by David Ortendahl, Toni Burrell, Bryan Barts, and Lori Elder
Introduction and Framework
The job offer process is inherently fraught with stress and excitement. When the potential for a significant life change is coupled with the reality of becoming a working professional, graduating students are seen spending significant time researching the job market and consulting with friends, family, partners, and career services staff before making major life decisions.
To gain more insight into this process, members of the NACE STEM coalition deployed a survey in March 2019 and received more than 60 responses: 24 from career center leaders and 39 from employers who are actively recruiting out of higher education institutions. On the employer side, responses encompassed employers representing 10 different industry sectors as well as representation across for-profit, nonprofit/NGO, and government organization types (Figure 1).
The results of the employer survey showed that the majority of hiring managers only extended a range of one to five offers to college graduates over the past year. This appears to be a small number when the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that between January and October 2017, there were 1.2 million students who earned a bachelor’s degree; however, the study also shows that by October 2017, 77.6 percent (or 945,000) of those graduates were employed. So, while it seems one to five available offers per employer is a small number, given the number of hiring managers across the US, graduates are able to secure full-time opportunities.
When it came to negotiating offers, most data were inconclusive. Employers offered a wide range of responses with some seeing students trying to negotiate “often,” some “occasionally,” and some “rarely,” and signing bonuses “never” or “rarely” being a part of that process (Figure 2). Employers did not see many differences in the types of students who negotiated but generally agreed on the importance of having one set market value salary for all recent graduates.
Figure 2. (How often have college students negotiated salaries with your company?)
As might be expected, when students were offered less time to make their decision they would request additional time. According to NACE’s Benchmarks: Cycle Time, Offer and Acceptance Rates employers allotted an average of 14 days for acceptance. The employers who participated in the benchmark study offered students between three to 15 days. In this NACE STEM coalition study, it was discovered that companies observe students taking, on average, three to nine days to accept (Figure 3). This coincides with the STEM Coalition employer survey where employers who offered a larger amount of time typically saw students use the full amount of time offered to make their decision.
Figure 3. (Average number of days employers provide for consideration vs. Average number of days for student response)
Interestingly, less than 25 percent of students who were extended offers declined and very few employers mentioned rescinding extended offers. When asked what might lead to an offer being withdrawn, employers cited failed background checks, failed drug screens, falsifying information (e.g., GPA, graduation year, degree, residency status), and discovering dangerous details on social media. In other words, factors like negotiating or asking for more time were not listed as grounds for rescinding an offer as students might fear.
Moving forward, employers offered consistent advice to career centers across the board when it came to coaching students on how to negotiate offers. Employers said “...consider the entire package and not just the base compensation,” “The best advice is for students to do their homework…”, and “Communicate throughout the entire process.”
Career Services Perspective
Like employers, career services professionals regularly work with students receiving internship, co-op, and full-time job offers from employers. To the student, career services professionals are one of many connections with whom students will want to discuss their offers and parse the emotional and contractual elements of the decision. As seen in Figure 4, there is a strong sense of excitement and contentedness in this stage along with poignant feelings of worry, confusion, and fear in making these decisions.
Figure 4. (“What are the two most common emotions you see from students regarding job offers?”)
To give more detail on the more negative emotions, another revealing finding from this survey comes from an aggregation of open text-box responses from career service professionals exploring the student concerns around the perceived intensity of job-offer response timelines. Figure 5 shows that many students have FOMO (fear of missing out) on other potential opportunities, yet the majority of career services professional comments see that students are simply needing more time to reflect on the best decision.
Figure 5. (What are two most common concerns students have about tight timelines?)
At a recent Employer Advisory Council at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in April 2019, a panel of students that received multiple internship/full-time offers provided more in-depth insight on these concerns along with some advice to employers.
Some key points from the student panel in their words:
- Offering adequate time: Making a decision on a job offer is one of the most stressful decisions that young adults have to consider. Adequate time is needed to reflect on “What is right for me?” and “Is this the right company?”
- Transparency in offers: When presenting an offer, companies should be forthright about company policies that affect the whole person, e.g., time off for faith-based holidays of all faiths, support or affinity groups, and other policies from a diversity and inclusion standpoint.
- Transparency in conversations: Conversations around relocation or other related issues can feel like “traps” if framed as yes-or-no questions. Consider asking open-ended questions along with contextual information for the business’ approach.
- Consistent and approachable communication: Students are paying attention to the candidate experience as a reflection of their future work at the company. They hope to feel like they are “part of the team” through the job offer, negotiation, and pre-employment period.
As shown in both sets of data, career services professionals and employers must communicate with one another about the realities of the labor marketplace and how corporate policies will affect students’ decisions when they are in this stage of their career development. The data shows that students harbor anxiety and misconceptions about the offer process and how to communicate with employers, issues which can be alleviated through open communication on all sides, coaching by career services professionals, and adherence to NACE’s Principles for Ethical Professional Practice for Employers. Since each student’s situation varies, there is not a one size fits all approach to the offer process, and adequate time, open communication, and guidance from all sides is key.