The "Dream Job" Dilemma

The "Dream Job" Dilemma

businessman weighing his options
Taunee Besson

Q: Today I got a job offer that sounds interesting, but not as intriguing as another job that I'm currently interviewing for. I would rather have the second position, but I'm afraid to reject the solid offer I've already gotten, especially in today's job market. I want to be fair and honest with everyone involved. What should I do?

A: This is a classic dilemma, and one that doesn't just apply to the employment world – as anyone who's gotten asked to the Prom by the wrong person knows well. Fortunately, corporate egos don't bruise as easily as a teenager's does, and most employers want you to be truly enthusiastic about joining their team.

While in the past you may have been able to time your time in making a decision like this, given the heavy competition among job seekers today, dithering can be a costly mistake. That said, in these kinds of situations there are some factors that work in your favor. Keep in mind that once an organization has chosen its number one candidate, all competitors become distant seconds. Now the decision is made, you can be certain the leadership really wants you. As you haven't said yes yet, you can probably buy a little time. Just be careful not to come across like you're playing games.

To be fair to everyone, try the following process:

  • Call the company that offered you the job to find out its sense of urgency.
  • If HR wants an answer in the next few weeks, you have some breathing room. If they expect a response ASAP, say you need time to make a well-considered choice, and you'll get back to them in three days. If they press you to move faster, be wary – people who want important decisions on the spot often have hidden agendas.

  • Contact the employer with the opening you really want.
  • Be candid about your situation and ask them to be truthful as well. Find out how interested they are in you. If you know that you've already been eliminated from contention, your decision about the offer on the table is a no-brainer. But if the company does want you on board, you may be able to nudge them into speeding up the hiring process.

  • If you're lucky enough to get an offer for your preferred job (in writing if possible), you can graciously decline the other one.
  • Depending on how serious things got with the original employer, when you reject their offer try to mention the good things about the job you aren't taking, so you can end the discussion on a positive note. No doubt they'll have a deep pool of other candidates to choose from, but it's important to make them feel like you weren't wasting their time.

  • If your preferred company doesn't give you an offer or is unwilling to condense its interview cycle, you'll have to decide whether or not to take the job offer that's a sure thing.
  • To make an informed decision, compare your offer with your ideal job description. Consider how well the opportunity reflects your skills, interests, values and personality. If there's at least a 75% match with your dream position, it's safe to say that you'll find it satisfying.

But even if the job doesn't feel like a great match, think hard before giving it a pass. With so many qualified people looking for work these days, unless you're a star candidate, it could be several weeks (or even months) before another solid offer comes along. There's nothing wrong with holding out for your "dream job," of course, but in the current economic climate you need to make sure that you're prepared to wait.

taunee besson

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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