When offered 3 choices, choose the fourth

The Fourth Option

One of my alumni recently had “the good problem”—too many job offers. She had three offers to choose from, each with different job functions, missions, salaries, and benefits. She sent me a note asking for my advice:


  • The first job was in a professional association for the insurance industry—a mission she not only didn’t care about, but actually had a few ethical conflicts with. But it paid the most, had good benefits, and was a permanent job.
  • The second job was in higher education, a field she was interested in, but was in admissions, a role she wasn’t interested in. It paid less than the first job.
  • The third job was, in many ways, her dream job. It was also in higher education, working on international issues. As someone with tremendous international experience, it was a perfect fit for her. But it was temporary and paid the least of all three jobs; and the title was Program Coordinator, lower than what she wanted. Interestingly, the department had seen much turnover, and the Director had recently left.


After sending her a spreadsheet to help prioritize values and look at the differences between each job, I sent her one more quick note. The third job was clearly the winner in terms of her mission interests. She had a certain amount of leverage, in that she had competing job offers that paid more, and the department was clearly in need of a new director. Why not ask them if she could be considered as Director, or even Interim Director or Acting Director? She could then justify a higher salary—one that would beat the high salary of the insurance job—and the department would have someone to run the office; and with the title of Acting Director, they could test her out and see if she would be the right Director, while they left open the formal process of the Director search to verify this test. (Higher education often has formal hiring procedures that would make it tough to just hire someone as a Director if they hadn’t run a formal search process for the position yet.)


Funny thing was—she didn’t even have to ask for this “promotion.” After simply telling the department that she had competing offers to consider, and without even hinting that she’d be interested in an Acting Director role, she got a call back from the department offering her exactly that role and the higher salary and permanent position she needed.


This is one of a few times I can say that my prior experience in career services has predicted future behavior on the part of employers and job seekers. Moral of the story: there is sometimes another option, beyond the ones you think you have to choose from.

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