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This job offer is unreal!

In the March 13, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader waits for a job offer and for the current employee in the job to quit.

Question

job offerI applied for a job not too far from me. I was invited in for an interview. I went to the interview and did not hear back for two weeks. I e-mailed my potential boss to follow up and he responded by telling me something to the effect of, “I’m so sorry, I was just about to contact you and invite you in for a second interview!” So I went to the second interview and at the conclusion he said that I was one of the two last candidates and he would let me know in a week what his decision is.

I waited almost two weeks and e-mailed him back. The boss told me I’m the front runner but that the person currently holding the position revealed that he doesn’t know if he wants to leave the job. The boss is giving him 30 days to give a final answer. If the position becomes vacant, he will contact me first thing with a job offer and hire me.

He seems like a respectable person so I don’t want to read too much into it. But to you, could there be something else going on here?

Nick’s Reply

After two interviews, hours of time and a considerable emotional investment, it’s natural to rationalize that there’s a real opportunity here. And there may very well be if that manager is respectable.

Is this a real job offer?

I’d love for you to actually get a job offer, but I’d also like to tell you not to throw good will after bad.

If you really think there may be a good job here for you, and you’re willing to tolerate how this manager has treated you, then I’d thank him, I’d put it on a back burner, and I’d forget about it until you have a signed offer in hand. But I would not count on a job offer in any way because he has already shown you that you cannot count on him.

I don’t see any good will from that manager. Good will would have been a phone call or e-mail that you didn’t have to chase.

Move on

The risk you’re taking is that while you wait for an unreal job offer, you won’t put your all into the next real opportunity. I’d rather you cut your losses and move on. (An even bigger risk some people take is to quit their old job before a new job offer is solid. See Protect yourself from exploding job offers.)

I don’t think this is a respectable manager. He didn’t get back to you after you invested time to interview. Then he failed to let you know his decision in a week after he promised to. Then he told you he’ll make you a job offer and hire you — if the job opens up.

What do you think are the odds you’ll ever hear from him again?

Please, move on, even if you remain hopeful.

There’s no job offer if there’s no job to fill

Please don’t confuse this with my admonition to managers that they should spend at least 20%-30% of their time recruiting. That’s very different from conducting interviews and promising job offers when there’s no job!
There is no justification for a manager hedging his bets like this and making you pay for it. He’s interviewing several candidates prematurely and telling one or two they’re finalists – when he doesn’t even know whether he’s got an open job to fill!

But you’re right: There is “something else” going here. The manager has wasted your time — and every other candidate’s — inexcusably. He has misrepresented a job as “available.”

Hedge your own bet

If you insist this may pan out, that’s up to you. What you should read into the situation is this: Your best next move in your job search is to move on to the next opportunity. If this deal doesn’t pan out, at least you’ll have something else on deck. Just like that manager, who is keeping you on deck.

Be careful. This is a manager who has no qualms about wasting people’s time. He doesn’t know what his own plans are any more than he knows what his current employee’s plans are! (All we know is that the current employee seems to be holding the manager hostage.)

I understand being hopeful. Just don’t rationalize the behavior of a manager who, so far, seems to be using you. This may be helpful: Who will lead you to your next job?

How do you tell a real job opportunity from a come-on? How do you know a promised job offer may not be real? Should employers interview to fill jobs they don’t have, “just in case?” What should this job candidate do? What should the manager do?

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38 Comments
  1. I was in a similar situtation except that I got the job although I was told in the interview that they weren’t sure if another employee was going to stay or go . . . .with the employer holding the reigns.

    This employee was (seemingly) unaware of her possible termination so you can imagine her confusion/fear when they brought a new employee into the mix (she had been the only person in that role) without warning. She was very professional and helpful to me but in retrospect, I think I was a pawn in some kind of political game going on between her and management.

    Management was on the fence about whether to keep her (for whatever their reasons or her performance) or not. If they had someone new they could “try out” (me), and if my performance was that much better than hers, they’d keep me.

    Three weeks later I was out the door. This was not my decision.

    Nearly 30 years later, I look back and think about how stupid that entire hiring scenario was. Once they told me their “plan” I should have said “no thanks.”

    • Sorry, I meant “reins” not “reigns.”

      • Wow! You’re one of the few who appreciates the correct spelling. Some equestrians, even, would you believe, spell it incorrectly. Here is the elucidation, in full glory: “The Queen, who reigns over Britain, holds her horse’s reins as she rides him through inescapable British rains.”

  2. Back when the Sunday newspaper was filled with employer want ads, certain employers would put in ads in hope of filling their HR filing cabinets with resumes from hopeful job seekers. Then they could wave these in the face of any employee who wasn’t completely grateful to have a job there, threatening him or her that they could be replaced tomorrow.

    This sounds like the modern version of that game.

  3. And one might ask what the hell HR were doing in all this. No doubt there would be the useful excuses ‘HR are too busy to do their job’

    It’s time HR and recruitment were properly regulated – so abuses of peoples’ time don’t happen.

    To this story Nick Corcodilos is absolutely right: the manager is untrustworthy and disrespectful of this candidate’s time. So how could anyone trust him as a manager?

    • Someone just sent me an article by an HR expert who lists what HR hates about job seekers:
      https://www.thebalance.com/what-employers-hate-about-job-seekers-1919134

      HR has all kinds of rules. Except about not pretending there’s a job open when there’s no job open.

      I sent The Balance an e-mail because they don’t allow comments on articles.

      • The could have preceded every sentence with “The HR Gods do not like …” and the editing would have been equally adequate.

  4. The story that there is an internal employee, per se, has a variation, and that is after two or even three interviews, the first one being an insulting screen with script questions by a junior HR person, and the second being a phone interview with the hiring manager, and the third on site, the firm tells you they suddenly found an internal candidate and filled the job. Wow.

    The experience is a colossal waste of time not only for the candidate but also for the firm. So here is the message I would have liked to have sent, ** but didn’t, ** to the company CEO.

    Dear CEO, Do you know where your recruitment dollars are going? I just had an experience with your firm that tells me a lot of them are going up in smoke. [describes in painful detail all the wasted time and interactions with HR and hiring manager]

    Multiply the costs of the dozens of labor hours, plus overhead, for this recruitment fiasco, and then again by the number of recruitment actions you have in a year that don’t yield an outside candidate, and it starts to look like real money.

    BTW: how much back scratching and nepotism do you have between internal departments? Joe in purchasing hires the son of Jack in engineering, and vice versa without ever competing the jobs. Yeah, I know you have HR policies, but these hires come through your “staff augmentation contracts,” and after a year they’re converted to full time employees. Why don’t you ask HR to tell you how many of your employees are related to other employees?

    And you think no one will notice? Your firm isn’t alone in this industry. People do talk and word gets around about which firms give an outside candidate a shot and which ones are just playing games. If hiring the best people is a priority for you, just keep doing the kind of stuff I’ve noticed about your firm, and you can kiss that outcome goodbye.

    It’s also your brand. If you don’t have the best people, you don’t have the best products and customer service either. Wondering why your sales team keeps missing its targets? It’s all wrapped up in a package and tied together with a string call “bad recruiting practices.”

    I never expect to apply for a job with your firm again, but I hope for the sake of future applicants that you learn something from this note and change things around before it is too late.

    Sincerely,

    Gone for Good

  5. Imagine if the scenario was reversed. The company offers the candidate a job. The candidate responds with, “I’ve talked to another company, and they’re not sure if they want to hire me or not. I’ve given them 30 days to make a decision. If they decide not to hire me, well, you’re my top alternative opportunity, and I’ll contact you then to accept the job.”

    I think we’d all agree that the company would be justified in rescinding the offer. The company needs to fill the position, and it’s completely unrealistic to make it wait for a month to see what another company may or may not offer to the candidate.

    Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If I were the candidate, I would have immediately withdrawn from consideration.

    • @Chris: I love it!

    • @Chris: Perfect analogy–I bet the company would hate it if job candidates treated them like this. Despite the supposedly low unemployment stats, I think it is still an employer’s job market, and they do this (treat prospective employees like this) simply because they can. And they’ve been lulled into the fantasy that the perfect candidate is just a few key words and clicks away.

      I wonder how many of these people would react if they were treated the way they’ve treated applicants? A little experience walking a few miles in their shoes would do them a world of good.

      • > I think it is still an employer’s job market, and they do this (treat prospective employees like this) simply because they can.

        They can because most people are not independently wealthy and are willing to put up with poor behavior if it means a slightly bigger pay check.

        Even though, as you say, we are at record low unemployment, wages/benefits have not risen as fast as people would like.

        Until enough people are willing/able to say “no” you will not see significant change.

      • Are the low unemployments stats really true?

        Aren’t they simply based on the number of people collecting unemployment? When their unemployment benefits run out and they have still not found a job then they suddenly disappear from the unemployed stats, as if they are employed, even if they are not employed. This happens especially to older workers who often find that is takes much longer to find a job than when they were young.

        • I can think of five people in my circle who are going on their 5th or 6th year without a job, all are professionals with loads of credentials/experience, all are over the age of 40 (I myself gave up and am now teaching English online to Korean and Chinese students…not exactly happy about it, but I’ll work on finding happiness elsewhere in what remains of this life).

          • Absolutely agree. I would say the older folks (50 to 80+) I know have “retired” which apparently means that you are still working but in most cases for “off the books” work. Heck, I know one guy who was pushed into early retirement but his replacement couldn’t figure out all the analytical work. Almost ten years later he is still doing some of the same reports he used to do but is paid under the table. Also, he had to insist the spreadsheets be password protected and encrypted, as the new person was sending sensitive data such as employee payroll information by email with no security at all. By payroll information, I mean every single person’s salary, SS#, and other confidential data.
            For the most part the 30 to 50 year old group is either underemployed or back filling open positions. One very talented woman I know is currently the work that was done by six people not too long ago. After two years of this she had to threaten to walk if they didn’t give her a promotion.
            Overall, the unemployment numbers seem really, really off.

        • Nope, it’s a survey conducted by the BLS.

          • How exactly do they do the survey to ensure that it is accurate?

            • It’s called “sampling.” You basically know the age/gender/racial/ethic/educational/etc. make up of the US population so you can interview a smaller population with the same proportions (or do some basic math to put them into the proper proportions). I believe the BLS calls 60,000 households.

            • To honest, I believe surveys should be taken with a pinch of salt.

              How many people actually respond to surveys? Most people, as soon as they hear that it’s a survey, decline to be participate because they are busy. Therefore those that do participate are the minority, that don’t mind answering survey(s).

              The result is misleading statistics resulting in exaggerated claims, such as 80% of Canadians say/believe …
              What they should really be stating is that 80% of the Canadians who were willing to participate in our survey said …

              Sampling and extrapolating to the rest of the population seems to be based on the theory that a sample represents the whole population. Has this ever being proven?

          • Dave, is there perhaps an extraneous ‘L’?

        • @Borne: I think that’s the dirty little secret that rarely is discussed. If true unemployment of people that want to work were really so low, why have wages barely budged? Low worker supply would trigger much higher pay. It’s not happening.

        • (I haven’t done this in a while …)

          The (Seasonally Adjusted) Unemployment Rate that you see on TV and hear politicians touting comes from https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000

          As of about 7:20 PM Eastern Time today, February was listed as 4.1%

          I’ve often called it the smoke and mirrors number, because I’m and old curmudgeon, and because if you go to the (Seasonally Adjusted) Labor Force Participation Rate and do a little grade school math you come up with a much gloomier number.
          https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS11300000

          To wit:
          100 – (LNS11300000) = True Unemployment, or the percentage of the workforce un- or under-employed. In February this percentage was 37.0%. or, looking at https://data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet?request_action=wh&graph_name=LN_cpsbref1,
          you arrive at 161.92 million people.

          Over one-third of the workforce un-or under-employed.

          (What the heck, one more link …) http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5105/

  6. I’ve heard this line before. The thing is, if you encounter it in isolation and and it’s the first time you’ve heard it, it almost sounds reasonable. But then you meet others whose experiences are variations on this theme, and you realize it’s just a throwaway line used by an employer to string people along.

    Imagine if the situation were dating/courtship. The girl says, “I really like you, and I think we could have a future together. But I’m already involved with another guy and he’s not sure if he wants to stick around, so I’m giving him 30 days to decide. You’re definitely #2 on my list, though, so could you just hang tight until this other guy makes up his mind? Great! Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

    • @Askeladd: Another one! Great! See Chris’s retort above!

  7. The old saying still holds true: If they give you shoddy treatment as a candidate, just think how they will treat you as staff. The manager in this case does NOT sound respectable – “I was just about to call you” ranks right up there with “Let’s have lunch sometime” and the dating equivalent of “I’ll call you next week” – but I don’t blame the candidate for wanting to hope for the best. (How many of us see things objectively when it’s OUR turn at bat?). But if the behavior is questionable during recruiting, it’s all but a guarantee that it’s only going to be worse once you’re hired. (And seriously, what boss gives an employee 30 days to “think it over whether to remain”? Every boss I ever had would have shown me the door if I displayed any hesitation about committing less than 100%.)

    • I was thinking this too, until I remembered that the current employee was holding the manager hostage. This just sounds like bad management to me, and I would give them a wide berth before you are beholden to them for income and benefits. Move on to the next opportunity.

      • “until I remembered that the current employee was holding the manager hostage”

        Only if that is actually true. It could be as true as “I was just about to call you.” Which is not true at all.

  8. To me the manager sounds like someone who hates to give out bad news. That’s the kind of person who will tell an employee he’s doing great throughout the year, then give out a bad review for reasons the manager neglected to share with the employee when they happened. Someone to stay away from.
    But for the candidate, I agree with Nick that this “offer” should be treated as if it didn’t exist. If the manager suddenly decides he needs the candidate, and finds the candidate has gone elsewhere, maybe the manager will get a clue.
    But I doubt it.

  9. Let’s consider the X Factor in this scenario with the “X” being the job candidate’s emotions.
    Nothing is stated that the job candidate currently is employed and looking for a better opportunity or if he is unemployed and needs a monetary income to pay bills. If the second option is the case, it becomes understandable how the job canidate’s emotions over-rode commonsense and critical thinking. When in a position of need or desperation, people too often succumb to irrational emotions.
    It is evident from the words of the job candidate, he/she is not very experienced or simply lives in a naive world. Again emotions can play a part in their decision to hold out false hope for the nonexistent job. Some people go through their entire life being naive, often because they choose to do so out of fear of either rejection, failure, or the unknown. This job candidate needs to draw the line in the sand and tell the hiring manager to take the job candidate’s name out of consideration. State the reason why. This provides a foundation for the emotionally weak job candidate to gain confidence and be in a position to handle the next obstacle in life.
    Questions for the job candidate; “Why do you believe this job is so special? Do you believe there’s another job that would be better than this alleged position? Answers to these questions will reveal much about the inner character to the job candidate to reflect on.

    • I think you are right on here: If you’re unemployed, one would be more likely to put up with this type of behavior.

      However, if OP is gainfully employed and in a good spot, the tolerance threshold for B.S. is a lot higher. I have purposefully not answered calls from “recruiters” because of their past behavior.

  10. Seems this manager is reflecting his management style, as well: CHAOS. If you can and want to work in that atmosphere (which is currently reflected in our world), then go for it.

  11. Another vote for let this one go.

    That said, I wonder if the incumbent employee played the job-offer-as-leverage game, and it didn’t work entirely. He didn’t want to leave the firm, but he did want something the firm wouldn’t give.

    So he sought and was offered another job, then used the offer to try scoring a counteroffer. Which he got, but it wasn’t everything he wanted. Resulting in the wishy-washy situation the candidate experienced.

  12. Dont send that email to the CEO, too easy to just send on to HR where it gets dismissed.

    Use the patented Nick-Trick #666*

    After hours, call the CEO, and leave a message “I just had an interaction with your company, that if I were CEO, I would want to know about. (Dont apologize for dangling a preposition)

    If you would like to discuss….contact information.

    This takes 10 seconds of your time.

    IF the CEO doesn’t call back, much is learned.

    If s/he does, then explain your concerns in concise form, and wish them well and hope that you have helped them improve.

    * Send your $5 user fee to Nick, in care of me.

    • @VP Sales: Send when you collect $1,000 and keep your standard 50%.

  13. Thanks Nick for sharing this article. In this case the Manager is demonstrating an irresponsible behavior and a weak recruiting practice. Allowing the current employee to hold the Manager hostage, exhibits a lack of employee engagement and accountability. This is a red-flag for potential candidates.

  14. Job seeker should drop this and move on. The second interview invite might be borderline, but the second email response was a red flag. No rational responsible employer gives out such detailed information about a current employee (unless if the hiring manager himself is on his way out the door).

    The hiring manager has a problem giving people bad news, and appears to not know how to let go of YOU. Extremely selfish and irresponsible. He also appears to not know how to handle a present employee who presents a risk to his department’s continued operation, and possibly to the company itself.

    If you got this position, how secure would you feel knowing that you’re working for a manager who can’t make decisions and deliberately keeps people waiting (at their expense)? I have enough experience with people like this that could literally fill a book (really).

    This job opportunity is dead. Bury it already.

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