Whether it's figuring out how to get time off from your current job to interview or getting a job offer from your second-choice company before you've heard back from your first choice, job searching is rife with sticky situations. Here are five of the most common—and advice on how to navigate safely through them.
1. You get a job offer but you're waiting to hear back from another employer about a job you'd rather take. Can you stall the first employer while you wait to hear from the second? Maybe, maybe not—but you can try to speed things up with the second employer.
First, tell the employer that made you the offer that you're very interested but need some time to think it over, and ask when they need your answer by. Most employers will give you a few days to a week. You're unlikely to get longer than that, because they have other candidates who they need to get back to.
Next, contact the second company. Tell your potential employers there that you're extremely interested in working with them, but that you have an offer from another company that you need to give an answer to within a week. Tell them that an offer from them would be your first choice, but you're constricted by the timeline. Companies that are very interested in you will do what they can to expedite things with you.
However, be prepared to hear that your first pick won't be able to make a decision within a week. If that happens, then you have to decide whether you're willing to turn down the offer you have, without any guarantee that you'll get one from the other company.
2. A prospective employer asks if they can contact your current manager for a reference, but your manager doesn't know you're looking for another job. It's completely normal to ask that your current employer not be contacted; in fact, most people do this to avoid tipping off their employer that they're job searching. Simply explain that your manager doesn't know that you're looking for a job and thus can't be a reference. If the prospective employer is insistent, explain that you're not able to jeopardize your current employment without a firm offer in hand from them, but that you'd be happy to supply other references and to allow them to contact your current company once you have an offer (which can be contingent on that reference check).
3. You exaggerated your salary history on your job application, and now an employer is asking you to verify the numbers. Ouch. There's not much you can do in this situation. Lying on job applications is not a good idea.
Some companies do indeed verify the salary information you give them, by asking to see a recent pay stub or a W-2, or by checking with your previous employer directly. What's more, they often do this after you've already accepted a job offer as part of their new hire paperwork, which means that you risk the offer being pulled after you've already accepted it and resigned your current job.
You're better off declining to discuss your previous salary altogether and keeping the focus on what you want to earn now and why you think you're worth that. But don't lie.
4. You need to schedule an interview, but you're currently employed and can't get away during the workday. Scheduling in-person interviews can be especially tricky when you already have a job. Try asking the interviewer to schedule the meeting for first thing in the morning or late in the day, or during lunch time. But you might need to take a personal day or half-day because you have "an appointment," "an out-of-town visitor" or "some family business to attend to."
5. You have an interview after work, but if you come to work wearing a suit, your whole office will know you're interviewing. If your workplace is business casual and you show up in a suit because you have an interview later that day, you might get bombarded with co-workers asking if you have an interview. Instead, bring a change of clothes with you and change outfits somewhere before you arrive to the interview. Alternately, you can wear part of the suit to work and put the rest on when you leave (for instance, wearing the pants and the top and putting the jacket on when you're on your way).
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.