Exploding Job Offer #3: Get it in writing

Exploding Job Offer #3: Get it in writing

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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Is this the worst job ad ever?

In the August 18, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader almost blows it.

Question

A friend of mine is seeking a job as an Event Planner. He did this for IBM for several years. He came upon this job description for an Event Manager — if it is indeed a real job! Check out the “Required Experience” at the end. I’m sure that anyone with that much experience would just jump right into this “purple squirrel” job. What do you think of the “fun” wording that says — between the lines — that one person will be doing the work of three?

Nick’s Reply

Wow. File that under Stuff We Couldn’t Make Up If We Tried. I’m still laffing my A off. I’d love to meet the “passionate” HR wonk that wrote this job description. Of course, it might have been the hiring manager.

[Note: The link above is to a copy of the job posting. The direct URL, which is active at time of this publication, is http://www.indeed.com/cmp/Belgian–American-Chamber-of-Commerce/jobs/Event-Manager-516d0a935ce3bbed.]

over-workedI hate to hold up even the most naïve employer to ridicule… but this is publicly posted on Indeed. Why is this worth talking about? Because employers claim there’s a talent shortage — while they demand decades worth of expertise in a tone that suggests you must sell yourself out to get the job. Since this job has been on Indeed for over a month, I imagine the employer feels it’s hard to find the purple squirrel it’s looking for. (See Roasting the job description.)

But as you point out, the dead giveaway is the closing line on the job posting. How much experience is required to do this “President of Planning” job? One year.

I’m guessing the only thing that’s “one year” about this job is the salary level. (If it’s higher, why not mention the salary range?) But I don’t know the employer and have not contacted it. Like any job seeker, all I know is what’s in that job ad — and that’s the basis on which I judge it.

The trouble with job ads like this — and we’ve all seen enough of them — is that they reveal an employer’s misguided attempt to fill a complex job on a junior salary. (See How to avoid a “bait and switch” job offer.)

They reveal an employer that thinks new hires must “say NEIN to leaving at 5,” and that suggests it’s cool to be the kind of manager who can “persuade volunteers to miss their own wedding.”

The right candidate will have “triple check OCD” and can “single-handedly beat the Red Sox.”

And how about the new standard of motivation the right candidate must demonstrate? “The way you spread your entrepreneurial spirit puts Ebola to shame.”

Is all this cute? It’s so cute that it’s transparent. Beneath the veneer of this job ad is a cynical message that this job may be on a slave ship. Or, what’s the salary for a President of Planning who’s got one year of experience? Some of our over-50 readers might suggest this employer is softening up a very senior, very skilled Events Manager for low pay and lots of abuse. Just how desperate are you for a job?

But that’s not why this is the worst job ad ever. It’s the worst job ad ever because it shrouds cynicism in cool. It markets hard work as something you should be willing to sell yourself out for. And that is why job seekers — from the youngest and most inexperienced to the oldest and most frustrated — are fed up with the behavior of employers that want something for nothing while complaining the right talent isn’t out there.

If employers like this one chafe at criticism, I’d like to see them address the job seekers they really need with candor and respect.

Perhaps this job pays $150,000. What’s your take? Have you seen better examples of the worst job ads? Please share examples and your comments!

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Bait & Switch Job Offers

In the January 20, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker interviews for a senior job only to receive a silly offer for a lower level job.

Question

I have not been on the job market since 2007, and after a layoff early October 2014 I am fighting my way through this job market. I have the background, experience, and personality a high tech company was looking for when they advertised a senior technical position at $96,000. After all the interviews, we seemed to be doing great, until my final face to face interview, where I was informed there are now two positions — one senior and one junior. During my initial screening with the company recruiter I was clear on my salary requirements.

When I recmousetrapeived the company’s offer letter, it was for $75,000, way below what we had discussed. I was insulted, shocked, and angry. When I called the recruiter, she stated there were a lot of strong candidates, that there were actually five positions, and that I fit better into a junior role at the salary offered. I replied that I applied for only the senior position at $96,000 and that there was no discussion of four other positions. I asked about the differences between the positions, and it’s clear from what the hiring manager says that there are none but the salary!

I want to send a response letter stating that I was a candidate for only the senior job, re-emphasizing my experience and expertise, and referencing the original senior salary range. What would you recommend?

Nick’s Reply

If you stand a few feet back from this and look at it for what it is, I think you’ll see the proper answer. I’m going to show you how to improve this job offer dramatically, but you must be ready to play this game for keeps.

First let’s do a reality check. This employer is playing you. You laid down the terms for the interview when you (a) applied for a senior technical position, and (b) when you stated your salary requirements and they agreed to proceed with those two understandings.

Now look at the facts:

  1. They offered you different job
  2. At a much lower salary.

We could just call this a stupid HR trick, but there’s another name for it: Bait and switch. A car dealer baits you with a test drive in a car you want to buy after you saw the price. You show up with a check, and they offer you a different car at a different price. You’d kick them down the street for switching the deal and wasting your time.

You did what you were supposed to do, so you’re thrown for a bit of a loop. You interviewed for a certain job at a certain salary level. They knew your expectations, and they agreed to proceed with the interviews. Then they changed all the terms and made a ridiculous offer. Had they made no offer, I’d just say the match didn’t work out. But this employer is clearly manipulating applicants. (I find this is most common with staffing firms that hire people and assign them to work for their clients. See Bait & Switch: Games staffing firms play.)

You’re trying to behave rationally, and you’re looking for a reasonable explanation and next step. The recruiter and manager should be trying to impress you — see Baiting the talent — but they are doing the opposite. They are breaking basic business rules and pretending the problem is yours.

But two can play at this, and you can play without doing anything unprofessional. First, you must decide that you are willing to walk away from the junior position at the junior salary. (If you’re desperate for a paycheck, then you know what you must do.)

What I’d do is sign the offer letter and send it back to them. But I’d cross out the salary and enter the salary you told them you wanted. Initial it. Cross out the junior title and write in the senior title you interviewed for. Initial it. Accept the position at the salary level you all discussed. Add a note that says:

“This is the job I applied for and that you interviewed me for, at the salary range we discussed. If you are prepared to sign off on the original terms as we discussed them, I am ready to start work in two weeks.”

Then let them figure it out.

My prediction is that you’ll never hear from them again. However, there’s a chance that, having a solid acceptance in hand, along with a start date, from a candidate they have judged worthy of hiring, they might negotiate a reasonable salary for the job you want. You’ve written your own ticket, and it’s up to them to join you for the ride. If they decline, you’ve lost nothing (having already decided you wouldn’t accept less) and you’ve preserved your integrity and self-respect.


For more about dealing with the final stages of the interview process, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.


If they decline, write them off and move on. These are jerks of the first order and I’d never talk to them again. This is an unscrupulous recruiter who advertises a high-level, desirable job at a high salary to entice seasoned, experienced technical people like you to invest plenty of time in interviews — just so they can short-sell you on a lower-paying job that they’d prefer to fill with much more highly qualified candidates at a huge discount.

fishhookThey are con-men. You told me off-line who this company is: one of the biggest, most respected computer companies in the world — but it doesn’t matter. They’re still con-men.

Many, many people in today’s job market would fall for this and rationalize that it’s the best they can do. Maybe so — but when you add in a confidence game, we’re left with a bunch of self-deprecating job seekers who let themselves be suckered. Con-men love that.

I’d be interested to know what you do and what happens. The problem, of course, is that there are desperate job hunters who will accept any job under any terms and at any pay. This employer counts on that. It’s what’s wrong with our economy today: Crooks and suckers. They create a market that can’t last. It can only go south. For more about this, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?

(I mean no disrespect to job seekers who need to put food on the table and who will take any job to do so. I’d do it myself. But the economic reality is that being put in this position creates a vicious downward cycle that encourages more of the same from ruthless employers.)

There is nothing wrong with you or your expectations. If you can afford to walk away from this, I would not look back. Jerks make lousy employers. You need only one employer with integrity.

Did you ever feel pressured to accept a lousy offer for a job you never applied for? What’s the most bizarre job offer situation you’ve been in — and what did you do? Was I too tough on this reader? What would you advise?

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