Negotiating for time

Interviewing is a stressful process. And oddly enough, one of the most stressful times can be after you’ve received an offer. You’re still interviewing, you think the offer’s a good one, but they want an answer in 48 hours, and you still have another week’s worth of interviews lined up. What do you do? It can feel like your choices are limited to taking the offer in hand and cutting short the rest of your interviews, or rejecting it and taking the chance that something better comes along. This is certainly how the offering company is going to frame it. Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth.

Here’s a (lightly edited) email I recently sent to a friend who was trying to navigate this exact situation.

Congratulations on getting your first offer!

It can feel difficult to ask for more time, for sure. But remember, after they’ve decided to make an offer, you have *all* the power.

Think of it this way: they’re desperate to fill the role. They’ve almost certainly already passed on some other candidates, and finally – FINALLY – they have someone whom all the interviewers (who are highly opinionated and hard to get to agree on *anything*) have signed off on. They need to close you, so of course they want to end the auction early. If you say you need more time, they’ll first try to figure out if there’s something that’s preventing you from accepting, or if you’re just not that into them. If you tell them that you’re “very excited about the role, and think that it would be a great fit – and that you also don’t want to cheat the process, because this is a decision that’s going to decide how you spend the next N years of your life, you want to be sure, etc.,” (all of which is true) then they will most likely ask how much time you need to make a decision. Know the answer to this! This also allows you to pressure the other companies by letting them know that they have a deadline.

Other points:

  • Never make a decision while on the phone or in a meeting. Imagine that there’s someone back home, your super smart twin whom you have to consult before making *any* decision.

  • Even if you have problems with an offer, stay incredibly enthusiastic and upbeat about the opportunity. No one wants to be a safety school, and you *can* lose an opportunity if you stop being responsive or excited.

  • If an offer is too low, you can be very upfront about that. It’s helpful to have a target number (and BATNA). I literally had the following conversation with a company during my own job search: “I’m very excited about the opportunity, I think the company is doing great work, and I really liked everyone I met. I think I’d really enjoy working there. At the same time, the offer is significantly below what I’ve made in the past, and what I know to be my market value. There are lots of great reasons to join, but the base comp is low enough that I don’t feel a sense of urgency in making the decision.” They came back with a *much* improved final offer.

  • If you get to a deadline and you aren’t ready, just communicate that to them (make sure they know that this isn’t a reflection on them, just that you want to be “really sure”). Of course, they may try to pressure you into making an immediate decision – don’t give up your advantage without getting something in return! Either push for the extension, or use their urgency as a lever to negotiate for more comp, equity, etc.

  • Don’t accept an offer that’s too low. You *will* get lowball offers (“We’re about to go IPO, so your equity will be really meaningful!” “The CFO won’t let me” “We can start you at X, then give you a promotion and a salary bump after 6 months”), but you shouldn’t take them. My recommendation is to be unfailingly, relentlessly positive, and give them a way to come back without losing face (“it’s a great role, I’m very excited about what you’re doing, I love the product, love the team, love love love love – at the same time, this offer is significantly below my expectations, and would be a backward step for me. If things change on your end, if the CFO changes her mind, etc., I’d love to continue the conversation.”).

The point here isn’t to be disingenuous – if you’re considering the offer, then everything here should be true. Jobs aren’t always perfect, but if you don’t like the team, aren’t interested in the product, and don’t think that it’s a good fit, then you should just walk away. As an engineer, you have the tremendous privilege of being a highly valued, scarce resource. The key is not to let someone convince you otherwise.

Good luck!

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