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Carla Jenkins, a seasoned cloud computing professional, was feeling great. She’d just interviewed with a major tech firm for a technical program manager role that aligned incredibly well with her skills and experience. She’d been told that the process would be quick—one interview. And the feedback from that conversation was very good.

The recruiter checked her references and then presented a verbal offer. Jenkins was thrilled—and began excitedly preparing for this next career chapter.

As she awaited the written offer, she got the news. More stakeholders wanted to speak with her. There would be one more interview.

While Jenkins thought this unusual—since she’d already been offered the job—she felt confident it was more of a formality. Days later, she participated in a Zoom call with a technical decision maker, a senior program manager, and the recruiter who was preparing the formal offer and who, immediately following this extra conversation, told her she did great. No worries. Everything’s still on track.

A day later, the recruiter called again. One of the interviewers had felt she’d dodged a couple of questions, she explained. The offer was being pulled. They were both dumbfounded.

What. The. Heck? I mean, can companies do this?

Short answer? Yes. A job offer can absolutely be pulled, for a lot of reasons—most of which are completely legal, even if arguably in poor form.

Wait, when would a job offer be rescinded?

Here are a few of the most common reasons you can lose an offer:

  • You don’t pass the background check. This one’s an obvious and completely merited one. If a potential employer has hard and fast baseline requirements for employment and you don’t meet these (e.g., you don’t have the required education or licensure, you have a criminal record, etc.), you won’t likely move forward—even if you have a verbal or written offer in hand.
  • You don’t respond by the deadline. In a perfect world, your future employer will be at least somewhat patient as you ponder and respond to a job offer. However, you’ll want to use care to not simply ignore any stated “respond by” instructions in the offer letter, email, or conversation. If you dodge the requested or expected decision-making timeline, you may risk losing the offer altogether.
  • You make a major faux pas. I’ll never forget the time I had an engineering candidate fly through the interview process with my client, a robotics firm, only to throw it all away at a lunch with his future coworkers. As the ink dried on his offer, he joined his soon-to-be peers to get to know the team. They all knew one another well and, through the meal, traded good-natured digs and jokes, as colleagues tend to do. Viewing this as his cue, the candidate made a tasteless joke about Rogaine to one of the engineers, who was bald. Suffice it to say it didn’t land well. The offer was rescinded.
  • The company (or the economy) experiences an unanticipated setback. While unfortunate, economic uncertainty, swift changes in the market, canceled projects, corporate reorganizations, or the loss of a key client can also lead to an offer being revoked as budgets and strategies change.
  • There’s chaos or disagreement among decision makers. Jenkins’ story is one example that demonstrates clearly how chaos or disagreement among decision makers can result in frustrating outcomes. But there are others: I recently coached a job seeker who’d just gone on a massive roller coaster ride with the hiring team at an edtech company she’d been interviewing with. They were very excited about her qualifications—so much so that, after receiving a competitive verbal offer from HR, a senior executive suggested they could expand the role further and pay her even more. This, of course, was of interest; she was all in. Unfortunately, the hiring team couldn’t come to an agreement on what that expanded role would look like and, as they went back and forth, HR decided that she was overqualified for the job in its initial format. And so they cut her loose entirely.

Do I have any legal recourse if my offer was rescinded?

If you’re being hired as an “at-will” employee, both you and the employer can decide to end things whenever you want—for any reason or no reason at all. So in many cases, it’s perfectly legal for an organization to let you go, even before you’ve technically started the job.  

However, in the U.S. (and many additional countries), there are laws that prohibit employers from discrimination based on such gender, race, disabilities, and more, so it’d be illegal to withdraw an offer for discriminatory reasons. Likewise, if your offer has been presented as a contract (that you’ve signed), the employer may be legally “in the wrong” should they pull it.

If you suspect an offer may have been retracted illegally, you’ll be wise to seek the input of an employment attorney. It may not change the outcome, but it might be worth a conversation.

Is there anything I can do to prevent an offer from being withdrawn?

I’m a big believer in controlling the things you can control to the best of your ability and working hard to let go of the things you cannot control.

There are plenty of factors related to job offers that are simply out of your hands—such as market downturns, corporate reorganizations, and hiring freezes.

But you can get ahead of things like your background check. Do you already know what will turn up? If so, it may be wise to go on the offense with this information during the interview period—and definitely, definitely, don’t lie. Likewise, you have control over your “post-offer, pre-employment” behavior. Always be mindful to not do or say anything that may offend others or otherwise be an employment deal breaker.

What do I do if my job offer was rescinded?

Now the obvious question is this: What should you do if you’ve just had an offer rescinded? Here are four quick tips:

1. Make sure you understand what happened.

Losing an offer can feel surreal and prompt an absolute tidal wave of emotions. Even so, it’s important to stay as calm as possible as the news is delivered—and (politely and professionally) ask questions about anything you don’t understand. You need clarity so that you can decide how to proceed from here.

2. Ask about other options.

If the offer has been rescinded for reasons unrelated to your background or behavior, you may wish to ask your point person if there might be other options within the company. Perhaps another team would benefit from your expertise. Or maybe the company could bring you in as a temp or contractor instead of hiring you directly. If you feel strongly about the opportunity, do a bit of brainstorming and then make the ask!

3. Give yourself time to process.

No matter how logical or understandable the situation may be, when you lose a job offer, it’ll likely bruise your ego. You might be sad, mad, or anxious about your future. This is all very normal. In fact, allowing yourself to move through what will, essentially, be stages of grief, will better position you for future success than if you swallow your feelings and race right back out to the job market. It’s hard to make progress when you’re hanging onto the past!

4. Tell people what you’re going through.

There’s no denying that having a job offer pulled back can be traumatic, especially if you’ve already given notice at another job. So how can you turn the tables on this crappy situation? Share your story with your professional network. You’re likely to get some much-needed words of encouragement, and maybe even a few leads as you ease your way back into the job search.

Jenkins, for instance, not only continued interviewing as she worked to get things sorted out with the company that pulled her offer, she created and shared a short video of her story on YouTube and LinkedIn. The experience was cathartic, she said, and the support from her network was nearly instantaneous. At time of publication, she was in the running for two additional roles.

But you don’t have to make a video or post on all your social profiles if that’s not your style—you can also mention it to your mentors one-on-one or tell your old coworkers in that group thread you keep up.

5. Consider asking for your old job back (if you want or need it).

Likewise, if you’ve given notice at your current employer and now actually need that job, why not ask for it back? It could be as simple as reaching out to your boss and explaining what’s happened. Sure, you may feel like you’re groveling, but if you need the income and know you’re valuable on the job, it won’t hurt to ask.

6. Try not to beat yourself up.

In many instances, having a job offer rescinded isn’t your fault at all. You may not want to hear it at the moment, but you might just be better off in the long run if this is a company experiencing financial distress or management issues.

And even if it is (technically) your fault? You can use this as a valuable learning experience as you press on toward that next chapter in your career.

Updated 7/26/2022