Question

Bait & Switch Corp. (not the real name) offered me a job and lied about what the work would be. When I tried to discuss this, my new boss told me they fudge job descriptions because they can’t get the kinds of skills they need. “We’ll still pay you what we promised.” He thinks his exploding job offer was pretty clever. I quit.

Aren’t we supposed to be in a very tight “worker’s market” that makes it hard for employers to fill jobs? So why do they lie?

Take a look at this article: Employee Finds Out The Job They Accepted Wasn’t Work-From-Home As Promised, Quits In Style. The worker in this story was conned much like I was. Is this a thing now?

Nick’s Reply

exploding job offerUnsavory employers are nothing new; nor is the exploding job offer. (Today’s column covers a third example.) But the company in that article and the company you quickly quit reveal a new motivation for bad behavior: they are desperate. When desperate people try to be clever they usually wind up worse for it.

Exploding job offer #3: Bait and switch

I expect we’ll see more bait and switch because most employers really stink at hiring. These are companies that go dumpster diving in the “job boards” for job candidates then have no qualms about treating them like trash. But what does that say about job seekers that are found in those dumpsters, waiting for just any employer to pluck them out?

The truth is, job seekers often lose control the moment a job offer is dangled in front of them. Most become so giddy that they’ll accept it without reservation. And that leads to what I believe is the main reason people go job hunting: They took the wrong job to begin with because they failed to negotiate the terms.

The only way to minimize the chance of such a catastrophe is to get it all in writing.

You have a choice: Get it in writing

Employers are loath to put everything they represented about a job in writing. They don’t want to be obligated to anything except perhaps paying you, although I’ve seen the “salary bait and switch,” too. I know people who were thrilled to get a job, only to learn when onboarding was over that they were assigned a lower-level job and a lower salary.

Anyone that reads this website knows employers try to get away with what they can. While laws to protect employees are creeping up on companies, short of a costly lawsuit the job seeker has little recourse today. (See attorney Larry Barty’s advice in Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job.)

The inscrutable economy we live in makes it difficult for even honest employers to fill jobs. Many are throwing away the playbook and taking extreme measures to find and hire the workers they need. The honest ones are offering higher pay, better working conditions, work from home, bonuses and other enticements. The dishonest ones are just plain lying.

The job seeker’s playbook used to say, “Employers don’t provide detailed employment contracts because they don’t have to, so don’t bother to ask for one. You have no choice.”

The new playbook: Get it in writing

Today, employers are indeed desperate to fill jobs, so it’s an excellent time to make prudent changes to the playbook. A good place to start: Request a detailed employment agreement, no matter what level the job is, rather than just an offer letter. Insist that the terms as you understand them — and I don’t mean just salary! — are spelled out in writing. Did the interviewers discuss job definition, work schedule and location, who your boss is? Get it all in writing. A contract is best; a signed, detailed offer letter is the bare minimum; a purely oral or informal job offer is off the table.

A verbal job offer is wonderful because it tells you where you stand while the company prepares the formal written offer or contract. But a verbal offer is like a wet noodle: It doesn’t stand up very well.

Get everything you’ve been promised in writing. Don’t accept a job offer — even verbally — until you have all the details that matter in writing. A good employer will comply. An employer that really needs you will make the commitment.

Will a good written agreement absolutely protect you? Not if the employer is completely dishonest. Lawsuits involving even top executives who have solid contracts are not uncommon. But you’re better off having it in writing, if only because your insistence on creating that document shows the employer you’re not naïve about the employment market.

Avoid the exploding job offer

What terms should be spelled out? I’d love to hear from our community what you’d add to this list (which is far from exhaustive).

  • The exact pay for each pay period
  • The job title
  • Definition of the work and objectives and deliverables expected from you
  • How you will be measured
  • Your work schedule, location and environment (this may include tools you’ll need, whether software or a hammer)
  • Whom you will report to directly
  • If a commission or bonus is involved, how much, when it will be earned and when paid, a clear and objective definition of criteria to earn it, and a clear definition of metrics to be used
  • What your vacation time and sick leave will be and how they are calculated
  • Term of employment, if it is for a set length of time
  • Terms of separation, whether you are terminated or resign, including severance
  • A clear definition of “separation for cause”

Recruiters, HR managers and career coaches will tell you, “The employer will never go for that!”

But, why would you “go” for a job offer without all of that?

You already did. Other readers please take note: The OP’s experience hurt.

Leverage today’s job market

In many corners of today’s economy it’s definitely a job seeker’s market. (That’s just one reason I think this article by Bernie Dietz was prescient: Employment Contracts: Everyone needs promise protection.) So use that. You get to set some of the rules. You get to negotiate terms that are good for you — not just for the employer — because employers may need you more than ever. Be reasonable, but be firm. Get some, give some. But know in advance which terms are non-negotiable and be ready to walk away if the employer will not meet them.

If all this sounds like pie-in-the-sky, and you believe no employer will agree to what I’m suggesting, I think that means you have no leverage in negotiations because the employer doesn’t need you enough — or that the employer is lying to you. Why apply for jobs like that? (“Because I found them on Indeed” is not a good answer.)

The actual terms you negotiate are clearly important and will vary. But the terms you get mean nothing unless you get them in writing.

Do you get your job offers in writing? Have you started a job only to find out it’s not the job you accepted? What terms do you negotiate? What terms do you consider deal breakers?

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30 Comments
  1. Wow I guess Bette middler isn’t the only person who can offend others. It’s safe to say at least 90% of job seekers do so on job boards and YOU CALL THEM TRASH!?! That sir is extremely offensive. I know you probably don’t get it because of your desire to go back to antiquated ways of job searching (trying to bring back the horse & buggy) but that’s how it’s done in this new century and we’re not going back. offending job seekers who use modern day tools to find jobs won’t be gaining you or your philosophy any new fans. I know your philosophy is self serving more than anything else but it doesn’t work in 2022 (really since 2010).

    • @Adrian-
      I was lost at the implication of employers scrapping the bottom of the barrel when candidates are forced to having to resort to using Indeed. While I’ve never had success on Indeed, nor known many who have, as you’ve pointed out, we job seekers are forced now to play by employers rules even that much more.
      Insisting on some detailed employment agreement is not real world. Maybe in some high-level managerial type of position. Most employers will reject the candidate, then ghost the candidate, and move onto the next poor schlub if one asks for this. Especially for the average grunt on the shop floor or wherever.
      If a prospective employer considers me bottom of the barrel, sloppy seconds, I’ll have to settle for what I can get now, ticking the boxes, or some type of mercy hire then I’d simply walk away!
      One has to come from the premise today that most employers are straight up D-bags.
      The propensity for these sites for playing kissy face with employers and all this “negotiating” from the get-go is like the frog and the scorpion fable.
      Any employer with any semblance of ethics and decency should be forthright, and appreciate forthrightness from the candidate, straight out of the gate.

      • Antonio,

        I landed an interview WITH Indeed. It went fairly well, but apparently it wasn’t a match. It was a fairly pleasant encounter. HR recruiter said they had a management change in that department and decided to not hire for the position. No problem, stuff happens, maybe next time.

        Then the next day I spotted the same position advertised again with the same position ID number. Then, it turned into an UNpleasant encounter. The HR drone who interviewed me apparently didn’t have the nerve to tell me I wasn’t a match (which is perfectly ok, that’s what the interview process is for). This immature individual just figured that he’ll feel better blaming someone else, and knew that I’d see that new job posting for the same position, so he figured the hell with you, job candidates, that’s what you deserve.

        The HR stupids then followed that up with a request for a feedback survey about the job opportunity for which I interviewed. That was probably a mistake for them. I took the opportunity to lecture Indeed on the importance of integrity and showing proper respect for job candidates. It’ll probably go nowhere, but it made me feel better.

    • I’m a hiring manager at a large company. Nick is 100% correct about job boards. We hire either through 1) internal mobility; 2) references from current employees 3) introductions from trusted external sources (networks; and the very few recruiters who actually recruit for specific roles, who *don’t* jump dump resumes). Those candidates are reviewed by panels outside the department and our diversity officer, just to ensure there’s no nepotism or discrimination at work.

      You know how we use job boards? To keep HR and Legal happy. We post all our positions, because that is what is required. And sure, we occasionally find a ‘unicorn’ and hire that way – but that is the very, very rare exception

      • Diversity officer? I bet you have quite the bongo drum circles and Iron John klatches.

      • @Steve: You’re not the first manager to express that, and the more the merrier! There is indeed a balance of power where HR is concerned. But sometimes I wonder why Legal doesn’t just take over HR’s role in compliance matters.

    • I think you are in denial because Nick’s methods are not as easy as clicking on job boards. I’m retired, but most of the jobs I held were obtained because someone who knew my character and skillset recommended me. There’s less risk on both sides. I also received info on the employer so I could better judge whether it would be a good place for me to work.

    • Adrian,

      Can you provide some evidence, even if it’s anecdotal, regarding success with job boards? Nick’s approach is unique, not “antiquated.” Unless you consider that “It’s who you know” when it comes to your next position.

    • You’re not leading us forward, either, Adrian. If employers continue to treat people like trash, as all too many of them do, what’s the long-term outlook? Nothing happy for anyone.

    • I’m not going to comment on the people who use them, but job boards themselves are indeed trash. Any time you spend hunting for a job on a job board is a waste. You can do better.

    • @Adrian: Please read the sentence I wrote. The text matters. I didn’t call job seekers trash.

      “These are companies that go dumpster diving in the “job boards” for job candidates then have no qualms about treating them like trash.”

      As for your contention that “modern day tools” like job boards work well, please enlighten me. Find me some independent statistics that show what percentage of jobs are found and filled via job boards. I’d even settle for outcomes data and success rates published by job boards themselves. I’ve been begging the boards for such data for years. They instantly clam up — or they tell me “we can’t track that.”

      • Nick,

        As a judge might say, I agree in part and I disagree in part. An overwhelming majority of job seekers MUST use the job boards, as well as anything else we can find.

        As many of us who have been doing this for a long time know, most of those job postings are phony. Obviously, there are many bottom-feeders out there, so we have to be careful how to navigate.

        While your advice about how to approach potential employers is sound, in my case (and maybe many more participating in this forum) it usually doesn’t work for me. Maybe 90% of my previous jobs were found through classified ads (NY Times or other printed trade publications), or corporate job listings on corporate web sites. But I used the job boards to find them.

        And one of the jobs that pushed my career ahead the most was from a blind box ad in the NY Times.

        In almost all of my lines of work over the years, I almost always had no insight into who the hiring managers were, had no way of getting any inside information on any companies, and every friend who was working or had worked for companies I was considering, they also had no idea who the hiring managers were and no way to find out.

        Even after I got my degree, I had no special way to get an advantage over anyone for potential employers. The large corporations that usually look for fresh graduates were only recruiting the youngest students in the graduating classes. Unfortunately, in my case, and perhaps in a lot more colleges, the recruiting companies were getting a lot more statistical data than just my name, major, and home address.

        I am living proof that a job board DOES work well (sort of). I used a combination of metadata from multiple listings on multiple job boards to try to zero in on the consulting company who really had the job (as a consultant to the real employer), then reached out to the consulting company, and got the job (working for the consulting company for one client). Business changes at the client resulted in consultants in our group being hired direct by the client. Resulted in one of the best jobs I’ve had so far. It wasn’t easy, but then if you saw my full CV you’d probably understand why.

        But the best part of this is that my present employer wanted me because I am now reaching back to ALL of the disciplines in which I’ve worked and I’m using everything. And I do mean everything. What worked against me in the past, to compete for and lose what I thought were the best jobs, is working well for me now.

  2. What I’ve seen all my working life is the last job task on your job description being “whatever else the employer asks employee to do”. I do think job boards work for some or many people. But I know countless others who apply to every job out there on the job boards and get no interviews. I was friends with a hiring manager who told me about the 100-200 online applications they got for each job and how impossible to weed through. Then she would hire a friend! I’ll occasionally help acquaintances redo their resumes to include algorithm key words and accomplishments. I also tell them the tips on this website.

    • There are success stories from jobs boards (I have one).

      Then again, I know a couple people that had successful marriage/family with someone they went home with at a bar or party.

      • @Gregory: I know what you mean. The New York State Lottery Commission says in its commercials: You can’t win if you don’t play! Whenever I’m in my local grocery store (not often) I always spend $2 on a lottery ticket, but I don’t count on my winnings to pay my mortgage. I’ve won between $2 and $10 three or four times in 20 years. Gambling is fun as long as you don’t depend on the outcome. I spend most of my time on what I know pays the bills.

        • I taught my kids “the House always wins” by playing 21 with them. I was the House.

          The little ^&%$s broke the bank. I bought a PowerBall ticket hoping to teach them the same lesson…

  3. You’re not leading us forward, either, Adrian. If employers continue to treat people like trash, as all too many of them do, what’s the long-term outlook? Nothing happy for anyone.

  4. Started a job where I had it all in “writing,” then after 3 weeks they changed everything to do with the job title, but did not offer more compensation. When I brought it up (the very next day at our afternoon staff meeting), my query was met with a shrug from the owner of the company. I was employed for three weeks, 8 hours, and 15 minutes. Told them they had pulled the old “Bait & Switch” and I had to explain to them what that was. Extremely toxic place as well, and I think a large percentage of the management were on psyche meds.

    Buh-Bye Felicia.

    • Woah, slow down a minute there DL. There’s nothing wrong with being on psych meds, provided they work and you actually take them. I’ve never been happier or more productive in my life than I am now, and that’s thanks entirely to my meds. Among other things they enabled me to complete a graduate program at an Ivy League university, so it’s fair to say I’m doing alright.

      • That makes you a drug addict then.

      • @Dan: I am with you.

        And there are many “dug addicts” among us. People that use pharmaceuticals, under the supervision of a medical doctor. People that are able to contribute, rather than take. Because there are methods to minimize physical or psychological symptoms.

        Total respect that you know what you need to do, and do not let name-callers or graduates of YouTube Medical School get in the way of the course that you and your physician have agreed upon.

        Stay strong.

      • Well, then YOURS WORK. Theirs, did NOT.

  5. “I’d love to hear from our community what you’d add to this list”

    Depending on the size/nature of the hiring entity, I’d add the Employee Manual/Handbook to that lest. Obviously, smaller organizations are unlikely to have one, but mid-size and large companies almost always do.

    You’re going to be given the manual at some point, and you’ll be asked to sign a document attesting that you’ve received it and that you agree to be bound by its terms. Why wait until you’re three weeks into the job to discover that you’re not thrilled with their corporate “Ten Commandments”?

    If the potential employer won’t provide you with you a copy of the manual until you’ve accepted their offer of employment (they might claim that it’s “privileged information” or some other mumbo jumbo), ask to review the manual “in camera” (i.e. in private, in their offices, without being able to take a copy with you). If the employer refuses, consider that to be a potential red flag.

    • @Garp: Nice catch. You’re absolutely right — the employee manual should be on the list. I’ve talked about the importance of knowing what you’re agreeing to when you accept a job offer — and an employee policy manual and the employee benefits package are part of that offer. Some companies won’t let you see one or the other, claiming it’s “company confidential — you’ll get it at employee orientation.”

      That’s just nuts! Thanks for the reminder. More about it here:

      https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/8195/the-job-offer-sucker-punch

  6. I concur with @Kathy something akin to “whatever else the employer asks employee to do” needs to be on the list. I always had that on my job descriptions. And by inference it may be included on the list
    within “Definition of the work and objectives and deliverables expected from you”.
    In a broader sense, this “contract” needs to include the manager’s perspective. And in the real world of work there’s the unexpected (positive or negative) any good contract or plan needs to include the means of effecting agreed to changes, minor or radical. The spirit of “whatever else” can be dealt with by that clause. There has to be some flexibility built into the agreement.

    You have to be careful about contracts as they contain the potential of getting what you wish for. For example, if you chose to work for a company that’s growing..growth means change. You do not want a scenario where you are saying I was hired to program in C#, I only work with Windows etc and when an exciting new line of business opens up with the latest and greatest new language the boss hires a new programmer whose contract says that, because it’s too much of a hassle to get you to change…

    Perhaps the concept of crisper hiring definitions can put some good use to the much maligned performance appraisal. Meaning, periodically one sits down with a hiring manager and not only does the nominal “how are you performing” but to add, is OUR job agreement still reasonably accurate? Or Do WE want to make changes to reflect a new reality or define new targets? This will ensure that the working arrangement remains crisp, that the flexibility to react to the unexpected doesn’t get violated by creeping description changes. And that changes are planned & mutually satisfactory changes

    • “The One Minute Manager” provides an effective technique that avoids the pitfalls of the Performance Review. Essentially, make these things part of a deliberate, ongoing dialogue.

    • @Don: Thanks for the employer’s/manager’s view. My attorney taught me long ago that a good agreement or contract is win-win. It must protect both sides and effect a good, mutually beneficial working relationship. There can be no surprises or gotchas that are not accounted for. I didn’t say this would be easy. Good lawyers can draw up such documents. The problem is, there is no good standard for a job offer document that we can rely on unless we start looking at employment contracts.

      Too much about the typical “agreement” to work together is blurry, ill-defined, undiscussed and not understood. Sometimes both parties are in too much of a hurry. I counsel job candidates to ask exactly what the deliverables and metrics are for the job. And I encourage managers to define their expectations in clear, objective, measurable terms in writing. Otherwise, I can virtually guarantee there will be trouble ahead.

      Of course a job will change. And that’s precisely why a clear, written agreement is so important. Manager and candidate cannot read one another’s minds or foretell the future. My advice to “talk shop” and to “show you can do the work” is important precisely because it requires a clear definition of the work — including honest discussion about what it may evolve into. The manager that cannot describe what the work is and where the work may lead is not managing at all.

      • yeah, the importance of the talking shop aspect can’t be understated. Pragmatically you don’t sit down and “write” a contract. Ideally you document the verbal agreement/understanding you derived from the related discussions. My rule of thumb is never assume. And in a contract, the assumptions are often the grist of boiler plated statements on pay, start dates, job descriptions…and job titles. Nail it down in writing. That’s when trying to capture in writing all those verbal promises & understandings each side thought they heard, smoke out assumptions.

        This discussion also relates well to outsourcing. I was around when outsourcing started in a couple of companies.My s/ware dev friends (I was the QA guy) started outsourcing and then later offshoring. They got burnt at 1st because they assumed too much and/or allowed the contractors to assume too much deliverables & especially about maintenance and enhancements. Didn’t spell out the responsibilities. They learned quickly when they expected revs and were told “it’s not in the contract, it will cost you more.” Or issued crappy specs to the contractors, or didn’t lay out test responsibilities. And the very act of clarifying these after the contract was signed proved costly. I laughed my ass off when I saw developers pressing contractors and vs versa for the very same things I pushed for…definitions, targets, the definition of done.

        Sorry this is so long. but one more thing. I have experience with employment contracts. I was an expat. And as such, for the 1st time in my working life a contract was involved. I still have it. It was about a half inch thick. If you haul you & family 10000 miles away into a foreign country to live & work, you are insane if you don’t have a contract. And believe it or not I ran across people that jumped on a plane to take an expat job with company’s who also had no experience in expatriation & learned & for the most part got screwed as they learned. In that world written contracts are best for both parties. Most of it centers around the living, pay, housing, support, reporting, tax assistance, who pays for what, what kind of support the company will provide. e.g they paid to get you there…you definitely want it very clear about getting you home, under what circumstances and the like.
        R&D being what it is the job part was a couple of paragraphs. and it could be summed up in a sentence. Got forth and set up a software development lab in Singapore. You’ve got 2 years. What software was tbd.
        We both knew it was vague.
        Even with a written contract, I consumed a lot of time (or really my wife did) doing battle with the company on the execution of the contract. But nothing’s perfect & clearly without one, it would have not been nearly a productive experience for both myself & the company.

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