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Ask the Headhunter: Are disappearing job offers a new trend?

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: A few weeks ago my husband applied for a new job at a company where he is already working. It took weeks just to go through the process. They ran a background check, had him take a drug test, gave him a start date and told him when he would be flying out of state for training.

He passed the drug test and he was cleared on the background check. Now, my husband is a felon, but his conviction was 15 years ago and he has had no other problems since then. The company only went back seven years on the background check, so he saw no reason to discuss a problem 15 years old. Technically he did not lie. When they asked him about his past, he was honest and told them everything. Everything was going great. He had his dream job. I moved all of our belongings into storage and we were going to move in with family until we got the relocation fee from his new company to get a house.

The night before we were leaving, my husband got a call and saying he might not get hired because of the old conviction. Still, HR told him not to worry because he should be fine. So I drove my children to the new town. Later that evening my husband gets an email saying, “Upon further review of your background…we have to deny you the position due to the severity of your crime.”

Are you kidding me? They gave him a start date, a date and time of his flight, how long he would be gone for training, etc. The hiring process took weeks and he passed everything. Then they tell him last minute that they changed their mind? Can they do that?

I’ve been going through so much stress doing all the moving by myself because my husband is out of town. I’ve gotten so sick from the stress. I can hardly eat, I’m breaking out in hives, my husband is depressed, my girls are crying because we were told he had the job, when he was going to start and when he was going to catch a flight to go to California for training. And now — nothing. Now I have to worry about getting evicted from my home and worry about having to go through this all over again. Is there anything we can do?

Nick Corcodilos: I’m very sorry to hear about this. A 15-year-old conviction is a lifetime away — but your husband’s good performance is current and in my opinion that should have held sway with this company. But I don’t run the company.

In a column about a related problem — a reader’s DUI history — I discussed some ways to deal with adverse background-check results: “Bankrupt & Unemployed: Will a background check doom me?

I see two problems. First, it appears (correct me if I’m wrong) the company did not actually give your husband a written offer. They merely encouraged him to believe there would be a written offer so that he’d get started on his transition immediately. That’s unethical. They should have cautioned him that he should take no actions on the new job until they delivered a written offer. (This is another reason why I believe “HR should get out of the hiring business.”)

Second — and this is a mistake lots of people make in their excitement about a new job — your husband should not have taken any action, including moving the family, until he had a real offer in hand in writing. I know that’s hard to swallow. But it’s just not smart to risk it all without a written offer.

What really troubles me is the number of stories readers are submitting to me about job offers being extended — then the employer pulls the plug with no consideration for what this means to the applicant. It really stinks. Please see last week’s column: “How to handle an employer giving you the job offer runaround.”

The problem is that if this job is in a state where employment is “at will,” there’s probably nothing you can do. An employer can fire you at any time, for any reason or no reason — even on day one of the job.

However, you still might want to consult an attorney about this. It depends on the laws in the state where the job is and on the exact details of the case. A lawyer might be able to make the case that even an oral offer is bona fide. I think it’s important that the employer told him “not to worry.” It would probably not cost a lot to consult with a good employment lawyer. No matter what you learn, you may at least feel better knowing what your options are.

The one other thing I’d suggest is that your husband reach out directly to the hiring manager who wanted to hire him. I don’t like the fact that merely HR is handling all this. See “Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.”

I wish I could be more helpful, other than telling you to be more careful next time. Since this is affecting your health and your girls, please try to find some good counseling. Do not let a lousy employer ruin your health and your family’s peace of mind. It’s important to be able to talk it through and deal with it. Bad stuff happens, and sometimes dishonest employers cause it.

The people at the company did not behave with integrity. The best thing your husband can do is immediately move on to the next good opportunity, with a better employer. I wish you the best — I really do.

Dear Readers: This is the second “rescinded offer” we’ve seen in two consecutive columns. I received these stories one right after the other — and today I received yet another one. Do you see a trend? Why do you think this is happening?

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 on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

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

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