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Declining an Apple Job Opportunity

John Harbor's Main Street Coffee HouseAbout a month ago, late on a Monday night, I received an intriguing email.

A senior recruiter at Apple found my blog, reviewed my design work and wondered if I might interested in a position on the iPhone/OS X design team.

At first I thought it was a joke. Surely this was a prank, sprung by my good buddy, Michael Ashby.

Then I did my research, and it was the real deal.

This was definitely Apple calling.

Holy smokes!

Talking with Apple
After the shock wore off, I setup a initial phone interview. I had to find out more. I contacted several good friends living in Silicon Valley, to learn more about working at Apple and living in California.

The next day, I had a great conversation with the recruiter. I shared my background and skills, learned more about the potential position, Apple, and California.

If I was interested in moving ahead with this, the next step was an icon design project and an essay on my solution for a UI design challenge.

With this huge opportunity on the table, I took time to get counsel from my wife, family and friends, to think through the ramifications and to pray for God's guidance.

After much thought and consideration I decided to decline the opportunity.

Decline? Are you NUTS Mike?!
The very idea that I was completely nuts did cross my mind. After all, this is Apple, and an opportunity to work on the iPhone/OS X design team!

The opportunity was extremely attractive. A potential opportunity of a lifetime — doing design work on the iPhone, for Apple. But upon reflection and reviewing who I am and what I'm all about, the answer was clear.

Here are the reasons I decided to decline:

I Love My Work
I realized how much I love the design work I do, and how satisfying it is to build brands with small companies. I love being an advisor to my clients, sharing my expertise with them. I enjoy working directly with business owners and entrepreneurs, developing brands that reach their customers and help them compete and win against bigger competitors. I love being my clients' secret weapon!

I Love Milwaukee
A move to California would have been part of the deal. I've been to California and it's a beautiful place, but I love living in the Milwaukee area. I like being able to own a home we can afford, in a quiet neighborhood with great schools. I've spent my life building lasting relationships here. My family is here. It's a wonderful place to raise a son. I love the seasons, the Packers. This is where I belong and I where want to stay.

I Love MakaluMedia
The company I work for is a large part of my success. MakaluMedia's owner, Matt Henderson has been a strong supporter for my 10+ years with the company. He was willing to try remote working in 1998, when it was new and untested. He was willing to let me go after clients and create a design firm within the company. Every day, I get to work with amazing colleagues and clients, and that's very meaningful to me.

Maybe I'm crazy for passing up a chance to work at Apple. I'm cool with that.

I know in my heart and soul, that declining this opportunity was the right decision for me and my family. I'm content knowing this is the place where I want to be and where God is working through me to help others and love others.

For my money, that's the right place to be.

Related Links
Cameron Moll: Why I passed up the chance to work at Apple

Reader Comments (33)

what an honor to even be "called"... and really.. that's awesome that you decided to stay here. all your reasons are very valid. i once had a really awesome opportunity open up for me... but i had to decline. and it was hard for me to decide.. but then after i declined.. i had several other awesome opportunities open up here in milwaukee. GOD always provides.
November 12, 2007 | Unregistered Commentertray
It's too bad that we won't be seeing you out here in Cali, Mike, but you know your heart best. If what's best for you and your family is to stay where you are, then that's the right decision.
November 12, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterlux
Congratulations, because if an Apple recruiter was interested in your skills, that means you RULE. Good luck.
November 12, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAbe Estrada
That's very impressive, Mike, that Apple was interested in you and your work, but I'm even more impressed, and encouraged concerning some decisions I'm facing, by your reasons for not pursuing the opportunity. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.
November 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBucky
It really is an honor (and a testament to your work) that Apple came calling. Congrats on the decision to remain in the Midwest; I'm confident you won't regret it. Making choices like this often remind us of what's really important.
November 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLarry Wright
Congrats Mike - for both Apple recognizing you and for making the right decision for yourself. As awesome as it sounds, I think I would have done the same thing.
November 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJason Long
Mike,In 1999 I turned down an opportunity to work for Imagine Media for pretty much the same reasons. I love Milwaukee and being close to my family was just too important to me, even thouhg the idea of working in the then-emerging filed of "videogame journalism" was a huge career goal at the time.

I know how hard a decision that can be. Imagine media isn't apple, but they were a major force in the video game industry at the time.

Anyway, here's a little perspective for you: Six months after I turned that job down, Daily Radar closed. A few months after that Next Gen magazine died. (Maybe in the other order, I can't recall.)

In the interim, though, I did some great freelance work for them.

November 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGabe

The recognition is great and well-deserved. The decision-making is sound and well thought out.

I've been faced with similar enticements (not from Apple) over the years and have gone through the same process of introspection and discussion with family and friends. My conclusions have always been the same as yours. Preserve your roots.

Like you, I have come to really love the place I call home (Albuquerque, NM). My wife and I have been here for 27 years and have many friendships and roots in the community that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace. We also have seasons (not quite as dramatic as yours but there are four of them!), amazing landscapes, and indigenous culture that has become part of our lives.

You made the right call. Enjoy the validation of your great work. And rediscover everything you love about the place you've chosen to call home. There's nothing like the prospect of leaving to reinvigorate your affection for that place.
November 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMarc Orchant
It's good to have enough perspective to know the glamorous job isn't always the most fulfilling. They were smart to go after you, you were smart to turn it down.
November 13, 2007 | Unregistered Commentersj
Sounds like you have your priorities in line - perhaps it is that Midwestern sensibility. As a fellow Wisconsinite/Milwaukee resident, I completely understand where you are coming from.

Good show!
November 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Bumgardner
I admire how you handled this. Some times, what you do now is a better way to lead your life than moving on to the ultimate corporate world. Thumbs up!
November 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDanh
It should have been a hard decision, but I think you 've decided well!
November 13, 2007 | Unregistered Commentergyurisc
Understandable decision. I had a hard time deciding to move away from Orlando but I made the move when I was young and dumb.

Nice compliment to your work though. I wish I wasn't happy where I am or else I would love to go after that job. I just passed up an opportunity at Ebay without a second thought but Apple would have made me think twice. Or thrice.
November 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCollin
I'm glad I convinced you to stay. Just kidding! But really, I'm glad you'll be staying in Milwaukee, helping build great things here, and showing people that the Midwest has a lot to offer.

And while Apple is a cool company that makes cool products, it has it's pros/cons like any other company.

We need you here, so here you should stay. :)

November 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPete Prodoehl
Schlemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated!

If you get tired of Milwaukee - try Cleveland.
November 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTkmycall

Tracy, it is an honor to be called indeed! I told the recruiter they made my year in fact. And I agree that God does provide, and in this case reminded me of how fortunate I am to be where I am. Thanks for the encouragement.

Lux, it would have been fun to move to Cali were I young and single or if it were Gail and I before Nathan. Opportunities like this I believe are best suited for young designers ready to move anywhere, so hopefully that will come true for a great young designer somewhere. Thanks for the kind words.

Abe, I don't know that I rule, but I am confident that I work hard at delivering great work. Thanks for the encouragement :-)

Bucky, I'm encouraged that sharing my thought process may be helping you in your own decisions. That was one of the reasons I made the decision to go public about this - to help others out through sharing my experience. I wish you the best as you make your own decision.

Larry, thanks man! I'm very encouraged by the interest Apple showed. Thanks for the verification on choosing the Midwest. I'm hoping that more and more people will choose to stay here for the quality of life and build great things. I think that's already happening with companies like 37signals, Coudal Partners and Carlos Segura.

Jason, thanks! Initially it was a tough choice, but as I thought it through and pondered the options and ramifications, it became clear. I appreciate the kind words.

Gabe, your story is an interesting one. That's the flipside of the traditional "what might have been" story where someone wonders how life would have been better by making a different choice. Here you see that your reasoning was good, and that had you decided otherwise, your life would have been shaken in ways you could have never predicted. Thanks for the encouragement.

Marc, it's great to hear from you on this, as I greatly respect who you are and your body of work. Preserve your roots is a great way of capturing this idea - something I believe in. I think my father taught me well.

Sean, thanks! I've been around long enough to know that every job has a balance of benefits and drawbacks, so it's really a matter of choosing which set you want to live with. Processing this decision was good, in that it clarified what I have and how great it fits who I am.

Matt, great to hear from a fellow Milwaukeean! Thanks for the encouraging words, and reminder of how great Milwaukee really is. :-)

Danh, thanks for your comment. It's good to hear my decisions can help others in so many different ways.

gyurisc, it was a tough one! But I feel in my soul I made the right choice.

Collin, great to hear from you again! Apple is still looking for people and I mentioned this post to the recruiter, so you might get an email... no promises though! :-)

Pete, you always crack me up and encourage me! I'm very glad to stick around here if only to hear you crack perfectly timed dry as a bone jokes and comments in Web414 meetings! I feel very wanted and needed here, so I'm glad to stick around and do some great things with my friends here. :-)

November 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
+1 for you being crazy, but I'm happy to still have you around for my design work!
November 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterIan Landsman
Thanks Ian, I love being your not so secret weapon! :-)
November 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Great you stayed around!Nice article on MATC's site, by the way.

November 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCarol
Congrats Mike! It's Apple's loss! I won't be able to look at the next version of the iPhone or the next major release of OSX without thinking "Mike would have totally PIMPED this out!!! ;-)


November 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterChris Gee
Carol, thanks for the kind words on the post and my MATC piece!

Chris, you're too kind man! Thanks!

P.S. Chris, I'm dying for your podcast to re-start, I need a good design interview fix my friend. Bring it back!! :-)
November 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
I did a Google search on "Niji Stylist" and ended up at your blog. I was excited to find your essay on Creating a Custom Moleskine Planner because I recently bought a Moleskine at my local organic grocery store. I couldn't believe I was spending $10.50 (plus tax!) for a little notebook when I have so many notebooks and didn't really think I needed another one but I just had to have this Moleskine. I was so drawn to it. When I saw how much passion you put into turning it into your own little device, I thought, wow, OCD.

Then I needed to know more about you. So I read your piece on declining an opportunity at Apple and now I realize that you are a true American hero.

You did not let the lure of dollars take you away from the home and family and life you have created that you can pass on to your children. You instead chose the path of the self-made man and have truly given your children a fantastic role model.

And you stuck close to your heart in knowing the good work you are doing for your clients. I'm impressed.

Then I find out that you are a branding professional and designer. I am just in the process of branding myself. I am launching a website to showcase my talent as a graphologist. I am doing something that no other graphologist has done (can't reveal here) and I'm doing this without any formal training in marketing or branding. I just know what I want and I have a crystal clear vision of what I think will work.

Well, as you can see this is part paean to you and part solicitation of a few moments of your time. I'm wondering if you'd be interested to take a look at what I'm doing.

You characterized yourself as your clients' secret weapon. I need one of those.

P.S. I have included my URL so you can take a peek but I want you and anyone to know who goes there, that it is not yet a fully-functioning site. This is the bare bones. I hired a cartoonist and a web designer and this is where we're at now. I'm stalled because I know I want my website to be different than she's got it now but I just haven't communicated to her yet what I need her to do.

P.P.S. My best friend is from Milwaukee. Love the photo of John Harbor's Main Street Coffee House in Menomenee. That's fun to say.
November 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMarie Sooklaris
November 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMarie Sooklaris

Marie, thanks for sharing your story of discovery and your kind words! It's very interesting to hear that, because how someone gets to me often forgotten by the time my visitors get here. :-)

As for the brand message, I think the cartoon artist is quite good, the quality of her work is high. One question I would ask is, what kind of image do you want to portray to your visitors? Professional and businesslike, fun and friendly?

The current design captures the fun and friendly look well, so if that's the intent you are doing it right. If you are going for serious, I'd say the cartoon approach is the wrong one. But that's pretty clear, eh? :-)

My recommendation would be adding a brief paragraph in relatively large type just below the header, describing who you are and what graphology is. I had no idea what it was and had to look at Wikipedia for answers - that's an opportunity for you to teach someone who comes to the site (like me) about what you do and who you are - brand marketing.

More than simply a logo, branding has to do with everything you project, from the services you offer, to how you treat potential and existing clients, to the consistent use of graphics on your site, business cards, wherever.

Branding is a multifaceted discipline that can always be practiced, in whatever you're doing in your business.

Hope that's helpful!

So I have a graphology question for you Marie... what does my handwriting tell you about me? :-)

John Harbor's is a great place BTW, if you visit your friend in Milwaukee, take a road trip north to Menomonee Falls and check it out, it's very cool!

November 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
thanks for the GREAT post! Very useful...
November 21, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWhatever-ishere
You're welcome!
November 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde

WOW! the man who declined Steve Jobs - Mike Rohde. you'll soon be a legend! I'm a big fan of yours! You have such a big heart! God bless you!

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterross

Ross, thanks for the kind words! I didn't quite turn down El Jobso himself and there wasn't a formal offer - just an opportunity. :-)

January 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde


What an awesome testimony! I just loved reading how you walked through your choice, and shared this process with the rest of us... it is the best way to make choices and your future will prove that. I always remembered a saying from the Bible, and from one of my favorite movies, "Chariots of Fire"... "He who honors God, God will honor him". Again, thank you for sharing, it was refreshing and inspiring.

August 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGregory Zentkovich

Thanks for the kind words Gregory, they're appreciated!

August 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

Congrats on the offer, they were wise to seek you out. It fills me with all sorts of Midwestern pride to know that your heart and soul is here with the rest of us.

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames Brust

I understand your rationale. If I were married and had kids, living near my family, it would be hard to move. I imagine were you a single young man, you would have done this in a heartbeat. A lot of opportunities are all about timing. Just as you can't go back in time and be 25 again, you can't go back the freedom of a youthful career. Good luck.

April 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermike

Thanks Mike! Agreed. If the timing were different, I would likely have made a different decision.

April 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

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