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Weird Tales of Job Offers: The new hire who disappeared

In the July 17, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter an employer tells about a disappearing employee and we share stories about job offers.

Question

I’ll bet you have some interesting job-offer stories. Here’s one I’d like to share.

job offersWe had a candidate go through the interview process and the offer cycle at our company. He took a position for a week, then returned to his other job. He never gave notice to his other employer, just took vacation time. After working the week, he didn’t return. It took a couple of days to track him down at his old work number. Is this common?

Nick’s Reply

I don’t think it’s very common simply because it’s the stuff bad reputations and terrible references are made of. Disappearing from a new job reveals a profound lack of self-confidence on the part of the candidate (not to mention integrity). This is a person who needs a safety net, and who will not invest himself in a new job enough to succeed. (Relationship counselors refer to this as “commitment phobia.”) He probably needs a back-door out of all the important choices he makes. In the end, the result is almost inevitable. People like this never find job offers that make them happy because they don’t commit. They keep going back to the devils they know rather than figure out how to move on with their lives. (See Should I just quit, or find a new job first?)

Don’t give this guy another thought. Move on to better candidates.

I do indeed have a lot of interesting stories about job offers. There is a mini-lesson in each of them. Let’s look at a couple of the characters I’ve encountered.

The guy who accepted lots of job offers all at the same time

He was a design engineer, and since engineers tend to keep odd hours and schedules, he was able to pull it off without much difficulty. I do give him credit for working very hard. He apparently was able to deliver the work required at each job. (Maybe this should tell us something about employment!) This man of multiple salaries accepted new job offers every few months without discarding all his old jobs.

He was able to jack up his salary enormously within a couple of years. While some job hunters don’t like to show their old pay stubs, he took great joy in it, and used proof of his current salary (one of them, any way) to gain small increases wherever he could. Lots of small increases add up!

He was quite proud of himself. I’ll never forget his smirk when I found him out. He suggested that I could earn multiple placement fees in short order by cooperating with him. I shared the story with many clients — along with his name.

The guy who used a job offer to extort a raise

He had two weeks to consider a job offer, and on day 14 asked for another week because he “wasn’t ready.” I got him an extension, but I could smell it coming.

A week later, he still wasn’t ready. I told him he had 24 hours to make a decision. My client wouldn’t wait any longer. Within the hour, he called back, frantic. “I accept the job! But I must start today!”

Turns out he had two problems. His intention all along was to use the new offer to leverage a raise, but he lacked the confidence. He was terrified to go dangle the new offer in front of his boss — thus the three wasted weeks. When I issued my ultimatum, he sheepishly approached his boss. During the “negotiation,” his boss had a security guard usher him out the door. (See Naïve young grad blows it for a discussion about using a new job offer to leverage a raise.)

His other problem: His wife threatened to leave him if he was out of work just one day. Thus his hurry. I followed his career for several years. I think few men have learned a lesson so well as he did.

I’ll let you draw your own lessons from these stories, whether you’re an employer, a job hunter, or a headhunter. But remember G.K. Chesterton’s words: “There is no man really clever who has not found that he is stupid.”

Got a good job-offer story? The weirder the better!

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35 Comments
  1. When I first started my career, I received what I thought were two good job offers. I couldn’t decide which to take. I accepted them both and started the first job while scheduling the start of the second for a week later. Well, the first job wan’t what I was led to believe. The second job was exactly what the company defined. I turned down the first and stayed with the second for many years. There are two sides to every story. Jane B.

    • ‘Two sides to every story’ is someone like you, causing a recruiter to invoice the client of the first job and get paid, only to have to replace you or refund the fee after you left the first job.

      The world needs less people like you.

      No, I’m not saying you should have kept the first job but there are professional ways to handle a situation as you described. Professional ways that would not have had a recruiter dangling in the wind.

      I sure hope there was no external recruiter involved in your taking that first job.

      Paul
      Executive Search

      • Headhunter Paul from City Data,

        Is that you?!

      • With all due respect…I can appreciate a recruiter’s perspective on that and it sucks.

        However, I’d like to hear about a likely scenario where a candidate can handle something like this professionally and not have a 90% likelihood of having both offers rescinded.

        I would also ask how this is significantly different than a company hiring two candidates and deciding within the standard 30-day “warranty” window which one they like and letting the other candidate go.

        I’ve seen that scenario more than once. In some cases the candidates came from different sources, and one of the recruiters had to refund the fee. In at least one, both candidates came from the same source, who’d made an arrangement with the firm. Essentially, the recruiter agreed to charge only one fee with the understanding that the firm only needed one of the two candidates. As long as they let one of the two go before the end of the 30 day window, the firm wouldn’t see a second fee. The candidates were not informed of the arrangement.

        I want to be clear, I’m not a big fan of any of the players acting in this fashion. However, I can certainly see candidates feeling as though it’s OK given the way in which prospective employers behave in the market of late.

        • Robert, unless Nick has a solution, as best as I can see, there are no guarantees of proper behavior by either applicants/candidates or employers. There never have been and there probably never will be. “People Are People” as a client once said.

          Contracts are broken and people lie. In thirty-eight years of Executive Search experience and although I have had an employer or two pull the rug out from under me, I’ve never experienced the scenarios as described in this thread. I’ve never had to replace a candidate and I do not nor have I ever been asked to refund a recruitment fee.

          Still, I frown on guerilla warfare as seemingly is conducted and described in this thread by applicants/candidates and employers.

          Any recruiter who knowingly allows a client to hire two candidates, one of whom is slated to be dropped, should be tarred and feathered.

          The only thing I can say is that it is imperative that recruiters/search consultants have an absolute handle on their client relations so as to be able to detect underhanded intentions in advance.

          FWIW, this is the first time in all these years I’ve not had a solution to a hiring puzzle.

          Paul…..

      • Yeah, and the world needs a lot less recruiters too!! “Two sides to every story” was looking out for her best interests, professionally. Employer #1 clearly misrepresented the job. Having been through this more than once, I totally agree with how she handled this. I distinctly remember more than once, Corcodilos bringing this up in his articles. Recruiters, and employers, think nothing of flushing employees down the toilet like a morning bowel movement. I have little empathy, and zero respect, for recruiters.

  2. It was the economic boom circa 1995. Managers were either on their knees, begging people to work for them, or literally standing by their shop doors on the street, flagging strangers in with job offers. Some surrounding communities were reporting one percent unemployment, my mid-sized city was at 2%.

    Background checks were tossed to the wind, and the “Mirror Test” became common. (A mirror was held to the applicant’s mouth: if it it fogged, the applicant was in. Truthfully, though, I was so numbed as a manager at that time I probably would not have objected if an applicant had nibbled on my brain on our way to job orientaion. This is one reason I Will Manage No More Forever.)

    This story is absolutely true. On friday afternoon, I hired two people who were obviously friends to work entry level at a non-automated distribution center. (They had those back then.) Come Monday morning, they were a no show. Fortunately, they were connected to some of my workers, so I was able to get their story. (Not that it helped my sanity any.)

    Over the weekend, they had taken a similar position for just a few pennies more per hour. They had jumped ship before they had even come aboard.

    Weeks later, when I was explaining my plight to a sympathetic rep, he observed the quality of my hires and exclaimed, “Citizen, you’re not scraping the bottom of the barrel: You’re hiring the unemployable!”

    It was probably the longest year of my career. I am forever indebted to that rep for rescuing my sanity, but the question remaining may not be rhetorical: What is the difference between hiring the unemployable and the undead?

    Probably not much.

    • I know a big bunch of job seekers who accepted positions on written offers only to have the offers rescinded after they quit their old jobs.

      I think they’d say this is the flip side of that coin. Call it job seekers’ revenge. Like it or not, and whether it’s ethical or right or not, I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of this behavior from job seekers.

      Whether employers or new hires renege, the cost is their reputations.

      • @Nick: You beat me to it, but that is what I was thinking! This is karma, or revenge, after years of employers’ bad behavior.

        And no, it isn’t right or ethical, no matter who is doing it. Employers have gotten away with it for a longer period of time because it has been an employer’s market. They did it because they could, and didn’t care about the cost because they could get someone else quickly and cheaper.

        Now that the market has shifted a little in favor of job hunters, some are turning the tables on employers. It still isn’t right, but it seems that no one cares about their reputations anymore.

        And sometimes, even when the new hire stays, he’s unreliable, doesn’t show up on time, doesn’t call or email to say that he will be late or not in at all. I don’t think asking for basic courtesy (if you’re going to be late, call; if you decided not to take the job, let them know; if you know that funding is no longer slated for the job, don’t keep posting the job and stop interviewing people) is asking too much.

        Miss Manners needs to give etiquette lessons to employers and to job hunters.

    • Tell me about it! I’ve spent 12 years of my life in the scrap metal industry. 6 years at one yard, and now 6 years at another yard respectively. I was laid off from yard #1 after a buyout and workforce down-sizing. This industry is rough, combative, incredibly off-handed, NO sense of urgency, and slothful. To say this industry hires the “unemployable” is an understatement. Low wages, a low bar, poor management, and being short sighted, leads to hiring the unemployable. This current turd factory I work for is spinning around the drain.

  3. In the 90’s, I was the director of a small field office for a national nonprofit organization. I had an office manager who was quite competent, and who I relied on for keeping the doors open. When we needed an assistant for her, I delegated to her the task of finding and filling the position, with my supervision. She shortly thereafter hired a young man who was quite competent himself.

    A few months later, one of my employees came to me and said that she had discovered that the office manager and her new hire were actually husband and wife, a fact they kept hidden. For example, they listed different addresses, never showed any affection and never arrived at the same time in the morning (he would drop her off a few blocks from the office and they would arrange their arrivals to be several minutes apart). Further inquiry showed that she had rigged the search and recruitment process in his favor, finding ways to disqualify other applicants.

    Since it was a violation of company policy to supervise a close relative, and since both had falsified the hiring process, they both were subject to dismissal. But before I could do that, they abandoned their jobs — did not show up one day for work, did not answer their phones and did not respond to a certified letter I sent. The HR department at the home office was flummoxed, as was I!

  4. Thanks Nick

    The best one I know of was from a recruited friend. Turns out he was a catch me if you can type guy. He had worked as a Dr, etc. One of my friend’s clients had made him an offer for an engineering position. Then the story broke. The client didn’t care he wasn’t a real engineer. He still wanted to hire him.

    Be well,

    Bill

  5. Sorry, Did a poor job of editing (or no job.) It should read recruiter friend. I should have also said he had a candidate.

    Old age, ya know.

  6. Hi Nick,
    In the last 6 months I have had 2 candidates accept positions offered and then turn them down. They used us to leverage better terms at their existing jobs. I have never encountered 2 in such a short time.
    They both seemed to be excellent candidates. I wish them good luck. Hopefully they will not repeat this practice and have it blow up in their face!

    • @Tony: Every seasoned headhunter has a sheet of paper tacked to their wall where they can see it. It’s a list of “10 Reasons Not To Accept A Counter-Offer.”

      I don’t have stats, just my own experience. Most of the time (by a long shot) when someone accepts a counter-offer from their employer after they get a job offer elsewhere, they wind up either getting laid off or quitting after all — within a matter of months. Either the old employer puts a black mark next to their name (especially if the worker used a new job offer to extort a raise) and ushers the “disloyal” worker out the door as soon as the employer can line up a replacement, or the employee realizes the reasons behind their job search have not changed – and they quit soon anyway to go elsewhere.

      In fairness, I know of a handful of situations where a counter-offer was made and accepted and all worked out well.

      This is such an important (and overlooked) topic that there’s a whole section about it in my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job. https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/store/pc/partingcompany.htm

      Here’s the key idea from that section: “If you are leaving for the right reasons, no counteroffer
      should induce you to stay.”

  7. Hi Nick,

    It seems to me these false job acceptances are the inevitable corollary to the exploding job offers and other outrageous employer behaviors you’ve written about. If employers are dishonest, they can’t expect honesty from employees, and a few bad apples poison the barrel for the rest. As employers become more abusive, they can’t expect honesty from abusees. Serfs and slaves work only as much as they must, since they’re not being treated fairly.

    When public officials and corporation presidents say “it’s ok if I can get away with it,” that creates a corrosive effect on the rest of the country. Ditto denying the high ideals and hard work that had been understood as the norm for public servant/employees. Who was it said, “Government is the problem”? Tearing down that admiration opened the door to all sorts of abuses that make us less competitive.

    Ethics have business value. The Quakers in the US became successful in business and trade because others recognized their word was their bond, and was absolutely rock solid.

    The Economics Of Trust
    By Tim Harford Forbes

    Jul 21, 2010, •9,670 views

    Imagine going to the corner store to buy a carton of milk, only to find that the refrigerator is locked. When you’ve persuaded the shopkeeper to retrieve the milk, you then end up arguing over whether you’re going to hand the money over first, or whether he is going to hand over the milk. Finally you manage to arrange an elaborate simultaneous exchange. A little taste of life in a world without trust–now imagine trying to arrange a mortgage.

    Being able to trust people might seem like a pleasant luxury, but economists are starting to believe that it’s rather more important than that. Trust is about more than whether you can leave your house unlocked; it is responsible for the difference between the richest countries and the poorest.

    http://www.forbes.com/2006/09/22/trust-economy-markets-tech_cx_th_06trust_0925harford.html

    • @Peter: Thanks for boiling this story down to the essential issue. Trust.

      “Ethics have business value.”

      Now let’s try to find the job-board A.I. algorithm that can “find” trust among the keywords in a resume – or a job posting.

      How much is an employer willing to pay for ethical behavior? And what happens when that employer rescinds a job offer to a person who just quit their old job to accept the new offer?

      • You sue the “new” employer for detrimental reliance (a/k/a promissory estoppel).

        • I should say if you can do this w/o reputational harm. Obviously, no one wants to hire a sue happy person. On the other hand, if there is true, irreparable harm, then this might be a way to go.

        • @Michael: Thanks for posting the magic words. Promissory estoppel.

  8. Amazing Stories! Astounding Stories! (Other sf magazines of the same vintage as Weird Tales.)
    I wonder if they three job guy was working at competitors. He could get into serious conflict of interest issues, and almost certainly was violating an employment contract. Did he ever get caught?

    • Not that I know of, but then again, I didn’t want to stay in touch with him.

  9. I wish your first story was more common, accepted and seen as a norm and not seen as a bad thing, because it gives employer and employee a short opportunity to judge the fit of the new situation for both parties with minimal risk. Juat make a one week mutual audition a part of the job offer.

    • @Tim: I love it when someone squeezes an Unexpected Big Idea out of a Q&A column!

  10. I was working at a tech company and there was a contract engineer who worked odd hours and was really hard to get in contact with, but he seemed to do a good job getting things done so his manager tolerated the behavior. So everyone else worked around this guy’s erratic schedule. Until the manager found out that the engineer was working a second job that interfered with his ability to be contacted. And then he was fired.
    Even stranger, at the same tech company, they hired a female executive assistant who gave off a strange vibe and dressed inappropriately for a tech company, and later we found out that she was hired as a way of entrapping a couple employees who were suspected of dealing drugs. The suspected employees were fired and the “executive assistant” no longer showed up.

    • Spies!

    • I don’t see the problem with the first example, unless the guy was employed by a competitor. He’s a contractor. That means he’s an independent business person with perhaps multiple clients, and a private life that is not the company’s business.

      If the company wants someone who can be contacted at the drop of a hat, and/or to forbid moonlighting, they should hire him as an employee.

      • ^This

        Too many companies want contractors that are employees.

  11. Hey Nick, a relative of mine in the US who is a program manager in the mobile game industry accepted a job offer from a company in Germany. They were 2 weeks away from actually moving to Germany – his wife had quit her job, they had sold or given away a lot of their stuff and they had signed with a property management firm for their house. Then he gets a call from his hiring manager…the position had been cut. No job, nothing. If I did not know this guy I would have a hard time believing this story. Horrifying.

    • Perhaps that’s why one can’t fault job candidates from being prudent. Similar to the candidate mentioned in the question above, to Nick.

      I.e. perhaps he should have taken a couple of weeks vacation to go to Germany. He could have even mentioned the ‘vacation’ to Germany.

      If everything worked out, he could then have submitted his resignation to his employer in the US, saying he had decided to stay in Germany. His wife could then also have resigned and wrapped things up and moved to Germany.

      Otherwise if it doesn’t work out or the job disappears, he simply returns from ‘vacation’.

    • @David: Many people are shocked to hear stories like that, but the experience is more common than most realize. It raises the question, why don’t we have employment contracts at every level of work, not just for the C-suite? The risks people face when they accept and rely on a job offer are serious.

      • @Nick and @David: Even with employment contracts and written job offers, things can go south. When my brother was looking for the job he has now, he had contacted a former colleague from a previous job to ask if they needed anyone. My brother was told “we just closed on a job, made the guy an offer, which he accepted, but don’t worry about it. Now that I know you’re interested, the job is yours.” They rescinded their WRITTEN offer to the other guy, who had already given notice at his soon-to-be-old job (and had been prepared to begin working at the new job in a few days). The former (and soon to be current colleague) told my brother that although the other guy was great, he’d rather have my brother because he worked with him previously. So the other guy was out of both jobs–the new one which was rescinded so my brother could be hired, and the job he had had but quit for the new, better opportunity. Massachusetts is an at-will employment state, which means that an employer can fire you for any reason or for no reason so long as you are not a member of a protected class (and the reason for the firing was your status as a member of that protected class). Technically, I suppose, that means they can hire you and fire you on your first day, or even before you begin but after you’ve given notice at your old job.

        So what is a job hunter to do if you can’t trust employers not to rescind job offers? I suppose you could, as others suggested, take vacation time to see if the new employer is serious about you working there and if they’re ethical/honest, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of rescinded job offers and of exploding job offers.

        • promissory estoppel – he should see an attorney if he wants to go that route and should weigh the pros/cons related to his reputation should he do so.

  12. While working in the Finance department of a Fortune 100 company, we had an employee leave without notice and leave the country. The odd part came when we noticed a temporary employee seemed to disappear at the exact same time. There had been significant turnover in the Finance department before I got there and apparently no one was watching what was going on. Long story short, they were the same person. We were never able to figure out exactly what happened but he clearly had help from someone at the temp agency. For at least two years the company paid the same employee his regular salary as HR manager and his temporary employee salary.

    The second weird story is from a friend. Her friend was hiring someone for accounting and the woman kept looking at her watch. The hiring manager asked if she needed to be somewhere. The candidate said, no she was just worried about the rat in the waiting room. The hiring manager of course asked her what she meant. The job candidate explained that she saw a rat that looked lost so she put it in a box and brought it to the job interview with her. When they both went into the waiting room, the rat was still in the box and for obvious reasons the hiring manager ended the interview.

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