DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’ll be receiving my degree soon. Since I am in a competitive field, I am applying to a lot of jobs. Naturally, some jobs are less desirable than others. I don’t want to lose any job offers I may receive, but I don’t want to accept a position if a better one comes along.
What is the proper way to postpone accepting a job offer so that it still remains a viable option, while allowing time for other potential offers? How long can I reasonably expect an offer to stay on the table?
GENTLE READER: This is a question of business etiquette, which, at least in this case, means your behavior should be businesslike: efficient, practical and honest.
You can reasonably expect a few days’ grace -- more, if your would-be employer already knows that it will require complex considerations such as negotiating with a spouse or moving to another city. Just as with salary negotiations, you are free to ask for what you want or need -- and the employer is free to reject the request or make a counter-offer.
There is no harm in explicitly saying that you are weighing it against other offers. Miss Manners warns strongly against untruths or going back on your word, but she promises not to inquire if those other offers have actually been made.