my job offer was rescinded — after I already quit my old job

A reader writes:

Well, it happened to me: the dreaded rescinded job offer.

Everything was going great with the interview process for this job. I had gotten to the reference stage and provided information for five people who I knew would represent me well. I got a call the following week from the HR manager, and she asked if the hiring manager would be able to speak to my previous boss.

My previous boss had a personal vendetta against me and made my time working for her really difficult. Eventually, I was moved out from under her to a different team within the same department. So when asked, I simply told the HR person that my previous boss and I didn’t have a good relationship, and that I could not rely on her for a reference.

After that conversation, I got a conditional job offer, contingent on a background check, and then a final offer, containing the following clause: “This final confirming offer remains contingent on satisfactory receipt of a reference from your current manager as of this letter date.” I asked the HR manager for the new job what that was about and she told me that I should give my notice at my current job, and then follow up with my manager’s contact information.

At this point, it’s a done deal, right? My current manager and I haven’t always seen eye to eye but I have always been hard working, professional, and respectful. I gave my notice, and asked my manager if she would be able to give me a positive reference, and she agreed she would. She seemed genuinely happy for me that I would be moving on in my career, and it was a positive interaction.

That was last week. This morning, I got a call from the HR manager for the new job to tell me, quite unceremoniously, that the offer had been rescinded. She was also unable to tell me why, as she didn’t have all of the information, but that she wanted to let me know right away that the offer is off the table.

So now I’m in the awkward position of having to ask for my job back – which of course is in no way guaranteed – or face having to desperately scramble for a new one. My question is, what do I do now? Do I contact HR and demand answers? Do I outright ask my boss if she said anything negatively about me? Do I have any legal avenues to pursue? The state I live in is an at-will state but the new employer basically encouraged me to quit while there was a contingent offer in the works. Finally, what should I have done to protect myself and what should I do in the future to prevent this situation from happening?

That employer has put you in a terrible position.

The hiring company never should have encouraged you to resign from your current job while the offer was still a contingent one. After all, what is the point of that final reference check if HR was sure it wouldn’t hear anything in it that could change the company’s mind? It had to know there was a chance it would learn something that could make the company pull the offer, so urging you to quit your job in the meantime was extraordinarily thoughtless and irresponsible.

That said … regardless of the hiring company’s enthusiasm, ideally you would have explained to its HR that you would wait to resign until the offer was final and didn’t have any contingencies attached to it. But I understand why you didn’t; particularly if this is the first time you were dealing with a contingent offer, you might not have realized that they’re truly not final, and certainly the employer’s cavalier attitude about it didn’t help.

As for what happened, it sure does seem like your current manager said something that gave them pause. That doesn’t mean she gave you a negative reference, though. References aren’t pass/fail; they’re nuanced, and it’s possible she said generally positive things but said one thing that alarmed the hiring company (and she might not even have realized it, if that’s the case). For example, reference checks nearly always ask about the candidate’s weaker spots, and if the weakness she named happened to be something that’s crucial for the new job, that could torpedo the offer even if the rest of the reference was glowingly enthusiastic.

But it’s also possible that this isn’t about the reference at all. Maybe a stronger candidate emerged at the last minute (which would be an incredibly crappy reason for it to pull your offer after encouraging you to resign, but it’s possible), or maybe the company is reconsidering the role altogether, or maybe someone in the new company gave notice and that person was offered this job to keep them, or who knows what. We can’t know what happened because the employer is refusing to tell you anything.

As a general practice, employers won’t usually tell you if they have a concern about your references (in part because most people who provide references would stop being candid if they knew their feedback might not be kept confidential). But seeing as the company urged you to quit your job, it owes you more of an explanation than “something changed, and we won’t say what.”

Unfortunately, there’s no way to insist it give you one. You can try, though, and it might prompt more disclosure from the company. You could say something like, “You told me to go ahead and resign my job, and I did that at your prompting. That’s left me in a terrible position, where I now don’t have a job at all — despite having had one that was perfectly stable until you told me to give notice. Given that following your instructions has left me unemployed, I’m hoping for more of an explanation of what happened.” If that doesn’t get you anywhere with the HR person, try the hiring manager. Ethically, they should give you an answer — although that doesn’t mean that they will.

You also should talk with your boss. If you’d prefer to stay, tell her that! This is an awkward spot to be in, because she’s going to wonder whether, if she lets you rescind your resignation, you’ll just leave for a different job a few months from now. But she still might prefer to keep you for now rather than have to scramble to find someone new. (I would keep job searching anyway, though, at least until you get a better idea of how things with your boss play out. There’s a risk that even if you stay, you’ll end up at the top of a layoff list if your employer needs to make cuts at some point, because it will figure that you’re planning to leave anyway … which is yet one more reason why this situation is awful.)

Whether or not to directly ask your boss if she said something in the reference that led to this is a trickier question, and it really depends on what you know about her. If your sense is that she’s a decent person who would be horrified to hear that this happened, that could even work to your advantage if it makes her feel more obligated to keep you on. But if your sense is that she’s likely to become defensive or take umbrage at the notion that she obstructed the offer, it might not be in your interest to raise the subject.

As for legal recourse, in most states what happened is generally legal unless the employer operated with deliberately fraudulent intent. There is a legal concept called “detrimental reliance,” where you’d argue that you relied on its offer to your detriment. However, those claims historically have been difficult to win, partly because, since employment is usually at will, you could have been fired on your first day without legal recourse (thanks, America) and in this case the company did tell you up front that its offer was contingent on the reference. That said, talking to an employment lawyer in your state could be useful.

Frankly, your situation illustrates the big problem with contingent job offers: They’re very risky for the applicant. Even if you hadn’t resigned your job before the reference check, you would have had to tell your boss you were on the verge of leaving (or she would have figured it out when she got the reference call). So either way, you’d be in a vulnerable position with your security in your current job at risk before your offer was final. I’d like to see employers stop using contingent offers altogether! But as a candidate, one option is to push back on the contingency, explain it could jeopardize your current job, and offer up plentiful other references (although that can be hard if you haven’t had many previous jobs or, as in your case, you’ve already asked the hiring company not to contact a different managerial reference).

I’m sorry this happened, and I hope you’re able to work it out!

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 297 comments… read them below }

  1. Gigi*

    Sometimes I get frustrated working for the government and wonder if I might be happier working in the private sector. And then I read something like this. Sheesh.

    1. Momma Bear*

      One of the downsides with some government jobs is that sometimes your boss can block you from a transfer.

      1. Sales Geek*

        This is also done private sector jobs. This from direct experience during layoffs where I was blocked from moving to open positions I was qualified for.

        1. BeenThere*

          Yep, I’ve been blocked from positions because that wanted to reorg me somewhere I would hate with a manager that claimed me.

        2. MissBaudelaire*

          Yup, I was blocked from transfer from the boss of my department didn’t want to let me go. He liked my availability and that I worked. It happened to several people in my department.

        1. MicroManagered*

          Yup. Only in higher education have I ever heard of an offer being contingent on “let me talk to you current boss, who doesn’t know you are planning to leave, before you get an offer.”

            1. serenity*

              And, as sucky as this is, it seems that OP was not on good terms with her last *two* managers. Possibly for reasons totally out of her control! And possibly quite unfairly! But that’s likely the issue here – not “higher ed”. There are plenty of corporate roles where you would be asked for references from recent managers and supervisors.

              1. Crazy Cat Lady*

                Yep, this exactly. I’m not in higher ed and this is standard practice for us. But I NEVER require a reference from a current employer. If they want to provide one and sign off on me contacting them that is fine but I don’t require it or penalize them for not not wanting me to. (I literally have them sign a disclosure notice before running a background or reference check and they specify whether or not I can contact current employer) The reason is, I know and appreciate how these things work and I would never want to put someone in the position that OP is in. There are many employers that would certainly hold it against an employee if they even had an inkling they were job hunting (although, really? aren’t we all at least open to other possibilities?) We do make contingent offers but I work in a field where the bigger issue is the criminal background check and you never know what you are going to find. But I would never, ever, insinuate or imply that someone quit their job before they had a formal written offer from us. That is just wrong when dealing with people’s careers and livihoods.

                1. Fran Fine*

                  Yeah, every job offer I’ve ever had within the last 10 years, excepting the one for my current employer, was a conditional offer and none of the HR reps asked to speak to my current manager or suggested I should resign prior to receiving a start date. In fact, I worked for a law firm with one of the most dysfunctional HR departments in the world, and even those incompetent ass people wouldn’t have dared tell anyone they had to resign first! I was always told, “Do not under any circumstance resign until we get back to you with a firm offer and a start date because you never know what the background check will find.”

            2. Green Beans*

              But it does happen. I’ve definitely been asked for that in academia.

              At least in my corner of academia, people often need letters of reference to move on to next stage of their career (grad school, postdoc, tenure track position) and sometimes that bleeds into hiring people who aren’t on that track.

            3. Windchime*

              That’s how they did it at my current job, which is in a university-run healthcare organization. I worked for the manager from hell and my potential boss couldn’t make me a firm offer until she spoke to the boss from hell. It was scary because boss from hell would be alerted that I was job shopping and she could also sabotage my potential new job Thankfully it all worked out but it’s a terrible policy and people shouldn’t do it.

          1. Jane*

            Oh interesting. This might be another layer to a job I did not get last year (that I, with good reason, thought I would).

            The hiring manager was freshly from higher ed, and I declined her request to talk to my current manager.

          2. UShoe*

            Yes, my partner and I both started working in HE (in the UK) over the past few years and all the roles we’ve had have been contingent on a reference from our current (or most recent) manager. It’s really awkward and involves them filling out a longass form, which nearly cost me the role that transitioned me into the sector because the CEO of a busy small business was not cool with that shit on top of losing one of his management team. My partner also experienced a job offer being rescinded at the end of a pretty painful job search which was really hard to handle.

            I’ve also seen your update and I’m really sorry you’re going through this. Is there any sort of temp service within your organisation? I’ve seen those be helpful for people in a similar position, but I assume you’re in the US given the two week notice so I don’t really know how HE works over ther.

        2. Mongrel*

          I’ve seen worse in the private sector, in the UK even;
          Director level ‘new hire’ had turned up on the day and was being introduced around the office & facilities when suddenly there was lots of diving into offices and everything went quiet.
          Turned out that Head Office had that morning instituted a hiring freeze and so left it up to our office to tell this poor bloke “Yeah… nah” and send him packing.

      1. Gigi*

        Bless your heart. This SUCKS. I can offer no advice on getting out of higher education. But if you’re in the DC area, I can suggest many fine bars.

          1. Cat Feeder*

            I’m so sorry something similar happened to me a few years ago and my old job gave it back to me and has improved a lot. It was a horrible situation.

      2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        What is it about higher ed and contingent reference checks??? I had to have one to get hired in my current role, and I know my boss just did it to our new hire as well. I wonder if it’s a holdover from the faculty hire process but it’s NOT COOL to do to staff.

        1. Charlotte*

          I’m saltier that I have to provide five references for INTERNAL JOBS at my current university…like guys, my boss from 2016 is going to say the same thing he said when you checked him the first time you hired me and which I know you have a record of!

          I will say that I just went back and looked at my conditional offer letter for my current job and it says, prominently positioned, “We recommend you do not give notice to your current employer until receiving a final offer letter from us,” so the place OP dealt with was unusually sucky in this regard, I think.

          1. Sparrow*

            I’ve been offered positions at 4 different universities (public and private, large and small, in different regions of the country), and none of them required a reference from my current manager, nor did they encourage me to resign before the offer was finalized. In one of my job searches, my manager did serve as a reference, but that was voluntary – she already knew I was moving and was enthusiastic about supporting my search. Hiring in the administrative side of higher ed often does have some non-sensical practices and frustrating red tape, but in my experience, this particular one isn’t universal.

        2. Paulina*

          Some higher ed positions are very difficult to get rid of someone from once you’ve hired them, or at least very expensive and embarrassing. And then there’s all the other positions that they apply the same hiring practices to without thinking. They tend to get away with it, unfortunately, or at least they don’t know what they’ve lost out on, so they don’t change.

      3. too many too soon*

        I’m in higher ed. So much depends on having a decent manager, and even then managers/reporting structures change at the whim of admin.

      4. Dreama*

        Higher Ed is going DOWN! Colleges/ Universities are run like corporations, since someone figured out, in the 90’s, that there is tons of money to be made in college administration. The politics, backbiting, ‘managing’ people out, creates a toxic and stressful work environment. I taught college for nearly 30 years, and retired at 60 because I found myself frequently crying on the way to work. Just from the atmosphere, not that I was being targeted or anything. I’d never recommend anyone work for a college; unless, of course, you’re an admin who is paying off his Florida condo.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Yes, I noticed that as I was trying on and off to finish a degree. Colleges will do anything for money. Lie to students, change degree requirements in the middle, anything. Just like corporations.
          I literally wrote an essay about employers requiring unnecessary degrees and the effects of that. Don’t get me started…

        2. Observer*

          No, actually, Higher ED does not run like corporations. The “The politics, backbiting, ‘managing’ people out,” are not an import from corporate life that happened in the 90s.

          There is plenty of this in corporate life, but also lots of corporations that don’t operate that way. I have no idea if this kind of thing really is close to universal in Higher Ed, but it is pretty clear that it has some really problematic norms.

          1. IEanon*

            Yes, it really depends on your university/college. I’ve found that my area in higher ed tends to operate very similarly to “the real world,” because there’s a lot of movement back and forth between private sector and institutions. I’ve had one awful manager, and they were awful in the same way a lot of corporate supervisors are: micromanaging, successful at the business side and garbage at management, etc.

            Other departments in higher ed (looking at you, Housing and Res Life) are basically disasters across the board, with norms and cultures that would NEVER fly in the corporate world.

            All that to say, some people really love the higher ed environment and others really hate it. I can imagine working in the private sector side of what I do (and was trying to make that move mid-pandemic), but I’d be giving up a lot of perks and flexibility to do so. Higher ed admin gets a really bad reputation, especially from faculty, but it is not guaranteed to be some awful, toxic morass across the board.

          2. Uranus Wars*

            As someone who got out of Higher Ed after 12 years and moved into Corporate America I can tell you that higher ed is rife with politics, backbiting, sabotage like no corporate place I have ever worked. It took me a long time to realize that if my boss said they trusted me and I didn’t have to explain time off wasn’t a trick to get dirt on me for later.

            Yesterday’s letter from OP was giving me flashbacks of the bosses I had in higher ed who would deny vacation just because they had the power to, or because requesting time off without a REALLY good reason (read: funeral) or calling is sick was either denied or held over your head for months, until the next person did it and they took over as target of boss’ rage. I worked in 3 institutions.

            1. Noname*

              Wow, your experience of higher ed is so different from mine. I work as research staff at a university, and I’ve never had my time off questioned in any way. I just request it and don’t need to explain at all.

              What kind of job did you have in higher ed?

              1. Rachel*

                I have been a post doc and had a boss really push me repeatedly on did I need to go to my uncle’s funeral?

                It depends on the boss, but my experience is that academia accepts terrible behavior as long as you are good in your field, and there are never consequences for being a monster (well, until some very recent Me Too situations, but there are also plenty of other harassers who continue just fine).

              2. Uranus Wars*

                All 3 institutions were admissions and enrollment management; I do think there is a difference across the board in what my colleagues and I experienced in admissions/financial aid/registrar than there were in other departments across each insitution.

          3. TardyTardis*

            Someone I know has a sig, “The Borgias would not be bored at the level of politics at the University of Michigan.” Also, Woodrow Wilson referenced his duties at the tenure board of Princeton as a reason the party should run him for governor. Academia can be tremendously exciting.

        3. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

          It varies so much, by institution and by department! I’ve spent 15+ years in higher ed and I love it…I’ve absolutely seen some of the dysfunction you mention but it has not been a major issue in any of my workplaces. Now, I’m fairly removed from the faculty dynamics, so make of that what you will, but I wanted to reassure readers that there are many great schools/departments to be a part of.

        4. MissBaudelaire*

          The sheer apathy of all the employees at my college. Like, you could not get these people to give a good gosh darn about anything. It confused the heck out of me.

      5. IEanon*

        You probably already know about this, but the Student Affairs Expats group on FB might be helpful to you. If not for job leads and advice, at least for commiseration.

        I, too, thought “this must be higher ed” while reading your letter. A friend of mine was in the same position (conditional based on her current supervisor’s reference), and while it worked out, I did worry for them. I’m sorry this happened to you, OP.

        1. OP*

          Thank you for the tip! I’m in the Student Affairs group on FB but didn’t realize there was an expats group as well.

    2. Netts*

      Not like government hiring processes can’t be their own hell. I once knew someone whose background check took so long that they were encouraged to find and work a temporary year-long job while the background check was running.

        1. AY*

          For some national security jobs, the background check process is truly grueling. Interviews of prior roommates, landlords, bosses, everyone. Plus some jobs require that you pass a lie detector test. It took someone I know months of trying to pass.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            When someone I tangentially knew from a book club was undergoing a BG check for a job like that once, my name came up! I could barely pick a guy from a lineup, and had talked to him 1:1 exactly once for five minutes while walking to our cars after a book club meeting. The company called the book club leader and, after the usual “how do you know Wakeen?” etc, asked “are there any foreigners in the book club?” and this man, for reasons I will never understand, said “oh just one” and gave them my name, which in turn led to questions about me! I’d been in the US 20 years by that point. Had been a citizen for 13 or 14. This is how deep these searches dig. It is truly bordering on ridiculous to be honest, was in this case anyway.

          2. Betteauroan*

            I had a TS clearance when I was in the Air Force. I was only 20 years old and I couldn’t believe the way the FBI delved into my life. For crying out loud, I was just a kid who had never done anything illegal or got in trouble with juvie or anything like that. They talked to my HS principal, who didn’t know me from Adam and they talked to my neighbors, who I didn’t know and never talked to in my life. They give you a list of character references and they branch out and interview anybody and everybody who could possibly know me. If was very embarrassing.

            1. DataSci*

              My wife’s uncle got a TS security clearance back in the day (he works for a defense contractor), and had to sit down with his parents prior to the background check and say “This is the FBI. You absolutely cannot lie to them.” Which is how the family learned his mom’s real date of birth, vs. the one she’d been claiming since before she met his father.

        2. Emi*

          In my experience, they ask for a reference for every job you’ve had and every address you’ve lived at (within a certain time period), so if you’ve moved or changed jobs a lot, it can take them a long time to talk to everyone. (I once did a background check where they insisted on meeting people in person, and one of my references had moved to Korea. He happened to be back in the US for exactly the right two days, but I don’t know what would have happened otherwise.) And if it’s a security clearance, they also want to investigate your foreign contacts, so that also varies depending on how people end up on the list and how hard they are to get in touch with.

          1. Read and Find Out*

            I’ve gone through the clearance process twice–once as a 20 something who’d never left the country, and the second as a 40 something who’d married a foreign national. Spouse and all of their friends and relatives were suddenly ‘foreign contacts’ that I had to provide tons of info on.

          2. Queen Anon*

            In 1988 I applied for a job at a public library (not a professional LIS job, just a clerk/shelver type job) that was officially part of the city government. I started to fill out the application, left without finishing, and never completed it or applied there again. They wanted, literally, the address and phone number for every place I’d lived since I was born. I was 25 and had moved 15 times by then. I didn’t know the addresses of some of the places I’d lived (like when I was a year old) and neither remembered nor had records of most of those phone numbers. My parents could’ve supplied some of that information but they didn’t remember it all either. The application also stated that it wouldn’t be accepted with blanks. Ridiculous! City government. Checking out and shelving books at the public library. Probably paid $8-9/hour at best.

            1. mrs__peel*

              I had to fill out an application like this once for a security clearance, and I only managed to complete the section on my 15-20 previous addresses because my mother had kept them all in her old address book! I would have had no clue otherwise.

        3. FisherCat*

          They very often do. The reasons range from the understandable (incredibly detailed clearances & background investigations) to the painfully nonsensical (no contract active for a background investigator for the office hiring you). Offer to start date for me was 9 months and that was w/ prior federal service/background investigations. I was complimented on the fast turnaround.

        4. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Because government.

          Also, a federal background check, even one that doesn’t involve a clearance, isn’t like a credit check. Investigators call your references, your previous jobs, people who knew you where you lived, and then follow up with you if they can’t reach anyone who can, say, confirm that you were not employed for those six months back in 2015 (depending on what level of check you need, the investigations can go back at least 7-10 years). People who don’t need a clearance can usually work while the background check is happening. People hired into jobs that do require a clearance usually have to wait (although I’ve heard stories about people in clearance-level positions being allowed to start work before the clearance finalizes, but having to basically sit in a room by themselves without access to anything because they haven’t been cleared yet).

          1. Chinookwind*

            DH had that for one military job waiting for higher clearance. There were rooms he wasn’t allowed to enter at all and others where a light would go on when he entered (brcause he could still be used as a gopher) and certain conversations would stop mid-sentence. Once he got the clearance, he days he understood why those protocols were in place.

          2. Read and Find Out*

            It really depends on whether your job requires you to handle classified material or not. Lots of clearance-required jobs don’t actually require handling such material, and in those cases you are fine to work while the clearance is pending.

        5. Dwight Schrute*

          My background check for a government fellowship took several months. I waited about 3 weeks to start working but I got an email about 4 months later that said I had passed and was ok to work. They just get really far behind sometimes and I imagine for more intense background checks they could take even longer

        6. ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          I used to handle government clearances. If they have to wait for a foreign country to reply to confirm your existence, it can take months based on the country they’re asking. And they were backlogged…

        7. GovHRSpec*

          Some levels of Security Clearance can take up to a year and a half. Some of the lower levels allow for Interim clearance within a few weeks. With interim clearance, it means no obvious red flags came up so you can start working while they finish the in depth check which can take up to six months. High level clearances don’t have an interim since they are so in depth and the information they will have access to could actually be damaging to the country if it got out.

        8. MechE*

          You need to provide lots of information about the last ten years of your life. Everywhere you’ve lived (and a person to confirm), worked (and a person to confirm, and reason for leaving, and explanation if fired), any foreign nationals you or your spouse have had close and continuing contact with, foreign financial interests, foreign travel, your psychological history, your criminal history, your drug use, your alcohol use, your financial history (debt, gambling, failure to pay taxes), association with criminals, etc. You need character witnesses, you need information on your family and your in-laws.

          If they are feeling really fun, they’ll do a quick check on the folks that you provide as witnesses just to see if they are trustworthy enough to give confirmation.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            I just realized I would never be able to pass a security clearance after living in my current apartment complex. Half the people in my building have criminal records because (as I found out after moving in) an agency places them here if they’re homeless and can’t get apartments due to their records. I don’t socialize with them, but how do I prove a negative?

            I wonder if this is why I never heard back from the Library of Congress Gift Shop vendor registration application?

      1. Anonymity*

        Yup, the clearance for my next-door neighbor’s current job took about a year to come in. Because of the nature of the job, she couldn’t be on site or really do anything without clearance, so she 100% kept working her previous job until it came in.

    3. Similarly Situated*

      I was up for a federal job that required a reference from a current supervisor for all final candidates, even when only one could get the final offer. It was messed up.

  2. Essentially Cheesy*

    What a gut punch. I’ve had managers like that (fortunately I never relied on them for a position) and yes, that why it’s a typical HR policy to only confirm dates of employment without involving the old manager.

    1. Momma Bear*

      I think that unless someone supplies the name of a manager as a reference this is the better way to go. The saying people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses is often true. I’ve also had the position of being offsite with a manager on paper that I never met/interacted with much (reporting more to the client). He would have had little of value to say.

  3. Jean*

    If you suspect it might have been because of your former manager giving you a defamatory reference, definitely consult an employment lawyer!

    1. Teapot Repair Technician*

      My suspicion as well. The hiring manager could have contacted your former manager even if you refused to provide a name and phone number.

    2. NotJane*

      I thought the “contingency” may have been a sort of end run around OP, after she declined to use previous vindictive boss as a reference. Like, I could see the hiring manager casually asking current boss, “Oh, do you happen to know the name of OP’s previous manager? I’d like to talk to her as well.”

      Which, of course, is incredibly sneaky and unscrupulous behavior.

    3. Anonymous mouse*

      Definitely. You may not be able to sue anyone into the ground, but you might be able to flush out the rat, which will arm you for the next job offer process

  4. KHB*

    If the HR manager “doesn’t have all the information,” it sounds like the decision to rescind the offer must have been made by the hiring manager. So I might go straight to reaching out to her, rather than trying to get any more answers out of HR.

    1. OP*

      OP here. I was wondering whether or not it would be appropriate to reach out to the hiring manager. HR still hasn’t given me any further information, 2 weeks later.

      1. Anonym*

        Sounds like it would be reasonable to do so. They deserve some discomfort for doing this to you, and the script provided is exceedingly reasonable. Good luck – this really sucks and I’m so sorry.

      2. KHB*

        That’s what I’d probably do, like I said. (Although, in the jobs I’ve applied for, I’ve always had plenty of direct communication with the hiring managers throughout the process anyway, so reaching out to them wouldn’t seem at all weird or inappropriate.)

        I’m so sorry this happened to you, and I hope you can at least get an understanding of what happened.

      3. Chilipepper Attitude*

        So sorry, this is awful! Have you asked to keep your job? How did that work out?
        And I hope you follow Alison’s advice and let us know how it goes.

      4. AY*

        Yes, please contact the hiring manager! If nothing else, you’ll know that you tried everything reasonable to get answers. Good luck job hunting! I hope to have a favorable update from you during the end-of-year roundup.

      5. BRR*

        It is 100% appropriate to reach out to the hiring manager. This is so incredibly awful of them that they owe you an explanation. Rescinding an offer (after they told you to put in notice!!!) should only be done in very rare circumstances and with a very good reason.

        This is the rare case where I even think calling instead of emailing would be ok since if they answer, it’s harder to ignore you than email. I would also leave a review on glassdoor that you had an offer rescinded with no notice after they told you to put in notice (that is if you’re able to since I’m going to assume that this is a pretty identifying situation).

        1. Squirrel Nutkin*

          I agree.

          Maybe glassdoor the heck out of BOTH institutions, OP, as it sounds like both behaved badly? Even if it turns out that former institution didn’t actively sink your candidacy, it sounds like they were basically tormenting you into trying to leave. At the very least, maybe you can save some other job seekers from both of these places.

          Also, I agree that talking to the hiring manager if you can might be helpful — it would help to know exactly what was said about you. A friend has found herself torpedoed from many a job because a vindictive old boss told people she was a terrorist. (She is not a terrorist.) She didn’t pursue legal action, but if you find out that someone at your old job has told a deliberate lie about you that is interfering with your ability to earn a living, you might want to contact an employment attorney, just to see what your options are. Sometimes, academic institutions fear lawsuits enough that they are forced to behave better than they otherwise would.

          My heart goes out to you, and I am wishing you an eventual soft landing from this awful experience with a good employer who values you.

          1. RG5*

            I’d be careful about Glassdoor. While it’s helpful for other job seekers, it can really hurt your job search if you’re in a small community or impact your references at your old job.

      6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Is it appropriate. Maybe. Is it odd? Maybe. Is it going to get you the answers you want? Maybe.
        Does any of this matter at this point? No. No, it does not.
        You can certainly ask to speak to the person who who told you to do the wrong thing and then left you hanging.
        Even if you don’t hear back, you can leave a voicemail that explains what happened, and that it created a problem for you. You can ask for some feedback for help in your future endeavors.
        He may not get back to you either, because he knows that he’s already given you help in your future job search and it sucked. It screwed up your career path and your income.
        So boo hoo on him if he doesn’t want to hear your voice on his phone. Keep it calm and professional. You have nothing left to lose.

      7. should i apply?*

        I had an offer rescinded once because they messed up my background check and got me mixed up with another person. I was able to clear that up and get my offer reinstated, but only because they told me that is was the background check. Now if it was a background check issue I would expect HR to know that. If HR won’t tell you then I agree at least try to get information from the hiring manager. Its not like you can really make it worse at this point.

        1. Anonymous mouse*

          Yes, this bit troubles me. The OP doesn’t know why the offer was pulled. Could be a dodgy reference (in which case you want to know so you can avoid that person at all costs), a failed background check, in which case you can clear it up) or just an AH employer who doesn’t understand professionalism

        2. Aitch Arr*

          Generally background checks (criminal) fall under the FCRA so if an employer plans to take an adverse employment action based on the results, there are notifications and a process they have to go through.

        3. Mannequin*

          My brothers ex wife has the same SUPER DUPER common first name as me (though spelled slightly differently) and obviously, the same last name (not as common, but not by any means rare) and despite all the other differences (different birthdates -8 years apart, different social security numbers, different addresses in different cities in different COUNTIES, etc), we were mixed up with each other when I applied for food stamps in my county.

          I had a social worker come to my door for an interview, who proceeded to ask me all kinds of bizarre questions that I really had no clue about, like asking didn’t I own some specific make/model/year of car I had never heard of etc. Finally, when he asked if I’d just had a baby (I’m childfree, lol), the lightbulb went off – Oh! You mean my SiL! (Who, quite honestly, I barely knew at the time because I’d been out of state for most of the time they’d been dating.)

          The guy looked totally exasperated, like ‘why do my supervisors send me on these wild goose chases’, checked some stuff on his paperwork, apologized profusely and left.

          I later found out that she’d applied for WIC in her city/county.

          If all it took was same first + last name (again, different cities, counties, birthdates, ages, & SS numbers!), to trigger an investigation, I feel very, very badly for the numerous Chris Smiths, Jennifer Jones, etc that must be applying for government aid and getting harassed about it.

          About a year later, I moved in with Bro + SiL to help with Baby, and now when I do one of those name searches on either her or my full names, our totally separate information (past addresses, phone #, email addresses etc) is all mixed up together. I can’t even IMAGINE trying to get all that separate in a background check.

      8. Typing All The Time*

        Hi OP,

        Maybe jump on seeking legal counsel, as this is still new and in people’s memories, plus documentation.

        1. OP*

          Yes I have been documenting everything just in case! I became unfortunately well-versed in documentation over my years at current job, scream

    2. Lab Boss*

      Definitely agree. Besides- HR’s job is to protect the company, if they’ve told you they won’t give you more information then I’d expect them to stick by that whether they get more information or not. A hiring manager presumably liked you well enough to make you an offer, and may be less steeped in the HR/Legal mindset to turtle up and protect the company at all costs.

  5. Salamander62*

    If without the possibility of legal recourse, I think it’s morally necessary to NAME AND SHAME companies that do this and ensure maximum reputational damage on their part (of course, within the confines of the law and the medium-to-long-term reputation of the victim).

      1. Charlotte*

        The contingent offer upon good reference from current manager is extremely common in higher ed, though, so spreading around “X University did this!” isn’t actually likely to make much of an impact. The unusual part here is that the offer got revoked and the HR rep won’t say explicitly that it was because of…the only condition they gave for revoking the offer, and the current manager insists she was positive.

        None of that makes this less shitty, but I don’t think name-and-shame is going to get OP very far.

        1. Anon for now*

          The whole current boss as a reference as a practice needs to die. It’s deeply unfair to candidates who are either working for crappy bosses or who aren’t aggressively looking for other employment. Because even if your current boss provides a glowing recommendation just knowing you are looking elsewhere does change your relationship.

          My last job, I had to use my boss as a reference, and my boss started recruiting for my replacement as soon as she discovered I had applied. She assumed I would get the job and leave. She was right, but the reality is it was a competitive process and I could have very easily not gotten the job and be in a similar situation as the OP.

          1. Charlotte*

            To be clear, I don’t disagree at ALL that it’s a bad practice, just that, in higher ed, complaining about contingent offers is the equivalent of someone, say, complaining that a company ghosted them after an interview. Shitty? Undoubtedly. Common? Unfortunately.

            1. Cat Lady*

              Is it common though for them to tell you to give notice first? Not higher ed so in my field that is absolutely unheard of—to tell someone to give notice without a firm offer!

              1. Charlotte*

                Not in my experience, no! I said this below but I looked back at my offer letter and it literally says “We recommend you do not give notice until you have received a firm offer.” So yeah, out of the norm on that, I guess.

        2. Gloucesterina*

          “The contingent offer upon good reference from current manager is extremely common in higher ed.”

          Thanks for sharing, I haven’t encountered this yet, but I’m only a few jobs in (staff roles, not faculty, if that makes a difference).

          I don’t have concerns about getting a positive reference from my current supervisor, but is there any way to glean information about the hiring process at (say) other universities and anticipate whether this requirement will come up should I apply for a position?

          Or just have is it more just a matter of having this practice on my radar screen in a general way, so that I’m not surprised if it does pop up?

      2. ThatGirl*

        They do, and I know this because my husband works in higher ed and his workplace has lousy (truthful!) Glassdoor reviews.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I was going to say, Glassdoor the hell out of them, but keep it factual and don’t include any assumptions.

  6. OP*

    Hi everyone. OP here – I did end up going to my current manager to see if I could retract my resignation as I was still employed there. I was invited to a “conversation” where we could “try and come up with a compromise.” They then made me wait a week before telling me they will keep me on for one month – non-negotiable. My manager insisted she gave me a positive reference, and I then asked her (with our HR rep as a witness) if she can guarantee that she’ll do so in the future, and she said yes. I still don’t know if I can trust her, in all honesty. Would love to hear from any hiring managers if a reference within the last 5 years is usually a requirement.

    Anyway, I’m back to job searching full-time, and as of today, have a few promising leads!

    1. Anon for now*

      I’m so sorry to hear that your current employer isn’t giving you more time. I would have assumed they would have given you at least 4-6 months versus one month.

      Job hunting sucks at the best of times, but you’ve been left in a terrible position. I am so incredibly sorry.

    2. Lab Boss*

      Current hiring manager here. No references for 5 years wouldn’t be a deal breaker but would make me curious (and gets more damaging the larger % of your working life those 5 years are). Saying that you can’t rely on your most recent manager to give a good reference explains the gap but risks sounding dramatic or like you’re hiding something.

      Is there ANYONE supervisory you could get a reference from at your current job? When I left college the professor who managed my lab basically refused to support student employees once they were graduating, but another professor we’d worked with on a few projects knew my work and provided a reference that landed me at a company I’m still at a decade later. If I needed to leave my current job without relying on my manager of 4 years, I’d do the same and go to a different manager that I’ve supported, worked with, etc.

      1. OP*

        It’s an extra-shitty situation because I’ve been at my department for 7 years, and have moved around a bit – and my previous manager was HORRIBLE to me. So not being able to list two previous managers as a reference is really leaving me wonder if anyone will hire me again

        1. Lab Boss*

          To clarify I didn’t mean your direct manager, current or previous. Is there a department head of a different department that you have worked WITH, but not FOR? Someone who’s at a higher level than you that you’ve done work to support- even though you’ve never been in their chain of command? Those aren’t as ideal as a direct manager reference but they’ll carry more weight than a 7 year reference gap. I as the hiring manager can still get a management-level perspective on who you are and how you work from someone like that.

          1. Anna*

            Does a reference have to be a supervisor? It may vary by industry, but I’ve given coworkers or sort of co-department-heads as references (in addition to at least one manager) and its been well-received

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              My rule of thumb has always been “above-or-equal to you in title, preferably above, and able to speak to your work”. Supervisors are best, but there are usually equivalent coworkers who fall under that criteria.

              1. Salamander*

                This. I’ve managed to get around having to give current supervisors as a reference if I can offer up one or two senior people who can speak to my work. Those have been situations with bosses who would have immediately pushed me out if they knew I was looking, so those references made it possible for me to search quietly.

              2. Threeve*

                I’ve used peers, but noted them as a “project lead.” Because they did work above me on some things, just as I worked above them on others, so they can still speak to my performance and how easy I was to direct/delegate to.

                1. Lab Boss*

                  I’d only be wary of that because if a reference checker is doing due diligence and really digging into the conversation, a peer who sometimes was “first among equals” on a project might not have the manager mindset to give deep feedback on exactly how you worked, beyond generalities about “doing a good job.” Probably not a deal breaker but it could look a little sneaky, like trying to pass them off as more of a manager than they were.

            2. Rachel in NYC*

              I’ve done that. I’ve worked places that didn’t do references so the solution was that co-workers would be references for each other basically since we tended to train each other, it worked well enough.

            3. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

              I had a former boss who had been repeatedly heard bad mouthing past employees when called for a reference check. I personally had heard her bad mouth one of her best employees. So when I applied for new jobs I checked that they could not contact her, sited the above as why, and offered a list of coworkers and clients (from that job) who would happily give me a good reference..

          2. Guacamole Bob*

            Yeah, I’d think a senior colleague (especially one who can say “OP is great, their manager is a vindictive pain in the butt”) would be a good option for filling in some of that long gap. It at least confirms you aren’t lying about your recent accomplishments, that you haven’t developed terrible work habits in the 7 years since your last manager reference, that you have at least some positive relationships from that job and aren’t always impossible to get along with, etc.

            1. Lab Boss*

              And if I, the job seeker, say “my current manager is a big jerk” then it could give the hiring manager pause. If my alternate management reference says “Lab Boss’ current manager, as a colleague who doesn’t manage me, is a big jerk” (using more polite words) then it’s less suspicious.

          3. Edie W*

            I’m in hiher ed as well and I agree with Lab Booss, having a reference from someone senior to you who you’ve worked with recently is a good idea — even someone who chaired a committee or working group you were on, or a faculty member you helped out with a project.

            One other thing that might be worth looking into is you might be eligible for unemployment in this situation even if you wouldn’t normally. The state I live in is pretty strict about unemployment but I had a friend of a friend in a similar situation (had an offer, quit his job, then the new company decided to eliminate the position before he ever started working there) and he was able to get unemployment. No guarantees of course but it might be worth checking out.

        2. Lady_Lessa*

          Some encouragement here.

          I was let go from a previous employer, and part of it was due to issues between me and my supervisors. She came on board after we bought a competitor and the company culture was changing because of the purchase. (a production employee told me that he would not have come had he known that she was). I was on the verge of getting written up just for rolling my eyes in a private meeting.

          I was out of work for about 1.5 years and spent some time working in a warehouse. I got praised for what I had been told I didn’t have at my last job. I left there to get back into chemistry and I am at a good place now. (ageism helped keep me unemployed)

          I hope that you have similar or greated success.

    3. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      OP, I’m so sorry you’re in this situation. I’m shocked and appalled they’re pushing you out after a month, when there’s no way they’ll be able to make a new hire by then!

      I second what Lab Boss suggested – is there anyone else you could rely on for a reference from this position? In my first higher ed job my boss was unreliable and vindictive, and when I used her as a reference in a later job search she tried to torpedo me with a bad reference. Now I use my colleague from that time, who had a higher title and was the de facto leader of the office despite not officially managing me.

      Best of luck!

    4. Green Goose*

      Wow, I’m so sorry. This really sucks. Good luck with the job search! If you are up for it, I encourage you to write about your experience on glass door. I would definitely want to know if an organization I was interviewing with had shady hiring processes.

    5. Ellis*

      I was in a very similar situation leaving my last job (a truly terrible supervisor, no other great references because I had left a super niche industry prior). I ended up offering for the first reference round some people who had been above me in the company hierarchy who I’d helped out here and there but who weren’t my supervisor. Then for the final reference (like you I had an offer contingent on speaking to a current supervisor) I said something like “Here is my supervisors information. To be upfront, there are several things we don’t see eye to eye on. X and Y (the other references I’d given earlier) also worked with me during this time, if you have follow up questions for them.”

      It was still INCREDIBLY nerve-wracking and I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t truly gotten a sense that my new company genuinely was a place that wouldn’t screw me over. You have all my sympathy.

    6. NYC Taxi*

      OP are you sure nothing came up in the background check? If you have a fairly common name, or even if you don’t it’s possible that other people’s info got commingled with yours. My sister and I have very similar first/last names and our ssn# are only a couple digits different so this happens to us all the time. Is there a way to find out what was in the background check to make sure all the info is yours?

      1. Martha*

        I actually had this happen to me. My work was organizing some volunteers for a charity and we had to get background checks. Mine came up with a conviction for domestic violence!! My boss pulled me in and let me know privately that because of my record I couldn’t do the volunteering. After asking for clarification it became clear that the background check pulled up someone else’s info and we were able to have it redone and I was cleared. I was SO lucky that this happened in a situation where I was a known quantity, not a rental check or new hire.

      2. Simply the best*

        This happened to me! While I was applying for the job I have now, the hiring manager contacted me to say they got in my background check back and I had apparently been arrested multiple times. Thankfully, she talked it through with me and I was able to clear my name with her by pointing out that the first arrest on the record was in 1988 which would have meant I was three at the time. But that was a terrifying moment there!

    7. BRR*

      Do you have anybody close that could do a fake reference check with your current hiring manager? I think this is scenario where lying is ok.

      This was incredibly shitty and I wish you good luck in your job search!

      1. Tau*

        Yeah, I was about to suggest this. Can you get a trusted friend to call her pretending to be a reference checker? That way you know for sure what she’s saying about you.

      2. L.H. Puttgrass*

        “My manager insisted she gave me a positive reference.”

        Yeah, I bet (especially, as Alison mentions, with the one-month thing). Having someone do a fake job reference for you is tricky, especially in academia which can be a really small community. But I’d try very hard to find out what your manager is really saying about you.

    8. Momma Bear*

      I’m glad you were able to retain your job for at least a month and I hope that you find something else soon.

      While my company would prefer to hear from a current supervisor, we also understand that it can be sensitive. We have allowed people to submit other references who can speak to their performance, like a Project Manager vs their direct supervisor.

    9. Anon this time*

      Hi, OP. So sorry this happened to you! I work in higher ed and am currently hiring. It’s technically my institution’s policy that we must speak to the candidate’s current boss before extending an offer, but I just… don’t do that if it’s a problem for the candidate. Some other institutions may be like mine, where hiring managers can get away with skipping it. However, what does give me pause is when an applicant doesn’t give me anyone they’ve worked with as a reference. I second the suggestion others are making to try to find a non-supervisor but higher-level reference at your current employer, or at the very least, some colleagues at the same level, or a volunteer supervisor, or someone else who can attest to your professional skills. Good luck!

    10. Chauncy Gardener*

      I am SO sorry to hear all of this, OP! This truly sucks.
      That being said, I feel like you may have dodged a major bullet with this employer. If they did something like this to a candidate, imagine how they treat their regular employees. And talk about burning bridges in a super tight employment market. May they get what they deserve!
      Please keep us posted and I am SURE you will posting soon in the Good News Fridays!!

    11. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Okay, I think there’s maybe something revealing in the “one month, non-negotiable.” If I had an employee who I was happy with and this happened, I would be delighted to keep them on. Even if for some reason I couldn’t, I’d try to give them as much time as possible. The one month is so stingy and bare-minimum (and so not what you would do for a valued employee) that I do think something’s up with your manager and her reference might have been the issue.

      1. MicroManagered*

        I know you are supposed to take the LW at their word, but I also think the “one month, non-negotiable” and LW’s trouble with previous *two* managers may indicate an issue with her performance that she’s either leaving out of the letter or unaware of.

          1. Mental Lentil*

            As someone who has worked in many toxic environments, it’s possible to have four or five “difficult” managers in a row.

            Sucks, but it happens.

            1. Whome*

              Agreed, especially if op’s been there for 7 years. Dysfunctional orgs rarely have just one crappy manager.

          2. Anonymous mouse*

            I had three toxic managers in a row. It’s telling that of those companies, none exist now in the form they existed then, and two collapsed within the year

        1. OP*

          Nope. I have performed highly for all the managers I work with, and have the performance reviews to attest to it. My previous manager was targeting me for 100% personal reasons (and if you don’t believe that, consider yourself lucky that you haven’t worked in a toxic environment) . My current manager has never indicated any issues with me at all so I am really reeling from this. I found out after the fact that she wasn’t happy that I didn’t give more than two weeks (which I assume was standard), so it’s highly possible that she made some offhand comment about that, and that gave the new hiring manager pause.

          1. Sleet Feet*

            Its really unlikely that a manager griping that you only have 2 weeks notice cause them to rescind the offer.

            1. Fran Fine*

              This. She said something much more damaging and is now lying about it. I’m sorry, OP, this is awful.

          2. Jay*

            Is it possible to offer copies of performance reviews as reference materials? I’m not a hiring manager at all and I haven’t actually worked a lot of jobs that have done regular performance reviews to know from experience, but would you be able to reference them/offer copies (even if they’re semi-redacted) to a potential employer when they ask for references? To add onto your other list of references that might not include most recent management?

          3. generic_username*

            I wonder if they got in touch with your previous manager without your permission. If it’s someone who is easy to find online, I could see that happening

            1. The Rules are Made Up*

              This is what I’m thinking as well. They don’t technically NEED OP’s permission to reach out to their former manager, and if they did that and the relationship was bad as OP said, that’s likely the reason that they rescinded the offer. It also seems like, from the “only one more month non negotiable” that some of OP’s coworkers/higher ups may have more issues with them than they’re saying to OP’s face, which is not cool.

            2. IEanon*

              This is my suspicion, as well. Since this is higher ed, there is precedent for prospective employers to reach out to everyone who has supervised. My prior institution required that EVERY manager the candidate has had be contacted before an offer was extended. My supervisor pushed back hard because it was really onerous.

          4. LilyP*

            What does your current manager think of your ex-manager? I’m wondering if maybe they asked the current manager if she thinks the ex-manager is *actually* targeting you/giving an inaccurate reference/not a suitable reference and your current manager told them your ex-manager is actually fine and trustworthy? Does your current manager know about/believe you about the personal vendetta?

          5. Starling*

            I’d get a friend to call your old managers and pretend to be reference checkers – maybe the only way you’ll find out what’s really being said!

      2. Anonymous Hippo*

        I’m very confused at the idea of a manager torpedoing someone’s job search AND refusing to keep them on either. That seems to be some top tier villain behavior with no benefit to the manager.

        1. Birch*

          Well, that’s assuming the bad manager has good intentions and a reasonable thought process, which is not at all likely in this situation. People can be vindictive and nobody wants to work with someone they don’t get along with if they don’t have to. Also, a lot of vindictive people really get off on appearing to be magnanimous to people outside the situation (i.e. offering OP the job back for a short period) while not actually making any sense or doing anything positive for the situation. Plenty of people don’t even need a benefit to themselves, they just don’t want someone else to get something positive. But here, the benefit is that the manager gets to look like “the good guy” in this situation and just watch OP suffer. Is that top tier villain behaviour? Sure, but it happens.

      3. Sleet Feet*

        You think so?

        If manager doesn’t want OP to work with her anymore why bring her back at all?

        I assumed that points to some odd rules/bueacratic red tape. Especially since HR was there.

        1. Sleet Feet*

          I see I may be missing the timing. I thought OP had already finished out her notice and was then informed that her offer was pulled but it sounds like she had never actually left.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            Sounds like OP gave 2 weeks notice, and the rescinding happened a week later – so halfway through the notice period.

      4. Fierce Jindo*

        I do think the higher ed context is relevant here—my own university is trying to slash the budget through attrition (not replacing losses even when they’re essential… not good). If someone quit our department, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be allowed to hire them back even if we really, really wanted to.

        1. monogirl*

          Yes, I am also wondering if the job was rescinded for something as simple as last minute budget BS. While budgets are usually in place for the next fiscal year and generally stay static, stuff happens. I work at an Ivy University who just found out an employee has been running an equipment scam in the millions! So like, I bet that department is a hot mess and will not be hiring for a while. OP maybe make a little Google news alert and see if anything interesting pops up in the next month?

    12. Anon Manager*

      Hiring manager here. I don’t even bother with references anymore, tbh. It’s too easy for a candidate to cherry pick them or fake them. I’ve even had a candidate provide a “previous manager” that was actually his spouse (that’s a long story for another day). Since they are low value, I rely on a good mix of people participating in the interview. I don’t think my approach is the norm, but I do know several other managers who are fed up with the reference game.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        That is… dangerous. I’ve worked with hiring managers who have, instead of using the references’ contact information given by the applicant, simply called the switchboard of the reference’s company and asked to speak with them. Or look them up on LinkedIn to verify that they’re real connections. There are easy ways to fact-check references, and you run the risk of a really bad hire (like that bookstore owner who wrote in a couple weeks ago because she’d unwittingly hired an evil manipulator) if you don’t even try.

        1. Simply the best*

          I mean…none of my references work at the companies they were my supervisor for anymore and I don’t actually know anybody who uses LinkedIn. So. I don’t know that it’s quite as easy to fact check as you say.

        2. Bluesboy*

          It’s tricky though. Where I live, references aren’t used at all (I was a hiring manager for 10 years and I was called just once for a reference – and that was by an American company).

          Do we risk hiring the wrong person because if we had made a reference call we would have found out something important? Yes, and I’ve seen it happen. Do we avoid the risk of not hiring a fantastic employee because a malicious ex-boss couldn’t stand them? Yes, and I’ve seen that happen too – a fantastic hire, who we later found out had a wildly dishonest previous boss who would probably have given a bad reference because the employee had refused to break the law for her.

          If we know and trust someone who worked with the applicant in the past, sure, we give them a call and ask what they were like. But if we don’t know the boss/previous boss we don’t.

          I’m not saying the system here is better, not at all. I don’t know. But I’m quite sure that I personally wouldn’t have made it to where I am today if I were in the US, just because a bad ex-boss would have done whatever she could to sabotage me.

      2. Lacey*

        I don’t think any of my employers have EVER contacted my references. That’s worked to my benefit because I had a LONG stay at one employer and didn’t have any post college employer to give as a reference to get out, but I also know a hiring manager who had that bite him badly when people would just make crap up.

      3. RosyGlasses*

        Same – I have found references valuable only for spot checking work history (dates confirmed) – we do group interviews and poke into work, behavior, emotional intelligence, skills, etc.

      4. Artemesia*

        That is so dangerous. We not only check references but we check with people in their previous organizations whom they don’t list as references. NOt checking references is a great way to get someone else’s problem employee.

      5. Fran Fine*

        My current employer didn’t bother doing reference checks for me, either (or a background check or drug testing, all of which I’ve had to do for previous employers in the past) – I thought this was odd, but maybe because I wasn’t being hired into a role dealing with any PPI or money and I would be working full time from my own home, they didn’t think it mattered whether or not I was a serial killer? Who knows, but you’re definitely not alone in not checking, lol.

    13. Sleet Feet*

      Given this update it seems unlikely that your current manager gave you a bad reference. If anything the fact that she secured a job for you for a month speaks to someone who is going above and beyond for you.

      You demanding a promise of a good reference on the spot comes across pretty adversarial. If I were you I would send a nice note to your most recent manager who promised a good review and apologize and let them know you were beyond stressed out but shouldn’t have suggested they torpedoed your job. Maybe also thank them for the one month of work and let them know you are still looking so if anything comes up you would love to work for them again.

      I wish you luck I know this is stressful!

      1. Uranus Wars*

        If they didn’t fill OP’s position I do not see giving her one-month as going above and beyond. If an employee I liked had this happen to them I would talk with them about why they were searching and give them their job back.

        Asking if she could rely on her for a good reference is not demanding a positive; she just asked if she could rely on her.

        But, since this is Higher Ed, none of this surprises me.

      2. Nanani*

        No? It really isnt? In higher ed, where timelines are generally on the basis of the semester (= several months) or year, one month is microscopic. Not a favour, and definitely looks like a red flag to me.

      3. JB*

        Going above and beyond? Gosh…

        I’ve known several colleagues over the years who put in their notice and then had to retract. They just…kept their job. They weren’t given a month extension like it was some kind of hardship to keep them on.

        When I left my last job, it was emphasized that if things didn’t work out at new job I should reach out and they’d take me back right away.

        Two weeks is not (and is not supposed to be) enough time to replace someone who’s given notice. LW’s job didn’t go anywhere. Not giving them their job back indicates there’s something bad in this relationship, it’s NOT going ‘above and beyond’.

      4. Artemesia*

        The one month when she is already on that job is a very bad sign not a sign of going beyond. Unless the position has actually been cancelled with her resignation then if she is a good employee they should be thrilled to have her back. I know of a couple of cases in higher ed where someone needed to scramble back due to a job falling through and both were helped to re-gain their position. This would make me very dubious about the manager and what they said.

        1. Amaranth*

          There are some people, however, who see putting in a resignation as unrecoverable. Anyone who is ready to leave won’t continue to be a valuable and trustworthy employee in their minds. Some see it as personal betrayal. It can be emotionally fraught when it should just be professional.

          1. OP*

            I think this is the case. When my manager and her boss had the conversation with me, they were very insistent that they needed someone “reliable” and now that they know I’m looking, they can’t trust that I won’t just try and leave again immediately. You’re very right that it seems there are emotions involved.

      5. Selena*

        That manager is only helping herself: by extending the 2 weeks into 6 weeks she has more time to look for a replacement (or at least reassign OP’s tasks to colleagues)

        It all very much sounds like the manager was crazy angry over OP leaving and deliberately gave a bad reference.

    14. Managing to Get By*

      You might also try running a background check on yourself. Those can sometimes come back with incorrect info, especially if you have a pretty common name. Maybe there was something weird on the background check.

      I ran a background check on myself when I was applying for jobs a few years back just to make sure.

    15. Call Center Warrior*

      I think the most likely thing that happened was that your current manager DID give you a good reference, but she either inadvertently or Straight up gave them the contact info for the previous manager who you did not gel with and THEY bad mouthed you. I feel like this also explains why you can’t get a straight answer out or HR about why the sudden change. Someone went around you and contacted them without your permission and is basing their decision on something they said. Who knows, you said it was higher-ed, presumably in a small geographic area, it’s possible they know each other, or the hiring manager and current manager do, and so current manager felt comfortable disclosing the identity of the former manager you didn’t trust to give a good reference in the first place!

    16. Squirrel Nutkin*

      Good luck on those leads!

      One reference strategy that I used to get out of a crappy adjunct job and into a better full-time position was not to ask my demanding boss, who had utterly unreasonable expectations that she felt I was not living up to, to be a reference. Instead, I asked for a reference from a trusted colleague who knew my work and supported me — he was just my office neighbor, but he could hear me conferencing with students and wrote me a great rec based on that.

      If you have a couple of colleagues who you’re confident are on Team You, as Captain Awkward says, maybe get a bunch of recommendations from them and include them proactively with your application? At least, that way, the hiring companies will know that there are people at your old job who thought you were awesome!

    17. Simply the best*

      Not a hiring manager, but I had a contingent offer who insisted they needed to talk to my current employer because otherwise my most current reference was 3 years old.

    18. BelleMorte*

      Consult with an employment lawyer. It’s possible that if you have it in writing that the HR rep directed you to resign, and then pulled the offer you may have a case, although they are hard. I have an acquaintance who was given an offer, told to resign and she moved across the country and then was told a few days before that the position was cancelled. She sued (had to prove she tried to get her original job back), and was given damages.

      If you have a union consult with them too.

  7. Blazingsuth*

    I’m curious, is there a way to push back against a request to speak with your current manager? I have never had that as a requirement for an application process. I have seen an optional request, ” May we contact your current manager?”. But it was clear that declining this would not count against you.

    Is this really a thing?

    1. Lab Boss*

      It seems like an absolutely terrible idea, especially if the offer is truly contingent. If they’re literally just confirming the candidate actually has the job they say they have, that’s one thing… but how can a hiring company, in good conscience, say “we’re going to tell your boss you want to quit. Also we might do that and then reject you.”

    2. Chairman of the Bored*

      The way to push back against it is “No, please do not contact my current employer.”

      A reasonable organization will understand that you don’t want their hiring process to interfere with your livelihood.

      If advocating for my own interests “counts against me” in the eyes of an org or manager who has already proven themselves to be unreasonable then I’m OK with that outcome.

      There is risk for all parties in any hiring decision. An employer who tries to shift all of this risk onto the applicant is a bad employer.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Agreed. At my current job I was proactive with saying “here are professional references, if you would like to speak to my current employer I can arrange that but she doesn’t know I’m looking so I’d prefer that be at the offer stage” (In my specific set of circumstances, she suspected I was looking and would have given me a good reference but I didn’t want to freak her out unnecessarily if it wasn’t going to pan out). Them saying they didn’t have to talk to her was a huge check in the “take the job” column.

    3. Ali G*

      I’ve had offers contingent on things like background check and verifying my degrees, but never on having to speak to my current manager. I’m on my third employer. I’ve never even given my current manager for a reference! I’ve always listed past managers/high level co-workers.

      1. Hazel*

        My last two job searches were a result of being laid off, so my current managers were very happy to give me glowing references. Before that, though, I always asked that prospective employers NOT contact my then-current manager. It’s just too fraught. But none of this was in academia so…

      2. Teapot Repair Technician*

        Same. For the job I have now, the references I gave were people I worked with 10 to 20 years ago.

        It’s not practical to count on references for anything more than evidence that the candidate is who they say they are. If you need assurance that they will be a good employee, the only real way is to hire them and see for yourself.

    4. BRR*

      The previous AAM advice has been something along the lines of “My current manager does not know that I am looking for a job and in case things fall through, I can’t jeopardize my current employment. I’m happy to put you in touch with Joe and Jane who I worked closely with at ABC company.”

    5. Sleet Feet*

      I have in the past and usually the only answer is for you to refuse yourself and cite that as the reason why.

    6. Recruited Recruiter*

      I ran into this on my most recent job search. When they asked to speak to someone from my current job (after 2 interviews), I gave them the supervisor that had resigned from her position above me less than one month prior, which they did not accept. I withdrew from their hiring process due to their insistence.

  8. Chase*

    As someone waiting for a contingent offer to be fully confirmed, this made me clench my teeth. I do have the benefit of being in an industry hurting for skilled experienced talent (energy) being skilled experienced talent, and leaving my employer because they’ve spent months paying me minimum wage (less after overtime) and hinging the whole company on me after firing my teammate after he shouted at HR.

    When I leave (and it will be a when) they’ll be missing their whole contracts team and will have hundreds of thousands of £££ in contracts, queries, and issues just flapping in the wind. I’d love to be a fly on the wall. Wish me a rapid final offer and a final working day of 5th October!

    (Alison, I’ve been quietly reading for a long time, thank you for preparing me for interviews, difficult situations, difficult conversations and just improving my employability in general.)

    1. nothing rhymes with purple*

      All good luck. If it helps, some random person on the interwebs (me) is rooting for you.

  9. katkat*

    Im afraid I dont have any answers for you, but I want to say A huge THANK YOU! for sharing your experience.

    Stories like this are ment to be heard, because they are so common. I feel like most of the time things don’t go as planned, but 90% of the stories we hear are about success.

    1. katkat*

      Oh my gosh! I sound horribly incosiderate! But i just wanted to say, that you are doing an important favour for yourself and others asking for help in your situation. Good luck in your jobsearch and I hope it will turn better!

    2. Fran Fine*

      I don’t think stuff like this is in fact that common. As many people in the comments have said, if they or someone they knew was a good employee who was valued by their employer and ever had a job offer not work out and they needed to retract their resignation, they were able to with no problem. Many people have also said that while contingent offers themselves are common, having to provide a reference from a current manager isn’t. Basically, I think OP’s situation is actually uncommon (and crappy), but on the rare occasion it does happen, it helps to have Alison’s advice for what you can try to do to mitigate the damage if possible.

  10. WantonSeedStitch*

    Can someone explain to me what the POINT is of making a contingent offer? Why make an offer at all until you’ve finished looking at all the things you want to look at with an applicant, to be absolutely sure you want to hire them? Is there a real good business reason for doing this? My workplace’s usual process is:
    HR reviews applications to weed out any grossly unsuited to the job (e.g., people who clearly don’t even know what the job is)
    Hiring manager chooses people to have HR phone screen to weed out any who aren’t OK with the salary range and other basic stuff
    Hiring manager chooses people who passed the phone screen to interview, and interviews them
    Hiring manager figures out their top choice, contacts their references
    If all is still a go, hiring manager asks HR to make the offer. If not, hiring manager generally goes to the references of the second choice
    Once an offer has been made and accepted, HR notifies the non-selected applicants that the position has been filled.

    I got a call once from a workplace which had made a contingent offer to an employee of mine, pending references. That was my first indication that this was even a thing. I was startled, but gave the employee an honest, good reference, and they were hired. But I just feel like the whole idea is really not good for the applicant.

    1. OP*

      I mean, my biggest thing was, if you had any misgivings about me as an applicant, WHY make a final offer at all? The contingent offer was final! I had a start date! I was starting the onboarding process!

      1. Texas*

        Wait wait wait… they were onboarding you??!! Why on earth would this company give you a contingent offer, start onboarding you, then pull the offer? That’s really crappy, to say the very least.

        Is your exchange with the HR person who advised you to resign for the new job in writing/email? So you have proof they misled you.

        1. OP*

          Sort of. I have an email from her that says “let us know once you’ve let your current job know” which I think, coupled with everything else, is pretty strong evidence they 100% misled me.

          1. Carlie*

            The absolute only thing I can think of is that they really thought they needed to talk to your current supervisor, but didn’t want to be the one to spill the beans on you leaving so they made you do it first. And then found out something in that conversation that swayed them (or coincidentally had something come up in the background check at the same time).

    2. goducks*

      A few reasons:
      Background checks legally can’t be performed without a bona fide offer of employment, so and employer can’t do that step until the offer is on the table, but needs to be able to yank the offer if the candidate has a non-starter show up in that process.

      Also, even absent something like a background check, sometimes there’s just a few formalities to happen, but they’ll take a bit of time, so giving a contingent offer signals the seriousness of the intent to hire a candidate so that maybe they’ll not accept another offer. It’s exceptionally rare in my experience for one of these offers to be rescinded, but it can happen. However, the HR for the new employer NEVER should have said that the OP should give notice. That’s incredibly crappy. The OP would have been completely in the right to wait until the contingencies were all cleared to give notice.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        “Background checks legally can’t be performed without a bona fide offer of employment,”
        This is a problem.
        It seems very catch-22…

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          The catch-22 here isn’t the credit check (which is the part of a background check that requires an employment offer; employers are free to call references before making an offer and usually do). The catch-22 is that this particular employer won’t make an offer until they’ve checked with the applicant’s current manager, but as soon as they do, the current manager will know that the employee is about to take a new job. Either the employee has to give notice in hopes that their current manager doesn’t torpedo the reference, or the employee has to let their manager learn from a reference call that they’re planning on leaving. There’s no good option for the employee here.

        2. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Oh, and the rest of the background check—the part that doesn’t involve telling an employee’s boss that they’re about to leave—is easy to handle. Make a tentative offer pending background check, do the background check, then follow up with a firm offer. Only after the firm offer would the applicant give notice to their old employer.

          It’s the “we need to check with your current manager to be suer we want to make you an offer that’s solid enough for you to give notice” part that’s messed up.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        Background checks, security clearance, and work visas are three very valid reasons I can think of. Also situations where the job requires a particular qualification that the applicant is expected to get in the near future (graduating, professional license, certifications, etc).

        I’ve had various combinations of these – academic research hiring frequently involves visas and getting hired before you finish your PhD. You can’t start work, or even set a start date, before you get the visa, and you might not qualify for the visa until you’ve got the PhD.

        In these situations, though, everyone knows what the situation is, it’s done in good faith (they really do want to hire you and fully intend to follow through) and the process failing is lose-lose for both sides. The applicant is out a job, but by the time visa paperwork is underway, the employer has already sent out rejection letters to the other applicants, the second and third choice probably have taken other offers already, and they have to restart the hiring process.

      3. Aitch Arr*

        That’s incorrect.

        Employers can do background checks – with the candidate’s permission – but it is a best practice to only do them on finalists who you intend to offer the job to.

        The reason? Employers need to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

        Link in username.

    3. Chairman of the Bored*

      The point of contingent offers is to keep candidates on hold in order to minimize risk for the hiring organization.

      They want the candidate to accept a “contingent offer” and stop job searching or interviewing other places while the employer makes up their mind.

      A candidate who is looking after their own interests sees a contingent offer for what it is (basically nothing) and continues to job hunt until the real offer is extended. If you have to, it’s fair to “contingently accept” their contingent offer, with *your* contingency being “if a better offer comes up in the meantime I’m going to take it”.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        I agree with all of this. I think, though, that if someone said “We are extending a contingent offer, but go ahead and put in your notice so we can establish your hire date and start the onboarding process” I’d probably think it was a formality; especially if I wasn’t experienced in this type of thing.

    4. Charlotte*

      I always assumed that it was to cover bases to make sure your current manager didn’t say anything truly, egregiously dealbreaking. As in “actually we discovered she was actively embezzling 2 months ago and are in the process of firing her” or “well, he has three instances of sexual harassment in his disciplinary record, so no, we don’t think he would be a good dorm parent.”

      Partly a CYA move on the part of the university, I’d imagine, so that if problem employee does, say, show up and cause harm to students, unhappy students/parents can’t point to his past behavior at other jobs and say “why did you hire this unsafe bozo?”

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I agree – I always have been told a contingent offer should come through barring anything truly egregious. And since that doesn’t seem to be the case here I can imagine how pissed OP is.

        1. Teapot Repair Technician*

          Considering OP’s previous boss has a personal vendetta against them, it’s possible the hiring manager did hear something egregious about OP.

    5. learnedthehardway*

      There is a good reason for making offers contingent upon satisfactory references – some candidates interview really well, but are definitely not people you want in the role, and sometimes, you don’t want them in your organization at all.

      But it’s very inconsiderate and entitled to demand current manager references when this puts the candidate’s job at risk.

      In the OP’s case, I’d be talking to a lawyer, because HR advised them to resign before the references were completed. That’s just bad advice.

      1. Chairman of the Bored*

        “There is a good reason for making offers contingent upon satisfactory references”

        In this case why bother with the “contingent” step?

        Check the references, make up your mind, then make a real offer.

        What does the contingent offer add to this process, and who does it benefit?

        1. goducks*

          When I’m a candidate, I absolutely do not want a prospective employer contacting my references until I know that they’re serious about hiring me, and that what they’re offering me is generally acceptable. I do not want my references time to be wasted on something that’s going nowhere.

          1. Distracted Librarian*

            Same. And if they require my current manager as a reference (I also work in higher ed), I don’t want that happening till I’m 100% sure I’m their top candidate.

      2. OP*

        I have spoken with a lawyer, but my biggest concern re: legal action is burning bridges. The place that rescinded my offer is a major employer in my city and if I slap them with a lawsuit I will probably be boning myself out of future employment. To which one can say “well if they treat you like that you don’t want to work for them anyway” but I am DESPERATE right now and if another department offered me a job I would 1000% take it.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          Burning a bridge is, technically, one way to get out of education… Probably not the best one, of course.

        2. FridayFriyay*

          It’s not fair, but at the point where they rescinded a very firm sounding “contingent” offer they’d made you, I would assume that whatever it is they uncovered in the time between that offer and when they pulled it is disqualifying from offers in other departments as well.

    6. Brett*

      At least in government, contingent offers unlock actions the employer can take that they cannot do without the contingent offer, generally a detailed background check including tax records, pay stubs, personal references, secondary references, etc.

    7. doreen*

      Depending upon the job and location, it may be necessary to make a conditional/contingent offer of employment before running a criminal background check or conducting a physical examination. But I can’t imagine a reason why references couldn’t be checked prior to making an offer.

    8. RosyGlasses*

      The only contingent offer I think is in good faith (generally speaking) is if it is pending a background check.

    9. NotAnotherManager!*

      Because background, reference, and, in my industry, conflict checks take time and cost money. We only do them on candidates we’ve offered and accepted. Background can also take a long time depending on someone’s specifics.

      However, we also ask people *not* to give notice until they have fully cleared background, conflicts, and reference. It’s in the offer letter. It pushes our start out longer, but we also don’t have people in situations like OP’s and we don’t specifically require current manager references.

      In the interest of full disclosure, this was added after a candidate for one of my positions ended up in OP’s position. We found an insurmountable conflict in our due diligence and couldn’t move forward. It was one of the worst calls I’ve ever had to make, and a colleague and I worked very closely with the candidate to network them into another position that, thankfully, worked out really well for her. But we were lucky, so we advice people not to give notice until due diligence is done, in the off chance there is a deal-breaking problem.

  11. Claudia*

    This happened to me, too, maybe ten years ago. I received an offer, contingent on the reference check. On that call, we agreed on a start date two weeks out. I gave my notice at my current job.

    The day before I was supposed to start, I sent an email to the hiring manager asking about first-day logistics. He called me back and told me that they decided to hire an internal candidate instead. He was very apologetic, and to be fair to him, it sounded like it was not his decision and he did not agree with it, or with the position it put both of us in.

    Luckily, my current job had not replaced me yet, and they happily allowed me to stay on for as long as I needed to find a new job. (They had recently reduced my hours to part-time, so it was no secret that I was looking and they were supportive.)

    I stalked the company website for a few weeks afterward and saw that they had filled the position with a former intern from an entirely different department, with no apparent experience for that role.

    Since then, I don’t support that company that did that to me, and I’ve always wondered if I would have had any legal recourse if I had not been able to keep my old job, based on the fact that they specifically said the offer was contingent on references, and then rescinded despite the fact that my references were good.

    Anyway, OP, I’ve been there. It really sucks. I’m sorry.

    1. Thursdaysgeek*

      So, if you had not called, you would not have known you didn’t have a job there until you showed up the next day? Wow.

      1. Fran Fine*

        Right. The hiring manager was wrong for that – he should’ve called immediately and profusely apologized.

    2. Automaton Artiste*

      OMG. When were they planning on telling you? How were they planning on telling you? If you hadn’t reached out would you have been greeted by old man from scene 24???

    3. OP*

      that is ABSURD. why are employers allowed to do this? I’m so glad you were able to stay on at your current job, and so sorry you had to go through this. your success story gives me hope though!

    4. ConstructionManager*

      I had a job offered to me I accepted and gave my two weeks to my current employer. The new job then asked if I could start in a week. I talked to old job and they said yes this is fine. They found out who my new employer was and turned around and sent them a nasty-gram email for poaching their employee and the next day new job revoked the job offer with no explanation. Old job had a very vindictive culture and manager said “You gave your notice. Too bad.”

      1. OP*

        WOW. I’m so sorry that happened to you and it’s no comfort that my situation could, in fact, be worse! I hope you’re doing better now.

    5. HS Teacher*

      I had a similar thing happen, without a happy ending. My employer terminated me when he got wind that I had a contingent offer. Then he trashed me to the new company, which rescinded my contingent offer. I’m pretty sure he also blackballed me – he was that much of a hateful, vindictive jerk. I ended up just leaving the industry to go work with much better people.

  12. Anna*

    That seems like a really odd final reference check. I’ve never heard of insisting on speaking with the current manager, for pretty much this reason. In most cases your current manager doesn’t know you’re job searching, and its not in your interest to tell them. Telling your boss you’re job searching could have negative consequences, like not getting on good projects or even conveniently getting laid off if the opportunity comes up.

    Also, “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses” – and in that case isn’t the current managers reference likely to be a bit biased? It just seems strange all around. Especially since OP had to quit before that final check

    1. Goldenrod*

      “I’ve never heard of insisting on speaking with the current manager, for pretty much this reason.”

      This is common at University jobs….like mine unfortunately. It’s really lame but they totally INSIST on talking to your current boss.

    2. mdv*

      I’m in higher ed, too, and it would never occur to me to call a current manager without checking with the candidate first! Recently, I wasn’t the hiring manager, but I was doing the reference checks for a job … one of the applicants works in another department, and even though she listed her supervisor as a reference, I still called her first to ask if it was okay for me to “out” her by calling that person.

  13. My name keeps getting deleted*

    I completely understand why a hiring manager wants to talk to current managers but I also unequivocally HATE it. I am also not a fan of them insisting to speak to former managers because it can be particularly challenging to people who are new in our careers or people who have been in the same org (with the same manager) for 4+ years. Like, I get it. You want to know what I’m like from the perspective of people I work directly under, but I’m not interested in compromising my job security for a MAYBE. Hiring managers should be more open to hearing from a selection of colleagues. Hell, OP submitted 5 other references!

    So sorry for you OP. Good luck!

    1. Cat Lady*

      And imagine if applicants could dare ask the same! Have employers provide references from departing employees so you can learn what it was like to work there and why they left to evaluate if it’s a good fit for you.

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        I don’t ask employers to provide references, but I do talk to former and sometimes current employees before accepting a position (and sometimes before applying). If I know current or former employees, I ask them. If I didn’t (hasn’t happened yet), I’d probably search on LinkedIn to find recent former employees and ask them.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think that actually is a fairly normal thing to ask for. I’ve never asked but I know some people who have.

    2. MsSolo (UK)*

      Current employer is pretty standard in the UK, but it’s usually just a formality – “does MsSolo actually work there? For the dates claimed? Great, box ticked” – which is good, because my previous employer is in a completely different industry. I don’t think anyone who might hire me as a data analyst will be interested in whether I was a good museum guide 6 years ago.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yes, I’m reading this thread with interest because almost every formal job offer I’ve ever had has come with the caveat “subject to satisfactory references” and the understanding that those checks are fairly superficial, to make sure you haven’t blatantly lied on your application, eg to make sure your job title and dates aren’t a fiction.

        Though once I accepted a formal offer and prepared my references’ contact details to send to the new employer, only for them to say that information was unnecessary as they’d obtained satisfactory (indeed, glowing) references through the grapevine. That was … startling.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes, same here. I’m not in an industry that conducts ‘background checks’, it’s literally just two references and – if they contact them at all – it’ll just be a ‘Did londonedit work for you from 2014 until 2016?’ question. Nothing more than that. Every offer I’ve ever had has been ‘subject to references’ but it’s understood that it’s a formality and unless you’ve lied on your CV it’ll be fine.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Reference checks usually come before the offer and are very normal–it only gets complicated when they want to talk to your *current* boss

    3. Filosofickle*

      It can be REALLY hard. I recently gave a reference for a young colleague who was backed into a corner. Luckily, she had me and I was senior to her so it was okay. But I was the only good option she had. It was her first post-college job, so the current boss was the only managerial reference she could give and she didn’t want them to know. We were a company of 3 so there weren’t even any other colleagues! Just me. What if it hadn’t been safe to tell me she was looking?

  14. Delphine*

    Shows an appalling lack of compassion from the hiring employer. Why are they so comfortable leaving someone jobless without any explanation? Imagine if the reference from the current employer had NOTHING to do with them rescinding their offer. The reference was positive, but they still decided not to hire OP, after instructing her to leave her job.

  15. Chocoholic*

    When I was interviewing for my current job, if they had wanted to speak to my current supervisor, I’m not sure she could have really given me much of a reference one way or the other because she had only been there for 2 months. I liked her OK, but the timing just worked out that way.

  16. the cat's ass*

    UGH, this is terrible. I’m so sorry, OP. I’ve served as a kind of parallel/de facto manager type reference for multiple employees at Oldjob, where the boss was a terrible person and routinely sabotaged staff with bad references. And staff would frisk up to her during the 2 week notice period and thank her for the great reference and she was powerless to say anything (because the place was a revolving door she couldn’t really keep track of who asked for references or didn’t so that was extra fun). Maybe there’s someone in your org who could help you the same way?

    When i finally decamped, i picked one of those previous staffers who’s now risen to a great position in a prominent-in-our-industry company, as well as a boss from the job just before Oldjob. Sweet.

  17. ConsultingIsFun*

    I am so sorry this has happened to you, and it makes me thrilled that I seem to have only worked in industries that do not do references.

    I have worked in banking, management consulting, and currently tech and none of these jobs asked me for references (and I believe they all have the HR policy to only confirm employment dates and if you’re eligible for rehire).

    References are dumb and I hope to see a growing trend away from requiring them.

  18. Hiring Mgr*

    After seeing letters like this, and all the others with terrible bosses can we really say the way we do reference checks is productive? I’m not a big reference guy to begin with but there has to be a better way

    1. Cat Tree*

      The nature of any advice column is that it disproportionately focuses on bad situations. People who have normal experiences with references that work out well don’t have much reason to write in for advice.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Yes but that’s not necessarily a reason to accept the status quo if it can be improved. By the way, i have no suggestions on how to do so, just that any system which leaves somone’s professional fate up to the whims of a deranged boss, potentiall years after they’ve worked therem seems off to me.

  19. Allywood*

    I’m sorry OP. The red flag for me is when the company encouraged you to resign for a conditional offer. No that’s not how this works. That was in their best interest not yours. I hope you can find something out, but if not, grind hard for the next month. I also want to know why current manager gave you only 1 month. Something doesn’t smell right.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      But what are you supposed to do when the offer is contingent on talking to your current boss? It seems like that always puts the candidate in an unreasonable position. Even if they didn’t officially resign, OP still would have had to tell their boss they were planning to leave for another job which would have them in pretty much the same situation regardless where their boss now sees them as an unreliable flight risk.

  20. spek*

    I had a similar issue where I am a disabled vet, and my disability was obvious and discussed during the interview process, and I provided the job description to my doctor and he wrote a letter saying I would have no trouble performing the job, as described. This was for a nation-wide company, with my boss at another location, and fast forward to my first day at work, when the on-site manager (not my boss, and who I had never met), met me and told me that there was no way I could do the job and sent me home. The result was rounds of emails, phone calls with HR, my boss, senior management and the site manager, and threats of legal action, resulting in me showing back up 2 days later and working the job to great acclaim for 6 years before I moved on. Don’t hesitate to threaten or actually take legal action; you have been wronged.

    1. Bibliovore*

      _Wow_. How awful of the on-site manager, and how crazy that HR and your boss couldn’t simply countermand it immediately. I’m glad it resolved so well for you.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      It’s worth looking into, but legal action is the much more clear path in a case like yours where they are not legally allowed to fire you because of a disability. Whereas like Alison pointed out, in theory OP could have shown up on the first day and been let go immediately for any reason that isn’t legally considered discrimination.

  21. anon4eva*

    So sorry this happened! I would email HR/hiring manager back and reiterate the situation and your question…I would also CC anyone that could be a higher up/boss to the HR/hiring manager at this company. They literally messed with your livelihood and are giving you the runaround afterwards? Not cool!

    I’m sorry about the reference situation as well (did she give a good reference or not, who knows?). I do hiring and very rarely do reference checks, as in my industry they’re pretty useless. I imagine they’re good for vetting people who don’t communicate well (because who would give a potential employer a bad reference), or an industry where the work doesn’t speak for itself. Because needing another coworker’s verbalized recognition of you is a very gregarious-dependent sort of thing, and could easily go awry….like an extrovert with a nice personality but poor work skills could easily slide pass a reference check, unless the hiring manager is a devoted sleuth determined to make whatever decision they can based on a stranger’s perception of someone else (which I doubt most are or want to devote the time to be).
    As for them insisting on needing your current manager’s reference and making the offer conditional on this basis…this would feel like to me they want a quick way out and may be looking at someone else to take the job and I’m the fallback if that doesn’t work.
    Good luck with everything, it may be worth looking at a different industry where word of mouth isn’t such a deciding factor in a new job.

  22. anonymous73*

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, but unfortunately no job offer is ever a done deal, especially if it was contingent on something. I never quit a job unless I have an official offer letter, and even that isn’t a guarantee. I would go back to your current manager and explain what happened. You say they were supportive and happy for you when you resigned so they sound like a reasonable human, and if it’s still a possibility would let you rescind your resignation. Good luck.

  23. Jennifer*

    I’m sorry OP, that’s an awful situation to be in.

    While it stinks to have your offer rescinded after giving notice, the thing is, if you work in an at-will state, they could also just let you go on Day 2. So there is never a guarantee anyway. It’s always a risk. It’s a risk to stay in the current job too.

    I hope you find something else great.

  24. Message in a Bottle*

    I don’t actually think this is because of a bad reference. Something else was shady at Almost New Job. I’m not sure what, but you dodged a few bullets.

    How to protect yourself from shady employers? Not sure you can. I just try to really zero in on my instincts about the hiring managers and anyone who seems in power during the candidacy/hiring process. I once left a job after my first day because my spidey sense said something was up. So everyone can back out. I needed a job so desperately that I almost just ignored everything the two-hour commute in snowy weather, the unsafe neighborhood I’d have to live in, and more.

    So trust and listen to your gut.

  25. Crazyoboe*

    I had a job offer rescinded once, because the dumb butt principal at my last school checked the box saying I was not eligible to be rehired at that school, which wasn’t true at all, because they had literally tried to rehire me 5 days after initially telling me they didn’t want me back the next year. (They wanted to go a different direction with their music program.) Even though I immediately had the principal’s boss call and set the record straight, they were no longer “comfortable” offering me the job. One checkmark in the wrong box ended costing me 20k in salary that year. (I ended up at a different school in the same charter company, so I WAS eligible to be rehired, cuz I was.)

    1. Anonymous mouse*

      I’d think that a lawyer could have had your old employer over a barrel for that one, simply because they cost you money through their mistake.

  26. Maxy*

    Alison, I’m wondering your thoughts on job offers contingent on a background check. I just started a new job and since it’s at a school the offer was contingent on a background check, which included going to get fingerprinted, so it took about a week, maybe week and a half, for it to be finalized. But I had already negotiated a start date with my manager, and I needed to be able to give two weeks at my last job, so I resigned before the background check was complete. The whole time I was super stressed (even though I’ve never even gotten so much as a speeding ticket!), but of course everything worked out fine (and I’ve worked at a lot of schools and passed a lot of background checks). In this situation, would you recommend going back to the manager and pushing back the start date and waiting to resign?

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      The hiring manager should understand that it’s the school’s own process that is delaying things. And they should understand 2 weeks notice at your old job is standard and you’re going to extend them the same courtesy in the future.

      I once negotiated a month before my start date because I was wrapping up a project at my current job, there was no one else that could finish it, and it involved reporting to a government entity on a strict deadline or the company would face a stiff fine. The hiring manager asked me if I thought the current company would extend me the same consideration I was showing them if they were laying me off, which was an interesting question, but I said I was unwilling to burn a bridge and leave my boss hanging. Hiring manager said that boded well for our relationship and they waited the month that I needed.

      1. Maxy*

        I didn’t consider this angle – that making sure I give a fair notice period bodes well for the new job too. I think I partly was itching to leave my last toxic job and I’m also in my mid-20s so still figuring it all out. Thanks for the advice!

    2. Eye roll*

      IDK what Alison would recommend, but twice I’ve (successfully) said “I’m looking forward to accepting the position, but since the offer is still contingent, let’s hold off on setting a start date until you’re ready to make a final offer.”

      1. Maxy*

        Oh I love this phrasing, thank you! I’m not planning to switch jobs anytime soon (just left a toxic workplace and my new job is practically heaven in comparison – my boss reads AAM!) but since I will probably continue to work for schools I’m sure I’ll eventually run into this again, so I’ll keep this in my back pocket. :)

        1. Loredena Frisealach*

          My fun with contingencies was when, very early in my career, a consulting firm offered me a job contingent on finding an assignment/client for me. I took this to mean that it wasn’t a firm offer, so kept looking. By the time they called to say they had a client and when could I start, I’d accepted another position! They thought I was trying to push them for more money, and I had to explain that no, I’d actually accepted a lower paying job. Apparently they thought my contingent offer/acceptance meant that I would just wait for them to get back to me, however long it took.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      Every time I’ve been asked about start date and told contingent on background check in the same phone call/email, my response is “I’m sure you can understand I’m not comfortable giving notice until all contingencies are removed. I plan to give X weeks, so the start date will depend on when that contingency is removed.”
      Admittedly, I haven’t had a ton of jobs since I’ve usually stayed at each a while, but my experience is when you frame it that way, someone interested in not appearing to be an asshole will always answer “of course, I understand”.
      In other words, the best way to handle this is NOT agree to a start date before they’ve removed contingencies.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      If the offer is contingent on a background check then they should understand that you can’t give notice at your current employer until the background check comes back clear. I would push back on the start date to make sure there is time to allow for that.

  27. Spicy Tuna*

    That was terrible advice for the hiring manager to encourage you to give notice. I once got a job where the offer was contingent on an extensive background check. HR AND the hiring manager repeatedly told me NOT TO RESIGN from my current job until I cleared the background check. It took over a month. I was dying. :-)

  28. Liza is not younger*

    I feel like you might have a case to collect unemployment since the job is still open and you asked to stay. I may not be remembering this correctly but I think there’s something there.

  29. His Grace*

    Oh man, this is awful. This employer royally screwed you. At the very least, this employer owes you an explanation, apology, and severance payments. That they refuse do any of that is a major red flag. Sit down with your current employer, explain what happened, and let them know you are rescinding your resignation and why (how much detail you want to give them is up to you.) Is there a chance may be out of that job too? Yes. And if that happens, any future employer with a sliver of decency and common sense will be horrified and sympathetic (to quote Alison).

    All the best, OP, and I sincerely hope things work out.

    1. A Person*

      I think there’s just a monthly maximum of articles you can read? That’s what the page said to me, anyway.

  30. Susie A*

    My husband is kind of in the same position now. He had an offer signed offer letter and then the background check email says they have to talk to a previous or current employer/supervisor. Well, he has been at the same company for 24 years and the employer before that is closed. He has some part-time and seasonal jobs from high school and summers, but no guarantee that they will remember him, if any of the supervisors still work there or if they are still in business! He asked about this and was told they need to verify he his employement. He was given the option to log-in to his payroll provider to “instantly” verify his employment, but he company he works for has their own payroll department and does not use an outside provider like ADP or Paycom. Surely, there has to be a better way to verify someone is working other than contacting their current employer? The background company is Good Hire.

    I really don’t undersatnd

  31. Get a lawyer*

    Talk to an employment lawyer! In some states there are specific statutes that protect employees from situations like this! They are typically framed as fraudulent inducement.

  32. Dave*

    UK based here so may not be possible over there, but I generally never hand in notice at an old job until I have a signed contract in my hands.

    Sorry for your sucky position OP, but stand your ground next time someone tries to convince you to quit before it’s a done deal.

  33. NotToday*

    For some reason I thought a potential employer could not speak to your current employer without your consent. IS that right?

    If so, I would have just said I’m not comfortable with my current boss knowing I’m job searching, so I can’t give consent.

    1. Susie A*

      I think most places ask if your current place of employment cannot be contacted and you can say no. But I have a few stores on here about them contacting your employer anyway or it getting back to your employer through the grapevine.

      I posted above about my husband’s situation where they say they have to speak to a current or former employer to verify employment, but my husband has worked at the same place for 24 years and the previous employer is closed. If you can put down a former employer, how does that verify current employment?!? I don’t understand some of the convoluted hiring practices today. They like my husband’s employment record enough to send a offer letter, pending verification of current employment, which could push him out earlier than he wants to leave.

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