The prevailing narrative about tech workers assumes that they have more power than ever before. This even has a term — the Great Resignation.
But at the booming, much-revered payments company Stripe, some applicants have found themselves accepting job offers only to learn they have been rescinded without warning.
Protocol spoke with two Stripe candidates who received either verbal or written offers from the company and then had those offers revoked because of “shifting business priorities.” (We reviewed their communications with Stripe recruiters, including the offer letter, to confirm the candidates’ stories). Protocol also spoke with a former Stripe recruiter who described the company as embracing a “hire and fire” mentality and constantly shifting priorities and reorganizing staff. All three of these sources were granted anonymity for fear of repercussions by their current and potential future employers. Protocol also reviewed multiple online complaints detailing similar rescinded offers; the most prominent of these complaints was posted on Hacker News and received a rousing defense of Stripe from Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong.
“We want everyone who interacts with Stripe during a recruiting process to be treated professionally and with respect. We value feedback and are always looking for ways to improve our recruiting experience,” a Stripe spokesperson wrote to Protocol.
Stripe, which has the highest valuation of any private, venture-backed tech company in the U.S., has grown so rapidly over the last few years that many engineers and other tech workers see it as one of the most desirable, successful places to work. The former recruiter interviewed by Protocol said that she chose the job over offers at Google and two other tech companies, in part because of the extremely positive and enthusiastic way the company was sold to her and because of Stripe’s reputation in the industry.
Stripe is also not the only tech company to face problems with recruitment and hiring processes in the last year. The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on how people interview for jobs, made workers more empowered during the application process and helped many VC-backed tech companies grow so wealthy that they are all competing bitterly for the same pool of talent. Facebook spent the first quarter of 2021 battling one of its worst hiring crises in years, as engineers turned down job offers at unusually high rates and negative Glassdoor reviews spiked. Google’s interview process has a long-held reputation as unnecessarily difficult and complex.
The Stripe applicants interviewed by Protocol and those who have shared their stories online have said that the experience of interviewing with Stripe was generally positive, and that they had no problem with the recruiters themselves. Those who faced rescinded offers also said that losing the offer itself was less frustrating than the company’s refusal to give a personal explanation.
One technical manager — now employed elsewhere — described being approached by a Stripe recruiter when she took some time off of working. She agreed to go through the interview process and found herself meeting with “tons” of people, preparing an elaborate presentation and going through several role-playing exercises. “It was very complex and very hard,” she said.
And the feedback Stripe gave her was entirely positive. In the first half of 2021, she received a verbal offer, then a written one. She signed the offer. And then she tweeted that she would be joining the company.
“A few days after that, I got a call from an executive recruiter who I had never heard from before, and she said, 'There is no easy way to say this. We have to rescind our offer due to changing company priorities.' She said she was sorry,” she said. “After that, I emailed the recruiter and the hiring manager, and I didn’t hear back from either of them ever.”
Another engineer recently described a similar process. Though he did not receive a written offer, he was offered a job verbally by the recruiter who led him through the process. After communicating his intent to accept the job, the recruiter later told him that he would not be given an offer letter because of a “business decision” and “change of direction,” and declined to provide more information or answer further questions.
On Tuesday, Armstrong defended Stripe in a post on Hacker News in response to an anonymous person who alleged a similar experience. “Any time you have thousand of interviews going on, you are bound to get some bad candidate experiences, I know for instance these happen in Coinbase periodically, and we try to minimize it for sure, but you will not get it to zero (especially when growing quickly),” he wrote. He also said that often, lukewarm or bad reference checks can cause delays in the process, and recruiters may not be willing to explain this to candidates in order to protect the people who gave references.
According to the former Stripe recruiter (who has years of experience at other top tech companies and has remained employed as a recruiter elsewhere), Stripe recruiting teams and the company in general often lacked the formal processes that lead to a smooth recruiting and hiring process. “It was an organization that seemed to shift priorities a lot. I feel like every two weeks there was a reorg. When you have that going on, to recruit for that, makes it difficult,” she said. “I just don’t think they have any idea of process — when I was trying to hire, … some of our interviewers met with something like 17 people over two days.”
This recruiter Protocol spoke to was let go from the company after about four months on the job without explanation, within weeks of another recruiter who also spent a correspondingly short time at Stripe. “I know a lot of people have felt that the organization has moved much more to the hire and fire mentality. I felt like that happened to my role. I know other people felt like they were brought in and then left out as sheep for slaughter,” she said.
The technical manager who signed the offer before it was rescinded feels more frustrated about the lack of recourse than the actual loss of the job. “It’s OK to break agreements when things happen. I don’t want to go to a company if there’s no place for me, but if companies are requiring transparency and honesty from me, they should do the same,” she said. “I got a lot of DMs from people who had hiring issues with Stripe after. You lift the veneer a bit, and they have just as many problems as anybody.”