Why exploding job offers don't work for senior hires
At the moment – and for the foreseeable future – the power balance of hiring negotiations favours the engineering candidates rather than with the hiring company. One consequence of this is that any attempt to hurry, strong-arm, or manipulate candidates will likely be ineffective, and could potentially backfire horribly.
This is how I became one such backfire.
I had been lucky enough to receive an offer to join Widget Co. as an engineering lead.
The terms were all as expected: standard four year option vesting schedule, solid salary, health insurance, a slew of intangible benefits rendered tangible in the paperwork.
All as-expected apart from one thing:
The in-house recruiter said I had to give them an answer by the end of the week.
This took me by surprise: it hadn’t been the approach taken by any of the other people I was speaking to, and I happened to still be at an earlier stage in the hiring process with some other companies. I was effectively being asked to stop my job search then and there, with incomplete information, and commit to one option when others were still open to me.
I explained my reservations about this demand to the recruiter, and the deadline was relaxed until the beginning of the following week, which I appreciated but it was still nowhere near enough time to finish up the other conversations that I was enjoying elsewhere.
I agonised over what to do that weekend, and on Monday – still not feeling equipped with all the information I needed to make such a big decision – I accepted the exploding job offer.
In my head, I was a “definitely probably” on the offer. I really liked Widget Co., the people, and the space they were working in. My “definitely probably” became a forced dichotomy, and I certainly didn’t want to say “definitely not”, so…
Welcome to the team! notices were sent out to the whole startup. Long chains of messages flooded back from the engineering team, punctuated with the GIFs-du-jour and meadows of golden emoji. The people I’d interviewed with sent personal notes saying they were looking forward to what we were going to create together.
For my part, I was excited too! The warm welcome was overwhelming and redoubled my confidence that this would be a great move.
Redoubled confidence ≠ absolute certainty.
There was one company I was still talking to, and I was getting more and more excited by what they were trying to do, and with the monumental vision of the founders.
As you can probably guess, I eventually decided that this other company – Teespring – was the right option, and I had to retract my acceptance of the first offer.
I felt awful – especially due to the impact on the team – but also that I’d been backed into a corner by the recruiter.
It is incredibly frustrating when candidates whom you’re excited to work with decide to go in a different direction (I know, I’ve been on the receiving end enough times!).
Widget Co. knew they were not in a strong negotiating position, and attempted to leverage my fear of missing out on their great opportunity to force me to relinquish the chance of finding other great opportunities.
In the end, not only did Widget Co.’s aggressive tactic tarnish my impression of them at the crucial moment, it also meant the entire team got to see the whole flip-flopping drama play out.
My suggestion – and the approach I take whenever making offers – is to labour the point that we want the candidate to have all the information they need before making the right decision for them. If the candidate feels rushed, they might get spooked and pull away. Or even worse: buckle to your pressure, accept the offer, then quit after three months because they were never truly engaged!