How do I survive an exploding offer?
July 30, 2012 6:46 AM   Subscribe

2 Interviews, one exploding offer. How do I negotiate?

I have had two interviews for basically the same nimble, niche field at two different places. Company Alpha interviewed me in May, company Zeta interviewed me a week ago. Upon returning from my interview, company Alpha called me to say they would give me an offer, and a couple days later I received a 7 day offer (this seems absurd. With best play I think I could get a month), with a note that they could extend this time if necessary.

Company Alpha reeeeaaallly needs me (they didn't get a colleague with the same skillset) and have been understaffed since, well, May. I can't start for a few months -- all parties know this. Company Zeta should want me, and may be a better career fit, but I'm pretty sure I was one of their first interviews so I don't know if they will be willing to wrap up early just for me. I'm not sure I have time to let them naturally come to their senses either. I can't afford to totally play chicken, these two may be the only jobs for the next 6mo.

Question: what exact wording do I use to ask for more time on the offer? Do I use a date? Do I call HR at Zeta first, or urgently email the hiring manager at Zeta -- what is my angle? Is there any game theory I'm missing (I am horrible at this -- tend to reveal my full hand at every juncture).
posted by gensubuser to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you had offers from both jobs in hand right now with similar salaries/benefits, which one would you choose?
posted by decathecting at 6:54 AM on July 30, 2012

I don't think you have to game this all that much. I would contact Zeta -- if you have a relationship with the hiring manager (e.g. if you have talked with him/her) -- I would contact them directly and let them know your situation with Alpha. You don't need to say which company has made you an offer, but let them know you have an offer in hand and ask when they think they might be making a hiring decision. That will give you information as to how long you might need to ask for an extension from Alpha.
posted by elmay at 6:55 AM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you have the choice, don't work for a place making an "exploding offer". It's a cheap attempt to manipulate you into making a bad decision, and that tactic is usually only employed by places that couldn't get people to work for them if they didn't play that sort of game.

A place that actually wants you because of you, as opposed to you because HR needs to meet their quota this quarter, wouldn't do that.
posted by mhoye at 7:26 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Tell Alpha something like 'thank you for offering an extension of time, please give me until x date (maybe one more week out)'

tell Zeta what elmay suggests, but also telling them that you really appreciate knowing within 5 days what their decision is so you can appropriately respond to the other company as you only have a week to get back to them. They need to know the appropriate time-line for action otherwise approaching them may not be very helpful.
posted by saraindc at 7:28 AM on July 30, 2012

also i don't really consider this much of an exploding offer because you get a week (not just two days or something) and they've told you they'll give you an extension. they're just trying to get you to respond within an appropriate length of time. so i don't think there is a need to be extra wary of this employer based on this being an 'exploding offer'
posted by saraindc at 7:31 AM on July 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Current plan:

1) email Zeta manager mentioning "relatively short" timing (extendable). Ask if they know the timeframe.
2) email Alpha with result if response comes immediately, or asking for "some time" [parents' words. Is this the best judo?]

I am a very special person and these are very special jobs -- thanks for the advice so far!
posted by gensubuser at 7:42 AM on July 30, 2012

I don't know how special you are talking about, but in my fairly specialized engineering field, asking for more than 7 days to consider an offer would be a bit odd. All of the offers I've received requested a response within a day. Do you mean that Company Alpha wants you to start in 7 days (whereas you want to start in a few months) or Company Alpha wants you to respond in 7 days to an offer for a job starting in a few months?

That said, I don't know why you don't want to tell Company Zeta you have an offer in hand and that you need to respond to it quickly. I've seen very massive companies that have very detailed HR policies that imply that they cannot move very quickly turn around an offer in hours if they need to. Company Zeta will either tell you that they are not willing to stop the hiring process within a few days (which is probably a subtle note that they aren't interested in hiring you and you shouldn't rely waiting and hoping they hire you at the end) or they will come around with an offer shortly.

You should not just say "some time" to Company Alpha. You can always play this as it happens - say something like "I'll have more information about my situation in three days" to Company Alpha and then tell Company Zeta "I need an offer in two days or I'll be forced to accept Company Alpha's offer". You may find that Company Zeta offers a more compelling offer than Company Alpha at that point, in which case you just do the whole thing over again in reverse.
posted by saeculorum at 7:53 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Everyone has their own comfort zone with regards to job and salary negotiations as well as their own personal priorities. I'm far more interested in having a job I like going to than I am a raw dollar amount and I personally come from the negotiating philosophy that the good deal is the one you are happy with, not necessarily the "best" deal with regards to maximum possible pay. So take what I say with that in mind.

The niche factor complicates this; in my field I'd simply tell Alpha that I am still in the process of interviewing and want to examine all the possibilities before I make a decision. In my field I wouldn't even be unwilling to say where. But as a coder there's a lot of places I could go; if your circumstance is different that changes matters a bit with that level of disclosure.

But I still think you can ask them for a set additional time and say with sincerity that you want to make the best choice for yourself and believe strongly that when you make a commitment to someone you intent do honor it. If they have courted any attractive candidates at all they've had someone back out on them and they should appreciate your desire not to do that to them.

Similarly, if you're a professional and in any sort of demand then they should respect that your timeline may not be in perfect alignment with theirs. A week is not an unreasonable period of time to ask someone to make a decision within, but neither is it unreasonable for you to say you have other things in your life and need another week. I firmly believe that the best work situations arise when both sides recognize and acknowledge that they are in an relationship and arrangement of people with equal value. A company that behaves as if it's doing you a favor and you're simply a cog when you're in the hiring process is going to behave that way once you're a daily fixture.

That said, recognize that in anything short of a written contract you probably don't have anything binding in an offer from them even after you accept it. They may well say they'll give you a week to consider and then get a yes from someone else or alter their plans before you deadline comes and goes. Whether you consider that dodging a bullet in not ending up working for crappy people is up to you.

With regards to Company Zeta I think you should simply call your contact and reiterate that you enjoyed meeting with them (you did send a thank you email at minimum, no?) and are very interested in the opportunity and wonder if they have a timeline set for a decision. I'd be frank that you have an other offer you have to respond to but you believe that they're a better fit for you. If they, again, respect you as a professional and a person then they're going to understand that you need to make choices for your own good.

This may or may not be optimal game theory, but as I said I value the nature of the relationship as well; this is the way I wish to conduct myself with a place where I'll be working.
posted by phearlez at 8:40 AM on July 30, 2012

Accept Alpha.

You're not starting for months anyways. If Zeta comes along with an offer, you have one in hand to negotiate for better if you need to. In the event Zeta makes the better offer, you can apologize to Alpha but that an offer you cannot refuse has come up and you will need to back out.

They will have plenty of time to conduct another search before your start date (if it is indeed months out) and this should not leave them very much worse off.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 10:28 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

7 days seems a reasonable time to decide; if I offered a job to a candidate I don't think I'd entertain that much longer a timeframe. I work for a small company and if I need someone I need them soon. If you're in a more specialized field and it's a larger company where they just need to keep the team stocked YMMV.

I think it's *reasonable* to advise Zeta of the situation, with hope of pressing for a quick answer, but seems unlikely to me they can move forward much faster than planned. Agreed you should contact them; common courtesy suggests advising them of a development like this in your job search.

That said, I think forgoing or messing around with an offer in hand because you MIGHT get a better opportunity in a few months seems like a disaster waiting to happen. If the position and comp is in line with what you're looking for, I'd go to Alpha.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:40 AM on July 30, 2012

Accept Alpha.

You're not starting for months anyways. If Zeta comes along with an offer, you have one in hand to negotiate for better if you need to. In the event Zeta makes the better offer, you can apologize to Alpha but that an offer you cannot refuse has come up and you will need to back out.

I wouldn't do this. You'd be seriously burning your bridges with Alpha if you accept an offer, and then back out on it later because a better offer came along. If Alpha is a company that you would genuinely consider working for in the future (say if things with Zeta don't work out for whatever reason), then this option will totally screw you. Especially if you're in a specialized field where offers aren't flying at you like crazy.

Some of the "accepted" answers in this thread seem like the best option - maybe ask Alpha for a small-ish extension (shouldn't be a problem if you're not meant to start for months), and mention to Zeta that you have another offer that needs to be acted on within a week or two, and would like some feedback on their timeline for decision making.
posted by antifuse at 3:18 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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