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Joel on Software: Exploding Offer Season (joelonsoftware.com)
71 points by twampss on Nov 26, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments



I interned at Apple Summer of 2006. I got great reviews and they even asked me to work part-time during the school year, I agreed and mentioned that we can figure out the whole full time thing later (i.e. what group I would work in - I really wanted to work on Apple TV, iTunes, etc...).

Then, one day, I was asked to come into my manager's office. She said "Congratulations, here's your full time offer!" I saw the deadline of 9/11 (2 weeks) and asked if I could have an extension. She quickly said that everyone was expecting that I would sign today and there is no way she can extend it. The recruiter also told me that she couldn't extend it and that she "didn't care about my school's rules." I went to my career counselor to see if he could make something happen (The offer was ok but all my friends got offered at least 10% more - and the recruiter said the don't negotiate).

Then I get a call from my manager, she asks me to come to the office. I walk in, she says "We're going to have to rescind the offer and ask that you stop working part time." It was pretty traumatic, couldn't even check-in my latest work - just had to pack my things and leave - I was actually fired!

Next spring applied to Y-combinator, got rejected...I now work for a search engine in Mountain View, CA where they not only gave me my best offer but gave me a 20% raise within my first year. Still, I wish I had a chance to work full-time at the mothership in Cupertino.


I truly would believe that some companies like this one really don't fit in with the fake pushing of deadlines. They believe that they really are the company to work for, nay, not just a company, but a movement. If you don't want to give it all up for the idea, then they don't want you. That's the kind of thing to stay away from, unless you really do believe in the idea, whether its your own or someone else's.


I have a similar story to yours. I turned down an exploding offer from Apple last year, because the deadline was too soon and they were unwilling to cooperate on that. I couldn't be happier with the result. By keeping my options open, I ended up with a much better position than I would have had at Apple.

I totally agree with Joel about the need to educate people about this topic. Many college students know they can negotiate the terms of a job offer, but they're intimidated about actually doing so. I hope Joel's article gives a few more students the courage to stand up to bully recruiters.


My old company offered exploding offers, and occasionally offered a variant: the sliding-exploding offer, i.e. $8k signing bonus if you join in the next 1 month, $5k in the next 3 months, $3k in the next 6 months. For most people this came down to whether they would travel after college, or go straight into employment (was in Europe).

They offered it in good faith, on the assumption that the offeree was a well informed and rational decision maker who would make the decision that was best for him in the long run. I always felt that students rarely have the faculty to make this decision rationally (cost of a $5k graduate loan vs. some time to travel before working). I know that I would have probably made this decision in a way that I would have later regretted, had I been offered a sliding-exploding offer. So in an attempt to make sure my employer's assumptions about the offeree's rationality were valid, I would sometime have a candid talk with the offeree to help them think through their options - I tried to be neutral wrt to the decision, and informative wrt to the facts they needed. My company didnt ask me to do this, but I suspect they would never have officially asked me not to do it.


Slightly off-topic, but another really important thing to consider when evaluating offers is the IP agreement: Make sure that you retain your rights to work that you do on your own time.

If you're not careful, you might inadvertently sign away all title to that cool little startup that you get going on the side. As a corollary, just because "everybody signs the same contract," it doesn't mean that yours can't be different -- but make sure it's changed before you sign.


Truly. The converse is also true, it has got companies into trouble when these companies offer great opportunities ( names, tasks, relationship, etc ) to students, these students or their professors start to get really cheesy...

nasty stuffs.. IP, lots of companies/people learnt their lessons.


Here's a simple approach - just say yes to exploding offers. Then, when you get the better offer, you can send the other employer an "exploding neg".


While we're at it, let's lie about whether we have master's degrees, and about previous work experience. Being unethical is fun!

C'mon. An exploding offer is lame, but that's no reason for us to stoop to their level.


Wouldn't that be an imploding neg, for symmetry?


Yeah, that's much better!


And hope you never want to work there in the future. I wouldn't be surprised if some companies blacklist you for doing something like that.


I suppose it depends if you're in an "at will" state or not.


Are there any college students that don't know this? I think Joel's growing old :)

But, here's what I think is going to happen during this recruiting cycle, the big name companies will stay on hiring freezes but still go to campus, some people will get offer letters that are later rescinded. Happened during '01-'03 and will happen again. Not sure about the smaller profitable companies, I don't think they'll hire at all, as sales cycles grow longer and revenues drop.

Great way to pitch Fog Creek's internships though.


I'd wager most college students don't know this. I graduated 2 years ago and I wish someone had told me this. And I still try to convince friends of the same when they're out interviewing.

It's even worse when you're graduating because you're nervous about finding a job and these big companies throw a huge signing bonus at you. (In stock of course, which you can't touch unless you stay for 4 years - but at the time you'd never imagine leaving!) That stock is pocket change to the company but a huge sum of cash to an undergrad and it's hard to risk losing it.

I did convince one guy to push back on the exploding offer. He did, and they bumped it up 10% just to try to sweeten the deal. If it's that prevalent, it's the kind of thing the career services folks should warn you about.


I made that mistake well after college and I'm not alone. HR is a dirty business, it's good to know they practice.


Are there any college students that don't know this? I think Joel's growing old

Yes. For a lot of college students-- probably a majority of those aiming for private-sector corporate work, since it seems to be the default for the unimaginative-- the "job problem" is this annoying project that emerges in the senior year. Because it's an annoying project, as little time should be spent on it as possible, at least during the "golden years" of college.

Even the college students who are relatively "on the ball" have very little experience with the job search process and generally don't know what to expect.


There is also an information gap here. If you're a typical American middle class undergraduate:

1) You have negligible work experience at anything even close to important.

2) Your social circle is 100% composed of people who have as little experience as you, or less.

3) Your adult mentors are mostly university professors. They operate in a very quixotic labor market, mistakenly believe the rest of the world operates the same way, and often have the business sense of a tadpole. Not a particularly intelligent tadpole, either.

4) The only gainfully employed adults you know outside of academia are your parents, and you have never discussed job searching with them. That may be as well, since they have not been on the fresh meat labor market for a few decades, and they are not in your industry.


There's a quite legitimate reason to use exploding offers (beyond the implied "bad" reasons Joel cites): to ensure that companies get exactly the number of college hires that they want.

If you've got budget for "no more than 20" and a real desire to hit 20 on the dot, then it's entirely rational (and I think reasonable) to extend exploding offers to your top 30 candidates, and then as the prior offers expire or are turned down, to extend offers to the "waitlist". It's not particularly different from the college admissions process, or a season ticket renewal process, daycare/pre-school admissions waitlisting, or any other means of efficiently allocating limited resources over a period of time, and is certainly not inherently evil.


If people were merely assets then I might agree with this, but they are not, they are people. They are people who one day you will work with, have lunch with, and maybe have over to your house on the weekend for a BBQ. As such, I find that for my own sense of worth I need to know that I treated them like people from when I first met them.

There is a risk trade-off: risk of missing your target vs. risk of making people feel like an asset. I'd rather miss my target by a little bit..


That's one legitimate viewpoint, but on the flipside, realize that I truly believe I work for (and represent) a fantastic employer, and that everyone on the waitlist who needlessly ends up working someplace else in the parallel universe, in which we didn't use exploding offers, has been "harmed" by that outcome.

IMO, it's not just about treating your first choice potential employee as a person, but about treating your last choice potential employee as a person too.


Replace "recruiter" with "venture capitalist", "college student" with "entrepreneur", and "offer" with "term sheet" and you have an equally valid essay.


Same asymmetric relationship where stronger leverage strength to increase the asymmetry.


Would this be the right place to advice a bit of caution against tech companies that institute psychometric tests??

"would you run over a lady crossing a street? Yes, No, Maybe!"

Cant believe I didnt see that warning sign!!


The correct answer is "Yes", right?


well it depends... the cost of cleaning up your car and the legal costs vs the outright satisfaction... choices, choices!!


I like patent lawyers more than I like tech recruiters. Really. The ones I hate the most are the guys that call up a company directory and dial every extension pretending like they have a relationship with you. I want to sue one of those guys for harassment or something one day.


Don't sue them...toy with them. Waste their time. Make them call you back, put them on hold, string them along, then disappear. Like car salesmen, unethical recruiters have a high tolerance for rude behavior. The only way that you make an impact is by hurting their paycheck.

(I used to date a recruiter who did cold calls like this. She could handle any type of rejection, but she hated it when a candidate played her. Every time she would rant about it, my faith in the world was restored.)


Genius, scambaiting salespeople and recruiters.

We need a variant of 419eater.com for this.


Joel is still an amazing writer, regardless of how relevant his topics are these days.

I can't help but to instantly read anything I see that pops up in my inbox from him.


Eh. There are other reasons for an exploding offer. One is that companies don't want to get into a bidding war, so they offer a tradeoff: accept a certain offer, or find someone else willing to engage in a bidding war.

If you had exactly two job opportunities, and they were willing to negotiate down ("Oh, you'll take $80K? Great. $75K is the most we can do"), you'd probably want to use an exploding offer, too.


gees where was this 10 years ago when I got "tricked" into working for a telco... was an absolute waste of 3 years of my time... i had cancelled another interview at a really fine tech company to avoid the uncertainty...

ok again "tricked" is harsh as it was still my choice, prepared or not... well live and learn!!


Perhaps there is a market for an agent who can negotiate salary and benefits once you've been offered a job.

In theory, the agent will be experienced and can go toe-to-toe with the recruiter on your behalf.




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