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The Job-Offer Sucker Punch

In the September 1, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader trusts a recruiter and winds up regretting it.

Question

I was hired as an executive assistant at a very large, global company. The recruiter (who worked for the company) assured me that the benefits were very good, “comparable to any big company,” and insisted that they were on par suckerwith any other organization I’ve worked with.

It turns out they aren’t. I pay half of my health insurance (approximately $750/month), my vacation is mandated in December because of annual office closure, no overtime is offered, I work one scheduled weekend per month unpaid, and my significant other was not covered under benefits (though a same-sex partner would have been) until we are married.

The recruiter quit her job shortly after I was hired. I haven’t brought up these issues with the company, although I’ve been here almost a year. The culture is very much that one should not complain because you should be happy you have a job.

I took a 25% pay cut for this gig. Do I have any legal recourse? I fear that the legal costs would outweigh any benefits. In the meantime, I’m looking for a new job elsewhere but have found that my “new” salary requirements have me in a different bracket.

Nick’s Reply

You got sucker-punched because you didn’t see it coming. I doubt you have any legal recourse, but I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice. You could start by talking with your state’s department of labor and employment — they may be able to advise you, and they may have other complaints on record about this employer.

It seems the recruiter baited you. See Why do companies hide the benefits? Too often, job applicants trust what is stated orally in an interview without insisting that the commitment be reproduced in writing in the job offer. It amazes me that an applicant will read an offer letter carefully — but never ask for the written benefits. The benefits are part of the offer. I urge you and all of our readers: Get the entire offer in writing and read all components of the offer carefully before you accept!

You must state your position to an employer clearly.

How to Say It

“I’m impressed with your company, and I’m eager to come to work with you. However, I cannot accept this offer without knowing all the terms of employment, including the benefits. I could no more sign an employment agreement without knowing all the terms than your company could sign a business contract without knowing what it was committing to. I’m sure you understand. Could you please provide me with your employee manual, benefits package, and any other documents that would bind me after I start the job? Once I have these, I will promptly respond. I look forward to accepting your offer, and to making a significant contribution to your business. I hope I can count on your help so we can all get to work.”

What a recruiter tells you is akin to what a salesman tells you — it’s intended to close the deal. Good luck collecting on the oral promises later.

I agree that your most important next action is to start a very active job search. The solution to getting stuck applying for jobs with lower salaries is to not disclose your salary — apply for jobs that can pay what you’re worth, and politely but firmly decline to disclose your salary history. Employers have no right to it. You must also be ready to demonstrate why you’re worth more than your current job pays. Two of my PDF books cover these topics: Keep Your Salary Under Wraps and How Can I Change Careers?

Start with your state’s labor office. Get their advice on the details of your situation. But I think that, unfortunately, when you accepted this job you accepted terms you did not understand clearly — because the employer misrepresented them. Please check this article for tips about how to avoid a lower salary at your next job: How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

I wish you the best. This kind of slimy behavior by employers is indefensible.

Have you ever accepted a bait-and-switch job offer? What did you do? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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19 Comments
  1. Imagine walking into a used car salses shop. The salesman brags about the car, but also mentions that “it may need some fixes”. Which fixes, at which price, he will not tell before your name is on the dotted line. Would you buy?

  2. I would start looking for a new job and make sure you get the conditions in writing this time. From your description above there was no specific benefit you were offered only a vague comment they would be comparable.

  3. As an executive search consultant, we do not generally deal with the benefits of a company. When it comes time for the offer, we give a general overview of the benefits but then ask the company to supply the candidate with the a copy of the benefits package or the candidate talks directly with the company’s Human Resource department.

    Candidates need to take responsibility for their careers; this includes the compensation and benefits. If you have not done your complete due diligence that is not anyone’s fault but your own. The good news is you will NEVER make assumptions on such an important life decision again.

    You can either make the best of it, have a discussion with Human Resources or start looking for a new opportunity; this time doing your own research on what the complete offer entails,

  4. She made a decision on a verbal…a statement that the benefits were competitive etc.

    As Nick noted there’s absolutely no reason benefits should be a mystery. Big company or small when you reach a point in the process where you’re talking about job offer, the benefits are explained in detail.
    Most of my life I worked in large corporations…when we managers got really interested we rolled HR into the schedule to explain this in detail along with the applicable documentation to take away. When an offer letter was generated, and referred to benefits, the candidate had all the info in hand

    My last job was with a small company. We just created a summary document we’d send to anyone who asked.

    Caveat. In my family my wife handled all the benefits & knew them better than HR..costs, coverage, etc. So If I was interviewing you & you asked me about benefits, best you’d get is generalities and stuff like holidays, and such. But the real info you wanted about cost….I’d tell them what I just said and point them to HR. If I was really interested though at times I’d set them up with a call to my wife.

  5. I went from contract to full-time at a well-known retailer in their corporate offices. At the time to moving from contract to full-time I wanted to know specifics of the benefit package. The HR person assigned to our group could never give actual specifics of the benefit package… wouldn’t send me the current handbooks, full disclosure, etc. It was either accept the full-time position at X amount of salary or I would be dismissed. I accepted… good to have a full-time job but this meant that any overtime (and there was plenty of overtime) was NOT paid extra as I was salary and not hourly.

    Being a contractor at that company was soooo much better financially even though I paid for my own health insurance which was not subsidized by an employer.

    The other employees at the job always complained about the benefits. Some came from other companies where the benefits were more generous. IMHO, The worst part of this retail company’s benefits was that the 401K was not matched by the employer.

  6. One addition.

    I did state my position similar to Nick’s “How To Say It” but the HR person was unresponsive and said she didn’t have anything to give me. I almost lost the full-time position because I was wanted more information from HR. HR took that to mean that I wasn’t interested in converting to full-time and responded to my direct superiors that I wasn’t interested in the FT position. All I wanted was more benefit information.

    I smoothed things over with my a bosses and just took the offered full-time position. Best to be employed. The benefit were… just ok… better than nothing. I wish there had been 401k contribution by the employer.

    That retail business is still struggling.

  7. How can you tell when a recruiter is lying? Their lips are moving, and your ears are hearing words like “comparable” “industry standard” and “depends on experience”.

  8. Benefits are part of my standard “compensation talk” with any recruiter now for any job.

    But, I didn’t know *how* to do this before I read Nick’s materails, blog, and book.

    The executive assistant was taken advantage of, no doubt about it.

    And Jill, you can “blame the victim” all you want to. For a new, good person, in the job market without a lot of experience–well they trust people. Naive, yes. But not stupid, just uneducated about how really bad recruiters and HR people can be to “fill the job.” It’s inappropriate, and unhelpful, in my opinion, to just say “it’s your fault and now you should learn your lesson.”

    Nobody teaches how to not get screwed by a recruiter in school as far as I know. I’ve had to learn the hard way too, but Nick’s advice has helped a lot.

    My recent adventures with recruiters include a recruiter who flat-out refused to tell me if there was a non-compete or not, and a system that asked the candidate to sign, up front, to agree to whatever the company asked for later, including medical exams, psychological testing, an employee handbook (not provided until after employment), etc.

    The manager had no idea that this was happening, but it was their process, so… I declined to sign and declined to agree to any medical exam any time they wanted. And note, this was not for a police, fire, or air traffic controller job–it was a desk job doing paperwork.

    I’ve learned, the more invasive the process is, and the less information the recruiter wants to give you, the faster you should run, run away.

    Thanks to Nick.

  9. @DO I think there are still those hospital / medical online applications that require you to give your SSN upfront for some half-baked “business necessity” or the other.

    Guano.

    You get my SSN the day it is determined that I’m to be hired and you want to pay me and take out taxes. Anything sooner smacks of identity theft.

  10. @Jill Schofield: When you ask clients to give candidates all the benefits details, do you find your clients do that? Or do they withhold benefits docs and details until employee orientation?

    @Samwise: “but the HR person was unresponsive and said she didn’t have anything to give me. I almost lost the full-time position because I was wanted more information from HR. HR took that to mean that I wasn’t interested in converting to full-time”

    Take my word for it. HR had the information but didn’t want to give it to you, precisely because (1) you asked for it, thus failing the “Does he ask too many questions?” test, and/or (2) HR knew you’d find the benefits wanting. The only other explanation is that HR was inept.

    Of course, there’s “All of the above.”

    @DO: “I’ve learned, the more invasive the process is, and the less information the recruiter wants to give you, the faster you should run, run away.”

    No other rule is necessary. Thanks for summarizing. I once naively consented to a full background check (they spoke to elementary school teachers who were still alive) and agreed to pee in a cup. I never heard another word from the employer, which was a major multinational. No explanation, no goodbye, no “No thanks.” This lesson is almost always learned the hard way.

    @L.T.: “You get my SSN the day it is determined that I’m to be hired and you want to pay me and take out taxes. Anything sooner smacks of identity theft.”

    There’s another reason they ask for the SSN up front: Sheer bureaucratic stupidity. “It’s the policy.” The personnel jockeys that work on this level are legion.

  11. In this situation, I’m guessing the recruiter was inexperienced and may have really thought the benefits were in line with other large organizations – her earnestness is probably what convinced the author to take the job. I agree that an active job search is the best remedy.

    Separately, an executive assistant who is paid on a salaried basis and has to work weekends unpaid? That sounds like something that violates most labor laws in the U.S. and would be worth reporting to a state employment agency.

    FInally, as an employer, my written offers are always accompanied by the one-page medical benefits summary that we received from our health insurance company, along with our employee handbook for review and signature. It’s easy and makes sure we’re all on the same page. I don’t understand employers who want new employees to be frustrated on day 1!

  12. Good points all

  13. Agree, good points. NOBODY gets my social security number until I am at the job filling out a W4. I also don’t give out my address any more either. I have a PO Box I use. Addresses can, and are, used to discriminate.

  14. Good points, all.

    @Jill: I don’t think it is fair to blame the victim here. I didn’t get a sense of her age, or whether this a first job or she’s early in her career, but she trusted where she should not have trusted. The person who recruited her left, and now no one remembers anything. This is a textbook example of why anyone needs to get the offer, including salary and benefits, IN WRITING. Is this a guarantee of better behavior? No, but it means that you have a record of what was offered, and if they weasel out on it, then you have your proof/evidence (makes it easier should you decide to talk to a lawyer about getting what you were promised)–otherwise it becomes she said she said.

    @Annette: It is possible that the recruiter was inexperienced (I would think that as a recruiter, you would require all of the details re salary and benefits in addition to the details of the job–you’re able to be a more effective recruiter) but I’ve learned that even when dealing with an in-house recruiter, there might be a policy not to discuss benefits until the candidate commits. Yes, it is stupid.

    As for a salaried employee who has to work weekends unpaid, this isn’t so unusual. Salaried employees are often expected to log more hours, yet the pay remains the same as if they had worked their regular 40 hours. At my last job at a large state university, it was expected that I would be working on commencement weekend. I was not paid, nor were any of the other employees who were required to work commencement weekend. Another college job that often requires evening and weekend work without pay is admissions. My brother’s average work week is 65 hours, but he gets paid for 37.5. He’s salaried.

  15. I was accepted into a prestigious executive MBA program. Shortly after, I interviewed with a company whose HR department said “We’ll pay for your MBA”. I took the new job. When I got on board and started my classes, it turned out you had to be there a year first (out of a three-year program) and they maxed the tuition reimbursement at $1500 per year. That wasn’t even close to what I paid out of pocket! Needless to say, when I finished the program I listened to their offer then chose between the two or three others I received.

  16. @ElizabethC: Always get the deal in writing, and carefully think through the terms and details before you sign.

  17. One of the better interview experiences I had, the HR recruiter sent me a copy of the Employee Handbook (and salary range) BEFORE I was even interviewed. I knew what the company policies were and what benefits cost (to the penny).

    @Jill: I take issue with you not knowing the details of benefits of a company. For most people, than can be a determining whether or not take an offer. Personally, I would take slightly less salary if I got 100% medical covered or could work from home 3/5 days a week or got overtime. In the long run, I bet you could fill positions faster if you knew these things upfront.

  18. @Dave: what a concept–getting the employee handbook and salary range BEFORE you were interviewed.

    Unfortunately, for a good number of employers, that information is treated as a state secret, only to be divulged if you have top secret security clearance. I can understand how Jill might not know the details of the benefits. I recently read an article which cautioned job hunters NOT to ask about salary and benefits during the interview as it will “put off the employer”. Huh? If the salary range isn’t posted and benefits are not listed on the company’s website, then how are job hunters supposed to know what they are if they don’t ask during the interview? Granted, I’d prefer to know before the interview because like you, the benefit package is a determining factor in whether I take the the offer or not.

    Yes, I think employers could fill positions faster if they made this information (salary and benefits) available and they’d save time by not interviewing candidates who can’t afford to work there.

  19. @ElizabethC: re tuition remission/reimbursement–a good question to ask would have been “how much tuition will you cover?” followed by “am I limited to certain degrees/programs/certificates?”

    With the cost of tuition and fees so high today, I’ve found that many employers are unwilling to offer full tuition remission/reimbursement to employees, but it truly varies by employer, even within different branches of the same employer. For example, my brother works at a different campus (state university) than I did. His employer will cover the cost of tuition and fees (but not books or other expenses) for him or his wife (she’s taken a couple of classes there free of charge). At my last job (same employer as my brother’s but a different campus), they were only willing to pay 15% of tuition (didn’t cover fees, books, etc.) costs AND then ONLY if your immediate supervisor, his boss, and the Dean approved of your class(es). Many times they wanted it to be related to their dept., so if you worked in public health but wanted to earn an MBA, you got nothing because the bosses didn’t approve. In other depts., the bosses were less fussy about which courses you took and would approve of the partial tuition remission. And, when I was there, the benefit did not apply to spouses and children. At one time (20+ years ago) it did, but no longer.

    I’m glad that your degree helped you move on to your next job, but I think the lesson is the next time a manager or HR employee breezily tells you that they’ll pay for your degree, ask for details (how much, in what field, do I have to finish it in a certain amount of time, am I limited to attending a particular college or university, etc.) and, as Nick noted, get it in writing.

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