A reader writes:
What do you think about the hiring practice of attempting to pin down a candidate to a start date before providing the formal job offer? I recently had a prospective employer contact me saying, “Please let me know what date you’re able to start so that I can include that information in the offer letter.”
On the one hand, I understand that offer letters traditionally include the start date. On the other hand, the start date is often something a candidate might wish to negotiate, so withholding the formal offer until a start date is agreed upon seems like a power play on the part of the company.
I know someone whose prospective employer who was even more heavy-handed about it. She applied to a position and was interviewed, and was told that her desired start date would be fine. Later, she received an email saying “This is not a formal offer, but if hired, when could you start? We need someone to start as soon as possible.” She suspected that they had sent the same email to several other candidates, and would offer the job to the candidate who could start soonest. She didn’t feel that she could ask them to give her the formal offer letter before she responded, without risking losing the offer. So she ended up committing to start sooner than she had originally planned to, and then they were slow to give her the formal offer — so by the time she had the offer in hand, she had to give her current employers very short notice.
I understand that the job market is bad, but isn’t this kind of unfair? I’m really curious to know what you think about this — and how to handle it if you’re a candidate in this position!
It’s fine to give a general answer. After all, when someone can start often depends on when the offer is actually received and accepted, so rather than giving an exact date, you can say something like, “It depends on when exactly you’d be making an offer, but in general three weeks after we’ve settled that.”
And if you want to negotiate your start date, you can wait until you have a formal offer to negotiate around. Plenty of what’s in an offer letter is up for negotiation — you might not succeed, but it’s not a faux paus to try.
The exception to this is if you want to ask for a ton of time between the offer and your start date — if that’s the case, you’ll look disingenuous if you didn’t bring that up when they asked about your timeframe earlier.