One of the least successful and yet most strategic advice I used to give my students at Holberton School was: when hunting for engineering jobs, no matter how hard it was to get your first offer, don’t ever accept it right away. Of course be clear that you’re not refusing either, simply ask for more time. It was unsuccessful advice, not only because it is a very hard thing to do once presented with the moment, but also because I was never very good back then at conveying why. I feel I’m able to express it more clearly now, so that’s what this piece is about.
First, you may have experienced around you (even more so in dynamic engineering job markets like North California) that it is very badly regarded for an employer to force an engineering candidate’s hand into accepting an offer quickly. Why do you think that is?
Incorrect answer: some people are under the impression that engineering candidates are kings/queens on the job market, and that employers will agree to anything in the seduction game. Except of course that’s against all laws of business, employers aggressively filter candidates, and will typically distance themselves from those who behave in an entitled way, no matter for what job. So then what? What is their interest in allowing you to take your time?
Two facts to keep in mind:
• New engineers joining a company don’t provide meaningful value before at least 1 to 3 months at best, and it can take 6 months to a year before they provide a value anywhere near their paycheck. In engineering particularly, there are a lot of sometimes very abstract moving pieces to get acquainted with, and the “newcomer value” curve is especially tough.
• Everyone talks about how hard it currently is to hire quality engineers; but do keep in mind that in dynamic markets where job hopping is considered a smart career-building strategy, it is even harder to retain them long in the company after they signed in.
Therefore, it’s worth it for a recruiter to take a strong risk to lose the candidate, if it guarantees a better retention if they do sign up. And if the candidate shops around and signs up elsewhere, well then it’s good news too: they probably would have taken that other job offer eventually whenever it would have made its way to them, but after months of being paid for little value delivered.
I can think of three cases:
• The recruiter doesn’t realize what they’re doing may hurt their own company. Hoping it’s unlikely.
• The recruiter is not incentivized for retention. That is extremely unlikely as far as I know.
• Or, and that’s the most likely case: the recruiter knows the offer is not great, and is feeling pretty sure you wouldn’t take it if you took the time to know what else you can get. They’re counting on you not finding out before you’ve spent long enough in that job, or being too junior to job hop without adverse effect. This is why the practice is so badly regarded: this is about strong-arming junior engineers into a situation that is knowingly detrimental to them.
And think about it: if they trust so much that you can get a better offer if you don’t sign up right away, and they know the market better than you do, maybe you should trust it too?
So then, you should be able to request them for extra time; but why do you want it anyway? Why is this first offer probably not good enough?
Besides the ability to optimize for what’s best for you, the main reason is that now that you have an offer, you just entered a whole new category of market interest, and your market value just possibly doubled! Just like that!
First thing you should do: email all the leads you have that are lagging and haven’t fully rejected you, and let them know. Tell them that you’re still very very interested to work with them, but now that you have that other offer, you feel compelled to get to closing faster, if that’s fine with them. A lot of them won’t answer because they had already made up their minds; but among those who do answer, hopefully there will be some employers that interest you more.
Also, moving forward, be sure to drop the information for all new lead, early enough in the casual conversation to make sure to have their interest. Again, you can use timing as an excuse to bring it up.
Super key question! Obviously they know you’re doing it to compare with other potential offers, so don’t make up a lie about it. But it will be very appreciated that you express it from their point of view, with their interests in mind. Making sure to keep the optimistic, mature, deal-closing-oriented, and genuine tone that fits job hunting conversations, it could look like this:
“I really appreciate the offer and I liked a lot discovering company X during the process. It’s so easy to imagine myself here! But I worry that I’ve noticed that a few of my friends join companies quickly, and then they leave at the first other opportunity that comes up, and I don’t think that’s constructive. I certainly don’t want to do that, I want to sign with company X, and be confident with my choice, and that nothing coming later can distract me, so I need to take the time to be 100% sure of my choice first, if that’s ok with you.”
That’s normal, and doesn’t necessarily reflect that the employer means to rush you. Simply, the market may turn quickly, and it would be silly of them to commit to an offer that you’ll accept in two months, and is not financially relevant any more by then.
Best way to know, just ask. Share your concerns first about needing time, then ask them if that expiration date should worry you, or if the offer is likely to be renewed as is. Most likely, they’ll tell you they’d need to do the paperwork a second time so that’s a bummer, but it’s likely to be renewed as is.
I know, I know, and the emotional drain is why people gladly make the mistake so often. If you feel emotionally on the edge, then do whatever it takes to keep your sanity, but keep in mind that from a rational point of view, you are hurting yourself on the middle and long term.
But let’s be honest, that’s unlikely. If it happens to you, congratulations, and clearly you don’t need my help. ;)
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