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Ask the Headhunter: What If My Offer Was Rescinded After I Quit My Old Job?

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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 Sense 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 was offered a position at another company, so I gave my notice to my current employer. Two days later, the offer was rescinded, with the offering party stating that they had found another applicant who was a “better fit” for the company. In the meantime, I’m out of a job. Do I have any recourse? Begging for my old job back is not an option for me. Is there any way I could have avoided this?

Nick Corcodilos: Whoo-whee! This is nasty. This kind of situation — rare as it is — is what prompts me to tell job hunters to never, ever resign their old jobs before they have the new jobs locked down. Always get it in writing!

I can’t tell whether your offer was oral or written, but I’ll bet you had nothing in writing from the new employer. Job hunters get so excited at an offer given on the phone that they fail to consider what a cliff they might walk off if they resign too soon.

Before you quit your old job, make sure you talk with the hiring manager before you accept it. (It’s rare, but even written offers get rescinded.) Get the details reconfirmed:

  • Your new title and job description
  • The compensation
  • Your start date
  • Where you will report on day one
  • Who will greet you
  • Who will orient you
  • What your tasks will be on day one, week one, and month one

Do not rely on the personnel department alone. Talk with your future boss. Does this sound extreme? It’s not. It’s necessary. Getting all these details in advance helps make it all “real” for everyone involved. If there’s a problem, it will likely surface while the manager is getting all these questions answered.

End your discussion with this question: “Will you please confirm that the job offer is bona fide and that you are ready to have me start work?”

If the answer is yes, tell the employer that you accept the job in principle, but that you cannot accept it formally until you have it all in writing. Never accept a job offer until you have it — and all the terms and details — in writing. Never resign your old job until you are sure the new job is locked down.

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?

Now that we’ve educated everyone else, how should you handle the predicament you’re in? That’s what lawyers are for. While an oral promise of a job may be sufficient cause for legal action, having a letter of offer would put you in an even stronger position. But you will need a lawyer to assess this. I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. You’ve learned a hard lesson. Don’t learn it alone. Any company that pulls this kind of stunt needs to be taught a lesson, too. Get thee to a lawyer.

I’d love to hear from our readers: Have you ever had a job offer rescinded after you accepted it? What happened? Did you resign your old job too soon? Please email or enter your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Question: I graduated from high school three years ago and will complete my two-year college degree this spring. I spent a quarter in Central America and am fluent in Spanish. I want to take time off to work, possibly for up to a year, to figure out my career direction and what major to declare for my future college studies. I love travel and don’t want a desk job. I need ideas on how to find an internship or job that will help me acquire my dream job with a good salary in the future. My interests are graphic arts and photography. Any help would be appreciated.

Nick Corcodilos: Since you’re exploring careers, rather than focusing on something in particular, here are a few suggestions to get you started in more than one direction:

  1. Talk with students you met when you started your college program who graduated last year — that is, ex-students who are now working. Ask to shadow them at work for a day, explaining that you are exploring careers. If some of these relate to your interests, that’s great. If they don’t, go hang out with them anyway.

    In my experience, it’s common to find a line of work after graduation that has little or nothing to do with a person’s course of study. The point is to go visit people on the job to see what they do — and what their companies are all about.

  2. Internships are hard to find because there’s a lot of competition, so don’t just submit applications. Scour your contacts to get personal introductions to managers in good companies that you’re interested in. It takes a personal referral.
  3. Find an organization that does something good in your community and volunteer to help with graphics and photography. This is another kind of internship, except that you’re creating it for yourself. If the organization isn’t looking for interns in these areas, you won’t have any competition! But you will have to explain how your skills in graphics and photography will benefit them. Figure it out and go explain it. This will set you apart and reveal your motivation.
  4. In my PDF book, “How Can I Change Careers?,” there’s a section titled “The Library Vacation,” in which I offer this advice about narrowing down the choices:

    Take at least three days off and spend them at the library. (A week is better.) Go into the periodical stacks. Forget about job hunting or careers. (This is the vacation part.) Read whatever you feel like. At first, you’ll start with magazines. Then you’ll start checking out various specialty and industry-related periodicals. Just read stuff that attracts you. (Don’t substitute the Internet for a library. Engaging physically with periodicals and resources that might never come up in Google search results is key. You’ll never have the kind of access to a reference librarian online that you will in person.)

    As you follow your gut, you’ll start to see trends in the sorts of industries and product areas you’re reading about. That will tell you something: This might be your path.

  5. I know picking a career fresh out of school is a challenge. The world seems so big. I like your idea of traveling and exploring, but don’t forget to make some choices, too!

    Other readers with advanced degrees who are having a hard time landing a job might find this article helpful: “How do I sell my extensive academic credentials to an employer?”

    Question: I read your column last week, “Is There a Substitute for a College Degree?” There is no substitute for degrees when you are in the academic world. I have taught for over 20 years, and have a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree, as well as a teaching certificate. Certifications are typically not worth much, but you still have to earn them.

    I have an odd data point to add. There are a few areas where it is possible to “read for exams.” I took this route with divinity studies and “read” for the Board of Examining Chaplains in my diocese. I was ordained an Episcopal priest and have been serving in a small church since.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I took graduate courses in theology in this process, and I did some non-credit work through a seminary. I had to take the exams twice. I did not earn another degree, however. 
I had expected I would be a second-class citizen within the clergy in the diocese once ordained, but that has not been the case.

    I serve on committees and stand for election like anyone else. I have been asked to consider a call to a full-time parish ministry by the bishop. Reading for exams got me ordained, and I have been very successful with a small parish while teaching. It did not require an M.Div., and performance has been all anyone cares about now.

    Nick Corcodilos: Reading for exams used to be an honored practice, one that required a lot of work and diligence. Today, we see other forms of “reading” in many schools, where it is possible to “test out of” courses or to get “life credit” for knowledge and expertise. I wish the practice were more widespread and held out as a clear option.

    Sadly, a college degree is too often little more than a box to check off on a form — whether it paid off or not, and whether it really matters or not. It’s become the routine criterion for jobs, promotions and success.

    I’m a big fan of college education, too; I even have one of my own! But employers seem to use a degree as a token of education and as an excuse not to fully evaluate an individual for a job. What is an exam but an evaluation, after all?

    My compliments on your success, and to your diocese for judging you on more than just a degree.

    Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available for sale on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?“, and “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.”

    Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

    Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask The Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

    This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions

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