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I got a new job! At least I think I did…

How to handle strange hiring situations

For a job seeker, there is no better feeling than picking up the phone and hearing those magical words, “We’d like to make you an offer.” After a call like that, it’s natural to want to shout the news from the rooftops, hand in your two weeks’ notice and buy yourself a “Congratulations on the new job” present.

 But what happens when a week goes by, and you have yet to receive official new hire paperwork, or any additional communication from the hiring manager for that matter? You don’t want to bother the new company, but you start to panic. Perhaps your celebration was a bit premature?

 Given today’s up-and-down economy, strange or untraditional hiring situations are becoming more and more common. Perhaps you get a verbal offer but then never hear back. Or you accept a job under the pretence that it’s for a certain role but later learn the position has become drastically different. You’re just happy to be offered a job, so you don’t want to come across as pushy or a complainer. You do, however, want — and deserve — to get some confirmation or clarity.

 Should you ever find yourself on the receiving end of what appears to be an awkward or ambiguous hiring situation, here is some advice to avoid getting burned:

 Don’t put all your eggs in one career basket

You may be asked back for multiple interviews and get some hints from the people you speak with that the job is yours, but until you officially hear, continue to keep your options open. “The job search is never over until the offer is in hand,” says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.” “It is inevitable that an opportunity will disappear through no fault of yours. So it is essential that you continue to network and job search until the very final moments. Having multiple irons in the fire will also make you a lot more desirable and enhance the potential to negotiate in a meaningful way.”

 Leave no room for misunderstanding

At this point, you’ve received the verbal offer from the hiring manager. Before you give notice at your current company, make sure you have an official offer letter and it’s signed, sealed and delivered. “Don’t leave a meeting where you’ve received a verbal offer without solidifying the details,” says Sandra Lamb, career, lifestyle and etiquette expert, and author of “How to Write It, Third Edition.” “Say, ‘Just to be clear here, I understand you are offering me the position of X, with a salary of Y, to start Z.’ Cover all the details, and get them in writing. Absent [of] this, write your own letter of employment and cover all these items, and ask for a signature.”

 Don’t be afraid to follow up

As teams shrink and companies become short-staffed, it’s not uncommon for the new hire process to take a little bit of time, and days or weeks may go by before the official paperwork is in the job seeker’s hand. While the job may be the only thing on your mind, it’s important to remember that the hiring team is likely juggling multiple hiring and personnel matters. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to follow up periodically; doing so will not only help to push the process along, but it will also show them your continued interest in and excitement for the position.  

 Daniel Newell, job development and marketing specialist for San Jose State University’s Career Center in San Jose, Calif., suggests that if you don’t hear back after 7-10 days, it’s time to follow up. “When calling the employer, thank them for taking your call and inform them that you were calling to follow up on the job offer made to you,” Newell says. “Let them know that you have been preparing yourself for the opportunity and are simply inquiring about a general estimate of when they anticipate you starting the position. It’s not a bad idea to ask if you will receive a formal offer via email or by mail.”

 If after multiple attempts you’re still hitting a brick wall, it may be a sign that it’s time to move on. “If a job seeker has interviewed with an employer and has checked-in with them at least twice within three weeks and has still not received a formal job offer or any sign of moving forward in the hiring process, that job seeker should reconsider working for that employer,” Newell suggests. “This looks bad on a company and tarnishes their image as a professional business or representative.”

 Be open to changes

“Anyone offered a position today should anticipate — or almost expect — that the job for which they were hired to do is probably not the job they are going to be asked to do,” says Lee Igel, Ph.D., associate professor at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. “Organizations today are focused on fitting the human to the task, which means the job description is either a starting point for work or something that serves as little more than a basis for hiring. In the old world of work, employees conformed to the needs of a distinct job; in today’s world of work, employees have to conform to the needs of a task or project.”

 That’s not to say that if you’re unsure about the drastic change that you can’t speak up. Just do it in a way that shows you’re a team player and happy to pitch in where needed, but you want to have a complete understanding of the expectations and goals for the position.

 Look for red flags

While companies may be approaching hiring in more untraditional ways, if something doesn’t feel right, listen to your gut. If you have a bad feeling about a company or its hiring practices, chances are it’s not a good place to work. “If the hiring procedure is strange, it should be a very large red flag,” Lamb says. “Even in these times, getting a flaky boss, ending up working for nothing, or doing a job that isn’t what you thought you were being hired for isn’t going to serve you well.”

Debra Auerbach is a writer and blogger for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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