Job interviews are illegal. What now?

Ask The Headhunter is usually about Q&A, but we’re going to do something different this week. We’re going to eliminate job interviews.

job interviewsI could write this column forever and not run out of material because you give me tons of great questions about job hunting and hiring, and each week I give you advice. But I have no delusion that it’s the best advice because the best advice surfaces in the discussions we have every week about whatever topic we’re covering.

You test everything I tell you, and that’s why I love doing Ask The Headhunter. But I’m going to suggest that you boldly start testing employers and the entire employment system that governs job hunting and hiring.

Question the employment system

What we do here every week is no-holds-barred evaluation and critique of whatever column we’re discussing. I like to think that’s what you come here for — for the candid, honest, respectful dialogue. I don’t think any other online public forum dares to do this.

So it occurred to me, why can’t you test the assumptions and methods employers use to match people to jobs?

  • Why can’t you question the entire recruiting, interviewing and hiring process they subject you to?
  • Why do employers dictate how this is done?
  • Why are there no serious debates about the underpinnings of the employment system that employers and job seekers alike complain doesn’t deliver enough good matches — sometimes no matches at all?

That’s the Question of this edition: What should be done to dramatically change the employment system?

I want to hear about, and discuss, your ideas — because the employment system needs a major overhaul.

What if the employment system were illegal?

To motivate your thinking, I’ll propose a scenario: Resumes, job postings and job interviews are now illegal. They’re off limits.

The iconic emblems of our employment system have been vaporized by fiat. (Just like HR departments vaporize your job applications.) Employers and job seekers cannot use the machine any more — the machine that builds and sells shopping lists of your credentials and skills, that catalogs the “requirements” of jobs (as if jobs remain static once they are filled!), and that regulates the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions that managers rely on to predict whether you can do a job.

In a world where vacant jobs supposedly outnumber unemployed people, where job seekers ghost the employers that used to ghost them (Rude Employers: Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m), and where none of 10,000 applicants have the necessary education, skills and experience to do an advertised job — we must figure out all over again, How should employers find and hire people?

Has Nick cracked up?

If this sounds like a fool’s errand, a waste of time, or a silly exercise that will change nothing, consider this example.

Several years ago I delivered the keynote at a conference of the National Resume Writers Association. (Yep — they hired a guy who says not to use resumes to give a speech to people who make their money writing resumes.)  In the middle of my talk, I gave over 200 professional resume writers this exercise:

“Break yourselves up into groups of five. You have ten minutes to figure this out. What if resumes were illegal starting today? What would you sell to your clients instead?”

A few in the audience were visibly upset that they were paying to hear a guy tell them resumes were bad. They thought their association president must have cracked up — or that I was cracked for suggesting they stop selling resumes!

The rest of the audience lit up and went to work. They came up with some great ideas.

My favorite: One team suggested a new business model for themselves. They’d organize coffee hours or cocktail parties for groups of their job-seeking clients with hiring managers “to get them out of their business environment and bring them together in a social environment to loosen up a little and talk about their work.”

This group figured people might pay for a service like that. Done right, I think people would.

If a hall full of resume writers can smash their business model, surely we can upend the employment system and come up with good ideas to replace it.

Would you like to audition?

I’ll give you another example of startling ingenuity applied to fixing the employment system. In a comment he posted to a recent column (Weird Tales of Job Offers: The new hire who disappeared), reader Tim Cunningham suggested nobody should take a job without a no-fault audition.

“An employer and employee should have a short opportunity to judge the fit of the new situation for both parties with minimal risk. Just make a one-week mutual audition a part of the job offer.”

That is, an employer shouldn’t hire anyone, and no one should quit (or give notice at) their old job to take a new one, until both have had a try-out. Imagine how profoundly that would change things.

Job interviews are illegal

This is your chance to burn down the house and design a new one. And don’t feel guilty about it. None other than Laszlo Bock, the head of Human Resources at Google, told the New York Times that his company ran a big data analysis:

“We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship. It’s a complete random mess…”

Job interviews really should be illegal because Bock says they’re worthless as predictors of job success. Google announced this in 2013, and HR is still paying LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter and Indeed to schedule — what do we call them? — job interviews?

So please have at it, folks. Job interviews (and resumes and job postings) are illegal. So, what now?

  • What’s the smartest thing to do to get paid for doing work?
  • What should a manager do to get work done?
  • Do people and work have to be “found?”
  • How should we decide whether it’s a good idea to work together — and that it’s going to pay off?
  • What’s the best way to assess a person’s fit to a job? Does that even really matter?
  • If, as Tim Cunningham suggests, we should do auditions, how would that work?
  • If, as the resume writers suggested, there’s a better way for employers and the talent to dispense with the formalities and get to know one another — what is it?

What should be done to dramatically change the employment system? All comers are welcome: Big ideas, little ideas, seemingly crazy ideas, and especially ideas that work better than the system that doesn’t.

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How should I ask for an overdue raise?

In the July 24, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a high-performing reader is looking for a raise.

Question

raiseNext month I’ll have my three-year performance evaluation, and I feel that I am worth more than my current salary. How do I convey the message that my job is worth more and ask for more money?

As my company has grown, so have my responsibilities. I’ve really stepped up to the plate. I’ve earned recognition, but it’s not reflected in my pay. Through discussion with peers in the industry, I have learned that the average salary is much higher. Could you please advise me how to approach my boss during the evaluation, so I can convince him my request is justified? What should I say and not say? Thank you kindly in advance.

Nick’s Reply

There are entire books written about this topic, and compensation experts will offer negotiating strategies galore. But I’m going to refrain from a long lecture, because I think you can figure this out yourself if you keep some basic ideas in mind.

No more boring performance reviews

What you should not do is walk into a review meeting, show some salary surveys, and expect your employer to cough up more money “because that’s what other people who do my job are being paid.” You must justify what you’re asking for.

Perhaps more important, performance evaluations and reviews are the bastard children of Human Resources. They are increasingly ignored in most companies. This is actually good news for you. If you’re going to have an evaluation at all, it will likely be very canned and scripted — and the manager doing it will be bored and in a rush to get it over with.

That’s your chance to take control and turn it into a useful, meaningful and engaging planning session. No more boring reviews! Stand out by showing your boss that you are 100% focused on doing your job — to make him and the company more successful.

Earn a raise with a business plan

A salary renegotiation is pretty simple conceptually: It’s best done with a business plan. In other words, do an analysis of your role as though your job constitutes an independent business. Don’t talk about your qualities or about what others are being paid. Talk about your company’s business and what you add to the bottom line — and what you will add in the future.

  • How do you contribute to revenue?
  • What does it cost to have you do what you do? (This includes not only your compensation and benefits, but the cost of your tools, the cost of your team and support personnel who help you, and so on.)
  • What’s your history in terms of the profitability you bring to the company? (That’s right: Your contribution to revenue matters, but how you impact profits matters more. Even if you can’t calculate a specific number, you need to outline a defensible case that goes into the profit factors you influence.)
  • What are your profit projections for the next two to three years? That is, make some projections of how you will contribute to profit. You’ll need solid evidence to back these estimates up.

Every job is a business

A job is a business. Managers forget that — so explain it to yours. That’s the key to thinking about this in terms your management will understand and respect. As in any business plan, your goal is to demonstrate how an added investment will pay off. You must show a rising return on the company’s investment in you.

To learn more about how to approach any employer with a business plan, check these two books in the Fearless Job Hunting collection:

Book 6: The Interview – Be The Profitable Hire and Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer).

See especially the sections “How can I demonstrate my value?” and “The Pool Man Strategy: How to ask for more money.”

The longer you’re working for the company, the more profit you should yield. A lot of this is number crunching, of course, and there’s seat-of-the-pants estimating involved.

Please read that last part again: There’s seat-of-the-pants estimating involved.

Negotiation is a dialogue

This will scare a lot of people off for fear their employer will challenge the estimates. That’s exactly what you want! A dialogue. A debate. A roll-up-your-sleeves talk about your job! That’s what your evaluation should be.

If your boss is worth working for, then your boss will see that you are worth a good raise because you’re thinking about the company’s bottom line and that you are prepared to discuss the future of your work intelligently.

It will help enormously for you to interview people in the company who factor into this plan — before you meet with your boss. In the process, you will not only build your case, you will also influence (and remind) other key players in the company about your worth. Then ask them to join the dialogue by putting in a good word for you with your boss!

How do you ask for a raise? Have you had a performance evaluation in the past year?

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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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B.S. on the jobs numbers euphoria

In the July 10, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks whether the news about jobs creation isn’t a load of crap.

Question

jobsEvery month the Department of Labor issues the “jobs numbers” and the “unemployment numbers” and everyone goes gaga about how great things are. There are loads of jobs to apply for! There’s a shortage of talent, so that’s good tidings for us job seekers! You’d think simple market economics would mean higher salaries and job offers.

But it’s not true. I don’t see higher pay or even higher job offers, not at any meaningful level. Employers aren’t hiring any faster or acting more competitive. Taking two months to decide to make a job offer isn’t the sign of a tight labor market. And demanding my salary history so they can low-ball me on a job offer doesn’t look like companies are struggling to fill jobs.

What’s your take? Am I missing something or is the jobs euphoria in the news just B.S. cranked out by stoned experts?

Nick’s Reply

The jobs euphoria is B.S.

Since last year I’ve been collecting samples of the reports you’re talking about, and there’s a dirty little secret that the pundits and politicians keep trying to bury in the news — but like a nasty case of the hiccups, it’s impossible to hide.

Politicians, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the media have been reporting on exciting gains in job creation. The U.S. created 213,000 new jobs in June (MarketWatch, July 6, 2018) and monthly jobs growth has been positive for the past several years. That seems to be a good sign, but for what and to whom?

According to the DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) JOLTS report (Job Openings and Labor Turnover) issued June 5, there were 6.7 million jobs open in the U.S. at the end of April. On July 6 the BLS reported that 6.6 million people were unemployed. That means there are more jobs that need to be filled than there are unemployed people.

It’s a 5-alarm fire!

With every new report, economists say they’re flummoxed. With labor in such short supply, the surfeit of demand to fill vacant jobs suggests employers would bid up salaries and wages to get the workers they need — especially if they expect to lure people with jobs away from other employers.

By no stretch of the data is that happening. In a bluntly cynical July 5 Forbes article, Byron Auguste reports that “Three decades of stagnating wages—rising just 0.2% annually since the early 1970s, adjusted for inflation—means an economic five-alarm fire.”

While economists, analysts and politicians struggle to explain wage stagnation by blaming a “skills shortage” (improperly skilled workers are not worth higher wages) and a failure of workers to “re-educate” themselves, Auguste refers to the “skills gap narratives” as “the usual suspects” in the never-ending rationalizations about why companies aren’t paying salaries commensurate with market demand.

“The U.S. has arrived at an inflection point in our economy, technology and demography that demands a reality check on the sorry state of our labor market, and the – i.e., our – institutional practices that produce it,” writes Auguste.

Remember that phrase: institutional practices. We’ll come back to it. But first, I want to throw some spaghetti against the wall, and I hope you can help me read something useful in the patterns it makes.

Where’s the money?

Virtually every new report about “more jobs” includes an embarrassing parenthetical gotcha. It goes like this:

Along with a lot of good news, the all-important wage numbers again disappointed, with average hourly earnings up just 2.7 percent year over year, one-tenth of a percentage point below expectations.
— CNBC, July 6, 2018: The five most important numbers from the June jobs report.

This hand-wringing about the wage numbers in the face of unprecedented jobs growth isn’t new. On December 8, 2017 USA Today reported:

The labor market remained healthy in November, adding jobs at a strong clip despite a shrinking pool of available workers. Still, there were some potentially troubling trends for employees, most notably persistently sluggish wage gains.

“Some potentially troubling trends?” Oops! For months, little side notes like this have appeared in report after report (I think this is what the news media mean by “full disclosure”), then these afterthoughts get buried under the euphoria of politically stoned economists and pundits, and beneath the proclamations of “good times are here!”

“The June ’18 employment report showed a drop-off from May in both the rate of hiring as well as the wage increase year over year,” said Paychex president and CEO Martin Mucci. “We saw for the first time that the annual wage increase dropped below 2.5 percent, which is pretty surprising given the tight labor market. That seems to be the big question out there. Small businesses have a little bit of a harder time hiring workers in a tight labor market so you’d expect that to be going up.”
–Accounting Today, July 3, 2018: Paychex sees wage and job growth slowdown at small businesses in June

Lousy wage increases are “pretty surprising,” eh? “So you’d expect [wages] to be going up,” eh? No kidding.

Typically, wages pick up at this point of an economic cycle because a low jobless rate forces companies to boost wages to find workers… Wage growth in Ohio and the U.S., tepid for the most part since the end of the Great Recession, is starting to show signs of getting weaker… It’s a trend that has baffled economists and others. “Everybody is really perplexed about why that is,” [said Frank Fiorille] vice president of compliance, risk and data analytics for Paychex].
–The Columbus Dispatch, July 3, 2018: Bad sign for workers — wage growth getting weaker for many

Everybody is really perplexed!

ZipRecruiter says everything is cool!

Here’s my favorite. CNBC calls it exactly what it is in the title of this July 6, 2018 article: The jobs “conundrum” continues: “How are we not getting higher wages?” But then CNBC lets an economist from ZipRecruiter (economist or marketer?) spin it to keep perplexed job seekers searching for temp jobs that pay less than, well, an economist-cum-marketing-manager makes at ZipRecruiter:

“While the wage growth rate didn’t increase this month, having it hold steady is a good sign,” said Cathy Barrera, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace.

Lousy wage growth is a good sign! ZipRecruiter couldn’t care less what wages are, as long as jobs remain unfilled and employers keep posting them, and job seekers keep clicking them. That’s how Zip and other job boards make money. It’s all good, folks!

Does it matter that there are more new jobs every month? Probably. Unless you’re a middle manager who just lost her job making $95,000 with good benefits, and now you’re looking down the barrel of a fly-by-night recruiter’s job posting for a contracting job that pays $23 an hour — and the guy ghosted you after you filled out 9 pages of online forms and sat for a nerve-racking video interview with an algorithm.

It’s a good sign there are loads of jobs out there for you to apply for on ZipRecruiter, dontcha think?

CEO jobs pay well!

Let’s put all this euphoria into some context. People are starting to ask questions about all that job growth.

If companies need more skills, can’t they just pay people more?
–Forbes, July 5, 2018: Skills And Tomorrow’s Jobs Report: The Usual Suspects

Must be the skills shortage — it seems not enough blue-collar workers are getting the re-education they need to apply for a job that pays better in today’s new world. Like CEO.

CEOs of America’s 350 largest firms made an average of $15.6 million in 2016…or 271 times more than a typical worker in 2016…While the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio of 271-to-1 is down from 299-to-1 in 2014 and 286-to-1 in 2015, it is still far higher than the 20-to-1 ratio in 1965 or the 59-to-1 ratio in 1989.
–Economic Policy Institute, July 20, 2017: Top CEOs took home 271 times more than the typical worker in 2016

Oops. Where, indeed, is the money going in this booming economy?

Are consulting jobs sucking wages out of the economy?

Okay, I’ll stop. I’ve got loads more, but you get the point.

The euphoria is generated to keep you down on the farm. While economists and analysts blame pathetic wage increases on workers who are too lazy or too stupid or too complacent to re-educate themselves for today’s modern jobs, I’ve got another explanation. I think this is part of what Byron Auguste is referring to when he cites “the sorry state of our labor market” and points to the “institutional practices that produce it.”

Temporary, part-time, contracting jobs that companies are substituting for full-time, permanent jobs are sucking the wages out of our economy.

We’ve discussed it here before: Consulting: Welcome to the cluster-f*ck economy. Contracting gigs are one of the institutional problems that shift profits to CEOs, investors and employers and keep wages low. Why’s that so hard for economists to understand?

BenefitsPro spills the beans to the folks who manage corporate benefits programs in a July 6, 2018 article: Stagnant wage growth driving worker dissatisfaction:

Another culprit is an increase in temporary or part-time work, an issue that’s come to a head in Italy, with businesses clashing with the new government over plans to restrict temporary contracts.

Is supply-and-demand dead?

BenefitsPro includes a tasty graph whose blue lines put the U.S. on the same side of the world economic story as Italy. (Source: Organization fro Economic Cooperation and Development.)

oecd

Economists might have an Aha! moment if they study that graph side by side with this graph from the BLS, which is cited in a July 10, 2018 JOLTS news release:

bls

How could “real average annual wages” be lower in 2017 than over the past 10 years when there are more jobs vacant than there are unemployed people? Is the relationship between supply and demand really dead?

Where does the money go?

Let’s go back to one of the precious quotes above, from The Columbus Dispatch:

“Typically, wages pick up at this point of an economic cycle because a low jobless rate forces companies to boost wages to find workers…”

Well… you’d think so, when corporate profits are up and employers are paying their CEOs 271 times more than the typical worker. You’d think so, when Congress passes tax breaks that are supposed to trickle down to everyone that works. So WTF is going on?

Let’s go back to the BLS. I love this little graph, based on BLS statistics and published by Bloomberg last April. It shows the employment cost index — what companies spend on compensation:

The accompanying text bemoans that “employment costs rose more than expected in the first quarter and a measure of private wages had the biggest annual gain since 2008.” What Bloomberg doesn’t note is that way over on the left side of that graph U.S. companies were sharing a whole lot more with their workers. What companies spend on compensation today is still way down from a 2003 high, and current compensation costs still have not “recovered” to even 2007 levels. (Yah, I can see — there was a recession around 2007-2008 but, hey, do I look like an economist?)

(The share of profits that companies spend on workers varies by industry. See my column on PBS NewsHour: Which industries are being too greedy to pay you fairly?)

When the economy is booming, profits are up, and companies are so awash in cash that they demand the freedom to invest it in elections — why is anyone at a loss to explain why we’re not seeing higher wages?

The White House promised ’70 percent’ of the tax cut would go to workers. It didn’t… the Republican tax reform package that was supposed to raise wages and spur hiring has instead funded a record stock buyback and dividend spree, benefiting investors and company executives over workers.
–NBC News, June 26, 2018: What did corporate America do with that tax break? Buy record amounts of its own stock

If you can’t re-tool your skill set to be a CEO, you could try one of those online investment courses, so you could make a living at your PC — as an investor!

What was your question?

When I can’t figure something out, sometimes I give myself room to rant. I cut out articles, data, graphs — and I spread them out on the floor, hoping I can puzzle them up into an answer that makes sense to me. Forgive me if I’ve ranted too long.

But if I threw one or two bits of information up on your screen that give you pause to think about this strange economy and job market in a new way, maybe it’s worth it.

Let’s go back to the question in this Q&A:

“You’d think simple market economics would mean higher salaries and job offers… Am I missing something or is the jobs euphoria in the news just B.S. cranked out by stoned experts?”

Wages and salaries are basically stagnant, and more people are admitting it. Employers are spending less on wages and salaries because they’re renting temporary workers from “consulting firms.” But the bucks are there.  They’re just going to somewhere (and to someone) other than the labor pool.

So I think the euphoria about “jobs creation” is indeed B.S. because more new jobs during a labor shortage without higher wages is not good news — it tells us something is very wrong. It’s B.S. because what’s being created is a phantom industry of middle-men that suck value out of our economy. (See The Job Monopoly: How companies keep pay low.)

Where will it end?

How long can the economy — which is people, after all (and there are more workers than CEOs) — withstand this scenario?

I dunno. There’s an old saw about profits: Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.

Billionaire Nick Hanauer, a staunch advocate for higher minimum wages, says it best: “The pitchforks are coming.”

Do the “jobs creation” numbers and stagnant wage growth make sense to you? Are workers really so incorrectly skilled that it explains why they’re not getting the jobs employers say they’re dying to fill? I blame some of it on our “consulting economy.” If you study the spaghetti on the wall, what do you see? Is the jobs euphoria justified?

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Job offer rescinded after I quit my old job

In the July 3, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader’s new job offer is rescinded after he quits his old job. Does he have legal recourse?

Question

rescindedI was given an official job offer. The letter stated that if I met the conditions of the job offer (and it listed the conditions) that the offer would be finalized.

I completed the conditions and the local hiring manager scheduled my start date. I put in two weeks’ notice at my old job. Two days before my start date, they revoked my offer, stating that I was not “rehireable.” (I worked for a company owned by this company almost 10 years ago, but I disclosed that on my application.) 

They said that the company is an “at will” employer so they didn’t have to honor anything stated in the job-offer letter. Do I have any legal recourse? I have no job at all now. Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

I’m very sorry to hear this. Such stories about rescinded (or revoked) job offers are too common nowadays. I recounted a particularly nasty one in my PBS NewsHour column, Are disappearing job offers a new trend?, and we’ve discussed this problem before. But it’s such a tragic trend that we need to keep talking about it.

You should seek counsel from a good lawyer that specializes in employment law. However, I’ll give you my thoughts with the proviso that this is of course not legal advice.

If you work in an “at-will” state, the employer may be able to fire you for any reason or no reason at any time. What that implies — though you should check with a lawyer about your specific case — is that they could complete the hire and fire you the same day. So you see the problem.

Now let’s go back to what you stated: You were given a official conditional job offer. While I give you credit for making sure you had the offer in writing, the word “conditional” is key. That left the door open for them to not make the hire after all. Here’s where it may get complicated legally, and why you may need a lawyer.

Did you meet the conditions?

You believe you met all the conditions to lift the contingency, but apparently they don’t agree — or they don’t care. What you should have done before quitting your old job was to get a written confirmation from the new employer that you had in fact met the conditions. This could be very helpful if you litigate the matter.

I can’t emphasize this enough: Never quit your job unless you are absolutely sure the new job is locked up. Please see Protect yourself from exploding job offers.

Of course, in an at-will state this may be a moot point. But it’s up to you to take all reasonable precautions to protect yourself.

Did the hiring manager’s actions suggest you met the conditions?

The hiring manager scheduled your start date, which seems to imply he agrees you met the necessary conditions. A good lawyer might be able to do something with that.

Did the employer know you were going to quit another job?

Additionally, there’s the matter of whether you will now suffer because the promise of a job was broken — and whether that hiring manager knew you would be hurt by his action because his offer prompted you to quit another job. Retired employment attorney Lawrence Barty explains it like this:

“A person who reasonably acts in reliance upon a promise and then suffers detrimentally because the promise is broken has a cause of action called Promissory Estoppel. The Promiser is ‘estopped’ from rescinding the promise if the Promiser knew or had reason to know that the Promisee would rely upon the promise to the Promisee’s detriment.”

That is, if you informed the new employer that you were going to quit your old job and lose your income because you were relying on their job offer, then an attorney may be able to make a case for you. Barty goes on to say:

“The Promisee in such a case, once the proof has been accepted, is entitled to be made whole. For example, if A quits his job and then is left without work for a period until he finds comparable employment, A is entitled to Reliance Damages in an amount equal to the lost wages and benefits.”

Rescinded offers are reprehensible

Too often, job seekers are so thrilled at a new job offer that they make assumptions and move too quickly. That’s understandable. But when the potential consequences of making a mistake are huge — and losing your income is a huge risk — then it’s time to slow down and be extra careful about actions you take, like quitting your old job. (This is such an important topic that I wrote a whole book about it. Here’s an article that discusses some of the main ideas: Parting Company: How to leave your job.)

The critical tip-off in your story is in your first sentence: The offer was conditional. But please don’t misunderstand my position on this. While you bear some responsibility, employers who rescind offers so cavalierly are irresponsible. The tip-off about this employer was in what they said to you: “They said… they didn’t have to honor anything stated in the job-offer letter.” While the company’s lawyers might be able to argue it did nothing illegal, its behavior is unacceptable and reprehensible.

While the doctrine caveat emptor certainly holds here, a good employer nonetheless owes a job applicant a big, loud caution about not quitting their old job until a new job is certain. Did you owe yourself a more cautious attitude until it was all finalized? Based on what you’ve shared, I think you acted prudently. My advice to others: Don’t rush into a big decision (like quitting your job) without carefully assessing the risks.

Get legal advice

As you can see, it’s complicated and that’s why a qualified attorney is your best bet. I’m sure you’d rather not spend money on a lawyer, but I think the price of an initial consultation is well worth it since we’re talking about the loss of your salary. I’d talk to a lawyer immediately. Even if this does not turn into a court case, a stern nastygram from a potent lawyer could result in a cash settlement from the employer.

A word to HR managers

Rescinding a job offer is a really lousy thing to do, and explaining it away by citing your freedom to fire “at will” is cheesy. If your integrity and your company’s reputation matter to you, please read the section “Stop rescinding offers” in the article HR Managers: Do your job, or get out. If you work in HR, we’d love to hear your side of this problem.

Have you ever had a job offer rescinded? Did you quit your old job for a new job, only to wind up on the street? What did you do about it? How would you advise this reader?

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