June 4, 2012

Pop Quiz: Can an employer take back a job offer?

Filed under: For Managers, Hiring, Q&A, Readers' Forum, Recruiting, Stuff I worry about, Stupid HR Tricks, The job offer

In the June 5, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a guy gets honorably discharged from the military, carries a secret clearance, but has a misdemeanor conviction from 2003 for which he’s done probation. He gets a job offer. Then the nightmare begins:

Today I received a job offer from a large, well-known and respected company. I have a misdemeanor criminal conviction from 2003. I told the headhunter about the conviction. I put it in the application before my interview. I put it in the e-application for the background check. I even discussed it with the HR person that was giving me the offer.

After discussing the conviction, she extended me a verbal offer. At the end of the call, I accepted the offer. She welcomed me to the team and said I will get all the details after the background check clears. After the phone call, I turned down a competing job offer from another company and told my headhunters that I am no longer on the job market.

Less than an hour later, the HR person called me back and said she has to withdraw the offer because my three-year probation was cleared in 2006. Since that’s less than the company’s policy permits — seven years — I am ineligible for the job. The company’s security regulations would prevent me from gaining access to their campus.

The job posting required that the applicant must qualify for a government secret clearance. I was just honorably discharged from the military, where I held a secret clearance that I was able to renew after my misdemenor conviction.

It seems quite unethical to extend an offer prior to assuring that the information that I provided multiple times wasn’t an issue. This should have been caught well before I got the interview. Is this legal?

My Advice

This sounds like you got the shaft, but it’s a bit more complicated, based on the information you’ve provided.

I published your story in this week’s Ask The Headhunter e-mail newsletter, but I did not publish my advice and comments because I wanted to challenge our community to figure this one out. I asked subscribers to think about your story, and then come to the blog ready to post their take on it.

  • Did HR give this job applicant the shaft?
  • What went wrong?
  • How could this situation have been handled better?

Here’s how I see it.

HR blew it.

While it was nice of the enthusiastic HR lady to give you the offer on the phone, she jumped the gun when she “welcomed you to the team.” You weren’t on the team yet, and she had no business implying you were. Someone needs to call her on the carpet.

The HR lady tipped you off.

The key to this entire unfortunate episode lies in this sentence: “She welcomed me to the team and said I will get all the details after the background check clears.” That meant she made you a contingent offer. It was not bona fide. That is, it was dependent on the background check. In other words, you had no offer to act on.

You jumped the gun.

I always tell job applicants who “get an offer,” to never, ever, ever resign their old job, or turn off other opportunities, until they’ve been on the new job for two weeks. Sounds kind of extreme, eh? Yah, well, so’s what happened to you. While odds are pretty good that a job offer will turn out fine, the enormity of the consequences if anything goes wrong is why no one should do what you did. [Correction: My bad on a poor turn of phrase that confuses two issues -- when to turn off other job opportunities and when to resign your old job. Please see my comment about this below.]

Before even orally accepting the offer, you should have waited for a bona fide offer in writing, signed by an official of the company.

Before setting aside other opportunities (because there is no sure thing), you should have completed the company orientation, met your new boss, started the job, and ensured nothing goofy was going on at your new job. I’ve seen many people quit new jobs within the first two weeks. It takes that long to… well… make sure nothing’s goofy. You don’t want to be out on the street with nowhere to go if the new job goes south. (Likewise, an employer should not stop recruiting and interviewing just because a candidate accepts its offer.)

You did the right thing, again and again.

You disclosed, from the start and throughout the interview process, that you had a misdemeanor conviction. That takes guts, and it was the smart thing to do. The company had an obligation to be as candid with you, and to disclose its policy about hiring people convicted of crimes. It had no excuse for not detailing its policies once you made your disclosures.


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But somebody didn’t do their job.

As soon as this employer learned about your conviction, HR should have pulled out its policy book and mapped it to your situation before making you an offer. The HR lady explained the policy clearly to you — too late!

What bunch of numbnuts knows it’s got a policy issue from the start, but ignores the implications of its policy? Especially because you were so candid and forthright about your problem, HR should have had the background check completed far sooner, and should have inquired about the dates of your conviction, sentence, and the resolution.

(I’m waiting for someone to suggest that, for legal reasons, the background check could not be done until you accepted the offer. That would be a good trick — accepting an offer for a job that company policy prohibits you from accepting.)

Who’s on the hook now?

I think the HR lady is on the hook. She should have made it crystal clear to you that the job offer was not yet bona fide, and that it was contingent on the background check. I think she should have even gone so far as to advise you not to take any other action until the check was confirmed. She blew it. She should be on the hook, but you’re the one who got hurt.

You’re on the hook because you rejected another (more bona fide?) job offer, and notified the headhunters that you’re no longer a candidate for a job.

Most important, this company’s HR practices are on the hook, and they need to be gutted and cleaned.


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Doubling HR Costs: Time to change company practices.

Poor HR practices are what make HR executives scream that, “There’s a talent shortage!” Well, here’s the talent, fresh out of the military, worthy of a job offer, but… Aren’t an honorable discharge and a fresh secret clearance enough to merit more careful treatment when the company is looking at an applicant who qualifies for a secret clearance?

Now where’s the talent shortage? In HR.

HR spent a lot of company money to process this hire — only to stumble at the last minute. Now HR will spend the money again on another candidate. HR costs just doubled in this case. I wonder what the board of directors would have to say? Because HR will sweep the mistake under the rug, along with all the other good candidates HR lost because:

  • An otherwise excellent applicant’s keywords “didn’t match;”
  • A wise applicant didn’t want to disclose her salary history;
  • A highly motivated applicant dared to contact the hiring manager directly;
  • HR interviewed the engineering applicant but doesn’t understand engineering;
  • The applicant seems a bit old;
  • The applicant refused to meet with HR until he first interviewed with the hiring manager;
  • And on and on… through the myriad wasteful practices we discuss on this forum that cost companies good hires every day…

It’s time for this company — and many companies — to take a good, hard look at HR practices because good talent is not easy to come by.

Whose bad?

That offer was no offer, so give it back! Has an employer ever given you a job offer, then rescinded it? Why? What was the reason? What did you do? What’s your take on this reader’s experience?

: :

124 Comments on “Pop Quiz: Can an employer take back a job offer?”
By Eric Cole
June 5, 2012 at 1:51 am

Hi Nick.

Interesting conundrum, this.

I agree that the HR lady is mostly responsible for extending the offer before she had authority to do so.

The question I want to ask is; Where was the headhunter in this? It seems odd – though not unheard of – that the candidate would be communicating directly with HR at the offer stage.

If the candidate who went through this was being properly represented by the recruiter, it’s pretty clear to me that the recruiter would have caught the weakness in the verbal offer, and urged the candidate to hold off on cancelling other potential offers, until a formal written offer came in.

Did the candidate check in with the recruiter after getting the “verbal offer” from the HR lady to ask for advice?

If the links between the recruiter and the candidate were stronger, the issue would have been properly addressed BEFORE it became a problem. This is not to suggest that the primary responsibility for this problem doesn’t lie with the HR lady…it does.

But as you aptly stated in your article above, as recruiters, we KNOW that there’s a talent shortage in HR. Our responsibility to our clients is to make sure that the HR folks don’t get in the way of the objectives of the business…which means that we need to jump in now and then and communicate effectively with the stakeholders in the process so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen.

The candidate should have called the recruiter directly after the verbal offer and asked for guidance.

That’s my two yen.

***Kudos to the candidate for being up front about the earlier legal issue.

By Jeff
June 5, 2012 at 2:17 am

While I think that the HR lady is morally responsible, the fact is that if there’s no paper/email offer, then there is no offer. The verbal contract is (essentially) unenforcable.

You can complain to the HR department and maybe get the HR lady reprimanded (likely) or fired (unlikely), but other than that, you are SOL.

Having said that, the policy in and of itself is retarded. The requirement should have been “must be able to pass a background check for the appropriate clearance.” or something similar. anything above that costs the company potential employees and if it’s really badly written, could open the company up for claims of discrimination. (For example, if they’re actively recruiting in inner city minority locations, a disqualification based upon a MISDEMEANOR could be argued as racial discrimination.)

If you are part of a company and have this policy. think hard about changing it…

By Jen
June 5, 2012 at 2:28 am

No way should you declare yourself off the market until you’ve got the contract in writing. The 2 week Ida is nice if you can do it, but in my field it wouldn’t work. Most professors move out of state for a new job, and most jobs are accepted Dec-April, with August start dates.

On this situation, though, I don’t think the applicant should throw in the towel; find out who would have the authority to make an exception to the policy, and go to them with the arguments about security clearance, 6 of 7 years completed, etc. Tell the headhunters what happened when you get back in touch, call the other company that was interested & say, with an apology to them, that you’ve learned something’s about the other organization & won’t be working there…and don’t go making phone calls in under an hour of talking to HR–unless the talk is chitchat while you drop off a signed contract.

By Mayor Bongo
June 5, 2012 at 3:31 am

Wait. It’s a misdemeanor conviction with probation served! Most firms disregard them except when theft is involved, e.g., examples include disturbing the peace (too much college partying), traffic related (inattentive driving), etc. Even minor drug offenses are easily handled with random testing in “drug free” work places.

The company’s policies are way out of whack. The fact that the applicant had a federal security clearance should have been a clue for the firm that he’d been vetted and found not to be a risk.

Some states have passed laws that are aimed at containing wholesale rejection of job applicants based on non-violent, non-felony offenses. They want people on payrolls not on the street.

And where are the headhunter and the hiring manager in this picture as advocates for the candidate. Did they just hang him out to dry?

I agree the candidate jumped the gun by cutting off his other options. There’s a lesson learned there for sure.

By Jason
June 5, 2012 at 7:05 am

This is why HR departments have the reputation that they do. The guy has a security clearance that’s good enough for the US government, he was up front with his background, he didn’t serve time from what it appears, and it was only a misdemeanor.

Also, the company itself is probably too rigid. The hiring manager should have gotten involved to smooth this out and get the guy the job.

In the short term, the guy is screwed, but something tells me he’s better off not working there.

By Diana Schneidman
June 5, 2012 at 7:37 am

Don’t resign the old job until you’ve been on the new job for 2 weeks?

How the heck do you pull that off?

It sounds prudent but I can’t visualize its actual implementation.

Tell them you’re going on 2 weeks of vacation and clean out all your personal photos and spare umbrella in the big cardboard box on the way out?

Kiss current boss goodbye as a reference?

-d

By John Zabrenski
June 5, 2012 at 7:42 am

Agreed.

Neither the recruiter nor the hiring manager are looking competent here. I take it as a given that HR will screw up more often than not then walk away from the mess.

By Mike Weinstein
June 5, 2012 at 7:58 am

WOW! Lesson Learned – never turn off the negotiating mindset until the offer is in writing and you’re on the job! What harm would have been done to keep the other offer and Headhunter active? No matter how incompetent HR is and clearly in this case they were for not having researched the misdemeanor admission upfront at the end of the day the candidate is the one who pays the price. One must always look out for oneself and don’t assume who you are working with knows what they are doing until they earn that respect. May sound extreme but especially in the job hunting field just look how painful that assumption can be! It ain’t over until it’s over and a verbal over the phone ain’t even close to being over!Protect yourself and assume nothing.

By Peter Miller
June 5, 2012 at 7:58 am

This is another example of HR’s blind adherence to policy – even when they are shooting themselves in the foot once again. Policies are for guidance – they are not the 10 Commandments.There are always exceptions.
It sound like a reasonable exception is in order especially since the seven year rule sounds arbitrary and the government has granted him a Secret clearance which means the Gov. ain’t worried about his integrity.
Someone with the stones to plead this case higher in the HR pecking order must not have been not available.
P.S. I bet you the hiring manager was not consulted until after the fact.

By Greg Wojcik
June 5, 2012 at 8:03 am

Never, ever turn down a job opportunity until you have secured the initial position. That’s job #1!

By Bryan Siebuhr
June 5, 2012 at 8:08 am

HR made the job offer contingent upon the background check clearing; on the surface it sounds like this contingency would cover the company, however, what is the meaning of a background check if the same facts that were related several times now results in a no-go decision? HR makes decisions based upon the corporate book of policy and instead of thinking of improving the bottom line by hiring someone who has proven themselves and had been accepted by the hiring manager instead refuses (HR) to ask them to do the impossible, THINK. Any monkey can follow a book of procedures, why need HR? My advice would be to go to the top, skip HR, and if they too run their company with the same mentality of their HR department, your better off not working for them. Their loss, your gain!

By WD40
June 5, 2012 at 8:15 am

Nick,

Thanks for opening this post up for debate. If I may suggest a title, I’d call this “The New Normal.”

As you and several of my fellow contributors mention, there HAS to be a “bona fide” written, signed offer with all the goodies and perks spelled out for HR to be able to say, “welcome to the team.” On one hand, I’d argue that HR dropped the ball, and yes, I agree the talent shortage is in HR. On the other hand, I’d argue (using familiar analogies of dating & marriage or purchasing a home or used car) that every interaction with HR and finding employment these days becomes “buyer beware,” where it is incumbent on the job seeker to keep their head on a swivel and, even once employed, watch out for incompetency and political BS.

Either way, this is what I would call “The New Normal”: as the supply of motivated and qualified job seekers has increased, the level of professionalism/ethics/morality in HR has decreased. HR gets away with lackluster performance simply because they are in a position of power, and I do not see it getting better any time soon.

As a fellow veteran, I feel for this gentleman. Good on him for being upfront about the misdemeanor, as this speaks to character, integrity, and other qualities that are in short supply in the corporate world. Yet there are military-friendly companies out there (BNSF, L3, Boeing, but stay away from USAA) that will see his value. If he really wanted, he might talk to the Veterans Administration and/or EEOC about whether this constitutes a discriminatory hiring practice (i.e., does the company in question apply the seven-year rule only to veterans? Has the company ever made exceptions to the seven-year rule for civilians with no military experience?). The VA may also have some experience on how to approach potential employers when discussing his situation (misdemeanor, but probation served and secret clearance with honorable discharge) as he continues his job search.

Cheers.

By Ed G
June 5, 2012 at 8:27 am

I agree with @Jason here, this is just an example of why HR is at best irrelevant to a company.

This is a failure of two of HR’s key responsibilities: knowing the rules and getting good people. It’s unfortunate but typical in my experience that HR is more concerned with “following policy” than to help their company be successful.

The really sad part is that with the pre-disclosed record it should have not gotten past a phone screen. Or maybe more reasonable people realized that the misdemeanor committed around 10 years ago is not terribly relevant?

By Nick Corcodilos
June 5, 2012 at 8:49 am

@Eric Cole: Isn’t it interesting that a company is ready to pay a headhunter for help filling a position, then delivers the offer herself? Now, some headhunters have that arrangement with their clients, and it’s up to them both how they want to handle offers. But I agree with you – it’s a mistake. The hh can and should handle the details, catching mistakes like this. If the hh and HR manager were working closely together, the HR manager would have disclosed the offer to the hh, and the hh would have discussed it with the candidate informally. Then suggested to the candidate that he cool his heels until a written offer was delivered.

I followed up and found out that the hh was working with the HR manager in an effort to find a way around the “7 year problem.” But I don’t know the outcome.

By Eddie
June 5, 2012 at 8:50 am

I am reading all these various viewpoints. Using capitolism It is time to take this to a legal professional for a consult, If he takes the case, who would likely litigate on a contingency basis (he gets a significant cut of the action). You must understand the risk is the headhunter will loose the client (and you), and may not give any meaningful testimony, no matter what and it could become a he-said she-said debate. You, no doubt will never work there. So it becomes a settlement claim which is usually done out of court with the results being confidential so no one beside the parties involved will know about.

I don’t think this is worth doing. Just put it behind you and talk to your friends one on one to spread the word confidentilly about this particular employer. He will eventially die from a lethel reputation.

By Don Harkness
June 5, 2012 at 8:56 am

Jen’s said it well. Who in the company screwed up makes for an interesting chat ripe for conjecture, but taking a verbal at face value to the extent of dropping out of the race was THE bad move in this.
Get it in writing….Verbals are barometers, a sign that you’re getting traction. And this person was only talking job vs no job, there’s a lot of other things that get involved in a new job beyond pay, sign ons, options, relo assistance all of which can be discussed verbally, all of which can be deciding factors, all of which can somehow go missing in a written offer.
There is no risk free hire. As I know of situations where written offers were rescinded.
As to whose at fault inside the company, forget HR & Security, it’s at the feet of the hiring mgr & his/her chain of command. Lot of valid points as to how stupid/illogical the reason for pulling the offer. All it takes is a mgr with spine and backing to challenge that.
And it’s all moot, the person got some good insights…It’s not likely a good place to work, and irrelevant as in a good working environment common sense would have prevailed.

By Dave
June 5, 2012 at 8:57 am

Once again, good blog post and good comments.

I say HR really dropped the ball here. HR should get all the preliminaries out of the way up front, so that no one (Job Seeker, HR, Hiring Team) wastes unnessesary time. The job seeker here was very up front about what may show up in a background check. HR in turn should have let him know if this would pose a problem or not. IMHO, HR should be up front about background checks (esp. if they have a stupid 7 year rule like this) as well as pay, benefits, promotion oppurtunities, etc. so that all parties can make an informed decision to continue the interview process. HR should be in a support role that enables/helps people to make better decisions, not be a road block.

IANAL, but you should not resign your current or say you are off the job market until you have something in writing. I think Nick states it well – that you shouldn’t say you are completely off the market until you’re at the new company for at least two weeks. At least then, you have a contingency plan and possible legal recourse if something goes bad.

By Nick Corcodilos
June 5, 2012 at 9:04 am

CORRECTION: Regarding my statement that, “I always tell job applicants who ‘get an offer,’ to never, ever, ever resign their old job, or turn off other opportunities, until they’ve been on the new job for two weeks.”

My bad on a poor turn of phrase that confuses two issues — when to turn off other job opportunities and when to resign your old job.

First, never resign your old job until you have a written offer in hand, until you have accepted it, and you’ve been scheduled for company orientation and a start date. If possible, talk to your new boss to ensure there’s no confusion about your being hired. And obtain all necessary documentation from the employer to confirm that you’ve been hired.

Second, don’t turn off other opportunities or interviews until two weeks after you’ve started the new job. That’s the fail-safe in case something goes wrong.

Sorry, I didn’t mean “don’t resign your old job for two weeks.” That would be an interesting trick. My bad. Thanks to reader Diana Schneidman for the catch!

By Ed G
June 5, 2012 at 9:57 am

One other comment, the fact that the candidate took himself out of the game rather than waiting for a better offer demonstrates decisiveness, commitment, and the depth of his integrity, three traits which should be highly valued at any company.

By Nick Corcodilos
June 5, 2012 at 9:59 am

@Don Harkness:

“Get it in writing….Verbals are barometers, a sign that you’re getting traction.”

This is a fine point that I think folks outside the headhunting business don’t really understand. When an employer does this the right way, she communicates an oral offer to the headhunter — and it is indeed a feeler. A test of the candidate’s interest. A good headhunter does not “deliver the offer” — because it’s not an offer. A good headhunter calls the candidate and discusses the employer’s interest — and feels the candidate out about the number. This is where negotiations start — once the company has indicated it would like to make the hire. THE TERMS are what’s on the table at this point.

The HR manager actually communicated only its intent to the candidate in that phone call — but improperly framed it as a job offer and a welcome.

This is where a good headhunter earns his or her money. Thanks for getting into this, Don!

By Dave
June 5, 2012 at 10:41 am

@Nick

“Second, don’t turn off other opportunities or interviews until two weeks after you’ve started the new job. That’s the fail-safe in case something goes wrong.”

I would even go a step further and say always keep a lookout for possible oppurtunities. You can always passively look for other oppurtunites. Companies and the economy can always turn south, and many states have at-will employment.

I would also say that keeping your options open when employed also helps your negotiation power. If you are happy at your current employer, you can always turn down interviews and job offers. One thing that often gets missed is that companies also have to convince you that they have a sound business plan, are profitable and are generally good to work for. It’s a two way street.

By The Candidate
June 5, 2012 at 11:01 am

There is a lot of good advice in these posts. I appreciate everything that everyone has said.

I have learned my lesson of not to turn offers down or pull myself out of the game before I am actually sitting in the job. I haven’t had much experience with looking for work prior to the military, so this is definitely a learning experience. I’m certain that I will land a great job regardless.

I held out with the first offer until I received the second off so that I could choose. I did have the paper copy of the first offer, and I was willing to accept the second offer prior to receiving the paper copy of the offer because it felt certain. Also, the hh that I was using said that was what the company wanted to hear when they make the verbal offer over the phone.

The hh that I have been using has been honest with me and has helped me along the way. They explained the restrictions as they knew them as only a felony would bar someone from getting the job. A senior member of the hh is working with me and the company to attempt to straighten things out. I did, however, receive the official letter from the company stating their reasoning for pulling the offer. This just means that there is a better job with a better company waiting for me to find.

What gets me is the company that is involved. The company is well reviewed and respected. I chose them over their competition and their immediate need for people with my skills, specifically technical military skills.

I will ensure that I receive a paper copy of any offers that I receive prior to accepting it. I will also keep myself in the job market until I start working, otherwise, it just adds more delays.

Thank you all for your comments, especially Nick.

By Volkswagen
June 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

Nick, One question for you . . . you mentioned that you did some follow-up research. One issue that has not been part of this discussion as yet is whether or not the new job assignment may have a direct relevance to the particular misdemeanor conviction. Now, this would not excuse the poor handling by HR, nor the action of the applicant. For example, if the conviction was one of theft and if the new position would require access to assetts, could this have been the reason the employer could not make an exception? I do agree with you on your assessment of the situation. Very well done!

By Phil (SoCal)
June 5, 2012 at 11:04 am

I recall starting out on the wrong foot with a boss. This was his first management position. He needed someone yesterday but HR took two weeks to get an offer letter to me.

Then came the second delay, the offer was contingent on passing a urine test. I had no reason to be concerned about it for my part but neither was I going to trust that such a test was infallible. If a company wants the benefit of such a procedure, they also need to take ownership of the risk and delay. I was gracious but firm that I was not going to give notice on my present job until all contingencies were cleared.

The hiring manager was fuming but he’d already made the offer. Once I started the position the manager seemed to hold a grudge. We got along okay but any affinity was lost; my role in the department never had hope for being anything more than that of the production mule.

Funny thing about that quitting the old job after starting the new one – I’ve known more than one person who’s double dipped, sometimes for months on end. Given that the only information HR departments give out any more is start date and end date, I can’t imagine how these people explain that on their resumes or applications.

By Larry Kaplan
June 5, 2012 at 11:08 am

I was offered a job that was later rescinded, as well. The offer came after multiple interviews, but was rescinded after they began to check my references and work history and discovered that I lacked a credential they required for the job.

I asked if I had at any time misled them into thinking I had the credential. They said no, but that they had assumed I had it and had never explicitly said it was required for the job. So they essentially admitted that they had messed up.

I made an argument for hiring me anyway and having me earn the credential on the job because I brought so many other assets to the company, but they demurred.

My take-away: I had impressed them dramatically during the interview process, so much so that they jumped the gun and offered me the job without fully vetting my background. They sort of “fell in love” with me without fully thinking through whether or not I’d be “good marriage material.”

So the silver lining was that I demonstrated how well I present myself. But it was a drag to not get the job.

By The Candidate
June 5, 2012 at 11:15 am

@Volkswagen The misdemeanor had nothing to do with work. The misdemeanor also didn’t cause any issues for me in the military. They just wanted to make sure that I took care of it. I retained my security clearance and was able to renew it years later without issue.

The company said that the conviction itself isn’t the problem. It was the fact I was on probation. I’m in the process of getting the conviction expunged, and I was told that it would not matter because that only changes the conviction and not the probation that occurred. I don’t see how the probation could even be an issue. It was summary probation as well, so it wasn’t like I had to report to anyone. I just couldn’t be arrested for the following 3 years for any reason.

By Volkswagen
June 5, 2012 at 11:29 am

Candidate,

Thank you for responding to my note. And, your open communication with that company validates your recovery from an unfortunate experience. Hope your next interview is with a company who is smart enough to recognize that and will give you an opportunity that is a better fit for you!

By G
June 5, 2012 at 11:51 am

I always ask for a written job offer, of course, but even having that doesn’t mean you have a job. Two stories:

In an out of town interview on a Friday afternoon, the hiring manager told me they would make me an offer and asked for my address Saturday so they could FedEx it. I received nothing Saturday and they said Monday that they were not going to hire me. I was initially disappointed since it had sounded good up to that point but later realized that they had proven themselves to be unprofessional a**holes so I was better off elsewhere.

Recently I received a 3 page written offer with a 3 day deadline for me to accept it but was told over the phone that it was contingent on 5 references and some sample work. The offer was later withdrawn. This company also showed me that they are ridiculous people that I wouldn’t want to work with.

You don’t have a job until you have actually started your first day of work. Turning away others in the meantime is a big mistake.

Best of luck to the OP in finding a good company to work for.

By JP
June 5, 2012 at 12:01 pm

To other recently-separated military job-seekers looking for those sweet contracting jobs, the rule of never turning anything down until you have signed the offer letter doesn’t apply either. I have signed on to a handful of decent companies who, for one reason or another, lost the contract. Usually by being over-confident they had it to begin with.

The rule my peers and I typically abide by is that you do not have the job until you are physically getting on the aircraft. I’ve had jobs fall through day #2 with the company, and I’ve had plane tickets sent that were rescinded days out from travel. We are a dime-a-dozen now. Well-qualified, for sure, but the pool of Secret and TS prior-mil applicants is very deep nowadays.

By Nick Corcodilos
June 5, 2012 at 12:33 pm

JP’s caution is much more clear than mine. Deals can go south even after you’ve been “onboarded.” I remember a guy who was hired at $X salary, was put through a 2-week training program, then was told the job had changed, he was reassigned, his salary was cut 25%, thank you very much. (JP, I think that beats your example.)

Bottom line: Employers don’t always behave with integrity.

Worse: HR often has no idea what it’s doing, but HR lives another day while the job applicant becomes roadkill.

The lesson: Beware. Assume nothing. Cover yourself. Keep options open as long as possible. Eat a peach. (Apologies to the Allman Brothers, but thanks to the great state of Georgia: A good peach always helps.)

By Nick Corcodilos
June 5, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Special thanks to The Candidate for posting an update and more details. For anyone who doesn’t get it, The Candidate is the author of this week’s Question.

By SteveG
June 5, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Hi
I got a position with a very large software company from which I was laid-off two years before. I not only had the offer in writing, but I had signed all the paperwork with a start date of the following Monday. I had an office, phone number and start time from the hiring manager when on the Friday I got a call saying the offer had been pulled because I was ineligible for hire.

No reason given and the hiring manager’s comment was something like – not again, they keep doing this and I can’t wait to fill this position. He reported this was not the first time this had happened, he was sorry but he was not willing to fight with HR and his quickest solution was to start a new search. He was very sorry.

When I was laid-off I had a letter stating I was eligible for rehire. According to this large company’s external hiring database for recruiters I am still eligible for hire. I now have a letter from the company’s legal counsel stating I am eligible for hire. Yet when another external recruiter contacted the firm for a reference saying their placement system said I was eligible but asked the question – she reported back the company again responded over the phone that I was not but their policy was not confirm this in writing.

I live in a hire and fire at will state which according to my legal advice and the State’s Attorney General means the company can legally do this. Ethically I have a different view. As a once proud employee I am not only annoyed, but ashamed of their company system of saying the exact opposite of what they put on paper. Worse still it is getting in the way of me finding a position elsewhere not just with them.

By Taylor Weber
June 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I was hired by recruiting company to work for a large well known IT company. I signed a contract to support a particular application that I had extensive experience with. The first day on the job the company informed me that they used a different application. I immediately told them I did not have experience with this application. They said that was ok, with my background, I would be able learn their application. One week later, I was terminated because I did not have experience with their application. In addition, I traveled 60 miles one way to this job.

Bottom line: Employers/Recruiters don’t always behave with integrity.

By Christopher
June 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm

“The new normal”

All the comments are great, and it gives confidence to me in my own search to know that there are a lot of good candidates out there, who are reasonably on top of their job hunt efforts and have good advice.

It’s true, that looking for work in today’s market is not like it was 5 years ago. Today it’s an overheated, high pressure dance, fueled on too many good candidates pursuing not enough jobs.

Not to be redundant, but here’s my take on the situation, and I hope I don’t sound too pessimistic:

1. In hind sight – the focus needs to be on what the deal was, how it was being handled, and where the candidate either had or lost control of the situation. The mistake of informing others that he was no longer in the market is a side issue (albeit an important one), just as the employer was staffed incorrectly in their HR department and do they have an inadequate policy (which the candidate had no control over).

2. Considering that the interviewing – negotiation – handling of objections – and doing the close stages were handled well enough to gain acceptance; in any hiring process ongoing “trial closes” need to be done at each step of the way. Even though the candidate’s discharge was honorable and his record was cleared, it’s important to always subtly ask if there are any more questions or things that need to be discussed. If the response from the employer is “no, it looks good”; then it’s also important to then provide a “check-point summary” to confirm and gain agreement as to where the deal stands as it moves toward finalizing. This helps eliminate assumptions, (he said/she said), and lets both sides feel comfortable that they are making a consensus decision that favors both people and avoids “buyer’s remorse”. Even if HR didn’t bring it up, if the candidate knew that the only potential skeleton in his closet was the misdemeanor, should still figure out an understated way to reconfirm it in a check-point summary.

3. When and where appropriate, at critical stages in the hiring process it is important to send an e-mail that briefly summarizes what is understood at that point. Sort of like a letter of understanding – just to make sure everyone is on the same page. It shouldn’t be more than a short paragraph… but it establishes an audit trail in case things start getting weird, and is part of the check-point summary process. I would send it to the hiring manager with a cc: to the HR person, so as to help avoid anyone from being blind-sided.

4. Verbal offers – no matter how enthusiastic – are just that: words. Talk is cheap; promising is one thing, delivering is another; and it’s not until you actually have the written offer, that you can reasonably assume the deal is done. Keep in mind too, that in many areas even the written offer may have a grace period and can be rescinded. History proves that “an order isn’t an order until the check gets cashed and is in the bank”. Don’t turn off your job search machine until you have a written agreement in hand.

5. Never turn down other job offers and cancel headhunters too quickly, until you get you first paycheck (typically after 2 weeks). The candidate will need to also continue to build and nourish that network of headhunters and potential employers in order to feed his networking for the future. Unless you have an actual written contract (usually reserved fro VP level and above) all hires are at will, in that they can fire you at any time for practically any reason – real or invented. But remember: you can fire them, too, for lack of performance if the honeymoon falls apart.

6. I’m not sure if this situation was so much unethical as much as stupidity on the HR side, and naiveté on the candidate’s part. Unfortunately the employer can walk away from a dead deal more easily than the candidate. Although, I would think the hiring manager would be really upset because they would have to restart the whole process all over again. Cow flop should hit the fan. Maybe the hiring manager could be enlisted to help get a waiver on the 7 year factor. If not (“too much work…”) then that’s a revealing sign they weren’t being on the level with the candidate, and it’s not a place to be working for.

7. In the end: don’t even think about going to court over this. It’s too expensive and you will never win by going up against their legal team, it gives you a bad reputation, and if you should win they will only keep you around long enough to find a way to fire you.

So, chalk it up to experience, Caveat Emptor; it’s all part of moving forward.

By Dave
June 5, 2012 at 2:42 pm

All,

After reading all these “war stories” (no pun intended), is it really a suprise the economy is still in the tank and the outlook is grim? ;-)

By Erika
June 5, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I had a verbal job offer rescinded once. I took the offer seriously and stopped looking. In the interview, the potential employer spent 30 min talking about how ethical he was and about how much integrity he had (and was proud of it!) He kept looking, apparently, because the reason for the rescinded offer was that he found someone he thought could hit the ground running faster than I could.

Lessons learned:

1. A verbal offer isn’t an offer. Benefits and salary must be agreed to in writing and a start date and time established. Otherwise, keep looking.

2. Be suspect of anyone who feels a need to talk at length about their honesty, integrity and ethics, and about how proud they are of how they turned out.

I place most of the fault in the candidate’s situation with HR for jumping the gun and some fault on the HH for not mediating this better. It is unfortunate that the candidate turned down the other offer.

By Erika
June 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm

“Can an employer take back a job offer?”

Unfortunately, yes, if employment is in an at-will state and there is no union CBA or other contract in place saying otherwise. It is unethical and it sucks. Shame on them. Companies are getting more unethical all the time, or so it seems.

By Lynda
June 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm

What I find curious about this whole conversation is why did the candidate wait so long to attempt to get his record expunged? Seems with a misdemeanor (1st time I assume) and a government Security clearance it would have been relatively easy to do. Depending on the laws of your state for “a wait ” period. Most( in my research) are not over 5 years,most much quicker. You can also petition the Governor of your state. Regardless of the HR , seemingly poor performance and HH lack of the company policy regarding background checks provisos, you could have taken care of this issue and avoided all of this rigamarole. Also, if you were so very close ( you do not give months until the 7 year mark)and if they really wanted you why would they not have made an offer for you to reapply at that time? Once the record IS expunged you can answer the question: “have you ever been convicted” etc honestly, no! Take care of the issue so it does not haunt you again. Move on.

By marybeth
June 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Interesting, illuminating cautionary tale Nick!

Can an employer rescind a job offer? Absolutely! Most states are at-will employment, which means employers can do this.

I also think HR screwed up here. When I re-read the letter, there was a verbal offer made by HR, but there was also a mention of clearing the background check. An attorney would have used more specific “conditional” words (“we’d like to offer you the job, IF you pass the background check” or something along those lines to indicate that there’s still another step or two in the process). And I think HR screwed up in another way–if the company has a 7-years policy re misdemeanors, then the candidate shouldn’t have made it to the phone screen. He did the honest thing by disclosing it to the hh, on his résumé, application, verbally, etc., and that tells me that people working at this company don’t know their own policies. If the hiring manager didn’t know it, HR should have, and that should have been communicated to the hh as well.

I suspect the company could waive their rule since the candidate got his top secret security clearance reinstated (that’s quite a process, and if the federal investigators and military didn’t have a problem, then I can’t imagine the private company should have one) and since he’s served his probation. There’s no state or federal law mandating 7 years, so it really is up to the company. That they’re now hiding behind their policy tells me a lot about them–and that they probably wouldn’t stand by employees either, just to let HR save face.

The candidate shouldn’t have taken himself out of the running for other jobs, but I can understand how he would interpret HR’s words for a job offer. It was a job offer, but it was a conditional job offer (albeit a very poorly made conditional job offer).

I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years, and I’ve always had verbal job offers. I haven’t had any of them rescinded, but Nick’s other advice about not taking yourself out of the market is apt. Sometimes you do your homework and there are still factors you can’t control, like getting put into a different dept., or the manager who hired you getting moved and you get the boss from hell. Or the company goes belly-up. Anything can happen.

By The Candidate
June 5, 2012 at 6:43 pm

@Lynda yes, I let it fall to the waist side. I was told by the Asst DA, probation officer at the beginning, and everyone else to immediately file for expungment after the probation expires after 3 years. When the time came, I was heading off on deployment and didn’t complete the steps.

The process for my state is really easy. File the petition, the case sentence is reviewed for completion, and the conviction is expunged. About a 2 month process.

The only thing is that the HR said that the expungment wouldn’t matter because that only takes care of the conviction and not the fact that I was on probation. The probation is their issue.

Anyhow, the petition has gone through for expungment. I’m just waiting for the Judge to approve it.

By Lynda
June 5, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Another “detail” she is wrong about. Once expunged…it does not exist…any of it….you can not be on probation for a crime that was never committed. Good luck to you! The best is yet to come! Most importantly, Thank you for your service to our country!! We are grateful you are home safe and sound. So, Stand down, soldier! Semper Fi'( I’m proudly a Marine brat)

By Todd K
June 5, 2012 at 11:54 pm

I recently had a similar situation happen to me. I applied for position A, and interviewed multiple times, then did a break-fix test to show that I had the skills to resolve the issues that come up with this position. I did not get the job, as they found someone with more experience from inside the company. I did make a significant impression with the hiring manager, and he contacted me a couple weeks later about a lesser position that was available. I reluctantly agreed to take the job, as an offer was given verbally. I was clear about a misdemeanor conviction I had just a few months prior (not related to theft), and was told that was fine & they were only concerned about felonies or crime which related to theft (which mine did not have to do with). So, I fill out the background check, and credit check paperwork. The following Monday, I was contacted and told that my credit score was too low, and it would/could effect their PCI compliance certification to have a “high risk” employee with access to servers or networks which hold credit card numbers for periodic billing situations. My credit sucks due primarily to medical issues which my wife has, I even pulled my credit report to check this. $4000 in bad debt kept me from getting a crappy $12/hour job. I have held positions with access to far larger numbers of servers, and larger quantities of credit card numbers, but none of that seems to matter to this company. So the hiring manager in my case made an offer that he could not uphold. This is an at-will work state, so I am sure that they’re within their legal boundries to act pretty much however they want to. What upset me about this was that I had already quit a part-time position with a smaller company here locally, in that I was offered the full-time position & couldn’t do both. Ironically: If I [successfully] took credit card numbers in my past, I probably wouldn’t have crappy credit now. But anyways, it goes to show that companies can seem “HONEST” and “DECENT” whereas they act differently in reality. To The Candidate: You will do much better than this company, of that I’m sure. Bad Karma is a two-way street, and they’ll likely pay for this in some way shape or form. Great comments, thanks for these. Hire me to be your IT guru in Utah? Nick can get you in touch with me.. =^)

By Nic
June 6, 2012 at 6:56 am

In my opinion, I don’t see where it stated IF the background check comes back a certain way to be considered clear as stated by guidelines, it says AFTER the background check clears.

So that issue of the “background” check was one that made the offer contingent? I don’t see that being said, or implied that it had to come back a certain way to be considered clear. In other words, while I believe this is typical HR ignorance that is irrelevant, the issue at hand is were the details of a “certain result” of this check ever made clear? What is being stated here, “She welcomed me to the team and said I will get all the details after the background check clears.” That in itself IS an offer in my book (albeit verbal it is still an offer, remember one thing you bid in person at auction in a verbal manner and you most certainly are held liable to your verbal offer of bid.)

This is an issue of semantics (which the HR people I have encountered would not even understand the meaning of the word in the first place, but I digress,) what precisely does “clears” mean? If it was my situation and never explained either verbally or in writing, I would be at an employment lawyer immediately to see what options are available under such a circumstance.

By Greg
June 6, 2012 at 8:18 am

A point of clarification: People can be hired on and put to work with the contingency of passing a background check and obtaining a security clearance.

One job I had I worked six months before being granted my clearance. I could have been let go any time if something showed up in the process (other hires were let go wham a red flag came up in the vetting process).

One note with the company that rescinded the offer; obtaining security clearances are expensive ($10k pre 9-11. Why would they NOT have a mechanism built in to bring people on board with a current clearance?

By Shirl
June 6, 2012 at 9:07 am

Our company requires a written “offer” letter stating contingent upon pre-employment screening, drug test, background, verification of education, etc. The candidate must sign the letter before the background checks begin and the drug test administered. It is costly to have these items completed for every candidate that the HM determines are his top candidates. There have been offers rescinded due to budget cuts, which happen during this economic time if contracts or grants do not come through, especially dealing with the government.

I have to stick up for HR. A great many of them are as up front as they can be. Sometimes you just do not know all the ramifications of a policy until you are faced with it and have to respond, especially when it is a negative response. The HR person has probably now become the expert in her office regarding this type of situation.

It is a difficult rope when trying to hire a great person for the job yet jumping through all the hoops to ensure that all parties are in agreement. Numerous times I have had to warn HM not to even hint at the job offer, but have explained to the candidate that we are very interested but must go through HR processes. Then I explain the HR processes to the candidate and am up front as my knowledge permits about the issues and policies.

I’m not a fan of the processes our company requires, but having gone through the process myself and been up for 2 different jobs at the same company in 2 different branches, waiting for which one to come through first, and now being the office person over hiring situations in our department, I can empathize with both areas.

The key here is, get confirmation from HR that the background check cleared and all other test before planning a start date and giving notice to other locations. It is a difficult situation, but when it comes to certain positions, security and clearance in all facets has to be met or contracts, grants and other forms of funding may be in jeopardy.

By Jim
June 6, 2012 at 10:05 am

To the Candidate:

Thank you for your service. I am sorry that you got hosed after being up-front. HR acted like a jerk, and I am unhappy with the HH too. Have you considered reaching out to the hiring manager? Maybe a hand-written note on good stationery. I sent them to each person after each interview, and again whether the job offer was made or not.

Remind them about how much you could help them with their challenges, and express disappointment that the job offer did not come through. They might go to bat for you with HR, or re-consider you if the chosen candidate does not work out. Stranger things have happened.

By Nick Corcodilos
June 6, 2012 at 10:22 am

@Shirl: I understand that it’s costly to do the checks before an offer is made. Do you understand that this is costly to the applicants, too? Multiply interview hours by hourly pay, and the risks candidates take – I don’t think it’s an unreasonable cost for employers to pay for checks in advance of offers on the finalists. Otherwise, you can’t afford to play.

Candidates should not be responsible for guessing at what processes HR has not yet completed. Might be nice if there were some federal rules about disclosures HR must make, and drop-dead points in the process where the employer pays cash penalties if offers are rescinded through no fault of the candidate. As it stands, “hire at will” laws have ridiculous consequences sometimes. It’s up to the employer to project an ethical, organized face to the candidate. “We forgot” or “You didn’t realize…” are lame excuses.

As for rescinding offers due to budget cuts and contracts falling through, that’s a management problem. If a company can’t manage its budget so it knows what it can afford to spend on salaries, there’s another problem. Hiring before contracts are nailed down has become an old game — companies throw new bodies at potential clients, then fire (or rescind) new hires when the contracts don’t close. Whose fault is that? It’s poor management.

The problem is, HR behaves like this “because it can.” It’s too easy to tell candidates, “That’s the way it is.” How about a higher standard?

I appreciate your sensitivity to both sides of the issue, and I realize such policy decisions are made at higher levels. But it’s up to the employer — which has a staff for the purpose — to manage hiring better. And it’s up to HR staff and management to take these issues upstairs.

Long ago, I wrote an article about how such practices put a stellar company out of business:
http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/halethalrep.htm

I think HR needs to buck up, but job candidates need to watch their backs better.

By Dave
June 6, 2012 at 10:38 am

@Shirl

I don’t think you can give HR a free pass:

1. The canidate rightly informed HR early in the process of any issues. The ball was then in HR’s court to make sure this would not be an issue before everyone invests further time and money into the hiring process. It is much easier to look up the policy and make a decision at the time of a phone screen, especially if you’re going to stricly follow a policy for whatever reason. This would seem like something that could cost a company money as Nick points out, and isn’t HR supposed to be reducing costs?

2. HR, especially people in charge of hiring, should know their own policies.

3. The canidate already has a security clearence in spite of having a record. Why isn’t this good enough for the company? Why is there a blind adherence to policy?

4. If HR is just going to strictly adhere to a policy, why have HR in the first place?

I’d say companies need to clearly communicate any policy about hiring requirements up front, especially if they are out of the ordinary, and any questions regarding it be dealt with at that time.

By Shirl
June 6, 2012 at 11:31 am

In many situations it is a lack of training or knowledge regarding HR and who or where to locate policies. Plus I think apathy exist a great deal in the workplace. Thank goodness for the few shining stars that help me with my administrative duties which includes HR, budget, purchasing, logistics, accounting, policies, etc.

There is one facet of hiring that I find discouraging, experience over education. The bachelor’s degree exist but not in business, but the 15+ years in administrative & business practices doesn’t get one into the interview. One could have the “business” degree but no experience and interviewed. In many situations it is truly who you know and if they are willing to “fight for you” with HR or even your department personnel.

To the candidate…good luck with another company. With the background practices of this company, one may not be able to trust what else would have been promised. Even if future items are promised in writing there is no guarantee. In many situations HR has the final say and not the HM/Supervisor/Manager even for future salary and/or bonus commitments.

By Karsten
June 6, 2012 at 1:15 pm

As a Scandinavian liberal, I daresay that “at will” rules and union busting, as a consequence of general rightwards movement of American politics, may have contributed to the current troubles in American economy. “At will” can create a workforce where noone dare to say stop to management before it is too late, loss of union power means a transition of power (and money) to upper management, regardless of upper management’s performance. The following large inequality was compensated by loan-financed consumption and houses, leading to the Big Default. Of course, the whole issue is more complicated, too low interest rates etc, but it has likely contributed.

I regard unions as a means of leveraging employee power towards management. Thus, too much union power is just as bad as too little. I have heard the stories of the NYC teachers union where bad teachers cannot be fired, so they have their own rooms to wait in. Similar troubles exist in public sectors here as well, but in general the Scandinavian countries actually have a much more flexible labour market than e.g. France and the southern European countries.

By Lynda
June 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Okay, let us not make this political, please. But since you brought it up..I will make one statement…how is that working out for the EU? Hmmmm? Greed AND Unions have destroyed the US economy and bankrupted our cities, towns and states.

By Karsten
June 6, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Lynda, you make a good point: EU is very varied, everything from free market UK, flexicurity Sweden and Denmark, Germany with Ordnung, rigid France and south Europe… But I agree, in EU the unions have contributed to theire demise.

By Nic
June 6, 2012 at 1:44 pm

I neither want to get political but I see how politics and greed have played into corporate America which effects employment issues. @Lynda I am with you 100% I too feel greed and unions are THE problem, that have destroyed the US economic structure especially since 1975, all under the disguise of democracy. If my math is correct, and I believe it is the US being 15 trillion in debt translates to the US borrowing four billion dollars per day! BORROWING four BILLION a DAY people, that’s change you can believe in.

As for Scandinavia, my best pal and business partner is Swedish, I can tell you in my view the system there is out of control horrendous. I am not about to be taxed to high living hell, and wind up paying for unlimited welfare and mass immigrants in the US like them until the cows come home. I will move my family to South America first before I live that in America. This country is in enough of a hidden mess already.

By Don Harkness
June 6, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Most of the dialogue centers around who should have done what based on a verbal offer, giving it, acting on it….I repeat, The candidate needed to wait for a written offer before doing high fives, giving notice, etc.
Hiring has risks and a written offer goes a long way to reducing it, but not negating it. Written offers get rescinded too. In 40 years I haven’t seen many, but did hear of a couple horror stories from interviewees of rescinded offers. Fortunately I worked for companies that considered written offers as cast in concrete. Regardless of budgetary whims and whipsaws.
Written offers protect you from a 101 things that go squirrely out of your sight inside a an unknown .
Take this instance with those who are raking HR over the coals. How dare they! etc. Should have known better, follow their own policies. Go around them, appeal to the hiring manager etc.
What makes you think HR didn’t do all of that before they opened their mouth?
For something like this to happen, all it takes is for the hiring manager’s organization to sandbag HR after due diligence has been done to policies: Hiring Manager found someone better after the fact, Budget slammed down hard with a hiring freeze, someone changing their mind about a waiver like Security or Legal, Hiring Manager’s boss has an internal favor to repay via a transfer and so on. HR gets hosed and then has to deliver the news and do their job like a man and take the heat. Probation period deviation from policy makes a more palatable reason then “we changed our mind”
HR does not control budgets. That’s Hiring Manager domain. Headcount is budget. As I said, when a hiring freeze is imposed the only exception honored has been “a written offer”. Verbals don’t count. And in many cases frozen means just that.
If a candidate was ill advised and pulled the plug on your current job or alternate offer…well such is life.
the sum is… the job hunter needs to drive his job hunting bus, manage the interplay as best he/she can. And a written offer is a solid tool, a reality check. Without that, it’s vaporware & you may be surprised at how often they never seem to materialize.

By Karsten
June 6, 2012 at 2:33 pm

My point with getting slightly political – admittedly may be slightly off topic – was to point out that may be the union-free, totally free labour market is not the only way to do it. Several of you have uttered critiques of the “at will” laws – why not try a different system? And, I note that “at will” laws do not happen i a political vacuum, they are the result of cultural and political trends.

By Karsten
June 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm

May I suggest to Nick Corcodilos that he makes a blog post with his views on these topics and unions in general, and that we discuss it there?

By SteveG
June 6, 2012 at 3:15 pm

I once had my appointment placed on hold for over 5 weeks because of a background check. Eventually I got the HR team to admit they had outsourced the task. When I did track them down they told me the issue was the police in Exeter, NH could not provide a positive or negative background check. I then had to point out this would not be surprising because I had never been there but over 20 years ago I worked in Exeter, Devon in the UK.

I have no idea how they located my connection with Exeter, but I wish they had read my resume which clearly showed my relocation to the US within the last 10 years. I am not sure how long the check would have taken or the result had I not been proactive.

By Lynda
June 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Good grief Nick! :)

By Nick Corcodilos
June 6, 2012 at 3:21 pm

@Karsten: Arrgh! A discussion about unions here? Love ya, but no thanks. While there are certainly connections between unions and recruiting and hiring, it’s a bit off topic. On the other hand, if the right question presented itself… ;-)

By Michele
June 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm

As Nick has said (forever)…get it in writing. It’s the only way – and obviously sometimes even that doesn’t hold up.

I have been in the position of hiring manager for the past few years and have successfully recruited 3 wonderful employees. In interviews I was always extremely clear about our HR process and that they needed to wait for written offers for things to be final. I would be furious at HR if something like this happened to my candidate, though.

By Jim
June 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Don Harkness:
Earlier you wrote:… Go around them, appeal to the hiring manager etc.

What I referred to above is known as…..courtesy. Someone from the potential employer spent time with this candidate. You will stand out from the pack by thanking them for their time.

By marybeth
June 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm

@Nic: No, that’s where HR flubbed it. Had it been me, I would have been more direct–“we’d like to offer you the job if you pass the background check” or “pending clearing your background check” or something to that effect. HR can always go the legal and ask them about how to phrase it. A good lawyer could make an argument that what the HR jockey said “welcome to the team and you’ll get all of the details AFTER (emphasis mine) the background check clears”. Unsaid is what happens if the background check doesn’t clear–and a good assumption would be that the job doesn’t exist anymore. It would have been much better if she had said “we’d like to offer you the job, but the final/formal offer depends upon the background check clearing”. That would have been much less ambiguous, and while the offer was verbal, that doesn’t make it any less valid. Yes, it would be preferable to have it in writing, but written offers can be rescinded just as easily as oral offers. And just because it isn’t in writing doesn’t make a contract invalid. There are oral contracts all the time–the only problem is that they are prone to misunderstandings, so lawyers and courts end up looking at people’s actions as well as words to determine if there was a contract or not when it’s oral. The candidate’s actions (giving notice at his job, telling his hh not to put his name forward for other jobs) is compelling. If he didn’t think there was an offer, he wouldn’t do those things.

Candidate–I’m sorry this happened to you, especially since you did the honorable thing. You’re not required to guess companies’ policies, and this company didn’t act honorably. You can look at it this way–you dodged a bullet (a company that does this may act dishonorably in other ways), and that means a different company may be a better fit for you. Good luck, and semper gumby.

By Don Harkness
June 6, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Jim
And you’re right, and thank yous are noticed. When agency recruiting I’d coach my candidates to remember to get business cards and follow up with thank yous.

The discussions herein weren’t talking about thank you’s They were talking about appealing to, trying to leverage the hiring manager to push on the bureaucratic rope to get the company, HR, someone to be sensible. Which is certainly worth a try. This of course assumes the hiring manager isn’t part of the problem.

But much discussion was about things to try to take after a verbal tanked. That’s why I climbed on my soapbox about getting it in writing. If a written offer pops, most of what happened would be moot. The only issues to address would be differences between the verbal and written offers.

Verbal offers precede written offers which are best concluded by an agreement to send a written offer.

I’d like to have a buck for written offers that never seem to materialize, where the company and all the people you’ve met disappear into the proverbial black hole and your overtures to follow up bounce off an invisible force field.

These days everyone has six lawyers standing behind them, which is why a black hole materializes.

But as I said, worth a try. If you had established good rapport with the hiring manager he/she may share useful insights.

By marybeth
June 8, 2012 at 4:03 pm

@Don Harkness: Even written offers aren’t immune from rescission. When my brother was looking for work several years ago (things were going downhill at his then-employer, and he decided he had to get out), he put out feelers and got in touch with former co-workers from previous jobs and contacts he’d made through his previous jobs. One of them called him back immediately, and when he learned that my brother was looking for a job, he told him that he had an opening in his dept., that they had already interviewed and made a job offer (turned out to be a written job offer) to a candidate, but that he’d rather hire my brother. My brother’s former co-worker then rescinded the offer made to the other guy, and offered my brother the job. My brother said that he learned that the other guy had accepted, but that didn’t matter. I don’t believe the other guy sued the university (this a very famous, well-known, big university in MA) over the rescinded job offer–I’d have to ask my brother about it, but that’s not the impression my brother gave me. I don’t know what reason(s) the university gave the other candidate for the rescission, but MA is an at-will employment state, so even if the other candidate spoke with an attorney, he might have been advised not to proceed, not just because at-will employment gives employers all kinds of license to act in all kinds of ways, but also because any good employment law attorney would tell a client to seriously consider whether it would be a good idea to continue when the employer obviously no longer wants you. Yes, they wanted you yesterday, but today a more perfect candidate fell out of the sky on the hiring manager’s desk, or, in the case of The Candidate in this week’s blog, HR didn’t familiarize themselves with their own policies before making a verbal offer (indeed before the phone screening interview). In my brother’s case, he bumped the other candidate out because the boss/hiring manager already knew my brother because they’d worked together before, and the hiring manager preferred my brother over the other candidate. It sucked for the other candidate, and I’m sure he was shocked and confused by what happened. Could he have leveraged the hiring manager? No….not in this case, because it was the hiring manager’s decision to rescind that offer and hire my brother instead. Could he have contacted HR to see if anything could be done? Yes, but my brother told me that HR at this particular university usually didn’t override the hiring manager’s decision unless the job required a background check and something “popped” on the background check. An attorney would have told the candidate that MA is an at-will employment state, and while it seems unfair, the employer can legally do this.

@Nick: you’re right about it being poor management if people get hired then contracts or grants fall through and they get fired. It DOES happen all the time, and yes, it shouldn’t be an excuse, but upper management and HR excuse it, employment laws favor employers in these instances, so yes, it would be nice if there were federal or even state laws that required employers to disclose policies and practices up-front, but I can only imagine the howling and complaining about “excessive government regulation and interference” with business! And in the meantime, positions remain unfilled because HR (or even the hiring manager) didn’t know their own policies and they lose good candidates, which may not impact their businesses immediately, but it will eventually hurt them.

Written offers and contracts aren’t a panacaea either. Sometimes you need to be a lawyer or hire one in order to understand them or to explain them to you (because they’re so poorly written). Sometimes the words seem clear, but there are still misunderstandings and miscommunications, which create confusion at best and chaos (and lost jobs and lost business) at worst. When I worked in academia (different university than my brother’s former employer above), one of my duties was admissions of graduate students into the program I ran. Shortly after I started my job, I received an email from an applicant who was furious as in steam coming out of his ears and red-faced furious because he had been denied admission to the program. I hadn’t been part of the decision because I was so new, so I pulled his file and sent an email to my boss. She got into an email conversation with him, explained to him why he was denied admission, etc. He then forwarded the email he received from my predecessor to me, my boss, the Dept. Chair, 4 other faculty members, and the Dean of the school, told us that my predecessor made him an offer of admission and DEMANDED that we send him a formal letter admitting him. Of course, the Dean, Dept. Chair, and other faculty deferred to my boss, and I let her handle it as well. My predecessor made no such offer that I could discern–what he wrote was “you’re all set, and you’ll receive a formal letter from the Graduate School with the decision”. The applicant took the phrase “you’re all set” to mean that he was being offered admission; what Ramesh meant was “your application is complete, and once it has been reviewed and decisions made, you’ll receive a letter containing the decision from the Grad School”. My boss refused to admit him because he wasn’t qualified; the Dept. Chair and Dean don’t get involved in admissions to programs, leaving it up to committees or if no committee, then to the director. The Grad School will not require the dept. to admit an applicant if the dept. doesn’t want him. Nor will the President of the university or the Provost or Chancellor or any other upper-level administrator. The denied-applicant continued to email me several times per day for the 5 months, and each time I either directed him to the director (who didn’t change her mind) or replied that I was sorry, but the decision stands. He continued to argue that we offered him admission, and would cut and paste Ramesh’s “you’re all set” phrase in all of his emails as his proof of the offer. The director resigned the position, and someone else took over. I kept the applicant’s file plus copies of all of his demand emails, and sure enough, one year later, I got more emails from him demanding that he be allowed to enroll and what kind of money were giving him. 18 months after that, I was still getting emails from him. Two more directors later, the emails finally stopped, and no, he was never admitted even though the other directors all looked at his file–they agreed with the first director that he was unqualified and she made the right decision, but the other, bigger reason for still saying “no” to him was that if he was being this difficult, the last thing any of the faculty wanted was for him to be enrolled in one of our graduate programs!

Could Ramesh have phrased it better? Perhaps…I didn’t think his email to the applicant was ambiguous or that he made an offer, but the applicant was foreign (and yes, he was required to take both the GRE and TOEFL as part of the application process, and I don’t remember that his scores were at issue) and could have misunderstood, but I also suspect that he assumed that he would be admitted, and then looked for anything, however tenuous, to prove that he received an offer. There was no offer until the Grad Sch sent a letter saying you have been admitted. That was your written offer, and they were pretty much cast in stone. I can think of two instances where a program and its director and committee screwed up and offered admission to an applicant they meant to deny and denied admission to an applicant they meant to admit. The letters (Grad School’s) went out, and there was quite a mess–I was just glad it wasn’t my program and my school, but what happened was no one in the program or school or committee double-checked the admits and denials. It was a management and a staff screw up. And it got very ugly.

I know that my anecdote isn’t exactly on point, but there’s an analogy and a lesson that is similar. Employers can hire whoever they want, even if they have silly rules and don’t even know their own rules. They can rescind offers (especially if you’re in an at-will employment state). Graduate programs can admit who they want, but there are minimum standards and if we wanted to admit someone who didn’t meet the minimum standards set by the Grad Sch, then I had to send a justification letter to the Grad Sch telling them why, and the reasons had to be good ones. Even then sometimes the Grad Sch could say no (but not if I wrote persuasive justification letters). In the Candidate’s case, he did everything right (except giving notice at his job and telling the hh to remove him from consideration for other jobs). HR screwed up big time. And a good hiring manager should be aware of some of these policies too, even though he’s not an HR person because not knowing them can be a time sink for him (interviewing someone who HR will never approve of for hire because of the probation, a conviction, etc.). And the lesson is that we job seekers need to think of these things too. Maybe asking will my probation be a problem for you? That might trigger something in the brain of HR or the hiring manager to find out if there’s a policy re hiring people who have been on probation. And maybe not. Some businesses can be quite lax re training their own staff, and unfortunately it is the job seeker who pays the price.

By Nic
June 8, 2012 at 4:17 pm

In my opinion, even if “employment at-will” without contract I would still meet with my attorney to verify if promissory estoppel and the “detrimental reliance” requirement would apply and still be in enforceable, regardless. If it was a contract for employment, that would be a no brainer in my view.

By Nic
June 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Read on,

http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/labor/at-will-employment-overview.aspx

By Don Harkness
June 8, 2012 at 5:48 pm

MaryBeth I know written offers can be rescinded, I noted that earlier. In my last I note that in the companies I worked for, they didn’t rescind written offers. But I’ve run across people who had that unfortunate experience.
And defacto rescinds, whereby when you report to work, the job offer is no longer available to you and you’re given something else to do, or showing up for work and let go on the same day.
These are common occurances, but they do happen.
the point I was making is whilst there are no Guarantees, written is on way firmer ground than verbal.

By Donna
June 8, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Some years ago, my husband worked for a publishing company that was bought by another company. Operations and personnel would be moved to another state and my husband was offered the same position in the new location. He accepted and signed a contract with the new company. We proceeded to sign a lease on an apartment there.
Before we returned to finalize our move, my husband was called into a meeting at the new company’s offices and was told he was being accused of sexual harassment because he happened to have a copy of Playboy in his office. When we returned to our home, he was called into a meeting with his former company and told that the new company rescinded their offer in spite of the signed contract.
There was obviously more going on than was immediately apparent. (I have my suspicions but discretion is the better part of valor.) I suppose he could have brought a case to court, but he landed on his feet faster than a case like this would have been resolved.
Nick’s advice about waiting until you’ve been working in a position for two weeks before making any major changes is sound. Even with a signed contract, no job is guaranteed.

By Lynda
June 8, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Okay, I was not going to comment but I could not resist. To use your own words ‘ there was obviously more going on that was apparent” . Enough said.

By Donna
June 9, 2012 at 2:09 am

@Lynda: The “more going on” was that someone had it in for my husband and managed to get the ear of the new publisher. We knew who it was but could not prove it.

By marybeth
June 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm

@Don Harkness: Thanks, and got it! And you’re fortunate that most of the companies you’ve worked with honor written offers. That’s a good thing.

@Nic: thanks for the link. There’s a lot of confusion over exactly what “at-will” employment means, and the info on that site explains it, and any exceptions (even these have huge caveats).

By Ms. A
June 12, 2012 at 11:09 pm

First, I’m so, so sorry this happened to the OP. I agree with those who’ve said this is the new normal, because it happened to me and to others in my network. I’ve been out of work eight months because an offer was rescinded.

In my case, I got the offer letter in writing and signed it before resigning my previous job, but the job was pulled once I got there because of a conflict between the executives heading two different branches of the company within my area. The executive who hired me apparently either did not clear the position with the other regional executive, or he tried to go behind his back and create a new director-level position that was not mutually agreed upon.

When the executive who didn’t hire me heard what salary I was getting, and all the perks, and the bonus of up to 20K, he fumed. Within three days, the plug was pulled and I was gone. Since then, I’ve gone on some interviews and talked to some headhunters, but the companies that want to hire me won’t use my talents well (meaning my career will dead-end), and the companies I want to work for are in hiring freezes or, at most, filling their ranks with line staff and have asked me to hold on until they need more senior-level talent.

To be honest, I was pretty angry – rageful, even – about this whole thing until recently. You could even see it in my previous comments on here and other blogs I read…I wrote a lot of four-letter words and so forth. It was a snapshot of my mental state at the time. It’s possible I’d not be in a great state to work even if I had been offered a job. Regardless of how you get into a situation where a job is taken back, it’s an awful feeling. I wish the OP the best of luck in taking the next step forward.

As for me, my husband is calling someone up in Manhattan who thinks she has a job for him. I’d need to establish a whole new network in New York, but I do have some contacts, and the tech market is much, much better than it is in the Midwest. Nick’s advice, as always, is spot-on. I find this blog to be an invaluable resource and read it eagerly, even if I don’t comment often.

By Ms. A
June 12, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Nick,

“As for rescinding offers due to budget cuts and contracts falling through, that’s a management problem. If a company can’t manage its budget so it knows what it can afford to spend on salaries, there’s another problem. Hiring before contracts are nailed down has become an old game — companies throw new bodies at potential clients, then fire (or rescind) new hires when the contracts don’t close. Whose fault is that? It’s poor management.”

Exactly. In my case, the executive opposed to me feared the risk of losing money for up to six months while I got acclimated to the new role. Ironically, I’d written a specific 30-60-90-day and 3 month- 6 month- 1 year plan to explain how I’d ramp up quickly and add revenue to mitigate that risk, but I suspect that, owing to the nature of how I was hired, it’s likely he didn’t see my plans. In any case, I knew something was wrong around two weeks in (that magic number!) when I had access to more information about our incoming contracts, and was shocked over and over again at how much less money they were worth than I’d initially been told.

Regardless, the circumstances of hiring me should’ve been out in the open, and mutually agreed upon by both stakeholders. My anger stemmed largely from how I unavoidably got caught in the middle because the honesty and integrity were missing from the equation.

By Ellen-Rachell
June 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm

A few years ago a company I had worked for as a contractor verbally offered me another contracted position. Although I had worked for this HR Director before, and my background check was squeaky clean, I verbally accepted the offer but wouldn’t do anything until the written offer was in hand with everyone’s signature including mine. The position didn’t materialize. Of course I was disappointed, but my experiences have taught me that sometimes professional people act less than professionally and don’t always act responsibly.

The candidate receiving the offer was very honest and forth coming throughout the interview process. However, he should have kept all his options open until the deal was signed and delivered. As typical of many HR people, she wasn’t really listening to his words. She was focused on her agenda. It was a costly mistake that could have had legal ramifications. The HR person should have said in plain language that the position wasn’t his until the background check cleared and everyone signed. It’s unfortunate that he learned this lesson the hard way, but I’ll bet he’ll never make this mistake again.

By Susan
August 12, 2012 at 2:49 pm

I too am in this situation. I was offered a position, accepted it, gave my notice and I start tomorrow. I got an email from the person who hired me, that the background checks have not come back, but I start Monday anyway. She then went on to say that if they find an issue in the report, the employment will be terminated. I dont have any criminal, civil issues out there, I am clean. But I do have a few issues on my credit report, nothing major, some accounts that I am disputing, but I do have a bankruptcy thats 7 years old (this is a law firm whose clients are financial institutions). I know they can rescind based on these issues, anyone have any comments regarding this? Again, I “start” tomorrow.

By Don Harkness
August 12, 2012 at 3:02 pm

@Susan;
Background checks are usually criminal background checks…if you’re clean it will come back clean.

Credit checks are totally different. Some employers check those too. for example if you were in finance, and handled the books, money, company financial transactions, that might be relevant.

I can’t see why a law firm would do them, but they might if they handled estates etc.

But usually no one cares about trivial stuff, including some things you find out about criminal background.

Ideally they should have made that clear that employment was contingent on a clean report.

Where I work we only do drug testing, and wait for a clean report, though our offer letters have the contingencies about background, and the application form asks the questions.

relax & enjoy your new job

By Susan
August 12, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Thanks for your quick reply. In the application, I signed a consent to a review of my credit report and that said “the credit history of an applicant is substantially related to all positions” (again, they represent major financial institutions, I will be a paralegal handling mostly judicial foreclosures). My concern is just that, I know they have conducted a credit check, I got a letter saying so from Transunion. I guess my question is, although you may not be able to answer it, is since basically I “start” working for them tomorrow, they are just waiting to see if I have anything on my criminal record check (which again, I don’t) and that would be the deal breaker. If so, then I could stop “borrowing worry”! Thanks!

By Nick Corcodilos
August 12, 2012 at 5:45 pm

@Susan: I agree with Don, but the bigger point is, there’s nothing you can do about it at this point. Start your job and try not to worry. If an issue comes up, deal with it then. Even lenders ease up when a bankruptcy is 7 years old. If the firm raises its eyebrows, you should have 7 years of good financial behavior to show. I wish you the best!

By Susan
August 12, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Thank you, thank you! And you are right, I will deal with it if and when anything arises. Feel much better, and I am thankful to have found your wonderful site. Best!

By Rich
September 17, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I have been offered a position today, and was told to come in Wednesday for company orientation,and to get things started. I did simple drug screen last Thursday. Background and drivers record were already clear at that time. The drug screen was the only thing left. I don’t do drugs, but I heard that for simple drug screens which come back negstive go through the chain of custody report to HR usually by 24-48 hours. If there is any question about any potential positive, the collection site will send it to lab for futher confirmation. I’m planning on moving forward to job Wed. I just had not heard clearly yet that this final condition of employment has been satisfied. Any feedback?

By Don Harkness
September 18, 2012 at 8:24 am

@Rich. Drug screening is a 3rd party service. And you get what you pay for. I’m an in house recruiter and we ask for drug screening and expect a work week turnaround & at times it may take longer depending on the lab’s workload. 48 hours never mind 24 would be like lightening speed.
I suppose you can contract for that kind of turnaround but it will cost and it’s rarely that kind of emergency.
Sounds to me like you’re worrying too soon. When we get a negative the candidate is the 1st to hear of it.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 18, 2012 at 10:38 am

@Rich & @Don: So this is the problem. The employer accepts a long turnaround from the lab. The hire is completed. Rich resigns his old job. The lab screws up, the test turns up positive, job is withdrawn. Highly, highly unlikely. (I’m not trying to scare you, Rich!) But consider the systemic problem here. It’s frankly stupid and irresponsible. It puts the new hire in a bad spot. Yet if he brings it up with the employer — “Did the test come back ok?” — it raises red flags. This is about as irresponsible a practice as demanding salary history. Employers should run the tests before they even make an offer — after providing a written letter of intent. (That’s how other contractual matters are handled.) So the candidate has room to maneuver, too. Now Rich is supposed to move ahead while a crucial element remains unresolved. What’s he supposed to do? Moving ahead is probably the thing to do, but the system is goofy. Employers should not do this. It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

By Rich
September 18, 2012 at 11:30 am

Thank you Don and Nick for your reply. Yes, Nick, I agree this process is goofy. The only thing I wanted to inject, was that there are supposedly differences in the way the local collection sites handle different types of tests. There is drug screen, (which they can immediately tell pass/fail, and can make you retest right there for any inconsistencies. And the drug test, which is the same, however, if the tech notices any thing peculiar, they will send it off to the lab for futher testing. At that point, you may be contacted by a medical review officer. I am going in for orientation Wed. and am considering to subtly confirm all checks are completed…

By Eddie
September 18, 2012 at 12:23 pm

As a business practice is this applied at all levels?
I know they have all the peons take those drug tests. Do the candidates for CEO, Chairman and board of directors go through this process too?
I never heard of a CEO candidate being rejected because he/she failed drug screening. Nick you would be more knowlegable about this

By Don
October 11, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Nick Corcodilos comment “I always tell job applicants who “get an offer,” to never, ever, ever resign their old job, or turn off other opportunities, until they’ve been on the new job for two weeks.”

This would preclude giving two weeks notice and further, presuming I took vacation from the old job while I was on the new job for two weeks, the old company would be 4 weeks late starting the search to replace me.

What would the new company think when I told them I didn’t need to give notice? Or do I say I am giving two weeks notice but actually just work the two weeks while I am arranging my two week vacation?

By Nick Corcodilos
October 11, 2012 at 10:06 pm

@Don: Please check my correction [in red] in my column above, and the detailed correction I published in the comments section. I posted that shortly after the column published. My bad.

By Scott S.
October 24, 2012 at 6:07 pm

This may seem to happen more then anyone would know.
I was recently extended a job offer by a School District after I put on my application that I had a criminal record, then discussed record at job interview, then discussed record when picking up paperwork all the while being told no this won’t be a problem.
It should not have been a problem because I am currently on furlough due to budget from another School District in the same state.
After I spent the money getting all the clearances, physicals, and back ground checks performed I was called back and told we can’t argue. To make matters worse they are both inner city schools in side by side counties. I asked for an explanation and was told they followed policy and procedure yet when asked to furnish said policy and procedure I have been continously stonewalled.

By Nick Corcodilos
October 24, 2012 at 7:08 pm

@Scott: Good luck dealing with school districts, which I believe are considered sovereign states under the law. They don’t have to tell you anything. I pity teachers as much as I pity students and the taxpayers (e.g., me) who pay to keep information top secret behind the schoolyard walls.

By bkdazzle
December 14, 2012 at 12:56 am

Maybe, think about consulting an Attorney specializing in employment discrimination.You may even be able to go down to your local court house and file a lawsuit. What she did sounds like a deceitful practice, which is against the law.

I went through a situation similar to this on a job. They hired me on probation and after probation, they promised me that I would become a full time employee. Well, I work my butt off and damned near killed my self trying to satisfy the requirements of the position. Each month, they conducted evaluations; everything cool. But still they came to me the day before my probation ended and fired me. The Manager said it was for “business reasons.”

Luckily, the state don’t give a hoot about their business purposes. If an employer promises an employee a reward, the company must fulfill that promise regardless. check the laws in your state, it is part of the constitution, too. It’s almost like she hired you and fired you all in the same day.

Through my experience, I have learned that anytime you feel you have been wronged then you have. That’s what civil rights are all about. Usually, people get away with it because of our ignorance of the law. Keep that in mind…

Also, remember that interviewers do this day in and day out. You may have just been blasted by a popular tactic used by interviewers to keep control of a potential employee. Similar to an interviewer telling an candidate there are other candidates to interview, as an easy way to decline the applicant. Basically, they lie to you and tell the truth at the same time. And you, my friend, have to read between the lines.

By 56 Best Job Search Blog Posts of 2012 | jobapplication.asia
January 14, 2013 at 2:44 am

[...] Not Dying, It’s Evolving! Jason Buss: 50 Job Search Tips From Recruiters Nick Corcodilos: Pop Quiz: Can an employer take back a job offer? Brie Weiler Reynolds: What is a Consultant Job? Dan Schawbel: Beware The ‘Tell Me About [...]

By John Smith
January 22, 2013 at 9:18 am

I have an interesting twist to this. When I applied for my current job, I was made an initial offer contingent on a background check. Well, the company that did the background check came back with 11 felony DUI’s. Needless to say my employer was dumbfounded and immediately considered rescinding the offer. However, the hiring manager decided to contact me to let me explain. As it turns out, the company that did my background check only used my name and not my SSN. The 11 felony DUI’s belong to someone else.

So, word to the wise, background checks are not infallible. DO NOT use the word of the background check as gospel. Always give the future employee a chance to explain and clear things up.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 22, 2013 at 10:55 am

@John Smith: I’ve heard your story before, too many times. But the outcome usually isn’t as good. I think that most of the time the employer doesn’t bother to notify the candidate in order to avoid potential legal liability. It just cancels the hire. And nobody ever knows. Meanwhile, those “investigative” firms keep raking in the cash with no one the wiser. Thanks for sharing your story.

By don
January 22, 2013 at 11:16 am

@John, Nick.
This is one area, i.e background checks where a 3rd party recruiting agency adds value. I had just about placed a network engineer with a company, pending the background check. The agency I was with did background checks on all candidates as a matter of SOP, 7 years back..or so I thought. I typically would tell candidates there would be a background check and frank asked them if there was anything I should know about. The candidate said he was OK/clean. Unbeknownst to me, my agency changed background vendors & in their zeal they went back to the beginning of time. And 10 years back my candidate had done hard time for dealing drugs. Oops! I went back to him for a “what’s this about?” discussion. First I established he felt his answer was honest…I told him there was a 7 year window, and he was AOK in that window. Had I been smart enough to ask about “forever in time” I’m sure he’d have given me an honest answer. He told me about his problem, young & foolish & got caught, paid his dues. I went back to the employer, briefed them, the mulled it over for a day (escalated) and decided they were OK with it, and he got the job.
In this case..I honestly don’t know what would have happened if it was all in the hands of the employer. My gut tells me the people I worked with would have done likewise and it would have ended the same way…but I am certain that a 3rd party provided a buffer for the employer & employee that served them both well.

By PJ
January 22, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Nic hit the nail on the head here. Promissory estoppel is the way to go in Court to get some type of money damages from the company that assured him he had the job then dropped the offer. Two questions I have are: (1) how would a Court calculate the damages? and (2) in light of the answer to the former question, would pursuing the lawsuit be worth the cost of the attorney’s fees as well as the cost of having a public record of suing a prospective employer?

In the law of contracts, the doctrine that provides that if a party changes his or her position substantially either by acting or forbearing from acting in reliance upon a gratuitous promise, then that party can enforce the promise although the essential elements of a contract are not present.

Certain elements must be established to invoke promissory estoppel. A promisor—one who makes a promise—makes a gratuitous promise that he should reasonably have expected to induce action or forbearance of a definite and substantial character on the part of the promisee—one to whom a promise has been made. The promisee justifiably relies on the promise. A substantial detriment—that is, an economic loss—ensues to the promisee from action or forbearance. Injustice can be avoided only by enforcing the promise.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 22, 2013 at 3:56 pm

@PJ: I think the question of having a public record of suing a prospective employer is what stops most people from taking legal action. But I’m not sure I think that’s good enough reason to hold back.

Thanks for your discussion of estoppel. While nothing on this blog should be construed as legal advice, it’s great when someone offers a legal explanation!

By Stuart
January 22, 2013 at 11:14 pm

One issue doesn’t seem to have been addressed. If a company spends considerable time and money to hire a new employee, makes an offer and then finds that, on the day the prospective employee is to report for work, the company is told that the “new employee” has used the job offer to leverage a pay raise at their current (or another) company and won’t accept the position, won’t the original employer see that conduct as unethical? If so, why do they treat potential employees with the same lack of ethical concern?

By Ask The Headhunter: What If My Job Offer Was Rescinded After I Quit My Old Job? | Quitting A Job
January 23, 2013 at 8:28 am

[...] Employers don’t often rescind job offers, but when they do, the consequences can be devastating. To learn more, please read “Pop Quiz: Can an employer take back a job offer?“ [...]

By David
January 23, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Security clearances are tricky, and when you say “seven years” that sounds like a security clearance requirement for background investigations from the Gov’t rather than a company policy (though it could be a company policy too based on not wanting to pay for clearance investigations for someone who might not qualify.) Just because his clearance was renewed while in the military, there is no guarantee that the Defense Security Service will approve a clearance for a civilian contractor with the same pedigree as military personnel. The rules might well be different. The company has not control over whether someone will be granted a clearance. That is up to a 3rd party, the US government.

The HR person may have known about the 7 years and thought 2003+7 = 2010, we are good, and did not understand that 2006 was what mattered.

If the HR person was not cognizant of security clearance requirements when she made the verbal offer, shame on her, however in a large company it is important to recognize that different functional organizations are responsible for different things and the security organization might change rules or policies without everyone in the company being immediately aware of those changes.

The situation is unfortunate, and I think HR has a responsibility to stay informed about what qualifications people need for what jobs, however every big system will have holes and the 2006 vice 2003 thing is a detail that might be lost even if HR reps ARE educated as to policy and requirements.

By Olivia Pope
February 13, 2013 at 6:03 pm

What bothers me the most about this situation, is that people seem to blame the candidate. If anyone was looking for a job and received a job offer, verbal or not, it’s still an offer. Yes, I get the “contingent” part, but at what point do we say HR screwed up and should get repremanded for that. I have had offers over the phone and out of respect, declined the other offers I had out there. It’s hard enough out there as is it, let’s not blame the candidate. HR is the screw up here..

By Don Harkness
February 15, 2013 at 9:16 pm

@Olivia,
Not so fast. HR isn’t flawless to be sure. But in the real world inside Corporations, you need to understand, when it comes to the point of extending offers, HR is usually merely the messenger. The offer comes from the hiring manager & his/her chain of command. HR doesn’t unilaterally yank and offer, ignore an offer etc. They get that marching order from the hiring manager’s team. More than likely your culprit is the CFO who slams the door when the beans don’t look healthy. Also some self serving hiring manager, finds someone “better” and changes his/her mind.
HR may be involved in those kinds of decisions and some with spine can throw a body block on a manager who wants to weasel out of an offer, but in most cases the hiring managers call those shots. No HR mgr can tell a hiring manager who to hire..they aren’t qualified.
And that HR beany or recruiter who you got the offer from…don’t be surprised if they’re the last to know. They just get to do the dirty work.
Ditto the bottom line manager, the one who wanted to hire you. They can get sandbagged too.
So on both sides of the desk, it’s always best to manage searches and recruiting with a butts-in-seats approach. It isn’t over until you’re wearing a badge

By John J
April 6, 2013 at 11:14 am

I had a job offer, accepted, and then had contingencies added after acceptance. So, I then added my contingency as well. That opens a back door for me, should I want to refuse the verbal offer. I sent an email thanking the HR officer for the contigency offer, and spelled out what their additional hoops were, then added my own (which is not inappropriate). No letter has been received, and only a verbal offer was extended. I have certainly learned from past experiences. No offer should be extended, accepted, and then have additional contingencies added. It is a red flag to me. I have to protect my family, my future, and my financial stability. If they rescind the offer, that is certainly their perogative. If I decide to rescind my acceptance, that is my perogative. The contingent offer is only a potential offer, as the entire process has not completed, and either party can pull out. Lesson learned: ALWAYS leave a back door for yourself. No one will protect your interests, but you!

By Nick Corcodilos
April 6, 2013 at 12:11 pm

@John J: Nice work. And my compliments on seeing a verbal offer for what it is. Even if a verbal/oral offer is preliminary to the written offer, I think the employer needs to stick to the terms it presents. You were smart to leaven the new, contingent version with your own contingencies. I’d love to know the outcome. I’d guess 70-30 chance they will drop the matter entirely, having been shocked that you’d dare to introduce your own contingencies. Hope I’m wrong. But you’re right to factor their behavior into any decision you make. It’s not a good sign.

By VP Sales
April 26, 2013 at 11:27 am

“Sometimes you (refers to HR, my addition) just do not know all the ramifications of a policy until you are faced with it and have to respond, especially when it is a negative response”

As a hiring manager, I am recoiling in horror from this statement. If HR doesn’t understand the ramifications of HR policies, what value do they bring to the table in the hiring process?

For Stuart
” on the day the prospective employee is to report for work, the company is told that the “new employee” has used the job offer to leverage a pay raise at their current (or another) company and won’t accept the position”

The employee has acted unethically by waiting until the start date to inform the hiring employer s/he is not accepting. Furthermore, there is usually a time window for acceptance of an offer which would predate the start date by at least 2 weeks, speaking generally, so such a scenario is unlikely.

There is nothing unethical about using a job offer to leverage your present position. Thats called competition.

By Henry
May 21, 2013 at 12:11 pm

” a large, well-known and respected company”

Something is wrong here. Large and well-known ok. But respected ?

If the company was respectable, they would have never behaved like that. They would have found a solution, whatever the legal aspects, if they really wanted you.

The fact is: You have been taken for a commodity. They haven’t respected you. For them, you’re just another expendable commodity.
Never quit or leave another offer before having signed or started in the new company and beware of H.R, this profession gather one of the highest rate of incompetent and dishonest people on earth. Plus, they decide of nothing, they are just in betweens.

By Henry
May 21, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Hello there,

here is a nice story in the same style. After a round of several interviews, the manager of a company tells me I am at the last stage of the process and I should get an answer next Monday. He also confirms that I am in the last 2 candidates and a choice will be made among this two.

Next Monday arrives and, nothing, no call, no email. I then conclude I haven’t been selected.
On Tuesday I send an email to be sure and have a confirmation by email.
I receive apologetic answer asking me to be patient until Friday.

Thursday evening after dinner, I receive an unexpected call from the H.R guy. To my surprise he offers me the job ad we have a conversation for 1 hour and a half. I accept and start to negotiate a bit for the salary.
He tells me that he will call me back tomorrow Friday with an answer about the negotiation, and that I will receive a series of documents with a formal offer (the outcome of the negotiation itself didn’t seem to be a hindrance).
Friday comes: nothing.
I wait after the week-end, and I send an email on Monday about our conversation and his offer and follow-up. I put his boss in copy.

No answer.

This is not a well-known, large respected company, but it doesn’t change anything. I have been taken also for an expendable commodity.
If an employer can’t deliver on these type of promises and schedule, if they don’t respect their word and don’t respect you, there are good chances that they will never do if you ever get the job…

My advice: if it smells fishy, it is probably fishy. Run away.

By Nick Corcodilos
May 21, 2013 at 2:09 pm

@Henry: I love your story. The company and the HR wonk are so pathetic. An hour and a half on the phone. Then the rest of their careers with their heads up their… well, you know. You can’t make this stuff up, it’s so absurd.

By Kristi
May 29, 2013 at 7:50 pm

I was offered a job last Friday through a temp agency. The position was temp to hire, and I went for a job interview with the prospective employer. The interview went well. While driving home from the interview, the temp agency called me and said I was offered the position, and it started the following Monday. So I accepted.
The temp agency said to stop by Tuesday (Mon was a holiday) and get the paperwork for a drug screen and background check. I passed the drug test, and have nothing on my background, I was just fingerprinted and had a background check done 8 months ago to work as a substitute school bus driver, so I am sure there was nothing.
The following day, (today) Wednesday, (5 days after the offer) the temp agency called to say that the employer just got out of a meeting and was told they are on a hiring freeze and cannot hire anyone right now. What? Really?
Then she said, of course, you’re on the top of our list if anything comes up. This just seems wrong, as does the other stories I’ve read in the previous posts. So, of course, I had called family and friends, told my supervisor I got a new job and it started on the following Monday… I really needed a full time job and was so happy and relieved to finally be offered one. Now, I’m mortified. I’ve never had this happen to me, and didn’t know they could do this, but I didn’t get anything in writing. I see I’m not the only one who felt they were treated like a commodity. The hiring freeze reason sounds like an evasive excuse to me, but I really don’t know. So, that’s my story. I’ll remember this the next time I’m offered a job, and wait to celebrate after I have something in writing and have worked there for a couple of weeks. I sincerely feel for everyone who posted with similar experiences, or anyone reading this article who has had to go through having a job rescinded. It’s an awful feeling.

By Eddie
May 30, 2013 at 9:02 am

My experience with temp jobs are they are what they are. No one in their right mind would leave a perm for a temp. If you were going from a temp to a temp, not much was lost. The idea of going from temp to perm is a yesteryear idea that today is delusional at best.

By Nita
October 9, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I was offereda position after working for a company during my internship. Thè President and I sat down discussed the details( ie, salary, wages, start date). We both agreed verbally.

Then was notified there would be background check and drug screen. I was very up front with a past conviction over 7 years ago. She ask me was all that behind me. She said that wouldn’t have bearing on hiring me but, she need consult with her colleagues.

Received an email saying she appreciate me being honest but regret have withdraw the offer. The background check or drug screen wasn’t even conducted.
Can a potential employer withdraw before the background check is done or can they just by what I told them?

By Nick Corcodilos
October 9, 2013 at 12:45 pm

@Nita: Employers are very cagey in situations like this. You sometimes run into managers who just won’t take a chance, no matter how forthright the candidate is. An employer can stop the process any time it wants to, and you’ll never know why. It’s really sad – a company can lose out on a very good hire without even discussing the details.

Not all employers will behave like this. Don’t let the experience sour you. Keep looking for a better employer. And remain honest about your past if you are asked. The best employers will respect that, and you need just one good employer to move your career ahead.

By Kari Aguilar
December 28, 2013 at 6:21 am

I got offered a job and even signed my paperwork. when I got out of the room from filling it out nobody was around so I put it in the hr box and left as the person in charge said to do. The next day I wait to start and they said I needed to redo the paperwork. When I got there they gave me the handbook and told me to read and sign it but that I needed my high school diploma, a dmv printout, and another set of fingerprints. I already did them for the credential I was applying for and had to pay again. I was supposed to start teaching in the prison. Also, they required a verification letter stating that I met the credential requirements which they had and my college transcripts as well. The lady from hr said I needed the actual diploma from my University as well. I had to order it and it was xmas vacation so the high schools were closed. These documents were never needed until 4:00 p.m. on Wed. And suddenly they had to be in by Friday just a day and a half later. I had to have the wardens approval to have another job so I quit my tutoring position, and I now have to pay a nanny for two weeks that I hired because I have a special needs daughter. I lost near $350.00 with the fingerprints and credentialing fees and when I went to turn it in on monday they said it was not in by Friday even though they never gave me that deadline and that they chose another candidate. I am in the middle of a divorce and have two children, one with special needs and I wonder if that’s allowed to happen?

By Maggie
February 25, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Never mind whether it’s in writing. Don’t turn off your other recruiters and sources until you’ve actually started the job. I have had everything signed and sealed, on-boarded, everything ready to go and still not gotten a start date–TWICE in a row now. The first one, the hiring manager just changed her mind about needing anyone. Her HR department and my recruiter were as astonished as I was. and now I’m sitting on another similar situation. No date to start because it’s a remote position with a bank, and they need to get me their laptop. I was supposed to start 10 days ago. Here I am now, still waiting on the equipment with no clue how much longer it’s going to take. Again, I shut down all my other connections, told contacts I had accepted a job, so who knows what has passed me by. I’ve been out of work 6 months and my bank is just about empty at this point, and I’m still waiting for the Big Name Bank to get their act together. And yes, this is after the background check, fingerprinting, and everything cleared. The contract is signed, but I still have no work.

By Alexander
May 29, 2014 at 1:45 am

My situation is much smaller scale and I’m probably younger then most of the people here, but it can in a way relate to this. I was working at a job where I made more money then most people my age, but my co-workers were bad, and the owner was even worse. I got another job offer, a little less money but what seemed like a much better environment. I put in notice I would be leaving the first job and instead of working the two weeks the owner thanked me for my service and told me to leave. I thought it was fine because I started the other job immediately anyway. So I thought. The GM at the new job was going to call me three weeks ago, didn’t, I called twice a day for a week and she was unavailable every time. I went in and spoke to her and she apologize for not getting back to me and said she would call me the next day, she didn’t. I continued to call twice a day and still haven’t spoken to her. I now find myself out a job offered to me, unable to go back to the job I left for it, and in need of funds.

By Drea
July 1, 2014 at 7:58 pm

I had a similar situation happen to me, which left me unemployed. I want to know if any of you are honest about what happened at your next interviews you go on after you lost your job. I am torn & don’t know if honesty is always the best way to go!?!?

By Jacmel291
July 9, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Just accepted a verbal offer but of course it was contingent based of my background check.

I was arrested earlier this year and later the case was dismissed. I got so paranoid, when I accepted the offer that ended up telling the hiring manager what he may see on the background check.

Was this stupid to tell the truth, because now I opened up a can of worms, and they could potentially take back the offer.

By Nick Corcodilos
July 9, 2014 at 5:30 pm

@Jacmel291: Do you think a background check would not turn up the arrest? It seems you disclosed it because you thought it would – a smart choice, I think. Would it be better if the manager found out about it through the investigation?

By Jacmel292
July 9, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Hi Nick,

Thanks for getting back. I feel better explaining it to the hiring manager, then them looking at a report and making judgements.

Either way I guess I need to wait for an outcome. It sucks because they did not inquire about arrest on the application. I would have disclosed it then, instead of going to all these interviews and getting accepted.

Who knows, maybe they will see past that!

Dinach

By David
July 10, 2014 at 11:16 am

Hi Nick i was given appointment lettet on 2011 den later company had to freeze the post and i was told to wait until the post are open again.then they wil proces my staff they didnt until they take me out f company 2014.what can i do to gey help

By Edward
July 26, 2014 at 9:51 am

I tentatively accepted a job on a verbal offer. They would accept me on passing conditional background check and would get back to me. They were quite open verbally with the results. I passed the drug screening, had no arrest records, They went so far as checking my driving record (only one non moving traffic violation- no problem). However they said there is “area of concern”, specifically my climate change activism with local groups and feel this could be a hangup with senior management. I have yet to hear back from them.
Nick, I am flummoxed why this would be a problem. These are civil liberties,s not criminal activities. Have you ever encountered this before?

By Nick Corcodilos
July 26, 2014 at 11:12 am

@Edward: Unless your climate activity somehow conflicts with the job (I doubt it), my guess is that senior management has strong political biases. They’re behaving like idiots. You may have a discrimination case. If you think so, talk with an attorney. I’m frankly surprised they disclosed that their politics influenced their decision. Unless your activities would adversely affect the job, I think what they’re doing is inappropriate. I’ve seen this sort of thing before, but the employer usually hides the bias.

By sonia
August 1, 2014 at 1:11 pm

I applied to a hospital. I told him about my crimal history.sof 2 days after the offer me the job. Tells me to come for phsical and orientation. Gives me start datw.20 mins minutes before I start my physical and drug test they call me and says he got the background check and it need further review. And denied me the job. Is that legal

By Nick Corcodilos
August 1, 2014 at 1:35 pm

@sonia: Employers usually have a lot of leeway when hiring, and they usually will not explain for fear you’ll use it against them. You’d have to talk with a lawyer to get specific advice. You might start with your state’s dept of labor — ask them what they think. And that won’t cost you anything. I hope you didn’t quit another job to take this one.

By sam gallezzo
August 3, 2014 at 1:01 pm

And now you know why people show up at the workplace with a shotgun.

By Dan Webster
September 22, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Alexander, I understand exactly where you are coming from. 2 weeks ago, I turned in an application and interviewed. Then, I get a call 1 week later saying for me to give my notice to my current employer. The new job offer is pulled, after my position is filled at my old job! How do people sleep at night doing nonsense like this??? I think the old saying is true, if it smells fishy, it is.

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