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  • Advisory Opinion: Setting Reasonable Deadlines for Job Offers

    Organizational Structure
    An outstretched hand makes a job offer.

    TAGS: ethics, principles, advisory opinion

    As the job market for college graduates becomes more intense, employers and career centers alike ask questions about deadlines for job offer acceptance—particularly when deadlines come very early in the recruiting season. The timing of these offers and acceptances is a market-driven issue, with different industries experiencing varying degrees of urgency to fill positions. The role of NACE is not to enforce a specific time frame, but rather to encourage practices that are reasonable and appropriate for both employers and students, recognizing that, ultimately, the employment decisions are between the student and employer. Communication is key to these decisions, with regular contact between the employer and student vital from the point of offer to the start date.

    In a robust and fast-paced job market for graduates and interns, some employers attempt to mitigate the effects of job-market competition with financial practices, including providing giveaways to students between the offer and the decision, providing financial incentives for accepting an offer, or requiring students to accept job offers within a short time frame. In some instances, these practices could lead to students feeling that they were pressured to accept offers. Candidates may then decide that it is acceptable to continue their job searches, and renege on their accepted job offers if they find “better deals.”

    Experience shows the best employment decisions for both students and employers are those that are made without pressure and with the greatest amount of information and transparency. Students given sufficient time to attend career fairs, participate in on-campus interviews, and/or complete the interviewing in which they are currently engaged are more likely to make good long-term employment decisions and may be less likely to renege on job acceptances.

    Employers can use offer deadlines as part of planning a recruitment strategy. Offer deadlines will be influenced by the available candidate pool, the available recruitment opportunities, and anticipated staffing needs. Definitions of sufficient time for these offer deadlines will vary, given industry standards, students’ prior experience with the employer, offer timing, students’ career interests, and proximity to graduation date/start time. Some issues that employers may wish to consider when establishing their offer deadlines are:

    • Housing—Does the student have sufficient time to research housing costs and availability?
    • Proximity to graduation—Does the student have time to explore a wide range of options?
    • Time to make offers to other students if initial offers are not accepted—Will the student pool be sharply decreased by a delay?
    • Prior experience with candidate—Does the student believe a prior internship will lead to a job offer?
    • Impact of technology—How quickly can offers be extended along with offer details, such as salary, benefits, and bonuses?

    To further illustrate deadline issues, consider these scenarios and how time frames can be interpreted differently:

    • A student who will graduate in December receives an offer in October from a local employer. This employer gives the student one week to respond. If the student had already attended career fairs, explored other opportunities, or had a geographic preference, this time frame may be reasonable.

    • A student interned with ABC Company during the summer and will graduate the following May. ABC Company extends an offer at the end of the summer and asks the student to respond by mid-September. This may be unreasonable if the student wants to explore other opportunities. However, it may be reasonable for the employer to request a decision by the end of November.

    • A top engineering student plans to graduate in May, but participates in the fall career fair and campus interviews. An employer extends an offer and signing bonus at the end of October, requesting a decision within two weeks. The bonus decreases after one week and is eliminated if the student does not accept within two weeks. The student asks for an extension and is given one additional week to decide, but the original signing bonus still expires after two weeks. This is likely undue pressure as the student has up to six months remaining to explore opportunities and may face financial loss by not accepting the offer.

    • A student graduating in May recognizes that XYZ Company typically recruits in the fall. The student is an aggressive early job seeker, makes contact with XYZ, and receives an interview. XYZ Company tells the student it will not extend offers to May graduates until it has commitments from December graduates. The student has other pending offers and wants to make a decision well in advance of graduation. The student pressures the employer to extend an offer now. The student is likely placing undue pressure on the employer that is up front about its recruiting practices and recognizes that there is still time for the student to evaluate opportunities.

    • A student receives an offer for a summer internship at a slightly lower-than-expected rate of pay; however, the employer and specific opportunity are very appealing to the student, so the student is tempted. However, the internship requires relocation to a major metropolitan area in another area of the country, and the employer provides no assistance with housing or relocation for interns. The recruiter gives the student three days to decide on the offer. The student expresses interest in the job and concern that he/she will not be able to determine if he/she can locate affordable housing in so little time, but the recruiter does not yield on the deadline. This is likely undue pressure.

    Ethical Considerations and Recommendations

    In reviewing the issues pertaining to reasonable offer deadlines, it is appropriate to consult the NACE Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Preamble, which clearly articulates that the Principles are designed to provide everyone involved in the career development and employment process with two basic precepts on which to base their efforts:

    • Maintain a recruitment process that is fair and equitable; and
    • Support informed and responsible decision making by candidates.

    The NACE Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee understands that not all employers recruit at the same time of the year, nor do all colleges follow the same academic calendar. Therefore, recommending specific calendar dates for offers and acceptances would not be appropriate. Furthermore, many employers issue offers to their graduating co-ops or interns at the start of the employer’s recruiting cycle in order to provide those students priority consideration prior to extending offers to other students. Finally, shorter decision time frames would be appropriate if the candidate's graduation date and start date are very close.

    Employers should assess their use of offer deadlines to ensure they are not placing undue pressure on a student. Pressure can come not only from the deadline, but also the use of financial incentives (signing bonuses, increased salary, and so forth) encouraging very early acceptance of offers. Today’s technology can significantly shorten the time from interview to receipt of complete job offer information. Although both students and employers benefit through this quick communication, it also can shorten the time available for students to make good decisions and increase the sense of urgency.

    Career centers should provide guidance to students to help them make informed decisions when accepting or not accepting job offers. Career centers may provide guidance to employers and recommend that they consider extending deadlines when needed. Students should also be sensitive to employer needs and accept offers in a reasonable time. Career centers can help students work with employers to determine what might be a reasonable time.

    NACE and the Principles Committee do not advocate enforcing a specific time frame, but rather encourage practices reasonable and appropriate for both employers and students. The Principles Committee believes that providing sufficient time for students to evaluate the employment opportunities offered to them allows them to make the wisest decisions for all concerned, creating a positive experience for candidates and employers, and ultimately reducing renege and attrition rates.

    Posted June 2017.

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