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The Story

I am currently in the process of finding a new job. Several days ago I had two interviews with prospective employers, both of which expressed interest for a second meeting.

  • Company A asked me to come over to talk today. There was no further interview, they simply made me an offer and explained terms.
  • Company B has scheduled me for a hands-on evaluation tomorrow, after which I will know their final answer within a week. I am fully confident they will also make me an offer and moreover that it will be financially preferable to that of Company A.

Since Company A offered first, I told them that I cannot evaluate their offer before Company B also let me know of their decision. This did not sit well with the person I was talking with (the COO). Here are his two main objections and the gist of my answers:

  • "We do not want to be anyone's second best option"

I explained that in fact they were my first option, in that all other things being equal I would prefer to work for them. In addition, since the meeting was chronologically first there was really no way for me to be honest with them without letting them know; so this is not a matter of being my second option but rather of me being level at the negotiating table.

  • "We cannot wait for you to make up your mind"

I explained that as they surely understand, making a decision without evaluating all alternatives would be me acting against my own best interest. In addition, the skill and modus operandi of evaluating before deciding is definitely something they will expect of me on the job (and something that factored into their decision to make an offer). Finally, there is a hard limit on how long they would have to wait for an answer (a week); I also volunteered to tell company B "I would appreciate it if you could inform me of your final decision as soon as possible, since I am also considering another offer".

The Facts

At this point I am fairly certain that Company A just want to intimidate and pressure me into making an uninformed decision. Evidence towards this conclusion include:

  • Their playing hardball during the first interview, which was quite intense and slightly uncomfortable. Initially I justified this as a result of their sense of technical excellence, but after this second meeting I have reconsidered. After all, if the reason for their behavior was the bar being too high for me then making me an offer without any other intermediate step would not be logical.
  • The first interview being conducted mostly in "senior personnel" mode (they only asked two questions having straight and definite technical answers, which took maybe a minute out of almost two hours total time), but their offer being for a lower-ranked position.
  • Their ominous references to how bad the employment situation is right now in Greece where I live; things like "we always pay on time and in euros" (with the obvious suggestion that in case of Greece defaulting they will not be affected because they only do business with customers in the US). This I regard as pure FUD.
  • Their insistence that I need to give them an answer by tomorrow at most. I am fairly certain (due to other information I have) that they are not considering any other employee for the same position; rather, for them it's a question of "do we pick this guy up or not?". Also, what kind of employer would agree to sign you up today but turn you down next week? And why would they ask me to behave in a manner that actually gives you away as someone they wouldn't want to hire? It does not make sense.

In fairness, I should also mention that these people look like they have achieved a high Joel Test score in an environment where the median score is either zero or one (for using version control). They look like their conduct of everyday operations is dramatically better than most other IT shops around here. And they only work with US customers, which implies they achieve a level of professional standard shall we say, uncommon here in Greece.

The Moral?

Is there any convincing justification of why they would require an answer within two days at most? Especially since I told them I 'm expecting another offer and the worst case scenario is an answer within a week? Or am I correct in reconsidering if I want to work for them at all?

Thank you for your valuable input.

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Question is off topic here, so I limit myself to a comment: For me Company A would be no option at all, just for the way they behave. It's a market and it's your right to evaluate all options and a possible employer has to respecrt that and be realistic about it. I wouldn't like to work for a company that obviuously tries to pressure me into a contract, because I would expect this kind of behaviour to go on later or even become worse after you have signed and given up other options. –  thorsten müller Jan 24 '12 at 16:58
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As a rule of thumb, Never tell a potential employer (or a recruiter) the details of your job search. –  Morons Jan 24 '12 at 17:10
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@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner, wouldn't you have been better using a referrer link for Professional Matters? *8') –  Mark Booth Jan 24 '12 at 17:27
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Seems like a perfect opportunity to say "If you need an answer by tomorrow, you need to sweeten the deal". And then give them a counter-offer you would be comfortable accepting tomorrow. –  Eric King Jan 24 '12 at 17:30
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closed as off topic by FrustratedWithFormsDesigner, World Engineer, Tom Squires, maple_shaft, Karl Bielefeldt Jan 24 '12 at 20:06

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4 Answers

This sounds like an example of an exploding offer, as described in a Joel On Software post: Exploding Offer Season. While the article is targeted toward college students dealing with unscrupulous recruiters, the situation appears similar.

One of the more pertinent quotes from the article:

[...] there’s not a single hiring manager in the world who wants to hire you but would get mad just because you’re considering other offers. It actually works the other way. When they realize you’re in demand, they’ll want you more.

And another quote that might explain the reason behind the exploding offer:

They know that they’re a second-rate company: good enough, but nobody’s dream job, and they know that they can’t get first-rate [employees] unless they use pressure tactics like exploding offers.

Joel outlines a strategy to follow in this situation:

  1. Schedule your interviews as close together as possible.
  2. If you get an exploding offer from a company that’s not your first choice, push back.

    Say, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to be able to give you an answer until January 14th. I hope that’s OK.” Almost any company, when pressed, will give you a chance to compare offers. Don’t worry about burning bridges or pissing anyone off. Trust me on this one: there’s not a single hiring manager in the world who wants to hire you but would get mad just because you’re considering other offers. It actually works the other way. When they realize you’re in demand, they’ll want you more.

  3. In the rare case that they don’t accept that, accept the exploding offer at the last minute, but go to the other interviews anyway.

    Don’t cash any signing bonus checks, don’t sign anything, just accept the offer verbally. If you get a better offer later, call back the slimy company and tell them you changed your mind. Look, Microsoft hires thousands of college kids every year. If one of them doesn’t show up I think they’ll survive. Anyway, since we instituted that 13th amendment thing, they can’t force you to work for them.

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Every single deal in my life that has come with a very short expiration has been a very bad deal to take. If it is a reasonable deal, they shouldn't have a problem letting you think on it. It don't sound like a reasonable deal to me, I would pass.

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This scenario is more common than you might imagine. Having hit the issue myself I've changed my answer to not bluntly tell them they may not be the best and still allow myself more time to let other offers settle.

Simply:

I need to discuss the offer in detail with my [wife/husband] and ensure this is in line with where we want to be. I will have an answer for you within a week.

I've since used this twice with 2 different prospective employees and have had excellent success. No hurt feelings, and no pressure.

The companies reaction isn't hard to explain either. If they're offering you a position, they want you. They've put considerable amount of time/effort to make that offer and are expecting that you accept it. They don't want to miss the opportunity because company B offered more money.

Another option is to counter offer and ask for more money (also common) and might make the difference up for you.

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You could consider their point of view. They've got work they need somebody to get started on. If you say no, they'll have to go back through the pile of CVs hoping to find a decent match--and that takes time. Basically, they want to know if they need to do that now, or waste another week before they have to do it. Your reluctance to commit makes it sound (to them) like they are going to be stuck doing it either way.

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