Exploding Offers: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself


We love celebrations here at Gray Scalable. We celebrate Scalaversaries, birthdays, take your kids to work day, and on occasion, Taco Tuesday. If the celebration includes Magnolia cupcakes, even better, IMO.

By far, my favorite thing to celebrate is each time we make a hire for one of our clients. As seasoned recruiters, however, we know when it’s time to celebrate, and when not to: we won’t celebrate a hire until we’ve received a signed offer letter. Call it recruiter-paranoia, but it’s real: no posting to our internal #Woo-Hoo Slack channel until the offer letter comes back signed. No cupcakes until the candidate has signed on the...docusign.

It’s a big thing, getting that signature. We’ve worked hard in partnership with our clients, and it feels great to know that hard work has paid off. We’re fans of helping our clients get from verbal offer to letter-signature as quickly as possible, so it might be surprising to hear that we’re not fans of a practice that has become pretty popular: extending offers that have a near-term expiration date, also more popularly known as exploding offers.

To be clear: there’s a big difference between an exploding offer, and a request for a candidate not to sit on an offer. An exploding offer is one that expires and is rescinded by a date that is usually a week (or even fewer days) from the date the letter is sent to the candidate.

On the face of it - exploding offers seem like a good idea. They give a candidate a specific length of time to take or decline the offer in front of them. They give clarity that offers are not out there for infinite consideration (or for infinite shopping around). As a hiring manager, you’ll get a faster decision, and can manage other candidates in the mix faster. But, an exploding offer can be, well, a land-mine. Here’s why I recommend you avoid them.

They set an adversarial tone

When you set that short, hard-and-fast deadline, you’re signaling it’s not up for debate: and therefore, you’re not interested in any extenuating circumstances. 

When you make an offer - you’re delivering what you hope to be the best and welcome news. You’re kicking off a manager-employee relationship on a positive note. It’s not the time to be an adversary - more boss-y and forceful than you would be in a normal work situation. Remember, your offer might be one of several - or even many. Now is the time to really sell the opportunity - not to apply an arbitrary deadline and needless pressure.

You’ll get an answer - but it might not be the one you want.

When you set a deadline for an answer - you’ll get an answer. But be careful what you push for. Forcing a candidate to give you an answer before s/he’s ready might either force a no - or a false yes, that could result in you stopping recruiting, and the candidate then backing out and taking a preferred, competing offer.

They hurt your hiring brand

The impulse to push for fast answers is a natural response to a highly competitive hiring market. But that impulse might do more damage to your hiring brand, and your overall ability to close candidates. It communicates a driver- or micromanager-culture that might not be a reflection of your overall company culture. 

Here’s what to do in lieu of extending an exploding offer:

Show Empathy

This is a big decision for the candidate. Show that you understand and appreciate the care s/he’s putting into evaluating whether or not to join your team. Acknowledge you know that you’re not the only game in town, and that the candidate deserves multiple offers. You’d greatly prefer s/he join your company - but that you want that decision made as a no-looking-back one. 

Ask for a Decision Timeframe

Asking for a decision timeframe is very different from demanding an answer on your own timeline. This is an opportunity to pressure-test how you will work with your future employee, when you need to do some negotiating around project deliverables, family vacations, etc. It’s OK to ask why a candidate needs time - and to help remove any barriers to the candidate saying yes.

Accept a Decline

After exploring the reasons your candidate might need extra time making a decision - you might come to the conclusion that you’re not OK waiting, and that you would ultimately been OK with forcing a decision, and getting a possible decline. That’s OK! And it’s also OK to communicate that to the candidate, saying that, at a certain point, you need a go or no go - so that you can move on and consider all your options.

At the end of it all, the time between offer extension and decision is a critical point in the recruiting process. Don’t get in your own way by inserting a false deadline that could end up working against you. This is the time to have an open dialogue with your (hopefully!) future employee - not the time to make them feel coerced into making a decision before they’re ready.


written by Deb Feldman, Principal Consultant and Co-Founder