A friend ignored my advice and fell into the job-offer fallacy. He was so thrilled to get a job offer he wanted that he cancelled two other interviews. I told him to do the interviews anyway. What’s the harm? Well, he never really had a job offer, just a verbal one, nothing in writing. A real offer never came, but they strung him out for almost three weeks. You can guess the rest. The other two opportunities disappeared. He begged for those interviews but the other companies wouldn’t even respond to him. Do your readers a favor and warn them not to put all their eggs in one basket no matter how good it looks!

Nick’s Reply

I think you just gave that excellent warning! But I’ll take this two more steps — and you might be surprised. Your friend had only a verbal offer, nothing in writing. But he should have hedged his bets even if he had the a job offer in writing and even if he started the job.

What is the job-offer fallacy?

job-offer fallacyJob hunting produces stress more than almost any other experience. That’s why there’s nothing like the immense relief you feel when the job offer has arrived. Finally, you’re done! Or, are you caught in the job-offer fallacy? It goes like this:

I just got the job offer I want, so I’ll cancel my other interviews. I don’t need them.

The fallacy is that you don’t need them. Never, ever cancel an interview or terminate your job search just because:

  • You had a great interview and they said they’d make an offer.
  • A company made you an offer in writing.
  • You started the new job today.

Here’s why:

A great interview isn’t an offer

After a positive, hopeful interview experience, it’s natural to let your enthusiasm get the better of your common sense. It seems logical to put further job search activities on hold until the employer makes that offer. After all, this is the job you really want! And you’re so busy at work — who’s got time to go on other interviews or to continue contacting more employers? Why not just see what happens with this one first?

Any headhunter will tell you that most good interviews fail to produce job offers. Likewise, more job offers are rejected than accepted. That’s why headhunters (who are responsible to the employers who pay them) always keep other candidates on deck. And that’s why you should never assume an offer is on the way, or that it won’t explode, or that your first day on the new job is the end of it. It’s why you should continue full steam ahead on your job search and keep other irons hot in the fire.

A written offer can be rescinded

An offer is a guarantee of a job, right? Well, not necessarily. Companies don’t always worry about what’s proper or what’s legal. If the company suddenly re-organizes, or its finance department runs the numbers and realizes money is tight, or if the company hears something about you that it doesn’t like, the offer could be rescinded. Even if the offer is legally binding, you could be in for a battle. If you don’t have a fall-back position, you’re without a paycheck.

Here’s an example from the Ask The Headhunter case file. A job candidate fudged past salary on the application form. The employer made an offer, then demanded to see a pay stub from the candidate’s last job. When the numbers didn’t match, the offer was withdrawn. The candidate had already resigned the old job and cancelled other pending interviews, having decided to accept the offer. That was a deadly incorrect assumption.

Day #1 can be your last day, too.

I’ve seen it happen more than once. A new employee finds the job doesn’t really match what what was described, or in a quick re-shuffling is reporting to someone other than the manager who made the hire. Or, the new co-workers are a miserable bunch. Whatever the problem, the new hire decides it was a bad mistake and this isn’t the place to be. The new hire is ready to resign before really starting the job.

Here’s another example from the Ask The Headhunter files. After taking a job and closing the door on other opportunities, the new hire went through two weeks of training only to be told the department was being eliminated. There were two choices: leave, or switch to another department and another job for $20,000 less in salary. Our new hire decided to sue. Three months later, the lawsuit was barely off the ground and our litigant was still without a job and saddled with legal bills.

Beware the job-offer fallacy because it ain’t over till it’s over

Is this likely to happen to you? Probably not. But here’s my rule about taking risks. If the potential for disaster is small but the consequences would be huge (like no job, no income), don’t take the risk.

There is no security inherent in a job offer. If you believe there is, you’ve bought into a fallacy. So, what is a smart job hunter to do?

Until the dust settles, don’t regard an interview, a job offer, or a job itself as the end of your job search. Hedge your bets. Keep your options open until you can take a look around and decide the ground beneath you really is firm. Don’t cancel other interviews. Don’t discourage other offers. The disasters I described don’t happen often. But if such a disaster befalls you just once and you’re without a safety net, it will seem like the end of the world.

Have you ever cancelled a job interview because you were so sure of a “job in the hand” only to encounter the job-offer fallacy? How bad were the consequences? How do you control the risks when pursuing a new job opportunity?

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  1. Everything you’ve written is 100% correct. Not only does this apply to searching for a job, but to internal promotions, transfers, and opportunities for those who are already employed.

    In 2016 I had a job I loved with a multi-national company. I hoped to finish my career with the company. Loved the work and the management in the branch where I worked was fantastic. One day the head of the office where I worked told me that I was being promoted and teamed with a senior manager at another office to start a new service area for the firm. The new arrangement had been approved by the Regional VP. I was very excited about it. The next Thursday, I was called in by the head of the office and handed my termination notice. During the period between my promotion and termination, the global office execs had a meeting in which they decided to reorganize and position the half of the company I was in to be sold. Not only did they rescind the promotion and cancel the new service area, but eliminated the service area I worked in.

    Because of the assurances I had previously been given by my boss and the head of my office during the previous couple of years I worked there, I had not kept up my job networking contacts and basically had to start almost from scratch from a country where I did not have a support network.

    Whether it is job searches or continuing employment, everything about prospects for new or continuing employment is basically a fallacy. When it comes down to it, employer execs will have no loyalty to employees at any level if it affects their jobs and the plans of the company.

    • Similar experience here. Twice. Execs used us like pawns. At least we were well compensated. Looking back it was a blessing in disguise. Living a better lifestyle as a solopreneur.

    • @Richard A: Wish I could say I’m astonished, but I’ve seen this kind of thing so many times. Even when your manager and team are wonderful, a business is a business, not your friend, and not concerned about you as much as about the business. While I’ve seen some companies demonstrate unusual degrees of care for employees, it’s very rare. And while I think some are horrible, I try to remind myself that “fixing” an employer’s attitudes and behaviors is not a solution. Always being on the job hunt is the only solution, at some level or other. You can’t wait til you need a job.


  2. “… in a quick re-shuffling is reporting to someone other than the manager who made the hire.”

    I wonder how many companies pre-plan the “quick reshuffle” because the manager you wind up with is a major-league jerk who couldn’t get a prospective hire to sign on. So they ‘do the dance’ with their best hiring manager, and reshuffle the new hire over to Bad Manager, hoping to get the new employee to stick around long enough to make positive change.

    Sounds like wholesale fraud, but when have companies been above that in order to make a buck?

  3. Great column. Never forget there are always THREE jobs when interviewing:

    1. The job you APPLY for (“We’re looking for someone…”)

    2. The job you INTERVIEW for (“We’ve had to make some adjustments…”)

    3. The job you ACTUALLY GET (“Our director decided….”)

    Always have an escape hatch waiting. Better to have and not need than need and not have…

    • @John F: When I do workshops for executive MBA programs at leading biz schools, I always tease the audience with this question: “Who has a job that’s even close the description of the job they thought they accepted?”

      Virtually everyone in the session cracks up laughing.

  4. I’ve had a similar experience. I was offered a senior position at a company, in writing, canceled two interviews, and a week later got a written notice that the company had changed its mind. They did send me a week’s pay at the agreed-on rate as compensation for the inconvenience, which I appreciate. When I’ve told them this story, friends always seem surprised that I am not angry, but …it’s just business.

  5. Companies don’t always worry about what’s proper or what’s legal.

    That right there is the only line that anyone needs to remember.

    Even in the mess that is Kaliformia who has statutes stating verbal is a legal and binding contract, companies still don’t care.

    This why all written offers should be signed by at least 3 heads like HR head, department head and the absolute top. At least then you might have something for ammo.

    Employers act like it is a privilege for you to work for them. Yet they are the ones with the add out, they need you more than you need them.

    Respect is what is seriously lacking these days, can’t really blame the companies to much as the young generation makes ridiculous demands, ( 8 hrs of pay for 4 hrs work, pro noun crap, time off for protesting…)

    It has turned into a battle of social and political credit instead of qualifications and proven performance.

    In 2023 get it in writing is the only way to proceed. Even for fast food.

  6. For the past 25+ years, I have been the national Chairman of The Financial Executives Networking Group. We have 34,000 members, nationwide and around the world. We are the world’s largest REAL networking group. Let me share one of our many mantras: “You’re never actually working. You’re just between searches.” Don’t slow down as you approach the finish line. In fact, after you cross the finish line, keep running. Regards, Matt

    • @Matt: Thanks for chiming in. For other readers’ benefit, I’ll add that Matt is an old friend, and he has seen it all. His words are wisdom.

  7. I accepted a role (in writing) that required a background check.

    The company they hired to do the checks was backlogged. By six weeks.

    I started my search again, but had to start from the beginning. Additionally, I was in an awkward spot, telling my network I was searching again after saying I had a new job (I chose not to tell them).

    The good news is the offer was legit, I ended up taking the role and was with the company for five years.

    After that, when I am asked “When can you start?” I tell them I will put in my two-week notice after I am cleared to sit for the role. Drug tests complete. Background check complete. Reference checks complete. Everything.

    • @Gregory: Thanks for that!

      “…when I am asked “When can you start?” I tell them I will put in my two-week notice after I am cleared to sit for the role. Drug tests complete. Background check complete. Reference checks complete. Everything.”

      Dear Readers: Please read that 3 times, print it, tape it where you can see it every day. NEVER assume you “have a new job” until “Everything” in the process is complete.

  8. We teach that you can stop your job search as you leave HR’s office, having signed a job offer letter, or a job contract, a copy of which you keep, and your I-9 and W-4. Not before then. Remember, your goal is to have two or more job offers, so that you have actual negotiating leverage. You can’t fake that. What if they call your bluff? So keep taking interviews and talking until they actually start to pay you!

  9. Excellent article. I think your admonition particularly applies to positions involving any aspect of public safety or public health. To my knowledge, job offers in these sectors usually involve a thorough background investigation that can continue beyond a candidate’s date of hire- perhaps into a “probationary period” (that can be up to a year in many cases). Imagine a physician who receives a job offer from a large hospital, accepts it and resigns from his or her current position. The new employer may have been a bit hasty in extending a job offer to a seemingly stellar candidate. After the the physician starts work, the new employer (the hospital) learns that the good doctor was once suspended for substance abuse and writing his own prescriptions for opioids. Upon receiving this information, the hospital’s personnel attorney is likely to counsel the hospital to release the doctor without delay, lest they be accused of “negligent hiring.” Don’t forget, potential employees in these sectors (and probably others) are usually required to sign releases to obtain otherwise confidential information. Job candidates should be prepared to answer for anything negative that could turn up in their background investigations- even after they start the new position.


  11. I did that once. I withdrew my candidacy for a job once I received an offer from another place that I thought was a perfect fit. That worked out okay for me, but I definitely see how it could have been otherwise.

  12. Great advice as always. To share my experience, in 2006, I was looking for a job having resigned from a fortune 500 company as the new COO was trying to undermine my reputation. I gave a series of interviews at a Big 5. HR was maintaining a lot of secrecy about what next.

    Meanwhile my ex manager reached out and I was hired at a competitive pay and role in one day of successive interviews. I did feel they were not asking me questions but rationalized it as their knowing my track record at the company I had resigned from.

    On joining the company next day, I found they had lied. The business was under notice of termination, there were huge operational and people issues. I took charge, met the customer, negotiated for time and worked with them on business recovery. It took 100+ hr weeks for 5 months. Meanwhile, the big 5 offer came after a month of me but I was overcommitted to think about it, ask for extension etc. My company hiked my salary after 1 Qtr, issued me significant ESOPS and a company car. What could possibly go wrong?

    Well, once the notice of termination was cancelled and a new multi year contract drawn up between the customer and my company, I was informed I am moving up to lead a new business function. Then they hired a replacement at significantly lower pay and told me they had rethought about the new function. I was out of a job for next 2 years. My professional and personal life both took a setback I have yet to recover from.

    My learning, if your HR and managers lie to you, they can do so again. Do not project your past experience to present and future. It’s not linear. If your employer is professional and trustworthy, value and return the favor, but if they are not, do be careful. It takes all kinds to make the world. Hope this helps.

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  14. It appears that everyone is saying, in their own way, ALWAYS BE LOOKING FOR YOUR NEXT JOB, even if that might be internal, and NEVER TRUST ANY EMPLOYER. The last to know is the person being fired.