Bad Recruiting: Shutting Down an Interview Over Compensation

I’ve meant to write this post up for a while.  I have spent a lot of my time in the last 2 years recruiting, interviewing, making offers etc. as I built a team up from nothing to 9 people.  I also interviewed for other positions in the company, helping others build out their teams.  It was very tough, at times it seemed there were no decent candidates out there, but with persistence and perseverance we would eventually get a good candidate over the line and my faith would be renewed.

In October 2013, I was contacted about doing this again by another company.  Now, I am happy in MongoDB, but I always listen to interesting opportunities – that’s how I ended up in MongoDB in the first place after all, by listening to an interesting proposal.  This company wanted me to join them as they built out their office in Dublin, and they essentially wanted me to do the same thing I had done for MongoDB: build a support team from scratch.  Despite thinking that it sounded a little Sisyphean to go back to square one, I was willing to talk to them, find out about the opportunity, the company and what the role would actually entail.

That part actually went quite well.  It is an exciting company, another start up, and one that I had heard of in only positive ways.  I did some due diligence, checked out the product, looked into the company size, funding, recent news and the like, in preparation for talking to them.  It all checked out, and my curiousity was piqued.

Then came the interview itself, it was an introductory interview with the person that was setting up the Dublin office and we talked a little about their ambition for Dublin, what I’d done, what the role would be about, how the company was doing and where they wanted to go in the future.  It all went really well until we got to the discussion about compensation.

Salary was not an issue, they had no problem beating my current level (encouraging).  Their benefits had not been nailed down yet, but I know how that goes and was not worried.  Then we got to stock options.  I described my current stock option vesting schedule and the current valuation MongoDB had, and then the conversation fell apart.  There was “no way” I would get “anything even close” to the options levels in their company that I was currently getting in MongoDB.  If I was expecting something like that, then it was not going to work.

I found that reaction very odd, why would you be so strident about the stock being a blocker so quickly.  If I had a great candidate for a role, I would not let something like this become a sticking point so early in the process, I would flag it as a potential problem, tell the candidate that I would see what I could do, and then run it up the chain to see if there was any way we could come up with a package that was competitive.  Going so negative early left me with a few impressions:

  1. The company (or perhaps just the recruiter) did not value the role, or the department they were setting up in Dublin sufficiently (a very negative impression to leave)
  2. The person in question was being far too conservative in a competitive market – hedge, definitely, but get an idea of who the candidate is and what they can do first
  3. While I have a decent options plan, it is by no means extravagant and I would expect there to be leeway for leadership recruitment.  If there is not, then there is something wrong.
  4. If they can’t even get close, then it is by far a lesser opportunity for me, I can’t see any other way to look at it – the company does not have a significantly better profile or upside than my current company

Now, it is entirely possible that I would not have fit the role for other reasons, but now we will never know.  When I followed up to say that I could not see the point of leaving a better opportunity for a lesser one (as politely as I could) I never received an acknowledgment of any kind.  Overall, the process has left a sour taste and tainted my opinion of the company in question, which is why I have been careful to leave their name out of this post.  It also reinforced my thinking on the subject, and taught me an excellent lesson in terms of how to manage my own recruiting efforts, so at least I learned something :)