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I went through 2 rounds of interviews with a public university in the United States, was given a verbal offer 10 business days ago. The professor who spoke with me said that I should get a written offer the following week (last week) but so far - silence. I reached out to my contact person last week and they said the Provost (who needs to sign off on the tenure track line) was out last week. I waited to check in again with my contact person yesterday and they said that they will check, but still silence.

This is my only offer so far, but I do have interviews lined up beginning and mid-January and February with other schools. This public university is my 1st choice and the verbal offer was excellent.

Is this a bad sign? What is the customary timeframe to expect a written offer following a verbal offer? 2 weeks? Can the university change its mind? What is the best action on my part?

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    The U.S. Postal Service is struggling at the moment. It has taken ten calendar days for a letter from SUNY Canton to reach me in Georgia. Consider asking, because the Postal Service is struggling, whether they can send you a PDF of the offer letter by email. If there is an offer letter, that shouldn't be a problem, but campuses will be closing for the holidays soon so you should act now. – Bob Brown Dec 15 '20 at 18:27
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    @BobBrown Does "written" really mean "on paper" these days? – Azor Ahai -him- Dec 15 '20 at 18:35
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    @AzorAhai-him- Based on a sample of one, yes it does. My former institution sent a paper offer letter in two copies, signed by the president of the university, one of which the candidate was to sign accepting the offer and return. More advanced cultures may do things differently. (It's not SUNY Canton that did that.) – Bob Brown Dec 15 '20 at 18:56
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    @BobBrown Just curious! – Azor Ahai -him- Dec 15 '20 at 19:27
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    Great - thanks so much all! I received the 5-page written offer YESTERDAY from the Dean of the school. It is quite detailed, and I'm currently in the process of starting to negotiate the offer. They only gave me a few days to answer but with approaching holidays, responses are being delayed. – kbb465 Dec 16 '20 at 19:10
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A “verbal offer” is not an offer. in the US, any self-respecting institution would at the very least document their desire to extend you an offer in an email sent in very close proximity (same day, or next day) to the “verbal offer”. The actual offer including a precise salary anount and other hiring package information might take a couple of weeks after that, and official, final approval (typically by a university provost or other high-ranking official) might even take a few months, although that part is usually considered a rubber stamp that’s certain enough to happen that people will move across the country and even buy a house before it happens. But do not let anyone mislead you into thinking you have any sort of offer until something is, at the very least, documented in writing.

It is encouraging that someone says they want to hire you. I hope all will end well and that this is nothing more than an example of a mildly incompetent bureaucracy. But yes, they can change their mind (I have seen it happen), and yes, it is a red flag of sorts, or at least a yellow one. I advise you not to assume anything and to proceed with all other interviews as scheduled until your offer is extended in writing, with precise salary information. Good luck!

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    Good answer; one comment. Instead of a mildly incompetent bureaucracy, it's also possible that OP's contact group wants to extend an offer, but another group who'd rather have someone in their field argues against the hire. I've seen that happen twice. – gnometorule Dec 15 '20 at 18:36
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    @gnometorule if OP has been told that they will receive an offer and has not received anything in writing for two weeks, that is by definition an incompetent bureaucracy. The details of what exactly is happening behind the scenes, whether it’s due to infighting of different groups, a key official going on vacation and not answering their email, or anything else, do not change that verdict. In a well-managed institution, groups do their fighting over positions before telling candidates that they are getting offers, not after. – Dan Romik Dec 15 '20 at 18:39
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    As said, I've seen this happen at excellent universities. And while you are certainly right that what I describe is also a sign of a lacking bureaucracy, I found that having to possibly deal with infighting after hearing, from the group, that the group will extend an offer to the candidate (even though it shouldn't happen) would be worth a comment. – gnometorule Dec 15 '20 at 18:45
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    @gnometorule fair enough, thanks for clarifying. Sadly, incompetence exists everywhere including at excellent universities. – Dan Romik Dec 15 '20 at 19:16
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    @AnonymousPhysicist tell that to my friend who had an “offer” rescinded because the dean “changed his mind”. Probabilities should not dictate OP’s actions. Play it safe, hope for the best but prepare for the worst is what I advise. – Dan Romik Dec 16 '20 at 14:21
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Edit after reading @DanRomik 's answer. I think he's right. I misread the question, equating "verbal" with "informal" which I misinterpreted as email from someone with authority. Without at least that I'd be concerned.

Academic mills grind slowly, particularly in December. Particularly at state schools. Particularly now in covid times. I don't think there's cause to worry (yet). I think the chance that they will change their mind is negligible.

Soon you will want to tell the other schools you're not coming (or zooming) for an interview. The sooner they know that the happier they will be. You could tell your contact at this school you need to know your status in order to cancel elsewhere.

Congratulations on hearing first about your first choice.

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As others have said, an overburdened, COVID-disrupted, and not very competent bureaucracy seems the most likely explanation, and you probably just need to be patient. That being said, there are high profile examples of major snafus in such a situation (google University of Toronto Valentina Azarova for an ongoing one right now) and lower-profile examples of surprise budget cuts and unexpected hiring freezes. So you can't count your chickens before they hatch.

I'd normally suggest giving your contact 48 hours to answer your most recent followup, though due to essentially everything shutting down at end of this week, you might need to accelerate that a bit. Then try to have a phone or Zoom chat with them, not to pressure them (they're doubtless trying!) but to understand the situation. Has the authorized decisionmaker informally said yes, just not signed the letter yet? Has the budget and terms of the offer been syndicated? Be upfront that you're trying to understand how much stock you can place in the verbal offer made. If you clearly make the conversation about "what can you tell me to reassure me" rather than "I'm going to yell at you for not having been successful yet in sorting this out", you'll get a better read of the situation. Ask open ended questions rather than closed, investigative ones, and try to have a chat, not an email exchange. You want to understand the situation, not have your contact fire off yet another email internally and continue to tell you nothing.

Finally, while you do want to let other institutions know you're off the market, and doubtless you and your family want to celebrate and start planning your move over the holidays, you do need to proceed cautiously and not burn any bridges yet. You are very close to having a confirmed position at your first choice institution, but you need to proceed as if that is not yet 100% confirmed. Even though it seems extremely likely it will be.

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