Anatomy of Julie's Job Search: Deciding


This post is part of a series. See the introduction for additional context and disclaimers.

My job search process involves making a lot of decisions from start to finish, but the biggest decision comes near the end. Where am I going to work next?

Table of contents

My process

I noted in my last post that interviewing is the most stressful part of the job search for me. Deciding is a close second. Near the end of my process, those two steps have a lot of overlap because I am interviewing with multiple companies. It feels like the job search equivalent of a plate spinning act. I'm trying to keep everything going well and everyone happy without letting anything hit the floor.

Keeping people informed

I do my best throughout this process to be transparent and honest with the people I am talking to. They know I am doing a public job search and talking to multiple companies. I've written a long blog post noting the things I care about. I try to avoid surprises.

As I get near the end of the process, I will do my best to share general timeline information (e.g. "I've got two onsites this week," "I have a job offer that I need to decide on by Friday"). I do not share the names of the other companies I am talking to, but, if asked, will share profiles to help them understand the shape of their competition (e.g. mid-stage startup; large public company).

Spinning the plates of time

One of the tricky parts of interviewing with multiple companies is trying to keep them on roughly the same timeline. Most companies want you to accept an offer within a week or two, so I really need offers to land at roughly the same time to be able to compare them and make a decision. This is challenging when onsites for a single company can take a day or two.

The times where I'm waiting for someone to get back to me can feel like forever. When I'm trying to juggle job offers, it can feel like everything is happening way too fast.

Spinning the plates of excitement

In addition to time, I also have to spin plates around expectations and level of interest in the roles. Companies want to hear that you are excited about working for them, and I certainly would prefer to end up in a role I am excited about. I do my best to be honest about how excited I am at a given point in time based on the information I have. Unfortunately, this can sometimes backfire if my feelings change based on new information.

In both my 2020 and 2022 job searches, the company I was most excited about for a large chunk of the search did not end up being where I landed. I wasn't being dishonest when I told these companies I was really excited and they were the frontrunners. That was absolutely true at the time we had those conversations. In both cases, they ended up in second place because the tradeoffs for another company were better when I had all the information.

It sucks to decline offers you were really jazzed about, especially when the recruiters, hiring managers, and other folks at the company put so much time and effort into it. Unfortunately, I can only take one job, and I have to pick what's best for me. Companies do the same thing when they have multiple candidates for a single role, and I imagine they do so with significantly less emotional handwringing.

Handling rejection

Not every interview leads to a job offer. One of my motivations for talking to multiple companies is to reduce stress and minimize the sting of failure. It helps to know I have more options, but an interview that does not lead to an offer still hurts. It can feel scary if I do not have any offers yet. What if they all turn out this way?

Failure to get an offer can happen for all sorts of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with me. This is especially common with the weirdness of the market right now where companies are tightening budgets and freezing hiring. I do really appreciate when companies are honest about the "why," but that's relatively rare, so I do not expect it. Three companies declined to move forward in my recent search and only one of them explained the reasoning (lack of funding for a staff level hire).

I try my best to politely handle rejection and maintain a positive relationship with the people I talked to. Just because things didn't work out this time, doesn't mean they won't be an option next time. Thankfully, these communications most often come in the form of an email, so I don't have to worry about managing my emotions on a live call.

Receiving offers

At least a couple interviews usually lead to a job offer. Initial offers generally come verbally from a recruiter or hiring manager. They normally come prepared with numbers for the various forms of compensation (e.g. base salary, equity, bonus) and the total annual compensation they add up to. For companies with discrete leveling, this conversation often includes job title.

Sometimes it is obvious what team the company plans to hire you for because you have interviewed for a specific team throughout the process. However, some companies do bundled hiring where you interview for comparable roles on multiple teams. Some of these companies will give you an offer for a specific team. Others will expect you to accept a general offer and do team matching later. I care a lot about who I will work with and the expectations of the role, so I tend to push back on the latter. In these cases, I often ask for a short follow-up with a hiring manager or skip level to understand the options and talk about where I will be placed.

Verbal offers often discuss potential start dates. I find that most companies want me to start asap, but are flexible. I take at least two weeks off after officially completing my stressful, time-consuming job search, so I can refresh and bring my best self to the new job. Sometimes there are also considerations around things like the timing of health insurance, company onboarding, and holidays.

If I have not received it yet, I will ask for a copy of the company's benefits packet to evaluate all the little annoying details about US-based, employer-provided health insurance. I hate that this is part of evaluating where I am going to work, but it can have a huge impact on me and my family.

I put together a template to list all of the things I care about when it comes to evaluating offers, so I can get all of my questions answered. I fill this in throughout the call and will use it as a reference to ask about anything the recruiter did not mention proactively.

This initial offer conversation can vary depending on the quality of the offer and the status of my job search. If I have other offers in hand or the offer is lower than expected, I may start negotiating.

After discussing the details of the offer, I will review where I am with the timing of my process, what timeline I need to make a decision, and when I will check in with them next. I have been lucky that most companies have been understanding about timeline and not pressured me too hard with exploding offers, but I am aware that is a thing that can happen.


I hate almost everything about negotiating. I hate doing it. I hate that some people use it as an excuse to blame women for the gender pay gap. I hate that women tend to get a more negative response when they do try to negotiate. I hate that it's a no-win situation.

I optimize my job search to not rely heavily on traditional negotiation because I know I'm not very good at it, and there's diminishing returns on growing those skills because of gendered bullshit. That said, my specific approach still relies on some of those techniques. I have found Patrick McKenzie's post about salary negotiation from 2012 to be a good resource even if I'm not great at following through on all the advice.

One downside of being unemployed while job searching is that I do not have a current job as negotiating leverage. My last job's title and salary are still good baselines to work from, but there's no threat of keeping my current job because I already left it.

The upside of being unemployed is that I have time to interview at a larger number of companies, so I hopefully end up with multiple offers. Alternative options for employment, especially when they offered me something more appealing, are the best negotiating leverage.

When negotiating competing offers, some companies will try to argue that I'm not comparing apples to apples (e.g. "It's not fair to compare us with companies like Google and Facebook."). I do not reveal the names of the other companies, but will mention a profile (e.g. mid-size SaaS company, small startup) to dismiss this argument. For example, I negotiated my title (and the associated salary) with a public company in my 2020 job search by noting that I had two competing offers from public companies of a similar scale.

Title and compensation are the places I have the most success negotiating. The size of companies I am usually interviewing with have whole departments that set company-wide policies on things like vacation, sick leave, health benefits, and conditions of employment. I'm sure it's possible to get one-off exceptions to these policies if you're an important enough hire, but it seems unlikely for an individual contributor software engineer. At tiny startups where this stuff is less codified, there is more space to negotiate the terms of employment, but I rarely work at early stage companies.

I probably leave money on the table by not going full "bidding war" when I have competing offers. My goal is usually to get the company I am most excited about for non-compensation reasons to offer me a number I am happy with, where "happy" is some mix of: more than my last job paid me, competitive for the market, and near the high end of my competing job offers. Trying to push past that to wring every possible dollar out of a company stresses me out. The peace of mind I get from being done with my job search is priceless.

Making a decision

If I have zero offers I am happy with (even with negotiation), the job search is not over. I hit this in "part 1" of my 2015 job search, which was the more traditional half of that job search where I was still employed. Part 2 was the first time I did a public job search. I have never run into a "no offers" situation during a public search, but if I did, I would likely go back to an earlier stage of the process and try again.

If I have one offer I am happy with, decision-making is easy! I accept that one offer. That is what happened in part 2 of that 2015 job search. Only a very small number of companies made it to the "interview" stage that time around because I focused more on accepting the first offer I was excited about than spending a lot of time interviewing. It was the right choice at the time, but these days I prefer to interview with more companies to evaluate my options. If I ended up with only one offer I liked during this process, I would still accept it, but I do my best to end up with multiple options.

Ideally, I end up with a few offers to choose from, so I can compare them and select the job that is the best fit for me right now. If I interview serially, I have to evaluate a job against a potential better offer I might get in the future, and who knows if that will happen. When I interview in parallel, I can compare a job against real jobs I definitely have offers from. I'm able to make better decisions when it isn't "all or nothing" with hypotheticals.

That's not to say that picking your next job from multiple offers is easy. During my 2020 job search, I ended up with five offers. It was a difficult decision that I spent significant time thinking about. They were all interesting opportunities from companies I was happy to work for, so there wasn't an obvious "winner." There was a lot of variability in the types of work, responsibilities, stage of the company, and more. Some people pick the company that offers them the most money, and while money matters to me, it's not the only part of my decision.

The question I ask myself when comparing offers is the same question I ask when evaluating technical decisions. "What are you optimizing for?" Thankfully, I reflected on that and wrote it all down at the beginning of my job search. My decision-making often involves a combination of:

  • Comparing offers with one other.
  • Comparing offers with my reverse job posting.
  • Pro/con lists.
  • Negotiation.
  • Chatting with my partner or a friend to work through my thoughts (basically, the job offer equivalent of rubber duck debugging).
  • Gut feelings — this is usually the least important to my overly analytical brain, but it can help with tie-breakers.

For example, in 2020, I was able to identify that one of the companies was the best fit for what I was looking for at the time, but the title and offer wasn't quite right. I was able to do some difficult negotiation to get them up to a title and associated salary that was commensurate with my skill level (and two competing offers from similarly sized companies) and accepted that offer.

Accepting an offer

Once I am ready to accept an offer, I need it in writing in an employment agreement signed by myself and the employer before I consider it real. I've heard too many bad stories about things going sideways without getting things in writing.

Some companies rescinded written job offers during the market troubles this year. I don't know how to avoid that besides avoiding companies known for doing it. I imagine those companies will regret the reputation when they are interested in hiring again.

Declining other offers

Once I have everything signed and in writing, it's time to politely decline any remaining offers and cancel any scheduled interviews. I usually send a polite email to the recruiter or hiring manager thanking them for their time and asking to stay in touch in the future. If I spent this much time interviewing with a company, even if they weren't the best fit this time around, they are likely somewhere I would consider working in the future. Declining their offer is hopefully a "not right now" instead of a "never."

As I mentioned earlier, it can be a real bummer to decline with companies that were frontrunners earlier in the process. I try my best to be honest with them about why they lost out and share any general information that would help them with hiring in the future.

For example, one of the companies I declined in 2020 sounded like a really cool growth and learning opportunity with a lot of room for ownership. In a different time, I would've accepted the offer, and it probably would have been a fun adventure, but 2020 was a challenging year. The early hours needed to collaborate across time zones would have been difficult for me at a time when my sleep was already impacted by the numerous overlapping local, national, and global catastrophes. I ended up selecting a role with more flexible hours, which I really appreciated as the year wore on living in downtown Portland.

Offer details template

Below is the template I use for offer discussions to make sure I get all of the information I need.


  • Title
  • Team
  • Tentative start date
  • Offer expiration date


  • Base salary
  • Equity
    • Type (e.g. ISOs, RSUs)
    • Number of shares
    • Vesting schedule
    • Estimated value
    • Exercise window
  • Bonus
    • Frequency (e.g. annual, quarterly)
    • Dependencies (e.g. personal performance, company performance)
    • Estimated value
  • Retirement
    • 401k
    • Match
  • Other compensation
    • Home office setup budget
    • Monthly stipends (e.g. internet, phone, food, gym)
    • Professional development budget
    • Miscellaneous
  • Total annual compensation (this is usually an estimated value because things like equity and bonus can have significant variability)

Time off

  • Vacation policy (e.g. PTO with 15 days, flex time off)
  • Sick leave
  • Holidays
  • Other time off (e.g. company-wide breaks, 4 day work week)

Health care

  • When does it start? (e.g. first day of employment, first of month after start date)
  • Do I have a copy of the benefits packet? If not, ask for it!
  • Medical
    • Insurance provider options
    • Monthly cost for insurance
    • Estimated annual costs based on deductibles, out-of-pocket max, copays, etc.:
      • In a good year.
      • In a bad year.
    • Can my family keep all of our doctors?
  • Dental
    • Insurance provider options
    • Monthly cost for insurance
    • Estimated annual costs based on deductibles, out-of-pocket max, copays, etc.:
      • In a good year.
      • In a bad year.
    • Can my family keep our dentist?
  • Vision
    • Insurance provider options
    • Monthly cost for insurance
    • Estimated annual costs based on deductibles, out-of-pocket max, copays, etc.:
      • In a good year.
      • In a bad year.
    • Can my family keep our optometrist?

Employment agreement

  • Are there limitations on what I can do in my free time using personal resources? If so, what are they?
  • Are there limitations on my ability to contribute to open source during my free time?
  • Is there a non-compete? If so, for how long and how extensive is it?
  • Anything else notable in the agreement?


  • Anything else I should know about taking this job?

Why it works for me

The combination of interviewing with a larger set of companies and being experienced enough that there is less competition for roles puts me in a position to be more likely to have multiple job offers. Interviewing with multiple companies in parallel is a full time job, so it would be very difficult to accomplish if you were still employed.

My level of experience and approach to the job search allows me to push back on things that people in different situations might not be able to. For example, a lot of folks don't get a choice of teams in bundled hiring situations.

I think there's a possibility I burn some bridges interviewing the way I do, which makes me a little anxious. However, I don't think I'm doing anything wrong. The reality is that companies treat candidates this way (or often worse) all the time. They interview lots of people for small numbers of roles. They make you jump through hours of hoops to prove you can do the job. Rejections are usually a polite form email without reason or feedback. Open roles suddenly disappear because of changing priorities. I've seen, heard, and personally experienced so many job search horror stories that any negative side effects of my process feel trivial in comparison. I'm trying to optimize for a process that works well for me, and I'm pretty honest about what that looks like up front.

Takeaways for job searchers

Do your best to handle rejection and declining offers with grace. Just because things didn't work out this time, doesn't mean they won't in the future. Leaving people with a good impression of you can pay off in a future job search. This doesn't mean you shouldn't feel your feelings. I certainly had a few sad and angry rants with my partner during my job search. This advice is specifically about the professional face you put on for potential employers. By all means, work through your justifiable frustration with friends, family, and the backchannel.

Evaluate offers against the expectations you reflected on at the beginning of the process. Just because a job opportunity sounds good does not mean it is the right fit for you and your current situation. The most money is not always the right answer because that money comes attached to a job you are going to spend a lot of your time doing. I strongly recommend thinking through all of the tradeoffs of the job before making a decision.

Make sure you get things in writing. Even this may not be enough in the current job market, but it's the best you can do, and most companies will not revoke a written employment agreement.

Takeaways for employers

General takeaways

Be careful with how you approach negotiation when hiring. It is one of the easier places for inequity to leak into your company.

Do not rescind job offers (especially ones you've put in writing) unless you are willing to make good with the employee with something akin to severance. You may have no legal obligation to do so, but people talk. Companies that rescind written offers are not trustworthy, and you may find it difficult to hire candidates in the future.

I have a lot of additional thoughts for employers around the later stages of interviewing based on my recent search, but I am going to save them for my job search retrospective. Stay tuned!

Takeaways for people who want to hire me

I am not going to play negotiation games with you. I've put some cards on the table in this post by being honest about how I approach this. I am also being honest that I will likely have multiple job offers. You may not be competing against my current employer, but you will be competing against other companies who want to hire me. I've made it easier for you by sharing what I care about up front. Make me a good offer, and you make my decision easier.