I got a job offer — then found out they’re negotiating with another candidate too

A reader writes:

I applied for a job through a recruiter and after a couple of interviews, he emailed me asking me to call him because the company “wanted to make [me] an offer.” We spoke; he relayed the salary offer, vacation and sick days, and benefits. I asked for/negotiated a couple of other things, which he said he’d ask the company. He came back saying they’d agreed to one of my requests but would need head office confirmation. I asked for some clarification about the benefits and said I hoped to make a decision in a couple of days, once I got the answers.

Didn’t hear anything for a couple of days, so I emailed the recruiter, who emailed back that the company was “still considering” me, along with another candidate. This … was kind of a surprise to me. I thought we were in the negotiation phase and we would either come to a mutually acceptable package or not. If not, then they would go and make an offer to the next person on their list, negotiate, rinse, and repeat. I guess there’s nothing stopping them negotiating with more than one candidate and then withdrawing the offer to the other. But I thought that was pretty blatantly not in the proper spirit of things.

Am I wrong? Is this standard procedure?

You are not wrong. What they’re doing is not standard procedure; what you described is.

You’re supposed to be able to assume they extended the offer in good faith and that it wouldn’t be revoked without good warning (“we need to hear from you by Wednesday because we have other candidates waiting”) or without good cause (“your request for $2 million and your own personal llama rides to work makes it clear that we won’t be able to reach terms we’re both happy with”).

What they’re doing is really crappy, because you might have already taken actions based on their offer (like withdrawn from other hiring processes or turned down important travel at work because you figure you’re going to be gone in a month). Yes, yes, you shouldn’t do that until you’ve accepted an offer because it’s always possible you won’t be able to agree on terms — but the reality is that people do do things like that because they often have good reason to assume things will work out (like knowing that they’ll accept the job regardless of whether the employer agrees to the negotiation requests). And employers should know that.

If this wasn’t a real, bona fide “if we can agree on terms, we are bringing you on board” offer, they should have made that clear by saying something like, “You’re one of our top candidates and we want to begin exploring what salary would work for you.” That’s not ideal, but it’s way better than what they’ve done here.

At this point, you could say to the recruiter, “Have I misunderstood? I’d thought they’d offered me the job and we were negotiating the details. Do I not have a formal offer?” If he says anything like “They’re very interested in you, but they’re also talking to someone else” … then yeah, this doesn’t sound like an offer anymore (if it ever was one). At that point you could say,  “I’m very interested in negotiating the offer I thought they were extending — is that still on the table?”

{ 145 comments… read them below }

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Ha, I only answered the question asked, which wasn’t that! But yeah, that’s important. I’ve just added another paragraph to the end.

      1. Hey Nonnie

        I dunno, reneging is a huge red flag. I’d ask the questions and see what the answers are, but now I’m pretty sure that I can’t rely on those answers to be truthful. Unless they came back with a really good explanation why they misled me, I’d be scratching them off my list of viable options. If they lie about whether I have an offer, why wouldn’t they lie about salary, working conditions, benefits, job duties, or a whole host of other things? They’ve pretty much ensured that I can’t trust them.

        1. Fortitude Jones

          But we don’t know if the company lied or if the recruiter was the one who was mistaken about where they were in the hiring process. It’s possible the recruiter jumped the gun and then tried to awkwardly walk it back when the company was like, “What offer? We’re still interviewing.”

            1. Hey Nonnie

              In which case the recruiter is an obstacle, not an asset, and may tank any offer / negotiations anyway — if they can’t accurately relay information from company to me, are they accurately relaying it from me to the company? Maybe they get this offer-not-offer pulled because they communicate badly with the company, too? I’m not sure that it matters WHICH link in the chain is the untrustworthy one, only that it’s a link standing between you and a legitimate offer.

              I mean, yes, this is why I’d ask the questions and wait for an answer, but I will be approaching any answer with some measured skepticism and someone is going to have to do some work to earn my trust back, and that will be extremely difficult to do under a limited timeframe.

          1. TootsNYC

            definitely!

            And long-term, you’d be working with the company, not the recruiter.

          2. Ali A

            I came here to say exactly that. This is why once we are in the offer stage, we will include the recruiter in the conversation but all calls/emails come directly from me.

          3. The Man, Becky Lynch

            True, you never know if it’s a personal error or an organizational issue.

            However that doesn’t mean that you should stick around and give them another chance regardless. It’s a gut-check time and when to recalculate your risks, sure it’s okay to continue down the path cautiously but to just give them more of a chance to keep stringing you along comes with it’s assorted dangers. That’s how you end up in a cruddy company and then six months down the road you see that you made a horrible mistake and feel trapped.

          4. Skeeder Jones

            I was going to say the same thing. They need to figure out who is the originator of which pieces of information before they can decide how to proceed.

  1. Emmie

    I wonder if this an issue with the company, or with the recruiter. It sounds like this may be a third-party recruiter. If it is, the recruiter may be using misleading language. It happens more commonly than I expected.
    I also do not take “considering” making an offer to be an actual offer. It seems like the company is contemplating an offer, but not that it has actually offered anything to OP.

    1. KHB

      That was my thought too. It wouldn’t be the first time a recruiter was being misleading in conveying information between a candidate and an employer.

    2. AdAgencyChick

      Even if it isn’t a third-party recruiter, based on my own experience plenty of companies that are good to work for do not have their sh*t together when it comes to the recruitment department. I think it might be an area that companies skimp on, at least in my industry.

    3. Krabby

      My thoughts as well! I think this is likely on the recruiter. We had similar situation last year where we wanted to get salary expectations from a candidate, and what came back was a full negotiation. I had to say to the recruiter that there were still two interview steps left and we just wanted to know the expectation so we weren’t wasting anyone’s time. Luckily we ended up hiring the person anyway, but we don’t use that recruiter anymore.

  2. Murphy

    What? “Wanted to make you an offer” says to me “let’s dot some I’s and cross some T’s, then the job is yours if you want it.” I don’t think anyone would interpret that differently!

    I wonder if there was some miscommunication somewhere (internal to the company, not with OP) and/or a last minute great candidate got thrown into the mix and rather than say that, they kind of back-peddled.

  3. If you remember, you weren't there.

    This is my day for questioning the motives/machinations of recruiters. Were those the recruiter’s words, make me you an offer or did the recruiter telephone game a request to begin negotiations.

  4. Anonymousse

    More and more employers are doing this. When my fiance used a recruiter to lateral law firms, one of the firms gave him a soft offer and asked him how much salary he would accept. He evidently gave a too high a number and they turned around and rescinded the offer. What can job seekers do in these situations where the power imbalance is immense?

    1. MM

      Yeah, my first thought reading this was it sounded like yet another way to try to push applicants to lowball their salaries.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      But were they negotiating with another person at the same time they were negotiating with your husband? It sounds like they figured they couldn’t reach an agreement since your husband wanted too much money and rescinded. That sounds normal – it sucks, but it’s not out of the ordinary. I’m not sure it’s fair to say that many companies treat their potential employees this way. It is possible this company sucks, but IMO it’s more possible that the recruiter screwed up and relayed incorrect information to the OP, eager to make a sale.

    3. BRR

      There’s not much you can do other than hopefully be in a position to be thankful you’re not working for that company. Rescinding an offer is a huge deal and if a company is going to do that over salary at the offer stage, I would consider that a huge warning.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch

      This is why salary should be discussed in the interviewing stage, it reduces the likelihood you’ll find you’re miles apart on compensation.

      However in the end, negotiating is always going to come with the risk of them rescinding. It’s unfortunate but it’s always the case, when you ask for more than their offer [even if it’s a low ball offer], you run the risk of them saying “nah, we can get this position filled for cheaper and we’re really not-that-into-you after all.”

      There’s no way to protect yourself from this rocky playing field. That’s what happens when you are extending trust to an entity run by humans you don’t know. Heck even if you know them, you don’t know all their tricks, etc. You have to trust yourself and feel confident in your own worth.

      1. Yorick

        But I don’t think it’s that common to flat out rescind the offer. Instead, they say, “we can’t go above our original offer of $X, will that work for you?”

        1. Working Hypothesis

          I dunno, I’ve heard of plenty of places which withdraw offers — often angrily — because someone dares to negotiate their blatantly below-market offer. It seems to be especially common with nonprofits… they’re so OUTRAGED that someone would DARE to prioritize being able to pay their bills or earn what their work is worth over the Noble Mission that they conclude they don’t want anything to do with a person who would consider doing such a thing. Or else startups who think you should be doing it for the Vision, which is basically the for-profit version of the same thing.

          1. Former Employee

            And it’s probably a good thing to know.

            I’d file that under “Dodged a bullet.”

  5. Abc

    OP should be glad he dodge the bullet . I aslo did. They keep on rushing me on a decision before the times is up . So is a red flag . Pack bag and give them a lame exscuse you got a better offer and start looking . They treated Op like this now what will happen to OP after you go in. I can gurantee NIGHTMARE less than 3 months you will toss your resignation letter .

    1. Psyche

      Although I wonder if it was the company or the recruiter. I would be hesitant to use that recruiter again.

    2. Fergus

      When they call you everyday to ask you when are you going to sign the offer letter, or they call and say the offer is rescinded if you don’t sign as soon as you receive it without looking it over. The only answer is to run, run fast, run far!

  6. The Man, Becky Lynch

    Woah, they’re shady AF and this is behavior that should scream “run girl run”!

    This is what some cheap-ass employers do to make sure they get the lowest cost candidate in the end, they’re going to yank that offer when the other person accepts without negotiating or are asking for 5-10k less, etc. Yikes. Ick.

    1. Kat in VA

      I had exactly this happen to me after seven mortal weeks of interviewing. They asked for lowest, middle, and highest range…and after all that, made me an offer that was 10% below my lowest but would have been “made up” with a bonus that was prorated. So I would have worked for 10% below my lowest acceptable for two years and then – and only then – with this bonus that supposedly came every year, would I have come up to the bottom baseline lowest I would accept.

      I negotiated hard, they came back with another 1%, I declined and reminded them we had discussed salary expectations on no less than three occasions. I think they were banking on (a) sunk cost fallacy after several weeks and multiple phone, Skype, and in-person interviews, and (b) me hopefully not understanding the difference between lowest base compensation and overall compensation (base + bonus).

      I will admit to the tiniest bit of spiteful pleasure at being able to say, essentially, “Nah, that’s not what we agreed upon, so good luck with that!”

      1. Working Hypothesis

        Sunk costs run in both directions, even if they do tend to hit the solo operator harder than the group. It’s still not great on a company to have to spend seven weeks interviewing, find someone they want, and walk away empty-handed to start all over from the beginning. Good for you. :)

        1. boop the first

          I wonder if it was seven weeks for that purpose? After seven weeks, some people might be desperate for anything.

          1. Kat in VA

            They’re a company well-known for hiring fresh-out-of-college graduates. Apparently it didn’t register that I’m in my 50s and have learned…a few things over the years.

        2. Kat in VA

          The lead recruiter actually got literally, noticeably pissed off at me for having the gall to say, “No, that’s not what we discussed and that won’t work for me” and explaining to him that salary+bonus != lowest salary acceptable. BUT WE GET OUR BONUS EVERY YEAR. No, that’s not a given, that’s why it’s a bonus.

          I’m very simple – I work for money. Yes, culture fit is important, a good office is important, all of those things are important. But I wasn’t about to take a job where I felt like I’d been shanked on compensation before I ever set foot in the door.

  7. Ann Perkins

    This happened to a colleague’s husband – Company offers promotion that requires relocation to THREE people, figuring only one of them would accept. Colleague starts exploring working for my office due to the relocation. All three candidates accept and then the company had to backtrack and select one of them. The company lost a lot of credibility with those candidates.

    1. Antilles

      That’s incredibly dumb to do with internal candidates. I mean, it’s dumb no matter what, but especially so with an internal candidate who you presumably want to keep happy. Like, canceling someone’s promotion is enough of a slap in the face that I’d be surprised if those other candidates didn’t immediately start questioning their career future at the company.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Yeah, I would leave if a company did something like that to me. That’s incredibly shitty to get people’s hopes up like that only to pull the rug out from under them later.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch

        I totally agree. If an employer was all “we want to promote you!” and then was all “LOL JK, Jane was also offered it and we’re going in that direction instead.”

        It would stink enough being the second one chosen if the first person turned it down but having the rug pulled out from under you is the worst way to be treated. I would leave as soon as I could secure another job.

      3. StaceyIzMe

        Hopefully they learned how NOT to work with multiple candidates simultaneously. “You’re being considered for promotion. Would an offer along these lines (duties and compensation generally outlined, along with schedule and other major factors) be acceptable to you, if you’re the final candidate selected?” is different from “Hey, I’m promoting YOU. Let’s talk terms.”

      4. Loux in Canada

        Holy crap, yeah. Especially presumably by that point, once you’d accepted the “offer”, you’d have told colleagues, family, etc… so a lot more people would quickly find out about what had happened.

    2. Duckiewiththegoodhair

      omg that is terrible! And it sounded like they were internal? I’d be job searching if my employer took back a promotion…

    3. TootsNYC

      I would think they lost a lot of credibility with anyone who heard about it!

        1. Former Employee

          Exactly.

          Loss of credibility would not just be with the other 2 candidates, but all employees who became aware of what happened.

  8. voyager1

    I am going to disagree with AAM. I don’t think what they did was crappy.

    They offered you nothing. And you have accepted nothing. The recruiter made an offer possibly… but they are probably not the final word on giving you the job.

    1. NW Mossy

      While you may be right about how offer-y this offer was, the LW did get some significant contextual clues that more typically point to a real offer. The company provided information on PTO and benefits, and responded in the affirmative to one of the LW’s negotiation requests. Unless this recruiter is just straight making stuff up (which, not out of the realm of possibility, but outrageous enough to not be expected), this reads much more like an offer negotiation than any other normal step in the job-seeking process.

      1. Krabby

        This is actually not super out of the ordinary before an actual offer. I’ve been in lots of interviews where we ask, “what are your expectations?” They tell us an amount above what we can give, so before we move forward we say, “Hey, that’s not going to work for us, but if you did get the role, we could give you an extra week of vacation and we have a pretty awesome benefits package. Does it still make sense for us to move you to the next stage of the process?”

        I can totally see how that, delivered through a shitty recruiter, would be interpreted as an offer negotiation. As said above, a recruiter accidentally extending an offer when we were just asking for salary expectations is a thing that happened to me. I can’t imagine it’s not unheard of elsewhere.

        1. LW

          I had talked to both the recruiter and the hiring manager about salary and expectations at earlier stages of the process.

          1. Krabby

            Oh, that changes things. I would give the employer the benefit of the doubt that this was a miscommunication with the recruiter, but dig to find out for sure. Either way, you should run from this recruiter, the employer or both. It sounds pretty shady.

    2. BethRA

      He told OP that the company wanted to” make [her] an offer,” which included salary, vacation and other benefits. That’s not “nothing.”

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw

        Exactly. If someone says, “I want to take you out to dinner,” my next step is to start discussing restaurants. I don’t assume they are being bizarrely literal and just filling me in on hypothetical things they would enjoy doing maybe.

        1. merp

          Off topic but I know someone who has done this to me. Tells me about hypothetical plans that make me think they’re going to invite me to, but follow that sentence by saying they decided not to go after all. All this to say, it’s already annoying when plans with a friend are the only stakes; it’s much more than annoying when someone’s living might depend on it.

        2. Blue Eagle

          But what if that someone said “John wants to take you to dinner”. Would you start talking to the middleman about restaurants or would you talk directly to John?

    3. Holly

      I think that’s the point – they communicated that it was an offer, but it wasn’t really an offer.

    4. BRR

      Taking the LW at their word, “wanted to make an offer” is an offer. No that’s not finalized, but it’s at the point in the hiring process that the company is heavily expected to follow through. The company essentially rescinded their offer, which should only be saved for the most egregious situations. It’s ok if they said, “this is the best we can do, do you accept?” But companies are really in the wrong if they say here’s an offer, and then instead of negotiating with one candidate decide to pull back.

      1. LW

        Yup, that was the exact wording in the e-mail from the recruiter- I double-checked!
        I mean, if they didn’t want to negotiate, or felt my request for personal llama-based transport was unworkable, I would have been okay if they came back with, “original offer or nothing” or “we don’t have llamas, but how about an alpaca sled?” or whatever. But it felt like they were relegating me back to a lower step in the recruitment without discussing it with me and thought that would be okay.
        I just wanted to know that my reaction of, “WTF, no.” wasn’t unreasonable.

        1. Michaela Westen

          This is familiar – I’ve seen people do this on the personal level. I expect we all have.
          Like someone says, “I’m interested in you” and then for a few weeks the two of you flirt and go out of your way to see each other… and then the person says “oh you thought I was interested in you? No, I just want to be friends”. When it was clear they meant more, and now they’re pretending they didn’t. It’s very toxic. And it would be much better if they were straightforward and said “I changed my mind because…”

          To me it sounds like this is what this employer did. If you’re sure it came from the employer and the recruiter didn’t garble the messages, I would think twice about working for this company. Imagine being managed like this. What a nightmare!

      2. Rusty Shackelford

        This reminds me of a business writing professor who said “never write I want to,” as in “I want to thank you for X” or “I want to request Y.” Just come out and say it, rather than telling them you want to say it. “Thank you for X.” “I am requesting Y.” If this recruiter had said “they’re making you an offer,” or, conversely, didn’t feel like they could come out and say that, it might have cleared things up.

        Although, reading the update from the LW, maybe not.

        1. BRR

          Oooh that’s interesting. I’m going to be on the lookout for that now because I know I do that.

        2. Working Hypothesis

          Somebody did a comedy routine on the Present Hypothetical Tense, about people who always say that they’d “like to introduce you to Person X” but they never *do* introduce you… etc. :) I forget who it was, alas.

    5. Overeducated

      What is an “offer” then? A lot of places don’t do written offers or contracts in the US, and everywhere I’ve worked where written offers DID exist wouldn’t make one until you had verbally agreed on the terms. You do have to work on an assumption of good faith based on adherence to accepted norms, which explains the LW’s reaction.

  9. Commenter

    Is this an example of why one should wait to receive a *written offer* and not just a verbal offer? Or do some companies provide actual written offers to multiple candidates as well?

    Super frustrating, regardless :(

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      It’s recommended to get it in writing before you put in your resignation for the position you currently have, it doesn’t matter if it’s verbal or written in the scheme of things though. They can rescind the offer at any time, regardless of the mode it’s given in! Written just has a more formalized appeal to it, it also gives you a document to show people if necessary [I had to get a written offer when I was moving to another city, it was used as “proof of income” to my new property management company, otherwise they would have wanted to see bank statements proving I could pay their rent out of those funds].

      I honestly don’t assume I have the job until I have a start date set.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        I honestly don’t assume I have the job until I have a start date set.

        I’m paranoid and don’t even assume I have the job then – I need my manager to start sending me welcome information before I assume it’s a done deal, lol. You can never be too sure.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          Sadly that kind of paranoia is also why people stay in horrible jobs for much longer than they should. I cannot allow myself to subscribe to it or I’d be miserable.

          But my job offer letters have always come with employee handbooks and such, so that counts as a welcome package I suppose?

          1. Fortitude Jones

            I would think so. I mean, my new manager has already had her boss arrange travel for me within the next 12 days to attend a conference with them, but I’m still concerned about my employment status since they have yet to send me my laptop (I’m working remotely) – I did put in my two weeks notice last week though, so the paranoia hasn’t stopped me completely, lol.

        2. I was young once

          You’re not paranoid. I walked in on my first day to start a new job and they told me the offer was rescinded.

          1. Big Bank

            Similar. Started an internship, and on day 2 they said “we actually found someone better so this is your last day, here is a check for hours worked.” I’m just flabbergasted that in US we continue to make it ok to operate without contracts. My global bank tried to change a major perk, and luckily our European offices had it in their contracts, threatened to sue, and voila. Perk is back.

            1. Same

              I think you & I may work for the same Financial Services company. They tried to take away a huge Perk. I’m in the US. My colleagues in the UK were going to take it the legal route, and the media got a hold of it over there.
              next thing we knew, we received the email saying that they were re-evaluating the process and that this perk was restored for now!

          2. The Man, Becky Lynch

            Can I ask you what position you were originally hired for??

            This kind of thing is abnormal and the probability that it’ll repeat itself is slim unless that employer owns everything in your town and it’s their MO.

            In my experience I’m more leery of new hires showing up their first day than ever having a job rescinded in such a malicious way. Even with the ghosting we’ve had with new hires, we never offer two people and just assume won’t show up or that we’ll rescind the offer of the one who answers second *face palm*

          3. Loux in Canada

            Wow!! Who does that?! That’s seriously crappy. What were they even thinking?

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      The problem though is that you have to agree on the offer verbally before you have it in writing, and it sounds like they were still in the negotiation phase. I won’t give notice at a current job without a written offer, but that still doesn’t guarantee you have the job. They can still rescind it.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar

      Corporate staffing here. A written offer is not a legal document, and is no more legally binding or ‘formal’ than a verbal offer. All it does is itemize what was/should have been discussed regarding an offer, and proves employment intent. People seem to want a written, hard-copy letter because they’ve been told ‘get it in writing!’, but this just doesn’t mean what they think it does. Many employers have done away with an offer letter unless specifically requested; if someone insists on a hard copy, I tell them to go to our emailed offer and hit ‘print.’

      Regardless, I think the OP was treated badly and is the victim of poor communication. The so-called recruiter could have said, ‘we want to make an offer, but we need to come to some agreements first…’ or ‘…but we’re not quite ready…’ or other qualifiers. I hope the OP finds another company that has their act together, and a better representative.

      1. Massmatt

        It’s not legally binding as a contract but it’s not nothing. If all you have is a verbal agreement the employer is free to deny anything promised for compensation, benefits, etc. I suppose email is just as good but IMO someone taking a job needs more than just spoken info the employer can deny ever having said.

        A colleague of mine once negotiated a different schedule to accommodate school and wound up screwed because the manager changed and he couldn’t find anything in writing or email.

        1. doreen

          In many cases, though, it is nothing. Take your colleague who negotiated the schedule- was it a problem because he/she didn’t have anything in writing and no one believed that the prior manager negotiated that schedule ? Probably not- it was far more likely to have been a problem because old manager didn’t have the authority to do that, or because someone ( perhaps new manager) decided that the alternate schedule wasn’t feasible or because needs changed.

          1. Working Hypothesis

            From what I can tell, mostly what having it in writing does is it prevents people from successfully pretending that they never actually said X. That doesn’t mean they need to *stick* to X, but if they are uncomfortable admitting that they just changed their mind or never meant it in the first place, and can’t come up with an excuse in the form of materially changed circumstances, some people will go along with X rather than face down another person who has proof that they said X. Not because they have any legal obligation to do what they said they would, but because they don’t want to admit to themself that they’re the kind of person who doesn’t do what they said they would, and the written evidence makes it impossible for them to pretend they are while evading X anyhow.

            If you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t give a damn whether they are the kind of person who breaks their word, or with someone who feels very secure that the circumstances really are changed enough to make it reasonable, it won’t do any good. If you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t really have the power to make the choice for themself anyway, it certainly won’t do any good. But if you’re dealing with a decisionmaker who is invested in their own self-image as a decent person, it can help you make sure they have to face what they’re really doing, and some of them will fold at that point.

        2. SheLooksFamiliar

          I didn’t say it was ‘nothing’ and, in fact, said it outlines what should have been discussed. But people assign the wrong kind of importance – legal – to a letter. That was my main point.

      2. Jennifer Thneed

        I want it in writing because (a) my notes might be incomplete due to, oh, I dunno, being ecstatically happy! (not to mention it will probably include details I might not remember to ask about) and (b) I want something to show to someone else if the agreed-upon terms are not honored. Yes, my employer can still change anything they want, but they don’t get to claim that I must have heard them wrong.

        1. Kat in VA

          The husband verbally agreed to an offer in his current job, and when the formal written letter came through (via email), the salary was substantially, eyebrow-raisingly lower than they’d agreed upon. A quick phone cleared that up. I wonder what would have happened if he’d just shrugged or, worse, not gotten a written offer where the disparity in salary was clear?

          (It wasn’t nefarious, I think – his company has a relatively laissez-faire HR department and my guess was his offer letter was copy-pasted from another one and they forgot to change it – he came on with three other people at the time.)

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

        While it may not be legally binding, I want to see it in writing, not just verbally agreed upon. If you send an email, that to me is a written offer. Asking for a hard copy is silly.

        1. TardyTardis

          Email works–my son wanted rights for noncommercial DVDs for some cartoons from Filmation. He called them up, asked how much it would cost for the rights to two different programs, and was told ‘they’re all yours, kid, we’re going bankrupt today!” My son immediately asked for an email to back that up, which came in very handy the day the FBI showed up (they’d nabbed someone for copyright violation, she sang out all the names of people she knew selling DVDs etc., and my son said, ‘oh, do you want copies of my licenses? What number shall I fax them to?”).

      4. TardyTardis

        In writing is huge. We bought a timeshare which was sold to us as being a Highly Desirable Season, and for some reason, I had them print out a memo of intent on their letterhead. Lo and behold, it turned out the contract they sent us had the week at an Lesser Desirable Season, I called them, they said sucks to be you, I sent them a copy of the memo on their letterhead, and suddenly they were overcome with remorse at the Terrible Typo, and we got a new contract with the correct results.

  10. TootsNYC

    The fact that you’re speaking with a recruiter and not them makes me very suspicious that it’s the recruiter who’s screwing this up.

  11. Notasecurityguard

    Well now I know to ask for llama rides to and from work when I’m job hunting next

    1. CmdrShepard4ever

      But make sure that you specify you want to the one riding the llama and you don’t want the llama to be riding you to/from work.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        How about a goat cart…I could go for a goat cart. Especially if the goat sings Christmas carols for tooting the horn.

        1. Working Hypothesis

          I have wanted a goat cart for years. Someday, I shall have my own goat!

    2. Sparkly Librarian

      Your own personal llama rides is too high an expectation. Competitive employers, though, will consider llama shuttles in caravan, departing from a central location.

      1. Working Hypothesis

        “The next scheduled llama departure will be at 11:14. Please hold onto the saddle, and enjoy your ride.”

  12. Anonforthis

    Back when I used to do a lot of recruiting (in-house), I would verbally extend the offer to the candidate, and once they had verbally accepted, I would follow up with a written offer letter. If the candidate asked me to at least put the terms of the offer in an email before sending the official offer letter, I was fine with that too.
    So if a recruiter says “X wants to make you an offer,” I would interpret that exactly as the LW apparently did. The fact that it wasn’t *actually* an offer is pretty sketchy, IMO.

    1. TootsNYC

      I also always, always extended a verbal offer and even did a little negotiating and question answering before putting it in writing.

      I also got a verbal acceptance before I put it in writing.

      And of course, I felt they could decide to decline after they got it in writing, though I’d have been surprised and disappointed.

      But I would never have pulled an offer unless during the verbal negotiations, they had asked for something I couldn’t deliver.

  13. Phony Genius

    Sounds like they’re hiring the same way the government hires contractors – by hiring the lowest bidder. And I think this may become a trend in the near future.

  14. LW

    LW here. Yes, it could be either the recruiter or the company messing up; I’m not sure. I did respond to the recruiter with almost exactly the wording Alison used here, but then called them to have a conversation. They basically said, “It’s not an offer until it’s a written offer.” Which, yes, true. And I hadn’t resigned or done anything irreversible on the basis of the offer. But it would have been a global move for me and I had started looking at logistics.
    However, the company had already thrown up some red flags for me during the interviews, and this turned it into a Communist parade that I couldn’t ignore or explain away. Also, I just thought, if it did work out, I’d have to plan this move and always in the back of my mind would be the fear that they’d pull something else like this. So I withdrew my candidacy. I told the recruiter I felt this was a breach of business norms and couldn’t trust the company.

    1. Anonforthis

      I think you did the right thing. If someone says “We want to make you an offer” and then they’re like “Whoa whoa whoa! We didn’t actually make you an offer even though we used the word ‘offer’!” I would withdraw too. Who knows what other sketchy things might be going on there.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      A global move? Is it possible there was an issue with the language translation? That would at least explain why they were fumbling so hard but I still think they’re shady AF and you did the right thing to withdraw. That kind of thing is a real gut-check moment, especially if you’re weighing risks like moving internationally.

    3. Fortitude Jones

      If they were already showing signs of disorganization or other things that made you uncomfortable about possibly working with them, withdrawing your candidacy was the absolute right thing to do. Maybe this will compel the company and the recruiter to get it together going forward so they don’t lose out on another good candidate.

      Best of luck to you in your continued job search.

    4. LaDeeDa

      Thanks for updating so quickly. A verbal offer is an offer, and while yes most of us don’t do anything until the written offer is extended and signed, we still trust that a verbal offer is going to result in a formal written offer.
      I am glad you trusted your instincts on this, it sounds like you did the right thing!

      Good luck!

    5. BRR

      That’s really great to hear. I’m really happy you told the recruiter it’s a breach of business norms.

      1. LW

        I believe my exact words were that it was a “blatant breach of business norms.” And then I thought I’d just write to Alison to make sure my instincts were correct!

        1. CmdrShepard4ever

          Just curious do you mind sharing what the other red flags were from the company?

    6. Southern Yankee

      I’m going to forever have the amazing visual image of enough “red flags…[for] a Communist parade” whenever we discuss multiple red flags. Thanks for the mental picture LW!

    7. Batgirl

      OP you made the right call. They were just trying to get the best person in for the price of the cheapest person, and letting you know there was competition was a ‘don’t get above yourself’ power play to that end.
      They should know they have to vary salary according to an individual’s value not according to a mystery second person’s bid! Sadly some people aren’t in a position to push back. Very glad you were.

  15. gsa

    General comment,

    For lack of a politer term, Recruiters get paid to put butts in seats. Beyond that, there’s no telling, at least to me, if it’s a sketchy recruiter, a sketchy employer, or their past dealings with sketchy candidates…

    Good luck. If you end up getting this job, I hope it’s as much or more than you expected!

    1. gsa

      Pull a tear,politer, Paul later, I give up on voice text. I know you know what I mean… Bid :-)

  16. ResuMAYDAY

    As others have said, I’m thinking this problem originated from the recruiter, rather than the employer. The fact that the candidate only heard about this when she pressed the recruiter is the biggest clue. If the company had pulled this, the recruiter would also feel screwed over, because his commission is now also in question and most likely would have reached out to the candidate. (Although it’s possible that recruiter submitted multiple candidates…)

  17. ResuMAYDAY

    OP, I just saw that you removed yourself from consideration and are confident that it was the employer, not the recruiter. If that’s the case, removing yourself is the right choice. I would consider sharing this interview narrative on GlassDoor (anon, of course), warning other candidates. This is shady.

      1. Kat in VA

        Thirded. I have flat-out not even bothered to apply to companies’ career ads based on a quick perusal of their Glassdoor company and interview reviews (grain of salt handy, margarita optional).

    1. pcake

      It IS shady, but could just have easily been the recruiter and nothing to do with the company at all.

  18. Noah

    It seems like OP rejected their offer and made a conteroffer. Maybe the employer offered her the job because they thought she would take less than their other top choice, and now they are going to see what that person can get. Is an employer really not allowed to leverage the fact that they have multiple potential hires?. I can see why OP doesn’t like this, but it seems pretty rational for an employer.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Trying to negotiate isn’t rejecting an offer. Plenty of people still accept offers when their request for more money, etc. is turned down.

      1. JSPA

        How reliably is that an intentional norm? (It may reliably be a multinational norm, but that’s not the same thing.)

    2. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)

      It’s okay to say “we can’t go above what we already offered, will you accept under those conditions?” It’s not reasonable to withdraw the offer based on an attempt to negotiate, without saying “this is the offer, do you want it?”

      The only way the candidate should have known up front that the offer was non-negotiable is if everyone hired into the position will get the same starting salary — and that information shouldin the job ad so candidates can decide whether they’re interested before spending the time and energy on interviewing. It’s one thing not to put the amount in the ad because the offer will depend on the candidate’s skills and experience. But it’s not reasonable to do that, decide that offers are non-negotiable, and expect the candidate to magically know that.

    3. The New Wanderer

      When you negotiate an offer, it’s usually framed as “I would like to accept this job, can you improve the salary/benefits/extras?” and not “Nope, not unless you give me X.” And typically it’s in the company’s best interest to get their top choice, so a short back and forth negotiation shouldn’t be a deal-breaker (and if it is, it’s on the company for not being clear up front about whatever that dealbreaker is).

      Even if they’re truly ambivalent about who is first vs second (or third) choice, their best bet is to pick one, see if it pans out, and move on to the next if it doesn’t. Sending out offers to multiple people at once for one position is at risk of ending badly – for example the company picks the one with the lowest salary ask and that person leaves when they realize they can do better elsewhere. Meanwhile the other candidates lose interest when they find out their offer was smoke, and broadcast that on Glassdoor. Sure, that doesn’t always happen but it definitely wouldn’t happen to a company that treats the candidates fairly and not like contestants in a game show.

  19. Massmatt

    Op it doesn’t sound likely but is it possible they are hiring two people? That is the only case I can think of where this would be normal. You compete for the job during the interview phase, not the negotiation phase about salary and benefits, etc.

    1. LW

      It didn’t sound like it from all my conversations with them. And would have been an obvious and easy thing for the recruiter to say as an explanation when I called them and asked what was up with the job.

  20. Blue Eagle

    Kind of agree with Noah that it sounds like the OP rejected the offer and made a counter-offer. Wouldn’t it make sense that at that point the company can
    – either accept the OP’s counter-offer
    – or continue to negotiate with the OP
    – or put the OP’s counter on hold and see if they can work something out with another party.

    To me it would be more of an issue if the OP accepted the offer and then the company started a negotiation with another party.

    1. Works in IT

      Negotiation is not inherently rejection of an offer.

      Think of it this way, you go to a grocery store and grab an orange (oranges at my grocery store are $1). You tell the cashier “the oranges today were really small, I’ll give you 75 cents for this since it’s too small to be an ordinary orange”. Most likely the cashier will tell you sorry, oranges are a dollar each. Then it’s up to you to decide whether you want to pay full price for an admittedly scrawny orange. But simply asking “can we negotiate the price of this orange?” will not get you hauled out of the building and forbidden from buying it or not.

      1. JSPA

        Am starting to wonder if there are national differences here. I can imagine variation in a “binding contact” country vs complete at-will?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      The OP didn’t reject anything. She simply counter-offered, which says “I’m interested and may accept but would like to negotiate the details involved.”

      At that point the company could say “We do not have any room to negotiate, so we are going to move on.” instead it sounds like they said “We will see what we can do and get back to you” all while having this same conversation with another candidate.

  21. Midwest writer

    I had something similar happen to me. I was offered a job as a writer for a fairly well established political blog. They described the job to me as being an employee, but the written offer sure sounded a lot like a self-employed contractor, so I was trying to figure out the tax implications of that, and I’d asked if they had an actual office for me and they said they thought so and they’d get back to me. I called them to accept after some back and forth, and they said, well, we’ve actually hired someone else. As sick as I was to hear that, I was incredibly grateful to have not turned in my notice and to not have moved my family as far as I would have to work for such unreliable folks. I followed the site for a few more years … they’ve turned over their writers a few more times since then.

  22. WontbebeatenbytheMan

    Sounds like it’s time to hit Glassdoor on the company, and possibly the recruiter.

    Tactics are tactics, and the only way that workers can negotiate the field, is to have good information.

  23. A Silver Spork

    I don’t know if this is the case, but something that I’ve seen happen (in fact, I’ve been on the hiring committee for this sort of thing) is that a company will simultaneously be hiring 2-4 people for the same role. I work in a lab environment, and sometimes we need to quickly hire several people for a new project, or an old project that’s suddenly grown some extra components due to government regulations/the higher-ups dreaming up some new ideas. In this case, what happens is that the company hires multiple people and then assigns job duties depending on the experience/preferences of the hired candidates.

    Of course, every time I’ve seen this, the company has been upfront about, I can’t imagine why a recruiter wouldn’t, you know, mention that at literally any point in the process.

    1. Tau

      I’m curious – how would this impact the negotiations for a single position, to the point where “sorry, we’re still negotiating with other candidates” is a valid response when the OP asks to check on the status of her offer?

      I ask because I’ve taken one of these multi-position roles (my first job hired something like 30 of my entry-level position per year; I started on the same day as two other newbies). I still would have taken the response OP got as a red flag, because at the point in time where I’m negotiating benefits only a single “instance” of the job exists from my perspective. The fact that they’re hiring multiple people in this position should be as irrelevant as if they were hiring a different role at the same time.

  24. your vegan coworker

    Could it be that what OP considered as negotiation the recruiter/company heard as “no, I don’t accept that offer, but I would accept an offer that included X”? And now, having received that refusal of the original offer, they are considering whether to make OP a new improved offer but also considering other candidates. Would that be wrong? If your first choice indicates that they would need more than you have offered, is it necessary to bring that negotiation to a complete close before finding out if your second choice would accept your original offer?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Since the dialog was on going, calling back to update the LW that “they agreed to one of your requests but the second one is in discussion at HQ”, I think it’s pretty clear that he knew she was still in the running for the job and didn’t reject it. Therefore they should have closed out that negotiation first.

      Now if the LW had called back to check in and the recruiter said “Oh man, we moved to the next candidate,we understood that you had rejected our offer…” that would have been some heavy miscommunication but more understandable and not like you’re looking to take the lower cost employee.

    2. Joielle

      I think the company first has to go back to OP and say “we can only do the original offer, do you accept or not?” Then OP can accept or decline the original offer. If OP declines, THEN the company can go to a different candidate with the original offer.

      It’s pretty common that a potential employee will negotiate in an attempt to get more money, when they would accept the original offer if the company can’t go any higher. The company has to close that loop entirely before going to a different candidate.

    3. your vegan coworker

      I guess what I was imagining was a scenario where you’ve got two top candidates, each of which could do the job, and finally settle on one only to have that person say “No, I can’t take the job unless I get x, y, and z as well” with x being more money (OK, normal) but y and z being perks or benefits you usually do not offer (hence the need for discussion up the chain of command). Besides whatever direct costs y and z might entail, there might also be a question of equity making that all the more complicated (e.g., if the person who is asking for y and z is male and the coworkers who are not currently getting y and z are female, which might oblige you to extend y and z to everyone in order to avoid accidentally discriminating). In such a case, it would make sense to see if the 2nd choice applicant would accept the job without introducing such complications. If the 1st choice person has said that they won’t accept the job without those things, then they have turned down the offer and should maybe see their situation as waiting to see if they get an offer they can accept (i.e. “still in the running”) rather than thinking that they have some sort of sole claim on the job.

  25. StaceyIzMe

    Isn’t an offer “pending” until it’s written? (Terms specified and signed off on?) It sounds like the recruiter is mixing up his terms. “They are very interested and would like to extend a formal offer if you can agree on terms” is very different from “you’re the one they really want to hire, but since nothing has been finalized, they’re still speaking to their second choice”. I’d have questions about working with a recruiter who wasn’t crystal clear in his communication with me. At this point, you might be better off moving on to other opportunities unless this is truly your dream offer. Interviewing and other aspects of vetting/ negotiating are hard enough without adding in unnecessary wrinkles. In my view, this one is right up there with “come interview with a group of other people on Monday afternoon, Hunger Games style…” and “we’re going to need you to give us credit/ social media/ school/ peer/colleague/ mentor/ Sunday school/ volunteer references along with your resume, professional references and background”, “plus we’d like you to demonstrate how to spin straw into gold, that’s a handy skill, in our view”.

  26. Sharon

    One other thing to keep in mind: my company has had the situation where they met with two amazing candidates and made offers to both of them; there had been plans to open up another position later in the year, and they opened it immediately instead of lose an amazing candidate.

    The recruiter makes it sound like an either/or, but it’s not impossible that the company is going for both.

    1. 1234

      I feel like this is something that is so rare so the 2 candidates must’ve truly been amazing!

      It’s great that your company was able to think strategically and say “We found the perfect person for ‘later in the year role’ already so let’s get them in now. Why wait?”

  27. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd

    If you have the cojones and/or don’t “need”/”really want” this job… talk to them and state that you are also considering an offer from another company so you need to know their response.

  28. Big Biscuit

    I thought the part about getting “head office confirmation” was interesting. Not sure if the recruiter is using that term as a stall tactic or that was truly the response from the company as to one of the OP asks? I negotiate contracts and offer letters with perspective employees all the time, there are situations when an ask is above my approval level, but the would not say that to the candidate I just tell them that I will review and get back to them by “x” date. I would never be in discussions with two candidates at the same time. Sounds like miscommunication somewhere in the chain.

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