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I've been applying for tenure track positions in computer science.

Recently I visited university X for an interview and they have hinted that they are likely to offer me a position after my second visit. Assuming all goes well, how much time can I expect to be given for deciding on that offer?

I have also applied to several other places where any decision won't be made within the next few months. So my worry is that I might receive an offer from X "too soon" and hence won't be able to also take into account other opportunities.

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    You're right to worry about this- there's a good chance that if you get an offer from university X they won't let you sit on it for a few months to see how the other possibilities work out. – Brian Borchers Dec 18 '14 at 20:27
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    For me, four tenths of a second would be enough. (On the other hand, I am a 68 year old newly-minted Ph.D.) – Bob Brown Dec 18 '14 at 23:50
  • If you are "waiting for a better offer to come along" university X might well consider you a flight risk. I would. When you take a job, you have to really take it - pour yourself into it. Otherwise, why bother. If you are a strong candidate and you expect a better offer to come along, don't settle. But don't expect people to sit around waiting to find out if their second-best offer will end up being the best you can do. – Floris Dec 19 '14 at 4:39
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In my experience, this depends somewhat on the level of the hire.

A search for a full professor, named chair, department chair, or dean might result in a long period of negotiations with the candidate. These kinds of searches often go "one candidate at a time" rather than bringing in all candidates for on campus interviews at nearly the same time. Since the process is sequential, there's obviously more room to give the candidate time to consider the offer.

However, when it comes to hiring a new assistant professor there are typically several reasonable candidates that were all interviewed on campus at about the same time. If the university suspects that a top candidate isn't likely to take the offer they may make an offer with a short deadline in hopes that they can still get their second or third choice.

In the past when I've made offers as a department chair (in mathematics) the offers were open for one or two weeks (with some possibility for an extension if there was negotiation going on.) I have had to say "no" to requests for extended time to consider an offer.

You can always ask for an extension of the time period, but I wouldn't count on getting one.

I've also participated in searches in other academic departments. The only reason for extended time on offers that I've ever seen was negotiation of startup packages- in the physical sciences and engineering new faculty often have very specific needs for laboratory space and equipment that have to be negotiated and this can take time.

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    In my experience, a candidate who asks for an extension probably will get one: the initially offered consideration period is often made small enough so that anyone who is seriously considering it (but not sure) would ask for more time. However, the additional time given will probably be a week or less. It is somewhere between rare and unheard of for someone to be able to consider a tenure-track offer for several months. – Pete L. Clark Dec 18 '14 at 22:49
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I have also applied to several other places where any decision won't be made within the next few months. So my worry is that I might receive an offer from X "too soon" and hence won't be able to also take into account other opportunities.

I'm sorry to be the one to tell you the bad news: if you get one offer "unseasonably early", then it is very likely that the intent of this offer is to "squeeze you": more precisely, to place you in the position of having to turn down a tenure-track offer without any other offers in hand. This is hardball, but it's legal hardball: at least they're squeezing you with a job offer.

I don't think there's anything you can do to respond to this until you actually get that first offer. At that point, you should:

  • Write back immediately to the department which has offered you a job, expressing your delight and serious interest. Say that you will need to receive the offer in writing before you can respond to them in any way. (Often this delays things for a few days.) Make sure that whatever deadline you get counts from your receipt of the formal written offer.

  • Write immediately to all the places which you would consider possibly preferable to the offer you've gotten. Tell them that you've received an offer from University X. If you haven't heard anything about your application then you can't really say much more than this. On the other hand if they've contacted you about an interview, then you should offer to reschedule the interview ASAP, in time to have the interview, get an offer from University Y, and consider which of the two (or more) offers is preferable.

  • If you have any bites from University Y then you have to keep writing back to both universities, doing everything in your power to get two job offers simultaneously rather than sequentially.

Trying to deal with multiple offers with not fully compatible time frames is a rather stressful situation. To try to keep your stress levels down, remember how much more awesome it is than not having any offers at all. Also, don't be shy about asking for what you want or need: this is your life, after all.

Added: I didn't directly address the title question because Brian Borchers already did that nicely. But to corroborate: it is extremely unlikely that you will get a few months of deliberation. Really stretching things out -- including negotiations about startup, equipment, and so forth -- could get you maybe a month, but if you asked for that much in advance you wouldn't get it. Your potential employee simply can't afford to spend the entire hiring season waiting for one (tenure-track) candidate.

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    One thing that's worth clarifying is that negotiations shouldn't be used as a stalling tactic. You probably can indeed get a month or so of extra time by negotiating details of employment, startup package, etc. But if you do that, then get an offer you like better and drop the first one, that's not really kosher; you weren't negotiating in good faith, the original university has good reason to feel resentful, and your reputation can take a hit, especially in small fields where people all know each other. – iayork Dec 19 '14 at 16:09
  • @iayork: generally speaking, if you ask for <something>, and they don't give you <something>, then you can quite reasonably decline their offer. They have no basis to feel resentful, that's what negotiation is. So you can "legitimately" use negotiations to stall by asking for something that either they won't give you, or that's so good that you wouldn't want to wait for offer Y anyway if X is giving you <something>. But if they want things to move fast they can always just give you what you ask for, making the negotiations extremely short. Or say "no" immediately if <something> is outlandish. – Steve Jessop Dec 19 '14 at 16:20
  • @iayork: I think people would differ on whether the tactic you describe is kosher. If the first offer comes unseasonably early, then University X is trying to limit the candidate's options by making the offer at that time; I feel that the candidate is within her rights to take steps to try to get the offers she would have gotten. You shouldn't ask for things that you don't actually want, and that you are negotiating at all should be a sign that you are seriously considering the offer. – Pete L. Clark Dec 19 '14 at 16:22
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    Also: the squeezing process really only works if the first offer is from a place that is in the right ballpark for the candidate. If you squeeze to get a candidate who is naive about turning down offers and you get a superstar at a third tier institution, then the superstar's stay at that institution is not going to be very long. If a much better offer is a couple of weeks away, then it is actually in everyone's best interest for the candidate to receive it. Finally, holding out for a much better job is worth some amount of hit to your reputation. – Pete L. Clark Dec 19 '14 at 16:25

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