Ask the Headhunter: I got a job promotion in writing, and then they took it back

Big companies have finance departments and HR departments so they can do planning. Where's the planning when HR plans a promotion only to learn the company can't afford it?

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: I have been employed with a large telecommunications company for 27 years. Recently I received a job offer for a promotion, in writing, with start date, new salary, etc. About a week or so later, it was rescinded. Reason: budget issues. To my knowledge, that is to be handled even before a position is posted. Anyway, I spoke with my assigned HR rep. Resolution: none. Any advice?

Nick Corcodilos: Sheesh. For over a year I've been getting an inordinate amount of mail from people who get job offers only to have them rescinded – but this is the first time I've heard this story about a promotion within a person's own company. (See "Are disappearing job offers a new trend?")

I think this is inexcusable and a sign of poor management. You're absolutely right – the budget for a promotion should be worked out before the promotion is offered, and even before the job is posted. A big company like this may experience business reversals, but this is why companies have finance departments and HR departments and it's why they do planning. Where's the planning when HR plans a promotion only to learn the company can't afford it?

I'm not sure what a lawyer would say about this. My guess is you did not lose your old job. You lost the promotion. So I'm not sure what "damages" you could claim. In most states, employment is "at will" and an employer can fire you for any or no cause. Withholding a new job is probably not much different. But you'd have to consult a lawyer about the legal issues. (See "What to do when your job offer is cancelled.")

Twenty-seven years at one company is a long time. I think you need to assess whether breaking a commitment to you is serious enough a problem to make you ask whether it's where you want to spend the rest of your career.

You could ask HR and or your manager what really happened, and why they didn't know about the budget problem before they offered you the promotion. You could also go talk with another good employer to get that promotion — and perhaps a raise — in the form of a new job altogether.

The bottom line, I think, is that what they did is bad business. What I see is management that doesn't accept the cost of its own errors. I think the right thing for the company to do is proceed with the promotion and eat the loss in the interest of employee relations. I wonder what management and HR think will be the cost of how they've left you hanging?

I wish you the best.

Dear Readers: Is a rescinded promotion any different from the rescinded job offers we've seen lately? What do you think is going on in the corporate arena that this kind of thing happens? What would you do in this case?


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