Are Exploding Offers So Bad?
Jennifer Mnookin, at Law and Culture, has a good post about the use of exploding offers in law faculty recruiting. I agree with her fundamental points, that such offers a) aren’t very nice (though I’d take issue with her term,”outrageous”); and b) are potentially counter-productive, insofar as they may lead a candidate to accept the exploding offer but leave the school prematurely due to bad feelings.
But here’s the thing. Recruiting – professors, law clerks, engineers – is a competitive business. Despite the overall size of a given year’s hiring pool, law schools are competing over a relatively small number of canidates. And it turns out teaching candidates focus on relatively consistent features in developing their job preferences. The first and most obvious is school prestige, and the related benefits of faculty and student quality. Another important recruiting advantage, as I have suggested, is location. So what are the rest of the hoi polloi, those lower ranked or off-the-beaten-track schools, to do?
Exploding offers, though unpleasant from the candidate’s viewpoint, are a strong recruiting tool. First off, as one of Jennifer’s commenters suggests, they sometimes work. There is a risk that the recruiting school will unnecessarily lose its favored candidate, but if the hiring committee is making sharp assessments, its targets will frequently receive competing offers from more attractive schools. In such cases, an exploding offer may be the only route to an acceptance. And when a candidate does say no, the short deadline allows the school to quickly pursue backup candidates. On balance, particularly where a school has a strong second choice candidate, I suspect that exploding offers yield better faculty hires.
And what about the lingering bad feelings? Two things. First, I’m not sure that all candidates facing an exploding offer experience this. In order to feel mistreated, a candidate has to believe she has some sort of entitlement to the better job. I can’t speak for those folks in play at the most elite schools, but few of the candidates I’ve seen – even those we lose to other schools – have the self-confidence (may I even suggest ego?) to feel entitled to a chance at the “better” job. opportunity to the “better” school. Second, even if a candidate does feel anger at her new employer, in many cases she will have little long-term recourse (other than leaving the field.) Many excellent entry-level candidates don’t turn out to be nearly as insightful or productive as expected. And while there is some lateral mobility in law teaching, it is surprisingly limited.
I personally believe that good treatment of candidates produces positive karma – for the school and for individual relationships. But since you can’t cash karma at the end of the month (or mail out a karma glossy during US News ranking season), I’m sympathetic to those deans who disagree with me.