negotiating a start date with a company that’s moving slowly while pressuring me to start soon

A reader writes:

I applied for a job in early July. I was contacted for an interview in mid-September. Completed all interviews by mid-October. I got a call on November 1st asking to meet with me again and for me to send in references. We met and the conversation went well. They explained I was the top candidate and that they would be checking references.

They asked at that point about my timeline for starting. I said that it would need to be a minimum of four weeks from the day I put my notice in, based on my company’s current policy to receive unused paid vacation. That would put me sometime around mid-December. I did express some concern because my current company is closed with pay from December 24th to January 2nd. We are not required to use vacation. The new company is also closed that week but requires employees to use vacation or take it unpaid. I was concerned about starting a new company two weeks before they closed for the holidays and not have any earned vacation time. I explained that everything was negotiable but that my ideal start date would be the first week of January.

The employer seemed very upset and said early December was their plan. I reiterated that after I got an offer, I would be willing to negotiate an early start date but that I was concerned about starting a new job quickly, losing my unused vacation, and having to take a week unpaid. I said if it is a deal breaker, let me know, but if there is room to negotiate, I would like to.

A couple weeks went by and they final called my references. The references said things went well. My supervisor even told me that they asked her about how many weeks notice is required. My supervisor told the employer four weeks but that most employees give more if applicable to provide a smooth transition.

A few days went by and I emailed the employer. She said the references were excellent and they were just dealing with some delays on their end with the hiring process. They asked me to be patient and would get back to me ina couple days. That was a week ago. This week is Thanksgiving week, so I am concerned about not hearing until next week and I don’t want to keep checking in.

I feel like I should email and ask for another timeline update but don’t want to nag. I also am concerned about that start date issue. The later they go the harder it will be to even negotiate a December start date.

I’d wait and let this play out. They know you’re waiting on an answer, and they know your time constraints.

Plus, the longer they wait to make you an offer, the easier it will be to negotiate an early January start date. They know you need to give four weeks notice, and they’re almost at the point where four weeks will put you at early January. And actually, since they’re closed the last week of December, they’re basically at the point right now where four weeks notice will already put you at early January.

If your concern is that they’ll try to pressure you to start sooner … well, I’d be wary of that. You’ve been clear with them throughout the process what your timeline is, they even got that confirmed by your current employer (more on that in a minute), and they’ve really taken their time with this whole process. (It’s been nearly five months since you originally applied, and they’re prolonging things right when they should be moving quickly if they’re really serious about their needs for December.)

It’s not reasonable for them to hear weeks ago that you would need to give four weeks notice, keep asking for your patience, and then insist that you break your commitment to your current employer to hurry up and start, when they haven’t treated the process with urgency themselves.

Also, what you’re telling them is completely reasonable: You’ll lose money if you compress your notice period. A reasonable company that’s really interested in you wouldn’t get “very upset” at hearing that; they’d just figure they’d need to cover that money themselves. It’s not uncommon for a new employer to pay out the vacation pay that their new hire will lose for starting early, or to cover the holiday pay that someone is missing out on in order to meet the new employer’s desired start date. That’s how reasonable employers handle this kind of conflict — not by getting upset and pushing you to do something that isn’t in your financial interest (and which could impact your standing with your old employer, depending on how it’s handled).

Speaking of which, it’s a little worrisome to me that they asked your reference about how many weeks notice they’d require. You’d already talked to them about that, so … did they not believe you? Were they hoping for information that would help them pressure you to do something differently? At best, that was a really paternalistic move on their part, and there’s a pretty good chance it’s a sign of something even more troubling, like not understanding boundaries and doing unreasonable things to advance their own interests.

So I’d proceed with real caution here. Don’t take this offer without really reflecting on what you know about this company, how their operate, their culture, and the people you’d be working with. It’s possible that it’s a fine place to work, but you’re seeing flags telling you that at a minimum you should proceed carefully.

{ 80 comments… read them below }

  1. YourUnfriendlyPhlebotomist

    I’m with Allison, I think it’s a bit strange that they asked your reference about notice. Are they going to call your doctors office if you need to leave early one day for an appointment?
    If they want you to start early I’d lay out in dollars how much you’d be loosing and see if you can get them to cover it.

    1. Daisy Steiner

      Ugh, my otherwise excellent and mature workplace asks for proof of doctors’ appointments. It’s so insulting not to be trusted.

    2. Mary

      I didn’t find it too suspicious. Maybe they were asking in hopes that the manager might have some leeway and reply that the employee could leave earlier than the four weeks.

      1. AnonyMoose

        Yes, but that’s the point. She’d be losing out on her vacation if her boss said two weeks. And make her look like a liar. It smells all around.

  2. TotesMaGoats

    I was in sort of the same position when I started NewJob. I was going to give 2 weeks to OldJob plus it was the busiest time of the year with graduation where I played a major role. They understood that but they longer they delayed on their end the further my start date got pushed. They realized that was on them and when I got my offer letter, it already had the further start date.

  3. Carmen

    Stand firm on the fact that you are only available beginning in January. What are they going to do…deny you the ~2 extra weeks, rescind the offer, and then spend several more months trying to find another candidate? You have the upper hand here if you are their preferred candidate. It’s much more beneficial for them to wait a couple of weeks than to let you go. Continue to be respectful, firm, and positive in your dealings with them – don’t be wishy-washy. Don’t be off-put by one phone call with one impatient person.

    1. OP

      I wouldn’t plan to start early unless it was factored into the compensation package. I actually don’t mind starting earlier. My current work is up to date and the transition for me would be minimal. I just don’t want to lose money to start a new role.

      1. LizNYC

        As Alison said, a reasonable employer would realize that and either push back your start date or compensate you for the $$ you’d miss out on. My company was desperately searching for a new person, and when he said he needed to delay his start date by another two weeks so he could maximize his benefits at his old job, the hiring manager here was like “of course. Don’t hurt yourself financially.” It was no big deal.

    2. Haunted

      They might, it happened to me! I got a job offer a couple years ago that would have required me moving across country. They wanted me to start in 2 weeks and I asked for 5 because I was getting married in 3 and wanted time to get married and go on my honeymoon and then move, to save money and stress from the extra travel. They rescinded the offer and re-posted the job a few days later, which seemed ridiculous because it would take them at least another 5 weeks to find someone else. Ridiculous, but I felt like a dodged a bullet!

      1. Liana

        Honestly, that just seems petty and extremely short-sighted on their end. Five weeks is a bit longer than normal, but hardly egregious.

      2. Anonsie

        Dodged a bullet for sure, how extremely short-sighted. My dad would say “let them dig their own grave.”

      3. Mary

        Gee Haunted – sounds like someone had a fit because you didn’t ask ‘How high’ when they asked you to jump. Laughing at how much time they took to interview you; then had to start all over again and probably not even have someone in start in their timeframe.

        Talk about someone shooting themselves in the foot.

        1. neverjaunty

          Seriously. And you’d think a company requiring a cross-country move would understand that two weeks can be a pretty tight timeline!

  4. Sandy

    I feel your pain. I applied in early September for a position, interview date is end of January. When I asked for a timeline on the process, they said they wanted someone to start “as soon as possible”.

    1. TrainerGirl

      I interviewed for a job 2.5 years ago. I got an e-mail from the recruiter a year ago, and the recruiter told me they were “just about ready to select a candidate”. I was tempted to ask her if she thought I was still waiting on them.

  5. Quirk

    A slow hiring process can be a red flag all by itself. In my field, good people tend not to be on the market very long. A company that isn’t making an offer within about a week of the interview is going to miss out on hiring most high-quality candidates. The people you will end up working with at such a company are presumably people who didn’t have better options elsewhere.

    A slow hiring process coupled with an entitled insistence that you should start on the date they want you to and no later suggests that this place is going to be trouble.

    1. OP

      In my field long processes aren’t uncommon – although, this is a bit much. That being said, I am in another search process and was hoping to get another offer to help speed things along.

      1. GrittyKitty

        Amen. By the time we jump through HR’s hoops and can set up interviews, most good candidates have moved on. So frustrating.

    2. Illsa

      Definitely depends on the field. If one works in international development for any of the major global organizations, or contractors for government entities in this field, it’s normal for a job call to be open 3 months. Then they may take a month or 2 to conduct initial interviews; same for the second interview. Once you’re hired, it can then take another month or 2 to get your paperwork sorted to actually start. All “good people” this field understand that it comes with the (well-paid) territory.

  6. OP

    Thanks Alison and all.

    Yesterday, I had resolved to not follow up until late next week.

    I am happy to say I got an update this morning. However, they said they don’t anticipate being able to make the offer until next week because of people who are out of the office this week. On the positive side, it appears something I had mentioned in the interview process about the work to title had them review the position (and created this delay). The position was Director of Teapot handles but really handled both handles and spouts. I asked why and they said it had never been a issue that was addressed. So part of the delay has been reviewing if a title change could be made to be Director of Teapot handles and spouts. More on that next week, I guess.

    After your comments, I asked my supervisor again about the interaction and she did say the person asked it jokingly ” I hear you will need to hold on to him for 4 more weeks…”. She didn’t think anything of it but because I know the context – it is a small red flag.

    Finally, I do think January is going to be what happens. The manager expressed concern about their ability to pay out vacation time or pay me during their holiday closure. We will see what happens next week.

    Thanks all – happy to keep checking in and answering questions.

    1. LBK

      Yeah, I don’t think you have anything to worry about with the timeline the way it is now – it’s not chronologically possible for them to get you an offer and respect your 4-week notice without your start date landing in January at this point.

      FWIW since I am apparently the champion of charitable readings this week, it’s possible that the brief mention of the 4 week period during the reference call was just feeling out if your manager would be willing to flex the policy. The fact that they didn’t push the issue or ask it as a direct question makes me think it’s only a little weird, not an immediate warning sign.

      1. VintageLydia USA

        People leave great workplaces all the time because they aren’t offering any growth or aren’t able to compensate to the level the employee would like. Or the leadership except the direct supervisor is terrible. Or a ton of other reasons.

        1. Kelly L.

          Yup. Or you want to move geographically, for non-work reasons. I left an amazing boss when I moved for family.

        2. OP

          Yes my current job and supervisor are great but there appears to be little room to grow in the next couple years in terms of title, responsibility, or salary. My supervisor is very supportive. The new job is a big title/ responsibility jump. I will also be supervising staff for the first time, which is a key skill I don’t have direct experience with.

          1. AnonyMoose

            Supervision will suck up most of your time in the first couple of years as you get used to the everyday and long-term DDDs. And how exciting! I envy you. I don’t have the energy to jump ship just yet but I am getting close to that itch in which I realize that I am really not being used as I should be.

            Good luck! :)

      2. Oryx

        I had a great supervisor at ExJob but still spent well over a year hunting for a new job while employed — a manager isn’t enough reason to stay at a job.

    2. irritable vowel

      Hi, OP — given what you’ve said about the lengthy hiring process and the time off between Christmas and New Year’s, I am assuming this is in higher ed. Based on my experience, any kind of title change that needs to be approved by HR is definitely going to cause delays (that would be at least 2 weeks where I am, especially if one of those weeks is Thanksgiving). I definitely agree with Allison that at this point, an early January start date is going to be no problem given the delays and their own holiday schedule.

      However, I would advise checking with your current HR, though, to make sure you’re still going to get paid for the week between Christmas and New Year’s if you don’t work after that break — here, they would make you come in the first business day after the holiday break in order to get paid for the break. If you’re not going to be paid for the break if your last day of work is 12/23, then maybe it doesn’t matter so much if you start the new job before then.

      1. OP

        for clarity – I planned to work briefly after the break. I am not sure if the title change is happening or not – it wasn’t something I asked for specifically but mentioned during my questions.

      2. DDS

        People have often mentioned lengthy hiring processes for academia – is this true even for a “non-academic” position in higher ed? I recently applied for a job in the general counsel’s office of a nearby university. Should I be expecting a drawn out process?

        (P.S. – if this is too OT let me know and I’ll save it for open thread!)

        1. irritable vowel

          I think in the business-office type positions (where there isn’t going to be a search committee), things probably happen more quickly (and definitely more quickly for support staff positions even in academic-like units like the library), although I’m sure there’s quite a bit of variation to that. By contrast, in the last search committee I was on in the library, it was about 4 months from posting the job to the person starting, and that was fast-tracking it.

          1. dragonzflame

            Agreed. I used to work in PR for a university, and the process from recruitment interview to real interview to offer to walking in the door, keycard in hand, was ?3 weeks. It would have been shorter but we had Easter holidays right after I accepted the offer, so we agreed I’d start after Easter. Granted, I was unemployed at the time so no notice period. I should also add this wasn’t in the US.

            And, wow, a new employer would have to pay out holiday pay? Over here the employer has to pay it when someone leaves – which (in theory, if not always in practice) gives them good incentive to let you, or make you, take annual leave as it’s quite the financial liability. When I left that university job I had something like $1000 extra paid out. It was rather nice.

          2. College Career Counselor

            Agreed. But the bulk of director-level university staff
            hiring and above (in my experience) has a significant search committee/process component to it. Think months instead of weeks, even if they’re using a search firm/consultant.

        2. ZSD

          I think it depends on how high up the position is. For lower- to mid-level positions, the university I worked at (or at least the office I worked in) had a much quicker turnaround time than what’s described here. But if it’s something like an associate dean or higher, it’ll take longer.

        3. Sparrow

          Yeah, don’t be surprised if it’s slow. I work in higher ed administration, and even the lower-level hires I’ve been involved with very rarely happened in less than a month. For anything requiring a higher level of expertise, I’d expect 3-4 months from job posting to offer, and more is not unheard of. I think the business units tend to move a bit faster, when HR hoops allow.

        4. AnonyMoose

          My university and health system is search committee for ALL jobs. So yes, it’s at least a two-four month process, if well planned.

      3. periwinkle

        FWIW, we have a paid company-wide holiday 12/24 to 1/1 and a painfully slow hiring process; my first day at work was 7 1/2 months after I applied for the job. It’s not just academia that’s relentlessly bureaucratic!

        Reiterating the above advice about making sure you don’t leave your current company until you confirm eligibility for the paid break.

  7. Ama

    The last time I changed jobs I was also coming from a place that required 4 weeks’ notice for vacation payout (and I had a full month of vacation in the bank so I really didn’t want to get nothing for it). When I interviewed with my current employer, they mentioned that they were hoping to get someone started prior to a major event that was at that point 7 weeks away. I felt like the interview was going well and I was very interested in the job, so I went ahead and mentioned my need to give 4 weeks. The hiring manager was a bit surprised, but they must have really wanted me, because I had an offer in hand four business days later — allowing me to give my four weeks and attend the event in my second week at the new job (which was fine as I was just assisting, not organizing).

    Like Alison, I’m a little concerned that they felt the need to verify the 4 weeks with your employer, although the context you provided above makes it a little better. But I suspect that once they looked at their timelines with the holidays and all, someone went “there’s no real rush, we can’t really get her started before Jan 1” and that’s why things have slowed down.

    1. AnonyMoose

      Exactly. And with tech setup and HR passwords, it’s even longer. I think the person who was pushing for it has never really done much operational work pre-onboarding.

  8. MissGirl

    I had a company make me an offer and insisted I start in one week. Not only did this not allow me to give two weeks notice but the offer came on December 23 and my current company was closed the week between New Years and Christmas. In essence giving them one day’s notice. I told them I couldn’t start in anything under three weeks because of the holidays and they rescinded the offer. This coupled with some red flags during the interview process made me not regret the position. Then two weeks later they called again and asked if I could start the next week; they still hadn’t found someone. I politely declined.

    1. Elle the new fed

      That is bizarre. Good on your for sticking to the 3 weeks. You probably dodged something not great!

    2. Hush42

      I once went to an interview where they offered me the job on the spot and then tried to pressure me into starting the next day. I was unemployed at the time so they knew I didn’t need to give notice anywhere but I did have things that needed to be taken care of before I started and I told them that. They got very upset and eventually convinced me to start in two days. I took the job and lasted 6 weeks before I quit- it was a terrible environment and they lied about a couple of things during the interview. Looking back I really should have seen the giant red flags in the interview but I was young and very naive.

    3. MissGirl

      It’s a small company you’ve probably never heard of. But the interview was bizarre. The owner of the company also worked as a realtor and offered to sell me a house if I took the job. He jumped from subject to subject, a lot of which didn’t have anything to do with the position. He offered me the job via email the next day without any information about benefits. I’ve since got to know people at the organization and there’s a lot of turnover.

    4. MRF

      SAME thing happened to me! The employer (a well-known, well-respected organization in my field) expected me to email my two-weeks notice (because my manager was already on vacation) on Christmas Eve, so I could start working in early January. When I pushed back, the HR manager at the employer got very upset. I (politely) stood firm.

      Same afternoon, the hiring manager unexpectedly called my cellphone, worried that I was delaying because I was waiting on another offer (not the case). I stayed calm and assured her that I simply had to push back the start date, but she proceeded to get more and more upset. Finally, she threatened that if I turned down this role, I would never have a chance of ever being hired at this employer again.

      That was enough of a red flag for me!

  9. Dan

    Yeah, that question to the references about required notice was a bit off. First, the OP was clear that it was about financial payout, and second, no notice is ever “required” unless the OP has a contractual obligation to fulfill.

    I think the OP should try and get a read on if “wait… wait… wait… OMG THERE’S A FIRE! HURRY UP AND PUT IT OUT NOW!” is SOP at the new workplace, and if so, if they’re up for it.

    Those guys drive me nuts, especially when I see the fire coming and point it out, and get told it’s no problem.

    1. Charityb

      I feel like there are probably conflicting power groups within the new company. The hiring manager may need someone sooner, but it’s possible that someone higher up doesn’t see the situation as being quite so urgent, or maybe HR is just slow-walking the application because they’re understaffed or something. It seems weird that they are simultaneously demanding that the OP be ready so soon when they aren’t even ready with the offer letter.

      I get the impression that if the OP called them and said that they were ready to start on December 1 they wouldn’t be able to accommodate that. This might explain the mixed messages and general disorganization. I wouldn’t assume there’s anything wrong with the company as a whole for that, but I can see why the OP is flustered.

      1. Dan

        “I wouldn’t assume there’s anything wrong with the company as a whole for that,”

        I’m not suggesting that the OP *assume* that there is anything wrong with the company as a whole, but I am rather clearly indicating that the OP should do some homework to get the lay of the land. That is, don’t assume, but follow up.

        At my last job, I would have hated for prospective candidates to judge our company based on our HR practices during the recruitment cycle, because after they onboard, HR takes a back seat. But if the hold up is a VP in your chain of command, it’s worth figuring out how much impact that VP is going to have on your daily life. If you can never get the resources to do your job properly because the guy in the glass office hates spending money, that’s going to be a persistent problem that you better figure out now.

    2. CMT

      ” especially when I see the fire coming and point it out, and get told it’s no problem”

      I just want to say amen to this!

  10. BethRA

    Slightly OT, but I thought it was illegal for companies not to pay out unused vacation? Or is that just in Massachusetts?

    1. Kyrielle

      Nope. A few states (California, for example), but nothing at the federal level. Link to follow in reply to this.

    2. Charityb

      There are a lot of states that require that in the U.S. but I don’t think that’s universally applicable. I’ve even heard of some companies where you can forfeit your vacation time for not providing notice, which might be the OP’s situation.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        We do that. You forfeit the difference between the notice you give and 4 weeks. Perfectly legal as long as you have a clear policy.

    3. Liana

      It’s state by state. I live in MA as well where it’s required, and when I quit my last job I mentioned being paid out for unused vacation to a friend who lives in another state, and she had no idea this was a thing.

    4. Ad Astra

      This is also a very common policy in states where it’s not legally required. Not sure if it’s common enough to be considered standard, but it’s common.

      1. Karowen

        But a lot of companies have stipulations, like the amount of notice given as in OP’s case. Not normally 4 weeks, though…

  11. Ann O'Nemity

    One of my pet peeves is when someone’s procrastination turns into my emergency.

    It’d be one thing if the company let the OP know up front that they were looking to make a quick hire. But no, this hiring process has dragged on for months and now the employer wants the OP to act quickly and to their own financial detriment.

  12. Granite

    As a counterpoint to the weirdness of questioning the 4 weeks: I worked in an academic environment where policy was exempt employees, regardless of level, had to give 30 days notice. When I left for private industry, everyone was shocked. The recruiter’s boss (president of the recruiting agency) called me to ask about it – he seemed so dumbfounded that I ended up emailing him a copy of the policy. No one asked me to violate it, but it was clear they found it extremely unusual that a rank and file staff member was expected to give a month’s notice. It may be a similar culture shock issue in this case. Or to sum up, the reaction doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

    1. CMT

      I’m curious how a policy like that gets enforced. Did you have a contract? Or was it something like, if you give less than 30 days notice we won’t pay out your vacation time/you’ll have to pay back tuition/etc?

      1. OP

        In my case, we can give less than 4 weeks (and lots of people do) but you lose your unpaid vacation. I will have 16 days banked by January 2nd.

  13. Renny90

    Honestly the fact that they don’t pay you for the week the office is closed would be a major turn off for me. Best of luck with making this decision though!

  14. OP

    I love that based solely on the craziness of slow searches and long leave notices – everyone was able to tell this is an Academic Search. – It is.

  15. OP

    Question – to anyone still looking at comments.

    I have been really taking the red flags into consideration. They followed up last week saying to expect a call early this week. Well it is almost end of the day Tuesday. Not a huge deal but this is the third time they have given me a “you’ll hear from us by….” and missed it. Is there any way I can push back tactfully.

    Also, the position is a great opportunity financially, experience-wise, and in title. Do those things outweigh a slow moving job search/ possibly department head?

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