This is part four of our five part series on starting your job hunt. Starting with The Resume, followed by The Job Interview, and most recently Empowering the Process we are going to show you how to deal with an offer once it comes along. Follow along each part of the series to learn the nuances of working with your recruiter, negotiating your salary, giving notice, and everything that comes between.

They want you. The calls, the brain teaser questions, and the increasingly suspect Doctor’s office visits, they’ve all lead up to this: the offer. Only, it doesn’t feel like the finish line. Instead, your nerves and anxieties have climbed enough to make you feel as if the air around you has grown thin with no base camp in sight. It’s time to start making decisions.

Now, hopefully, you’ve been honest with your recruiter or HR rep and everyone’s on the same page as to: why you wanted to interview with the company, what you’re looking for, and what’s most important to you. Maybe they’ve even helped guide you through the process using advice from our series, but if you’re going to make the best decision for you, you need to understand what offers are, how they get handed out, and how to manage them when you receive them.

How you can receive an offer

One of the most surprising things to people interviewing is how different the offer making process can be depending on the company, but in general you’ll receive your offer one of two ways: written or verbal. Both are equally real, valid, and should be celebrated—you didn’t do all that hard work for nothing—but they do offer real differences in process and hiring philosophy.

 The Verbal Offer

Unfortunately, it's us and not a Panda that gives it to you.

We’ll start with the verbal offer, which of the two is both the most misunderstood and most varied, especially because it often serves as pre-cursor to the written offer. However, you should always keep in mind that verbal offers are 100% real offers.

Verbal offers are most often seen at two kinds of organizations: small start-ups and large enterprise organizations. It’s that variance in scale that really fuels some of the confusion behind what a verbal offers means. So we’re going to break them down as to why they’re made; what they accomplish; what they mean for you.

Verbal Offers @ Startups

 Why they’re made: It’s meant to be a friendlier, more familiar process, as a way to reflect the smaller and more collaborative culture. It’s seen as more personal, and frankly, they want to gauge and sense your commitment to the organization before making it official. No one likes getting rejected when they’re starting out—especially as they know people talk and want to avoid any scenario where people are actively seen as not wanting to be involved with their growing start-up.

What they accomplish: A friendly face on expediency. A sense of the numbers.

What they mean for you: Like with engagements, with  small start-up offers you know what you want to do as soon as you hear the offer. Even when the salary or other details aren’t perfect, you’ll know you want to make it work because you’ll feel the need to negotiate around those imperfections. If you’re luke-warm, but don’t care to say anything, its probably best for everyone to turn it down*. These offers tend to be stable and don’t really disappear.

*The exception: It really is your second or even third choice and you would be happy there, but there’s just this one thing you have to see through. If that’s the case it’s absolutely vital you tell your recruiter this. Maybe it’ll lead to a better offer, but more importantly, the recruiter can keep her client and the offer they’ve made on the table.

Verbal Offer @ Large Organizations

The offer machine firing up.

Why they’re made: Bureaucracy. Large organizations live and die by their systems and the systems can take a while; which means to make things happen hiring managers will use shortcuts, so the process can catch up.

What they accomplish: Speed and a better candidate experience. Large organizations know they can be slow, but in order to provide candidates a comparable or even better experience than other organizations they shrink the feedback loop by leaning heavily on the verbal offer.

What they mean for you: Of course, no one wants to be seen for starting up the machine, only for it not to deliver on the promised candidate, you tend to have to accept before you ever see anything in writing. Also, the verbal offer tends to be the final offer. If there’s negotiation it’s during the verbal offer stage, once a new term is agreed upon it will be agreed upon verbally, you’re not seeing anything on paper until you accept. However, once you do it still may be several weeks before you get the paperwork and in rare cases the machine may stall everything due to things like quarterly budgets, fiscal calendars, and internal shift in needs. But that’s rare, and unless your recruiter is telling you different you shouldn’t worry.

The Written Offer

Though written offers are straightforward—you have readable proof of the terms—they come with one particularly hard to navigate aspect for candidates: window of acceptance aka the exploding offer.

HR is not this guy. We swear. Always funny to see exploding soda though.

Why are time windows there?

To help protect current employees from having to work short-handed for too long.

Competition for talent is fierce and stopping the interview process to wait for someone’s decision means any other potential fits are likely going to go off the market. This pause has a multiplying effect, so that if the typical interview process takes 2-3 weeks at a startup, then every week the role is on pause while someone makes a decision tends to cost a month in recruitment time (1 week to re-stock the pipeline + the 2-3 week window). Once you start to consider that some roles require a rare talent or skill level, then that week extension can turn into a much larger increase in recruitment time.

So don’t be upset at the company for the time limit, know it’s a good sign as they try to protect their employees.

But I need an extension!

Sometimes you’ll get one, but the terms can vary. Some places will allow you an extension, but let you know the offer is no longer exclusive (if someone else comes along they may rescind the offer and give it to her). Others will let you extend it and, in the name of candidate experience, have it remain exclusive. Which group the company belongs to is best known by the recruiter, ask her for help.

Like the record above, offer extensions can only go so far.

The generally acceptable time window is 7-10 days.

Deciding Between Multiple Offers

Sometimes, your hard work, skill-set, and timing align and you find yourself in the midst of juggling multiple offers, to go along with a handful of other final interview requests. You find yourself in a ball of anxiety thinking this will be my life for the next few years! You feel susceptible to every suggestion and whim. You’re deeply unsure of what to do.

But you don’t have to be. Take a moment to celebrate. It’s rare to have that level of options, there are literally billions of people who’d jump at the chance to be in your shoes. Try and enjoy it. If you’ve been honest with yourself and worked with a skilled recruiter throughout the process, the answer is probably staring you in the face.

Go back and remember why you’re looking in the first place. Remember what your five year career and life plans looked like two years ago. Which role helps you get closer to that goal? Did the goal change? Then which role better aligns with the new goal. And most importantly, where do you see yourself happy, not satisfying your ego, but genuinely satisfied?

Whichever is, take that one. It’s the surest way to not find yourself back out in the job market in short time.

Also, celebrate, again. Think about it you have less jobs that birthdays in your life, why not enjoy it?