If I offered you the job, would you say yes?

Posted: March 15, 2011 in UK Job Advice

I figure one of the unique perspectives I can offer here on the web is job advice for any aspiring graduate student that wants to work in the UK. There are some important differences in how the interview process and job offers work here in the UK as opposed to the US.

At the end of the interview for my current postdoc I was asked “if we offered you the job, would you say yes?”. Needless to say, I was completely taken off guard by this question. What the hell kind of question is that to ask someone?! Well, it’s a British kind of question. Apparently it is standard practice here to ask this question if one is seriously considering making a job offer. In fact, it is essentially a job offer** is as close to being a job offer as one can get without actually being an offer and can apparently be the time to start some negotiations. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time and had to quickly come up with a response of “well I would certainly consider it”. I wasn’t quite prepared to make a commitment right then on the spot and was very surprised. This gets me to the second aspect of hiring in the UK that is very different…

Do not plan on having a whole helluva lot of time to make a decision on whether or not you will take the job. Whereas my fellow graduate student colleagues who were courting jobs in the US had weeks to collect and compare offers, I had about oh, 4 days (and I think even that was pushing it!). My plan was to try and shore up at least two offers so I could decide between them. Well, getting to the UK for two interviews in the time I had to make a decision was simply not happening.

Finally, the other thing I found to be a bit odd is that the overall interview setup was a bit different. Instead of just you being interviewed, expect to be interviewed in close proximity to your competition. After I gave my job talk and chatted with my current PI for a bit, I checked out the lab and talked with various people. At this time interviewee number two was giving their talk. This led to a couple of awkward moments as we were being shuttled around so as not to bump into each other too much. But of course, on the way out I inevitably see the other folks who are waiting for their interview.

Of course, there is always the caveat that some of this is not UK specific but is specific to my PI (although I know for a fact that the “If I offered you a job” bit is UK wide). Any comments from any other UK postdocs? Similar or different experiences?

**Note: I changed the wording here a bit after reading Dorothy’s comment below. I would not want to mislead someone inadvertently. This is not a job offer but, I would say, is very close to a job offer.

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Comments
  1. Dr 29 says:

    I’m not in the UK, but where I work is part of the commonwealth … and seeing as if Canada preserves many of the traditions (from my POV) from the Motherland, it doesn’t surprise me too much that you had only a couple of days to decide whether or not to take the job once you got the offer. My postdoc offer wasn’t much like that, but now that I’m looking at “real” jobs, I got an offer from another province and they’re basically giving me less than 2 weeks to decide. I interviewed on a Monday, got my evaluation and a call from the PI the next week and he said, think about it for a week or so … but he originally said 2-3 days. I was a bit taken aback by that. But apparently it’s very common. I’ve interviewed at 2 other places, and got a call from a another one, the 3 of them in the US, so they’re taking their sweet time to get back to me. I’d much rather know ASAP, than suffer through a long agony. Great to see other perspective/experiences on the length and interview-type for other folks. Best of luck!

    • funkdoctorx says:

      Thanks for the comment Dr 29. I didn’t realize Canada was so similar to the UK in so many ways. You would think a few hundred years of being separated by an ocean and being so close to such an unruly country like the US would push the cultures apart a bit more.

  2. As someone who has hired UK postdocs, I can tell you this question is NOT a job offer. If you ask it of one candidate, you have to ask it of all of them. It is quite okay to reply at this point that you have other interviews lined up and would want to make your mind up when you’d had a chance to see what was on the table. If you are a strong candidate, that would not be held against you. But as an employer you can get a gauge of level of enthusiasm for the job from the reply. And you don’t want to waste a lot of time making an offer to someone who havers and then decides they don’t want it, at which point you’ve lost other good candidates.
    I should add that my field is pretty specialised and postdoc positions that are a good match for a candidate’s skills are rare enough that it is not so common for a candidate to have several interviews lined up. And yes I’d lose interest in a candidate that wanted more than a couple of weeks to make their mind up.

    • funkdoctorx says:

      Hi Dorothy,

      Thanks so much for the reply, it’s good to get more perspective on how the question is used. I suppose it’s equivalent to being asked “how interested are you in the position?” in the US. However, I think what makes it so odd to me as an American is that the question itself is not open ended but begs for a yes or no answer. The first thought that went through my head is if I were to say “yes” was I accepting this position without any further negotiation regarding salary etc? Of course you can’t say “no” if you want the position. So I felt I was left having to be like a politician where I politely side-stepped answering the question and just said I would consider it, not something I particularly like to do. Of course, if one knows this sort of question is coming then they can be prepared to answer it more appropriately. My wife recently went to a job fair and learned that when this question is asked it can be a point where one can start negotiating and discussing various details concerning the position suggesting to us that it is as close to job offer one can get without actually being an offer.

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