Should You Accept a Job Offer On the Spot?

Welcome, originally uploaded to Flickr by alborzshawnShould she accept a job offer on the spot? How else can she prepare for an exit interview for her summer gig? Reader J wonders…

The summer is coming to a close and soon to be 3L’s who happened to land a summer job are waiting anxiously and eagerly for the famous “exit interview.” I, too, am one of those 3L’s. Most likely the firm I’m interning at will offer me a job or tell me that I wasn’t a perfect fit. I want to be prepared as much as possible for how to handle both situations. I feel the summer has gone well, so I especially want to know how to react if I’m given a job offer. Personally, I would like at least a little bit of time to think about all the nitty gritty’s and frankly just some time to step away and evaluate the summer. At the same time, I looked at the list of OCI’s this year and there are literally only 5 firms coming to interview us 3L’s; all of which I’m sure I have, at the most, a 1 out of 10 chance of landing. Yes, the market is still quite awful. That begs the question of whether I should accept on the spot. Further, if I do decide to accept should I attempt to negotiate a salary, figure out expectations that they have of me, express my interests, etc.? I’m totally at a loss, and any help would be fabulous.

Great question. I think the best case scenario is the easiest to prepare for, but maybe that’s me. I’m really curious to hear what the readers say here. (Pictured: Welcome, originally uploaded to Flickr by alborzshawn.)

In the event that you’re offered a job:
The summer has gone well! They like you! Do you like them? The ball is in your court now. Reader J notes that she wants time to consider the “nitty gritty” details and evaluate the summer — but in this economy I’d advise caution, because I think a lot of prospective employers would be surprised (and WILL remember) if you don’t accept on the spot. What “nitty gritty” details do you want to consider? If they are questions that you haven’t asked yet — salary/bonus information, benefits information, information about the company or practice itself — those are all valid questions, and I urge you to ask them IN the exit interview. If the details you want “time to evaluate” are things like the general experience and the people… well, I’m not sure what further information you’re going to gain after leaving the interview.

Just to play the devil’s advocate, what are your other options at this point? As you note, your chances for getting another job through OCI are extremely slim — and I hate to break it to you but having a job already in your pocket puts you in a much better position for clerkships, fellowships, and more. (I might also argue that firms are fungible from the perspective of a junior lawyer, but I’ll save my cynicism for now.) From a realistic standpoint, also, I can remember a ton of other circumstances where people haven’t returned to the firm after accepting their offer, either because they had a baby, their significant other got a job elsewhere, they started their own company, or they followed a different career path that presented itself after the fact. If their relationship with the firm was affected (and I doubt it was, honestly), it no longer mattered at that point because they already had something else lined up. Here, where you’re just trying to “consider your options” in an economy where millions of people have been laid off or can’t find legal work — and so hot on the heels of the firm’s own consideration of WHO should get an offer that summer — your hesitance may not sit so great with the firm, particularly because they know there’s a dearth of other options.

Regarding negotiating a salary — if that sort of thing is on the table, by all means negotiate.  Many firms are changing from the “lockstep” salary arrangements of years past, and you should make sure that you’re covered and even, perhaps, locked into the best position for you.  One thing to keep in mind is that the economy is extremely volatile right now — if you accept the job offer and don’t return to work for one year to three years (say, if you take a clerkship or two in the interim) then the economy could have a) rebounded and the starting salary offered could be higher than what it currently is now, or b) sunk even further and the salary offered to people who did NOT negotiate could be lower than whatever you bargained for, which might make you a candidate if the firm needs to “defer” associates.

Some other suggestions for an “exit” interview:

  • Try to go in with some questions. “Was there any specific feedback in my evaluations for areas upon which I could improve? Especially since I still have a year of law school left, I’d love to know if I should beef up my legal writing or research skills, or if I should gain more knowledge in a specific area of law.”
  • Stay professional.
  • Stay positive (unless there’s some feedback the firm really needs to get).  Complaining about colleagues, whining about firm benefits (e.g., “Geez, could you improve the quality of the snack cookies? Other firms bake theirs from scratch”), or focusing on other petty things is not going to be helpful.

Readers, what are your suggestions for Reader J?  Should she accept a job offer on the spot?  What other advise do you have for the exit interview?

Comments

  1. You’d be an idiot not to accept on the spot. If its a big firm there isn’t probably a lot of negotiating you can get away with. If its a smaller firm, worse case you find something better and use that to ‘upgrade’ your offer once you have that other better offer.

    • This. If you want the job, take it when it’s offered. Take it enthusiastically and appreciatively. No games; the days of evaluating (and negotiating) the “nitty grittys” are gone.

  2. I disagree that prospective employers would be surprised if you don’t accept on the spot. I would be surprised if someone did accept on the spot – normally they need at least a day or two to review information on benefits, policies, etc, and anywhere I’ve worked it’s been standard practice to give them a week (at least) to respond.

    • I disagree with this. If they like you enough to offer you a job on the spot, there is nothing wrong if you feel the same way and just take the job. After all, how much differences are there between law firm X and law firm Y? I took a job like this and stayed for 5 years before going in house.

      They will all work you about the same and even though there are different clients, you will be about the same. So if they love you and you have chemistry, why not just go for it? It is dumb to try and wriggle around, because they can always recind the offer if you do not accept it.

    • But this is at the end of the summer — presumably, she’s been receiving the benefits, living the policies, etc for the past 3 months. What hasn’t she had time to think about?

      • I can’t imagine that interns receive all the same benefits or are subject to the same policies as employees. Interns and summer clerks don’t get 401Ks, annual leave, parental leave, disability insurance, CLE, or probably even health insurance. And at many employers they aren’t subject to billable hours and they aren’t salaried.

        Also, a lot of commenters seem to have assumed it, but Reader J never says she’s at a big law firm, so the salary offer could be a surprise (although a lot of bigger firms are paying below market or are not lockstep lately, too). I certainly wouldn’t suggest accepting a salary without going home and making a sample budget to make sure it’s adequate.

        No one’s going to rescind an offer because you ask for information on benefits and conditions of employment before you accept it.

        • But you should also know what you need before you go into the meeting – you should have done your budget and the rest of your homework…

          • How do you do your budget when you haven’t even received a salary offer??? I’m sure snooping around to find out what the associates are making, what the 401K match is, and how much the health insurance plan costs is a good way to make sure you DON’T get an offer. And besides, even if you did somehow get someone to disclose all this to you, you should read over everything for yourself before you sign on the dotted line.

            Sometimes I really wonder about some of the comments on this site.

          • soulfusion :

            I think in a summer associate situation it isn’t about snooping around to get information about salaries and benefits, those are questions that are expected. A summer associate position whether at a large or small law firm is essentially an extended interview process. A summer should feel free to ask the recruiting department, HR or hiring partner or even a mentor these types of questions during the summer and before the exit interview so they have a good idea of whether or not they want to accept once (and if) an offer is made. All of that being said, I don’t think it will sink the summer to thank the firm for the offer, express a sincere appreciation for the summer experience and indicate a time frame when they will respond to the offer if he/she is not ready to accept on the spot. However, as others have said, in this market, I do think it would be a bit nuts to turn down an offer or hold on to it for an extended period when it will be extremely difficult to get anything else as a 3L.

          • The same way I did when looking for a new job 11 years ago. I did some research on a range of copayments for health care / other benefits, rent, transportation expenses, etc. I knew what my personal bills were likely to be (loan payments, car, any credit card) plus what I felt needed for groceries / clothes / fun. After summing everything I had a baseline budget and knew that if I made that money (times 1.4 or so to allow for taxes), I could live comfortably. That information allowed to me to evaluate salaries and consider what I’d have to give up (if I took a job for less) to see if that choice made sense.

            Spreadsheets can be your friend!

          • I agree with DC. Eponine, you really have to be less argumentative when you are wrong.

    • I kind of agree with this. With the job I was offered, I was specifically told to go home and think about it.

      And even if I know what the offer *should* be or what all it entails, new things may come about in the interview, things I would want to discuss with my husband. I don’t think I would ever accept a job offer on the spot, and it’s never adversely affected my prospects.

      • I, also completely agree with Eponine. I received a job offer about a week after I ended my summer internship. I was shocked when immediately after telling me that the firm was extending me an offer the hiring partner said, “well…[other summer associate] accepted over the phone.” I asked for salary and benefits information (not given to me during my 8 week summer associate position) and frankly, the hiring partner acted a little surprised that I was even considering such things.

        The salary and benefits, when I did receive them, were exactly as I expected them to be (I had done my research into the position) and I didn’t even negotiate. It wasn’t about what the salary/benefits were — it was just that I figured that this would be the time to discuss any everything so that there was no confusion later.

    • I agree with Eponine. I work in Recruiting at a mid/large law firm and our 2 L’s usually take a week to mull the offer over for full time employment after graduation. And this is accepted as standard. The letter gives them 30 days. Some have accepted on the spot, but it’s never been frowned upon if you don’t. BUT if you take more than a week you start to make people nervous. So be aware of that.

  3. She’s had all summer to figure out if she wants to work there.

    Take the job and be grateful that you’ve been offered one in this terrible economy. The law profession – I would say distinct from the economy itself – is also on the downswing. There are too many law grads and not enough jobs. If you get an offer and you don’t have any other prospects, it would be rather bold of you to say you want to think about it. What is there to think about? Employment vs. unemployment?

    I would also be very prepared with research if you are going to attempt to negotiate any salary or benefits. Know what the market is like and what you are talking about before demanding things (especially as this is your first legal job). The firms have the advantage, as there is an overabundance of talented law grads and not enough jobs.

    • I would add to the “know the market” to know it and then downgrade your expectations significantly. I thought that I understood things and was at an advantage which would allow me to turn down a few offers early on (which, to be fair, were really far outside of what I had intended to Do With My Life when I decided to go to law school) and wound up really, really regretting it. This was with advantages of serious geographical ties, top 10%, and a clerkship under my belt.

      Seriously, if it doesn’t involve skinning live rats (or, even if it does), take the offer unless you are absolutely sure that you have something better.

      All that said, I’ve never heard of anyone getting an offer during an exit interview. Is that normal? Each of my exit interviews involved them telling me that they all liked me and had no problems that they knew of, asking me what I thought they could do better, and then saying that they had no real idea what they were going to do and would let us know later. (Of course, I didn’t get an offer for either of those two, although I did get an offer from another 1/2 summer that I did, which didn’t have an exit interview, but the offer came over a year later.)

      They promised us that 2008 was just an abberation and that things would get much better soon.

  4. Diana Barry :

    My firm had a feedback session/review at the end, and then they called everyone the next week with the job offer. Much nicer, no pressure.

    I would definitely accept the job in this reader’s case, unless there is something glaringly wrong with the firm (misconduct, harassment, ethical issues, etc.). Otherwise, the chances of getting another job are really slim. As Eponine notes, though, she should express interest and then review all the info on salary/benefits/etc. before accepting.

    • I think this is the right approach. Be very positive about getting an offer, so much so that you are basically accepting, and just say you need to time to review the salary/benefits information. If you have an SO, I think you can also say you need to talk it over with them. You’re going to be a lawyer – wanting to read the fine print should be a good thing.

      That said, you should really figure out if you want the job before this time – ask as many questions as necessary to figure that out.

  5. Annon for this :

    DO NOT NEGOTIATE if it’s a mid to large firm. I have no idea what the rules and summer hiring is at small firms, but I thought most did not have anything close to the summer programs as most large and mid sized firms which leads me to believe you are at one of those. . . therefore, if you even attempt to negotiate your salary at one of htese I fear you will either be laughed at, told no and either way really make a bad impression.

    My 2 cents.

  6. I feel we’ve all heard to not jump at the first thing that comes your way, so that may be where the question is coming from. But this is not that type of suggestion, since you have been there all summer. Don’t make them wait, just for the sake of it.

    Are you happy with your experience there? If so, find out what the typical salary is and figure out if you with be happy with coming on board for that much. Discuss location with your significant other if applicable, etc. All these things can be done ahead of time. My guess is it would be unlikely that some small benefits question or sway your decision (especially in this climate).

    Do you have concerns about the place right now, before even getting an offer? Having been there, I will say that any salary will likely not make those concerns go away, whatever they are. So make a decision if you are OK taking the not so perfect job until the economy looks up, or turn them down and keep looking.

    Good luck!

  7. Honestly, it sounds like you have lots of time to consider what you want and how the summer experience has been prior to going into this interview. Use this time wisely. This is your chance to come up with any questions you would need answered in order to consider a position. I would think that your employer would be supportive if you wanted to consider your decision for a day or so, but they would also wonder what you would have to consider now that wasn’t known to you already. Also, find out whether there is a set of fixed terms that your firm uses when hiring new graduates. This will let you know if the details in the offer are at all negotiable.

  8. Another Perspective :

    I’m speaking from the other end of the spectrum – I’m the one offering the job, and my advice also is TAKE IT. Unless you hate the firm, but that doesn’t sound like the case here. I’ve been with a huge international firm and am now with a mid-size firm – in neither case is the job offered on the spot. There is usually an exit interview and a call in the next week with the actual offer, so you may not need to make up your mind in the interview. But if you are asked to, accept. One recent summer associate here was offered a job and asked us for more time to make up his mind. Then he asked for more time. It was obvious that he was looking for a better deal. He didn’t find it, eventually accepted our offer (which we almost withdrew, given his less-than-enthusiastic response), worked here briefly and is now elsewhere. He started under a cloud of his own making.

    Legal jobs are very scarce now. If you are lucky enough to get one, accept it gracefully and gratefully.

  9. Do you have a mentor at the firm? I was a mentor this summer, and this issue can up with my mentee. My firm gave offers to all of the summers this year but did not expect them to accept on the spot. The firm, however, also has not set first year salaries, as we have not had first years in quite awhile. Anyway, your mentor will be able to tell you whether the firm expects you to give them a decision in your exit interview.

    I would love to hear everyone’s advice about accepting on the spot in other circumstances, ie as a lateral.

    • Agree. Try to find out how your firm handles the offer, what most people do, and any other circumstances. At my firm we’re always surprised when summers accept on the spot, and think it’s perfectly normal for people to wait a few months before accepting. I’ve heard of other firms, though, where they have a farewell party for the summers the same day they get their offers, and there’s enormous pressure to have accepted by then.

      And if you do feel you can wait, you can always indicate to one of the lawyers there that you’re basically going to come back. That information is passed back to the powers that be within 5 minutes, and it makes everyone happy.

  10. While I realize Reader J was looking at a legal job after being a summer associate, I would caution those in other fields to take a breath, express enthusiasm, and ask for at least 24 hours to review the offer. I was a little further along in my career, but really glad I did this when I made a jump from government to the non-profit world. I took the 24 hours to call the non-profit’s HR and inquire into costs of health insurance (I’d had the job in our family that provided insurance). The difference in cost was about $10K a year and I was able to negotiate for another $10K in salary to offset the increased benefit costs. I was really glad I took the time to check!

  11. anon for this :

    I summered at a biglaw my 2L year. As is customary, a week or two after the summer class leaves, the firm calls with offers. I was two time zones away from my firm on what turned out to be offer day, and blearily picked up my phone when it rang very early in the morning. And then realized it was my firm. With an offer. I woke up quickly and accepted on the spot. “Don’t you want any time to think about it?” the partner said. “Nope!” I said, “My answer is yes!”

    Four years later, that story still gets told. I think it makes me look good, if a bit overeager, every single time. It certainly charmed the heck out of the partner who called me. There’s no need to be coy if you know you’re going to accept.

  12. As a May graduate without a job, I say take it on the spot unless you have a pretty significant reason for turning it down. Going in to 3L everyone felt pretty optimistic about job prospects (delusions of grandeur brought on by our career services office) but on this side of things fewer than 10-15% of my classmates have jobs. If you don’t like working there remember that it’s always easier to find a job when you already have a job.

    • YES! I second the “delusions” – also a recent article in Slate about the employment numbers fraud perpetuated by the law school community. Take the offer and if you are a star, finding another will be easy. If you think you might not be a star (a little intellectual honesty with self) think that you will find yourself in a pool of three years’ worth of law school grads fighting tooth and nail for any offer at all.

  13. I’m not a lawyer, so haven’t been in this exact situation and don’t know quite how it goes. Do they really make solid offers and whip out the paperwork, or do they say something more general like they’d like you to work there? If it’s the latter, why not just say “excellent! This has been a great place to work so far” and have them get in touch with you to negotiate, sign, etc? In other words, I don’t see the need to spoil the happy mood in the exit interview with all the details and concerns. Plenty of time to bring that up later (isn’t there?)

  14. Alanna of Trebond :

    I am in something of a similar situation, only I split my summer (and I already have an offer from my first firm). I am confused about why you would want to accept on the spot? If you are applying for clerkships, many judges won’t let you accept an offer, so you would have to rescind your acceptance anyway. My thinking is that if you aren’t going to start working for another one, maybe even two or three years, your priorities/what city you want to live in, may well change.

    Also, most biglaw firms are on the lockstep scale, so I imagine it would be difficult to negotiate.

    I guess I am confused why you would ever accept on the spot. It’s not like they are going to give your job away, especially because most firms are quite wary of 3L hires because it usually means those people didn’t get offers elsewhere (and thus, are weird).

    • ChicagoLit :

      I think a clerkship situation is different, but in a case where you have been working at a firm for all or half of the summer, not accepting on the spot sends up red flags. Now if you already have an offer from another firm, perhaps that is a little different, but if you spent weeks at both, how could you not be in a position to accept one and reject the other? It’s not like there hasn’t been time while there to investigate salary, benefits, etc. Most firms are fairly transparent in that regard to those they accept as summer associates. And you’ve had weeks to decide whether the culture is the right fit, whether you like the people–those who don’t accept right away come across as indecisive (not a great quality for any lawyer).

    • Firms may be wary of 3L hires, but junior associates are also pretty fungible. That means if a 3L isn’t appealing, they may well hire a junior lateral from another firm instead. So yes, they most certainly can give “your” job away — it’s not “your” job until you accept it.

    • anon-oh-no :

      um, yes it is like they are going to give your job away. A number of firms have recinded offers over the past few years. I dont understand what there is to think about at this point. Either you like the firm and want to work their, or you dont. This is not 2006. You dont have the ability to look to see if something better comes along.

  15. Anonymous :

    Just be honest. If you are going to take the job and the terms are not negotiable, accept on the spot. If you are on the fence and genuinely need time to think than be gracious and let them know that you’ll be in touch soon. If salaries are negotiable, you should always ask for more money and should not accept an offer without asking for additional compensation. I am in my 8th year of practice and it took me a long time to learn this lesson. Often women’s salaries are lower than men’s simply because they do not ask for more money. There is no harm in asking and, in fact, may employers appreciate it as a sign that you are raising the bar for yourself.

  16. I’d be surprised if they give you an offer in your exit interview. We always give it a week but I’m sure that practice varies across firms. Ask someone what has happened in years past.

    If they do give an immediate offer, I think the default would be to accept on the spot, unless there’s some good reason why you can’t. For example, if something comes up in the offer discussion that you didn’t expect and truly do need to think about. But as other people have mentioned, you are going into this with a good idea of what the firm is like and whether it will work for you.

    I would make as many of the “contingent” decisions beforehand as possible. For example, if you know it’s possible they would give you an offer to join a group that isn’t your first choice (real estate instead of litigation, for example) decide whether you’d take it. If you can eliminate as many possibilities as possible, you’ll be more likely to be able to accept on the spot. I interviewed for a clerkship a few years ago and the judge had mentioned in the interview that it was possible he would want me to start earlier or later than the job posting had said. After the interview my SO and I talked through all of the possibilities and we decided what would work and what wouldn’t for us (the clerkship involved a move to another city). When the judge called to offer me the position, I was able to accept on the spot because I’d thought it through.

    If something unexpected comes up in the offer discussion — then I think it’s completely reasonable to think about it. If they want you to work in another office, start on a different date than you’d expected, take a different salary, then those are all valid.

    If you are applying for clerkships, you should let them know, so they don’t think you’re looking at other firms. But in that case, not accepting should be fine.

    Also keep in mind that if you’re considering your offer, people will find out. We have a list of open offers that is circulated via email and so we always know if someone has been looking for something better. Usually if someone is applying to clerkship, we find that out too, and that does not reflect poorly. But just keep in mind what the perception may be.

  17. I agree with Alanna 100%. I was a summer associate last summer and I felt absolutely no pressure to accept on the spot. Neither did any of the other summer associates I was working with. The firm really doesn’t need to know right away; you’re not scheduled to start for at least another year. By all means re-interview at 3L OCI if you would consider going somewhere else.

  18. I had no idea firms generally expect people to accept or reject on the spot. My experience has been entirely at one midsize firm – we don’t and tend to expect students to shop around for other offers if they’re so inclined. In addition, most would be moving from out-of-the-area (we’re in D.C. but don’t primarily hire from D.C. schools) so we know they have to take time to figure out family situations and the like as well. I can’t think of anyone in the past few years who accepted on the spot; generally students take anywhere from 2 to 6 months, assuming they’re not clerking (in which case we hold the offer open during their clerkship).

    • Oh, also, big law firms might be fungible for junior associates, but small and mid-size firms are not. A bad fit at a smaller firm can make you significantly more miserable and a good fit can make you much happier.

  19. Take it. It’s not like you have other offers, and by your own account, job hunting looks like it will be rough 3L year. So you might as well come off excited and enthusiastic about the firm and accept right away, as opposed to waiting a week and then accepting anyway.

  20. Anonymous :

    I’m a 2011 grad, and I don’t know anyone who accepted on the spot last summer. Most accepted within a week, but none of our offers were really given in a marriage proposal type way where it’s awkward if you don’t give a yes-no answer immediately. ” Offers were typically given informally over lunches or dinners, and while there was a short meeting with a recruiting partner/HR to go over the specifics, it was expected that we would think about it and get back to them. I was certainly very gracious and enthused, so I doubt they had any question that I would accept, but I waited until Monday to call with my acceptance.

    In any event, I agree with the person who said it’s essentially a “know your firm” situation. If you pick up that they want you to accept on the spot, by all means do so (and I agree that you should be prepared to do so at this point in the summer absent special circumstances). But if they tell you to think about it, they aren’t going to ding you for doing just that, as long as you don’t take so much time that they think you’re fishing for a better offer or just aren’t that interested.

    • This. I’m also a 2011 grad. We were all given offers on the last day, and even though the firm had a history of people accepting on the spot, we all agreed amongst ourselves to wait until we got our letters. Yes, it’s a bad economy, which may sway some to accept on the spot. The flip side is that, in a bad economy and accepting without getting the details can look desperate.

      For us, we were worried about deferrals and all the horror stories of revoking job offers for the classes of 2009 and 2010, so we wanted the official letter, in print, before we accepted (which came within a week). We all gave our response within 1-2 weeks of leaving the summer program.

      It’s a great “excuse” to wait and say you have to talk it over with your S.O., because it feels weird to accept a job before they know that you even received an offer, and no firm should ding you for wanting to tell someone else before you accept.

      Also, there are just some more level headed questions you can ask when you receive all the details and have time to think of it away from everyone else.

    • It’s been a long time since I was a summer, but it was also in a very bad economy for lawyers. I got the sense then that the firm thought anyone who they gave an offer to was a star, and that we would have other opportunities we would want to consider. I also think most places, not limited to firms, do not expect you to accept until you have a formal offer letter. I think its fine to wait, but you should probably accept within a few days of getting your offer letter.

Add a comment.

Questions? Check out our commenting policy. Tech problems? Please report it to the tech team.