RescindGate: Zenefits, Uber, and the Quora Job Offer Debacle

May 13, 2015

Last week on Quora, an entry-level engineer crowd-sourced a hiring decision. With offers from two companies — Uber and Zenefits — he reached out to get opinions and perspectives on what he should do. Most of us turn to others for advice when we’re wrestling with big career decisions. The difference here is that he did so publicly, on a major online forum.

Quora Zenefits Uber

Perhaps not surprisingly, representatives from both Uber and Zenefits weighed in with answers. But while Uber’s Head of Communications Mark Rogowsky provided a PR pitch, Zenefits founder and CEO Parker Conrad took it upon himself to jump in with a much different answer: “Definitely not Zenefits.” Then he took it a step further and rescinded the questioner’s offer.

His reasoning: Since the anonymous poster indicated his or her ultimate goal was working at a company like Google or Apple, Conrad suggested those were the places he/she should apply. Zenefits wants people who are excited to work for Zenefits, specifically. Fair enough.

He also stressed that one of Zenefits’ core values is “bias towards action,” and therefore the fact that the poster was asking for other opinions was an indicator that he/she wasn’t decisive and not a good fit.

Other posters on Quora did not react positively to Conrad’s response (to say the least), and he quickly showed his bias towards action by editing his original comment then deleting it all together.

Conrad and Zenefits may be the ultimate losers in this public exchange, and it might make a great case study in how not to react to questions like these online (this certainly won’t be the last one of its kind), but what I’d like to focus on is the fact that this anonymous post is an indicator of something else — neither Uber nor Zenefits did their job right when it came to recruiting and closing this candidate.

Definitely Not Either: Why Zenefits and Uber Both Failed

By the time a prospective employee exits the interview process they should have a clear understanding of the company’s unique vision and value. If they’re not sold on it, then something went wrong.

The same goes for understanding the unique value the company can bring to the individual in the long run. Because lets face it, no one stays at one company forever. Getting riled up because a candidate has a long-term vision that doesn’t exclusively feature you as their lifetime employer is ridiculous and unrealistic. The best employers recognize this and work hard to find alignment between the company’s goals and their employees’ personal and professional goals, even if that involves helping them move on to other opportunities.

Based on the questioner’s pros and cons list, neither Zenefits nor Uber made these two things clear.

This goes back to a problem I’ve addressed over and over again this year — companies are too cocky. Despite increasing competition over top tech talent, at some point, many companies decide to stop selling candidates on their vision and start making them feel like an offer to join is a “privilege.”

Every company wants to feel like the next Google or Facebook and have their pick of the litter when it comes to hiring, but the fact of the matter is Google and Facebook are probably treating candidates better than you are. Stop operating under the assumption that you’ll always find better options and that candidates are lucky simply to be talking with you. Start treating candidates as if you’re ready to invest in them as people, and that you’re interested in helping them grow as your organization does.

Where Uber Went Wrong

“The biggest con for Uber is that their attitude towards me so far has been: “we don’t really need you. but here is your offer”. They really don’t seem to care as much, and I can understand why. Uber attracts top talent and they can easily find someone to replace me.”

If this were any other company, this candidate likely would have walked away far sooner in the process. The only reason Uber got away with this kind of negative candidate experience is because of their brand. And that doesn’t make it right.

This should be a huge red flag for the Uber management team. They need to look at their hiring process as well as anyone involved — recruiters to hiring managers — and figure out what happened to make a candidate feel like they weren’t needed or respected. Then they need to fix it — fast. This attitude might slide when you’re dealing with a recent grad who wants to work for a big name brand, but that’s not going to get you far with people who have been around the block a time or two.

Where Zenefits Went Wrong

“Zenefits has a great team…I definitely think I can add more value to Zenefits…. Upper management is accessible…. The job itself allows for more creative freedom, and with it more responsibility…. Zenefits seems to be really aggressive in trying to keep me.”

You had him! Then you lost him.

Unlike Uber, Zenefits did sell the value of the company for the individual. What they didn’t do was show how the opportunity fit into the bigger picture for this candidate’s career.

When starting a career, candidates are typically looking for high-impact roles that will allow for an immense amount of growth. This was that role — access to management, adding more value, more responsibility, and working with an all-around great team. Instead of instantly rescinding the offer the team had likely worked hard to put together, the CEO or (better yet) a recruiter or (better still) an engineer should have called this candidate and spoke with them about the value both this job, specifically, and Zenefits, in general, has to offer their overall career. Instead, they did damage to their brand by placing blame on the candidate instead of themselves.

The Big Picture: Candidate Experience Matters

In an increasingly connected world, there will be more and more online outlets for candidates to publicly express opinions and ask for and receive career feedback. Whether companies think that’s the proper avenue, or that these types of discussions should be more private is irrelevant. Just as when Glassdoor first arrived on the scene, companies need to be ready for these conversations to happen, and more importantly, they need to be proactive if they hope to play a part in shaping and influence them.

As Conrad learned the hard way, trying to police, control, or shut down these exchanges is a losing battle. Instead, companies need to be investing in providing great candidate experiences and answering these types of candidate questions ahead of time.

Don’t wait for candidates to say something bad about your interview process before you fix it. Think about how your candidate experience affects your company in the long term, and actively ask for candidate feedback so you can always be improving. The candidate journey — from initial touch points to interviews to offer to acceptance — is part of your brand and it should always be top of mind.

One additional thought: CEOs, leave it to employees to do the talking for you. Notice how the CEO of Uber didn’t take to Quora to respond, but employees did. Granted, the size of the company impacts who is available to respond, but from a candidate perspective the “why work here” is always more valuable coming from a prospective colleague. Leave it to them to help finish what you started.

Photo by: TechCrunch (adapted)

Recruiter, Sales & Marketing

<strong>Katelyn Lagarde</strong> is a recruiter at <a href="">CloudHealth</a>. She was previously a Talent Specialist at OpenView.