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Client A wants to make an offer for a software consultant position but they need to assure that I will accept it before they do so. This means I won't be able to attend an interview for a software consultant position with Client B which would take place 2 days later.

Client B offers more money and longer contract and is more established as a business (they are a bank). Client A knew about the other interview since it had already been scheduled before the one I had with them. I would start work at Client A immediately but Client B may require a second stage interview and possibly 2/3 weeks of additional time.

How do I negotiate in such a situation ?

  • Next time don't tell one client about another. It's not only unprofessional (hmm, I wonder what he's telling others about us), but can lead to difficulties, as you have found. – Olin Lathrop Mar 12 '15 at 12:28
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    Are clients A and B in direct competition with each other? I always get a funny (bad) feeling when someone asks me to accept an offer before it's actually made. If it's not in writing, it doesn't legally exist. – Voxwoman Mar 12 '15 at 12:40
  • @OlinLathrop I'm not sure I'd describe being honest about your current job situation unprofessional. You're not telling them "company X is hiring", you're telling them "this is my current situation, with respect to timescales and availability". – deworde Mar 12 '15 at 12:49
  • @OlinLathrop the recruiter that got me in contact with Client A asked me if I have any interviews planned and I answered I have an interview with Client B on Friday. Then I guess he rushed to schedule an interview with Client A before that day, so unfortunately Client A knew about it. When telling recruiters that you are busy, they think you are a good candidate but maybe I'm wrong. I should have kept it secret. – John Smith Mar 12 '15 at 12:49
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    Personally right there I woudl turn down Companya, they want you to agree to accept their offer before they have made it. That is every bit as unethical as teh car dealers who want an unrefundable cash deposit before they tell you the price of the car. YOU don;t know the details of teh offer until you have it in writing. There is no way Iwould accept an opffer no matter how good from a company like this. This will not be the only time they will be unethical. – HLGEM Mar 12 '15 at 13:19
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This would be a yellow flag for me.

Client A hasn't even hired you yet, and they are already looking at this as a one-sided deal. They are looking out for their own interests and explicitly disregarding your own. Think about what this implies about your work life at Client A after you have actually taken the job.

I would thank Client A for their interest, express your own mutual interest, and tell them that you intend to honor your commitment by attending the second interview before making a decision. This does several things for you:

1) It increases your apparent value to the first company

2) It shows that you are a person with integrity who honors his commitments

3) It lets them know that you are not a pushover, and that they are entering into a two-sided relationship with you, not a one-sided one

Of course, there is a risk that they will withdraw their offer, but if your future prospects for employment are otherwise good I would advise taking the risk.

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So they say "we will give you an offer if you don't attend an interview at company B". That's a promise, and like most promises that you haven't got in writing, it's worth the same as the paper that it is written on.

Every employee should try to get the best deal for himself or for herself. Every decent company will accept that this is what every halfway clever employee will do. They may not like it when it collides with their interest, but they will accept it. No decent company will blame you if you find a better job than the one they are offering and accept it.

A company trying to manipulate you so you accept a bad deal from them is not a decent company, and they won't become a decent company. So with that precedence set, you can only expect the worst from them in the future. The situation would be different if they actually made you an offer.

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Client A wants to make an offer for a software consultant position but they need to assure that I will accept it

Consider their position; it always looks bad when you make a formal offer to a consultant, set up all the paperwork and planning, and then they turn around and go "changed my mind". If this is the situation, then you're basically getting the offer already, they just don't want to do a lot of work getting sign-offs if it's going to be wasted.

In which case, the principled and simple thing to do is to let them know that you can't make the decision immediately. For reasons, you can say you want to discuss it with your wife/family/"life coach"/wise old mentor who lives on top of a mountain with very poor cell phone reception. Don't lie ("killing off Grandma" always gets you in trouble), but if you need to rebrand one of your mates as your life coach for half-an-hour, that's okay.

If they really do need an answer right away, then they really only have two options; pay you whatever you ask for, or find someone else who will start right away. In the real world, they'd merely like an answer right away, but can at least wait till they find your competitor.

At the same time, it's not unethical to let the other company know that you've been approached with an alternative offer that would need you to start immediately (and thus be paying you immediately), and that you need to fully understand where you are in their process, so that you can make a sensible decision whether to take the certain job or hold out for their potential job offer.

As far as negotiating goes, a couple of things drawn shamelessly from the book "Getting To Yes":

  • What is your Best Alternative if you try to negotiate, Job A falls through, and then you don't get Job B? (e.g. "Tap into your Savings" > "Parent's Couch" > "Cardboard Box under a Bridge")
  • What is their Best Alternative if they don't hire you? (e.g. are there many other equivalent role fillers in your area?)
  • What do you actually want? It's amazing how poorly most job applicants can answer this question beyond "more money than the original offer". If you can say "I want X, Y, Z, and the option to get A with the next 6 months", you'll be in a much better situation.

Also, note that just because they ask for a commitment, nothing about that is meaningful till you sign the contract. Until you sign and return, you retain the option to change your mind with nothing worse than bad feelings on the recruiter's part.

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    Regardless of the employer's position, it's hardly a good idea to commit to an offer before you have it physically in hand, signed. The potential employer has only promised the offer, what if the actual offer is not up to snuff? By that time it will likely be too late to interview with Client B. In this case, I would clearly communicate to Client A that unless they can provide me with a physical, signed copy of the offer they intend to make, I cannot consider not interviewing for Client B. – Cronax Mar 12 '15 at 16:30
  • @deworde To date the best negotiation I've ever had with someone had nothing to do with money. Girl had really specific and odd requests. Specific days off, to be sent to our remote office certain days, etc. It was really odd stuff, but still she made it clear that was more important than more pay and it happened to workout well enough with what we needed. Wasn't until years later I figured out she was taking spring break off, as well as Bike week, biketoberfest, etc. She was always a quiet professional, took time to accept outside of work she was a party animal. – RualStorge Mar 12 '15 at 16:37
  • @Cronax I don't think I ever suggested committing at all. By definition, you're only committed if there are consequences for backing out, which there really aren't till you sign something. – deworde Mar 15 '15 at 9:29

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