke as and when required.

The shortest deadline we have given is 2 days that was because we had a backup candidate– we usually provide sufficient timeline based on HR discussion (3 to 5 days timeline) just to ensure they have had the time to think through their decision and there is no room for their impulsive commitment that we bank on.

Why so many recruiters give shorter deadlines?

The reasons are obvious:

  1. To force the candidates to make up their mind rather than keep exploring option in the market
  2. To prevent their offers from becoming a bargaining chip while they negotiate with other companies

But does giving aggressive deadlines work?

I define an “aggressive” deadline as something that doesn’t give the candidate justifiable time to nicely conclude their other ongoing threads with other companies.

After all, if they are indeed competent and smart, they would likely be talking to other companies too, right? In this regard, anything less than 1 week is “aggressive” given that a typical hiring cycle in the industry is ~2-3 weeks long.

Effects of aggressive deadlines – as per Game Theory

Game theory is a great way to think about such situations. We may not see it as obvious, but it’s always driving our responses and “moves” in a game called life. 🙂

As per game theory, the best response for the candidates is to accept such an aggressive offer. Here is why:

  • If they are undecided, accepting lets them buy more time
  • Having one concrete offer gives them an assurance
  • It also gives them more negotiation power in front of other companies.
  • Even if they change their mind later, there will likely be no major negative consequences (unless they are coming via references or have an otherwise strong professional reputation to keep)

So, as you can see, the employer making an aggressive offer is actually banking on the last point. But for a majority of hires, this isn’t applicable.

And if they it’s applicable (the candidate came via references or have an otherwise strong professional reputation to keep), here is the next big hurdle:

Aggressive deadline triggers a negative response from the candidates

In a 2014 laboratory study at INSEAD, an interesting experiment was performed. Please give it a quick, but careful read:

What this means is that an aggressive offer raises eyebrows of the candidates and makes them perceive you unfair and insecure. So, when the candidate do fail to join you later, don’t be surprised – they can justify this action to themselves as perfectly valid.

Conclusion

Giving a deadline to accept your job offers is fine.

However, the deadline needs to be reasonable. You want to give enough time for the candidates to finish their other interviews and make the best decision.

It may not look obvious, but it’s in your best interest if the candidate is convinced to join your company. Remember the goal is not to make them join, the eventual goal is to lead them to their best impact. How will they do this if they remain in a state of doubt?

As the same study above concluded:

When a shortened deadline seems to be the optimal strategy, shorten it only to the extent that is socially acceptable — do not make the deadline any tighter if that would trigger negative psychological and behavioral effects in your prospective employee. The last thing any employer wants is to sour the relationship with a great, new hire. So, if you’re choosing to ignite an exploding offer, just make sure it doesn’t explode too much.

My advice – try setting a deadline of around 10 to 14 days. Anything less, and you’re pushing it too far.

References

  1. Link to the above study: https://ideas.darden.virginia.edu/mathematics-behind-exploding-offers
  2. Game theory view: https://web.stanford.edu/~niederle/Niederle.Roth.AEJMicro.2009.pdf
  3. Some online articles that your candidates will likely read when you give them aggressive offers: https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2008/11/26/exploding-offer-season/ https://angel.co/blog/how-to-deal-with-exploding-offers

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By Nikunj from CutShort

Nikunj is the Cofounder & Chief Enabling Officer (CEO) at CutShort.