A. The good news, our experts agree, is that the agonizingly tedious scenario you describe is quite common: an excited organization makes an enthusiastic offer, and then when finalizing the decision, some cautious insiders decide to exhaustively check out all sorts of alternatives before a final decision is made.
'It's really amazing how frozen and paralyzed organizations can get when they're feeling fearful of making a mistake, fearful of not making enough money, fearful of bringing in a personality not considered a love-in by all,' observes executive coach Maggie Craddock, who says she frequently hears stories like yours. 'It's very difficult sometimes to get mature people to make a decision.'
To bring clarity to the situation and to gently prod the decision makers, it is perfectly appropriate to suggest that what's happening isn't good for your current situation, because it isn't. Ask questions: Is the firm considering an internal candidate? Has a hiring freeze descended since your first conversation? What's behind the lengthy time frame? How many people will you be required to meet? Who are the main decision makers? (Some interviewers will be assessing your skill set, others will be assessing your personality fit.)
As for your other concern-that word of your candidacy will spread to your current employer-you are absolutely right to be worried. Reiterate to your interviewers that confidentiality is important to you. 'People usually are very careful about this but it does not hurt to remind them,' says executive recruiter Patricia Wieser of Russell Reynolds.
'The key is that you need to continue to focus on your current responsibilities so as not to tip anyone off to your external activity,' counsels outplacement counselor Rod Williams of Lee Hecht Harrison.
Still, you'd be wise to prepare a response just the same. 'It's a question of how you tell the truth,' says Craddock. 'You could say, 'You know, I would love to be able to stay here and feel really rewarded in this capacity. I have been approached and I'm having other conversations. Obviously you and I have discussed the fact that my compensation or upward mobility is not what I would hope and apparently there are people on the Street who feel the same way. I assure you I have the greatest respect for this organization.'
Lying is not an option, at least not for the wise. 'A misleading response might come back to haunt you,' says Williams. 'Remember, you never know what the future holds or who you may run into again along the way.'
Next week's question: I've been offered an excellent position by a firm which may be acquired by another. What issues should I be thinking about, and what terms should I put into my employment agreement if I decide to take the job?
What would you advise? Send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look out for the Experts' answer to this dilemma and readers' comments on Ask the Expert next week. If you would like to submit a question to our panel of experts, ASK THE EXPERT.