Here is how it will happen. You interview well and come out with an offer. Now, faced with a decision, what do you do? You have an offer in hand and you have to decide if you really want it? Should you take it? Should you keep looking and try to find the perfect job? Do you really have the option to stall a company that has made you an offer especially in a tight or uncertain market?
Making such a big life decision is not easy. Every time you make a decision and choose one course of action, you give up every other choice. That which you give up represents your "opportunity cost" ... or more precisely, your "lost opportunities". This is what keeps career counselors and psychologists in business - the fact that people perpetually have to make decisions and make choices, perpetually giving things up and creating lost opportunities for themselves. There is fear and anxiety associated with the possibility you will make the "wrong" choice. And there is just as much reason to fear that you will fail to make any choice at all. Think of the deer, frozen in the headlights, failing to run this way or that way and ending up in the worst possible situation. Indecision and paralysis often go hand in hand. If you are going to move forward, you have to make a decision.
An engineer called me and asked me to help him make a decision on what to do with an offer he had just received. The offer was about 20% less than he was making at the high tech firm he was laid off from about six weeks earlier. The position is also at a much lower level than he was previously at. He told me that it was discouraging to receive the low offer but he was really interested in the technology the company uses and feels he can learn a lot. He also told me he was concerned about national and international economic uncertainty might make job offers scarce and he was afraid of being unemployed for a much longer period if he didn't take the offer.
After exploring all of the parameters with him, I suggested that he take the job but that he also start working on a master's degree to give him a safety net if he is still underemployed come two years from now. Two years from now, if the market is much better, he will graduate with a masters degree and will have great experience and be able to spring ahead. If he just takes the position and does not increase his level of education he is creating a benchmark for underemployment in the future and a distinct liability when he starts looking for another job in the future.
Another individual who was graduating with her bachelor degree called and told me that she has received an offer from one company but had several interviews yet to complete before she could make a decision. She would like to have all of the offers in hand before she made a decision, but she was getting pressure from the company that made her the offer. What should she do? How could she preserve the offer she already had without offending but still finish exploring all of her options?
The best way to hold off a company is to ask for enough time to finish your interviews and make a good decision. Most companies recognize that it is in their best interests if you make a thoughtful, unhurried decision. Some human resources people might try to pressure you to get an answer so they can move on to the next candidate if you pull out. If the company has to know right now, accept the offer. You can back out later with a "Dear John" letter. (Detailed in Chapter 7.1)
Usually, however, you won't have to make a decision right there on the spot. If you can, you will want to take your time. When someone makes you an offer, be positive; let them know that you are interested. But tell them you need to think about it, and to compare it with the other offers you've received. Anyone who is willing and able to pay you a salary is smart enough to know that if you make a bad decision, it is going to cost them. And if you take time to think and to weigh your decision, you are going to have more leverage when it comes time to negotiate the details. It's a lot easier to choose a good restaurant when your hunger is under control.