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Dealing With a Contingent Offer April 7, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Interviews and Offers.

Anyone who has ever had a house to sell knows the elation you feel when you get that call from your agent that a contract has come in.  And the feeling of deflation when you hear there is a home sale contingency. Your future happiness and financial wellbeing is now tied to a potentially endless stream of other people’s decisions. Your buyer gets a buyer but that buyer also needs a buyer, etc, etc. At the end of the day, you really haven’t sold your house and now you have to make the decision to effectively take it off the market by marking it “Sale Pending- Contingent”.  The same thing can happen in your job search – you love the company, they love you but for whatever reason, they can’t seal the deal and you get a contingent offer. What should you?

First of all, NEVER tender your resignation if you have a contingent offer. A contingent offer is NOT a REAL offer until all contingencies are fully removed and you have signed the non-contingent offer letter. This seems like common sense but some candidates we have worked with have been so eager to resign, they have almost made this mistake. Our practice is to counsel all our candidates with contingent offers to treat it like there is no offer at all when it comes to resigning.

Second, you need to decide if you are continuing your job search or marking yourself as “sale pending” and taking yourself off the market. This will depend on a lot of factors around the actual offer and your personal tolerance level for ambiguity and uncertainly. Here are some things to think about when faced with this situation:

  1. What are the contingencies? If the contingency is something like verifying your clearance or checking your references and you are confident that there are no issues, then it probably makes sense to stop marketing yourself if you really want this job. If the contingency is something less clear like client approval, winning the actual contract or the dreaded “waiting for a slot to open up” you would be foolish not to continue your job search.  If you think about it, what kind of job security is this company offering you long term? What happens if funding for “your” slot goes away in three months? Will you be put on the bench until another project comes along or laid off?  My guess is laid off – if they could hire to the bench, your offer wouldn’t be contingent.
  2. How has the entire interview process been with this company? Can you look back on the experience and say it was positive?  Was the process organized and straightforward?  When you called with questions, did someone get back to you quickly with the answer? Did someone fully explain what the contingencies were and how quickly they would be lifted? If you have had an overall positive interview process, then chances are the company will work to get the contingencies lifted as quickly as they can.  If it has been a disorganized or extremely long interview process, this should send up a red flag. Chances are, you are going to be waiting a long time for those contingencies to be lifted, if they ever can be.
  3. If you didn’t get this job, how would you feel? Even if this is your dream job and if you didn’t get it you would be crushed, a contingent offer doesn’t guarantee you anything and taking yourself off the market can be ill advised. In some cases, going back to the original company and telling them you have a non-contingent offer can suddenly make the contingencies be lifted a lot faster. It could also lead to the offer being rescinded so be sure you are OK with that outcome before announcing you have another offer.

Contingent offers, no matter how you look at them, are not ideal situations. You are relinquishing control of your future employment, salary, and job satisfaction to someone else. They leave you up in the air and not much further along than you were before you had the offer. They can cause stress and frustration and may cause you to pass up another offer that might have been better. Before getting too far along in any interview process, it may be in your best interest to find out if the staffing of this role is contingent on funding or client acceptance or the next election. Then you can make an informed decision early on whether to continue or find something more certain to pursue.

Mary Reid Stanley

Mary is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search consulting firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area.