Recruiting talented people has always been challenging.
In some years that meant competing with a hot new company that aggressively courted every fresh graduate with promises of stock options and IPO glory. In other years there wasn’t a specific company so much as an entire rising industry looking for people (I’m looking at you cloud services, driverless cars, and peer-to-peer sharing). Either way, we understood the yearly back and forth. Our job was to explain to candidates how we stacked up, and more importantly, why a career at Jane Street might be the right choice for many of them.
But this year I got to learn a new name for a new challenge. “Unraveling”.
I first encountered it in a book I was reading for fun: "Who Gets What, and Why", by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Alvin Roth. He does a lovely job explaining the idea of a matching market. In a matching market each person wants only one of each item, each item is unique, and each item can be given to at most one person at a time. Jobs are a classic matching market, and just like any market, matching markets can work well, or poorly.
Unraveling is one of the primary things that makes a matching market fail. When a market unravels matches start to happen earlier and earlier, to the point where people no longer get a complete view of their options. In the book Roth relates the story of a person who stepped off of a plane to find three voicemails on his phone. The first offered him a job, the second urged him to respond soon, and the last rescinded the offer because he hadn't responded quickly enough.
We call them exploding offers, and this year they have gotten completely out of hand as companies race to the bottom in their efforts to recruit the next wave of interns and fresh graduates.
Colleges try to impose deadline limits explicitly to stop unraveling, and in the past these have largely been honored. The cheating and fudging, such as it was, was kept to the fringes. But this year it seems like the seal is broken, and we've seen major companies delivering internship and full-time offers with 2 week (and less) hard deadlines. Other companies now routinely deliver expiring bonus offers for signing early. Many of these offers circumvent or outright break the guidelines set down by schools, and if past matching markets are a model for this one, next year will come with even earlier offers and worse conditions.
This unraveling has been the subject of a lot of discussion, both internally at Jane Street and with the various schools we recruit at, who see it - rightly - as bad for their students. How can someone make a thoughtful decision about where they want to build a career without the time to interview at more than one or two places? Unfortunately, most of this discussion is out of the public light, and so the unraveling continues.
We can't control the actions of others, but we also don’t have to follow the herd, so we'd like to be clear:
Jane Street is committed to making sure that you have the time and information you need to decide on an offer from us. Our offer letters do have good-until dates as a matter of professional practice, but we try to work with every candidate to choose a date that works for them. We are also happy to extend the date if something unexpected comes up, or, frankly, if someone just needs more time.
Choosing where to start your career is a big decision and we hope you have the time to make a good one.