Central to the process are two considerations: Taking a job for the right reasons and turning down the other job offers without turning off the offerers.
Have I got my priorities straight? For starters, here is list of possible important items: salary compared to cost of living; geographical region (area, city/rural, close to family); scientific/technical quality of the department (group, division, whatever) and of the whole institution; possibility for positive relations with other people in department, institution, or living area; possibilities for advancement at that institution (is there a recognizable path for advancement if you are successful); job possibilities for significant other/spouse; quality of start up package (am I being given a good chance for success?); time given for making a decision. Not all of these (and others you can think of) can be of top importance. If you maintain they are, you are lying to yourself, and you will not decide sensibly.
Am I fooling myself? After you have picked the most important items and how each offer does on those items, but before you have made a decision, discuss your reasoning with people you trust. This may include your most immediate supervisor and, if possible, some more senior, trusted person who has no vested interest in your decision. In talking you may discover that you have some of your priorities wrong. A common mistake is to place too much attentional on geographical region or on a perceived, but not carefully researched, opinion of the actual and potential quality of the department/institution.
Getting more information. Often you will discover you don’t really know. Go back to the person who made the offer to get additional information. That individual should not be surprised at this step; if you detect surprise, ask yourself whether this is because you have selected items that the offerer does not think are important (then you have to decide who is correct) or because these are weak points associated with offer/institution/area. Anyone really interested in attracting you will provide frank information and direct you to others that can supplement their information. This is a very important step.
Distinguishing between getting more information and negotiating — the uncertainty principle. In the process of asking for more information, you may stimulate a negotiating process. There is no way to avoid this; nor should it be avoided. If changes in the offer would make a difference, then you should find out.
Graciously turning down the other offers. Call immediately after you have accepted the offer with a rehearsed, short speech. Typically start out, saying how great the offer was, how much you appreciated the effort that went in constructing it, and how sad you are that you have decided not to accept it. The offerer has probably worked hard to get the resources for the offer and will want to be able to put as positive a spin as possible on your rejection. Someday in the future this person or the department may be able to do you a favor. In your rejection, you should strive to maintain the high regard the individual and the department has of you.
Don’t tell what offer you have accepted. No rejected suitor wants to be compared to the successful one; they can’t do that if they don’t know. A skillful rejection will deflect that question. One possible procedure is to suggest you took another offer for personal reasons the offer could not have affected, e.g., a (much better) job for a spouse, family responsibilities. If that possibility doesn’t exist, gently but firmly refuse to provide the information. Finally decline the offer with a letter designed to the good opinion of any institution that made you an offer.
Using these insights draft a sample letter to accept or reject an offer and upload for this week’s assignment.