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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

    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’ 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? Does the employer assist with relocation?
    • Proximity to graduation. Is there flexibility to continue to explore other opportunities or to request a different start date?  
    • 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 the candidate: Does the student believe a prior internship will lead to a job offer?

    Guidance for Employers

    • Attempt to limit hiring for positions more than 12 months prior to start date for a position. A college education is designed to expand a student's depth and breadth of knowledge. As a result, college student interests may vary with each new semester. A commitment to a job or internship too far in advance of the start of the position leaves the employer open to higher rates of students reneging on offers. It should be noted that career centers expressly caution students against reneging.
    • Provide candidates with a reasonable amount of time to contemplate an offer. Offer deadlines can range by industry and time of the year. Although a one- to two-week time frame for offer deadlines is common, be advised that it may not suit every position, candidate, or school. Make clear upfront on the career website and during the interview process what a typical application process timeline looks like, if possible. Then confirm with the candidate if the timeline aligns to any expected/pending deadlines.
    • Be open to reasonable requests for additional time, carefully balancing recruiting processes and business needs with the candidate’s need. For example, when a student completes a summer internship as a senior, an employer may extend an offer to the student for full-time employment upon graduation. Employers may allow students to consider the offer for two weeks, and some may give up to two months. However, the time frame may depend on the business model and the number of candidates under consideration.
    • Develop offer deadlines that align with industry standards and college recruiting trends. Employers are encouraged to benchmark with career centers and peers in the same industry to develop deadlines that will successfully meet the expected business and recruiting goals for their organization.
    • Reach out to career centers in advance (ideally at least a semester prior to when the roles open up) if aware that planned recruiting process and timelines are not in alignment with the school’s recruiting guidelines. Open a discussion with the career center to help establish a strong relationship, better flow of information, and improved solution finding.
    • Educate candidates on what to expect in your recruiting process, including process timelines and expected deadlines. Clearly outline resources available on your human resources site and identify who to contact if the candidate has more questions about the position or the deadlines.
    • Be consistent—do not set one timeline for one set of candidates and another timeline for others, it could potentially give rise to a claim of discrimination.

    Guidance for Career Centers

    Questions to ask students for reflection and decision makings
    • Why are you looking for an extension on the offer deadline?
    • What additional information do you need to help you make a decision?
    • What is holding you back from making a decision?
    • Where are you in your search process with other employers?
    • When taking away the brand of a company, why do you want to work there?
    • What are the pros and cons of the companies you are considering?
    • Empower students to advocate for themselves with employers. Provide advice, guidance, and support for students throughout the negotiation process. Role play how to have tough conversations with employers.
    • Help students find clarity of purpose and interests to feel more equipped to make a decision.
    • Prepare students for the possibility that the employer may not grant an extension for accepting or declining a job offer. Teach students about negotiations and how to professionally and properly decline offers.
    • Discuss with students the need to accept an offer in good faith, without the intention of reneging later.
    • Assist students with making a decision tree to envision potential paths based on each decision.
    • Educate students on recruiting practices, trends, and norms based on career fields, company size, and industries.
    • Encourage students to share with employers their particular situation and to stay in continuous communication with employers about their plans. As part of this, encourage them to let employers know when they will be in touch with a response, particularly if an employer has provided a lengthy window of time for making a decision. Encourage written communication to maintain documentation. 
    • Help students understand the impact on other candidates if they do not act on an offer.
    • Ask students helpful questions to guide them in reflection that will help them find the right decision for them based on factors of most important to them.
    • Conduct benchmarking regionally, within academic conference, or by similar type of school before finalizing offer policies. While a uniform offer standard is not practical, more standardization benefits colleges, students, and employers.
    • Develop deadlines and offer policies that balance the needs of employers and students. Communicate with the employer regarding deadlines and the appropriate amount of time to give a student to make a decision. 
    • Let students know that most routine offers may have a one- to two-week deadline but can vary by industry and time of the year. Share the offer deadlines of other similarly situated institutions, specifically with regard to summer internship to full-time offers. Clarify for students that it is not common for employers to offer months of time to make acceptance decisions. An exception to this may exist if the student has completed an internship and the employer makes an offer for full-time employment upon graduation.
    • Reach out to employers, where appropriate, to learn more about the employer’s search process, challenges, and considerations to be better informed so that you can serve as a mediator between the student and employer.
    • Educate students on how to negotiate effectively on salary and fringe benefits. Provide students with useful tools, resources, and school-specific data to help them understand their offer package and what specifically, if anything, to negotiate.

    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, transparent, 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 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 arise not only as a result of the deadline, but also when there are financial incentives—a signing bonus or higher starting salary, for example—that encourage 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 declining job offers. Career centers may provide guidance to employers and recommend that they consider extending deadlines when needed. Students should acknowledge that both what is best for their career and what the employer needs are to accept offers in a reasonable time. If employers don’t give a clear deadline upfront, 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.

    Reviewed and updated by the 2022 Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee.

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