Discussion: February 2, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s edition a reader asks how to deal with a job offer that has a three-month starting delay. The candidate is interested in the job but cannot start work immediately. But there are risks in accepting the offer today — what if a better deal comes up in the meantime? Is it honest to accept now, if you can’t predict the future?

(There’s lots more about this in the newsletter… it’s not as simple a situation as it seems. That’s why you ought to subscribe… it’s still free.)

How to Say It: The only fact in hand is the offer the reader has today. Tell the headhunter: “If the company is willing to take the chance that I will still be available in three months, I’ll take the chance that the job will still be there in three months, and I will accept the offer.”

That’s one way to put it, while leaving other options open.

What would you do about such a job offer? Is it legit to accept it?


  1. As a hiring manager, I would never do that. 1 month, at the most. 3 months is just asking for trouble. In an industry where even immediate starts sometimes have people not showing up, several months lead time is just not a good idea.

  2. Why is this person so far along in a process that he isn’t ready to finish?

    It seems like he or she wants either a three-month suspension period, or to get a commitment from the future employer while continuing to play the field looking for other jobs.

    But I expect that it’s rare that an employer would wait three months anyway.

  3. I would think the hiring manager would want to know why the three month delay. If the HM found out that it was due to a financial commitment that ended at that time, I strongly suspect the HM would jump backwards and revoke the offer. Who would want a worker that is ready to jump ship, and “has both legs over the railing”, months before completing a commitment.

  4. If the candidate is the best person for the job, then he/she did his research and aligned his/her aspirations and goals with the potential employer’s (chose the company). There would be no question about something better coming along in the meantime.

    If, after offering a candidate a job, starting in three months, the candidate said he/she would accept the position if he/she were still available in three months, I would know immediately he/she had not done the research and aligned his/her aspirations with those of the company. I would withdraw the offer.

    You are ambiguous about who is delaying: the candidate or the company. (You said there was a three-month starting delay but the candidate couldn’t start work immediately.) If the candidate can’t start immediately, then surely it is up to the company to decide whether to wait or offer the job to another candidate who has aligned his/her aspirations and goals and chosen the company.

  5. Sorry if the Q&A was not clear… I had to edit the person’s story a bit. A headhunter brought the opportunity to the candidate in this case. The candidate did not go looking for it. The candidate was up front with both the headhunter and the hiring manager about the $40k and the three months. At that point, the headhunter encouraged the candidate to accept an offer with a 3-month delayed start date. No one is in the dark in this situation. I have no idea why the manager was willing to make such an offer. But in my own headhunting career, I have seen such delayed starts. It’s unusual.

  6. Thanks for clarifying those details, Nick.

    I would suggest then that the candidate not mention the $40k again but stress that s/he has a contractual obligation to the current employer and that of course s/he always honors contractual obligations. When the hiring manager asks whether the candidate will guarantee showing up in 3 months, the candidate can say that guarantees can be written into a contract which of course the candidate would honor.

    If they’re is in the US it is extremely unlikely that the hiring manager will be able to produce a contract unless the candidate is a movie star so they’ll all be clear that they’ll have an agreement but not a contract.

    The candidate should be very sure that s/he can and will take the job in 3 months, though, because not showing up after all this would play hell with her/his professional reputation. It is a risk for both sides. The offer could be rescinded and the candidate would have wasted the 3 months not job-hunting assuming this offer would still be good.

  7. Hi Nick, and thanks for your weekly newsletter.
    I was intreagued by that question about
    “Should I accept a job that starts in 3 months?”
    It reminds me of sports teams that pick a player,
    make him an offer, give him a signing bonus, then
    wait until the season starts for him to begin working.
    This letter of offer, if I understand, is a contract,
    is it not? If not, I would be more comfortable with
    letter that stipulates a start date (3 months hence)
    and includes a cheque, like a signing bonus, that would
    be refundable if the worker backs out but not, if the
    employer backs out.
    Just a thought.


  8. Gurantees don’t work. You can’t write that into a contract in an at-will state and make it stick.

  9. I’d wonder if there is a way to have a tentative deal that would get reviewed in a couple of months, as this seems far enough out that I’d be skeptical of just showing up on the first day and thinking that I’d be remembered. I’d also wonder if there is some way to get ramped in over that time span as unless I’m changing where I live for the job there should be a way to get partially started some things before that start date.

  10. Guarantees are not enforceable, but written employment contracts are. While I am in agreement that in an at will state there can be no guarantees of employment continuing, indeed a contract and sign-on bonus IS enforceable, and damages may be assessed if the individual relied on a contract with a specified start date that was reneged on.

  11. Clearly this is a situation that many find uncomfortable both as candidate and employer. In this case, the headhunter correctly matched both parties with each other. Good job. Clearly both parties feel a gainful employment situation is at hand. Win-win. The issue is whether the candidate truly wants to move on from his current situation. After all, he/she has a contract that is punitive in nature in the event he moves on early. The employer knows this is the case and is willing to offer a delayed start. My way of handling the situation is to verbally accept the offer and sign the contract of employment at a date prior to employment or upon commencement of work. Again, win-win as both parties believe the other to be serious and both will be notified if any change occurs in the 3 month interim.

  12. Interesting – I have recently had experiences at either end of the time scale. In one case, the hiring process took something like three months once I was given a commitment (which was weird but OK, I had other work I could take care of in the meantime) but then more recently I interviewed for an opening on a software research project and was offered the job on the spot (for rather inadequate pay) and was told that giving two weeks notice at my old position would be too much of a delay and that I would have to start the next day (!)

    I remember when that used to be a test of the integrity of the applicant, but they were serious, they hired someone for peanuts that day to start the next.