How to Make Sure Your Job Offer is on Solid Ground

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An e-mail interview with Michelle D. Roccia, senior vice president of corporate organizational development for Winter, Wyman, a staffing firm headquartered in Waltham, Mass., that serves the New England and metropolitan New York markets.

Can an employer rescind a job offer they had put in writing?

Written offers are often just a way of formalizing the offer. They are not contracts and do not necessarily protect the candidate in the event an offer is rescinded.

In Massachusetts and many other states, employment is "at will." Therefore, an employer can legally rescind a job offer.

What can a candidate do to lower the risk an offer might be rescinded?

First of all, do your homework - research the company. How stable is the company? Is it undergoing change. Is there a lot of turnover? What is the tenure of the management team? Is there an interim management team? Always make sure the company is viable, especially in a challenging economy.

Many companies still hire even if they had a bad quarter, went through some restructuring, or are being acquired. Under any of these scenarios, however, things could change and hiring could freeze and offers could be rescinded. It's important to keep abreast of the company before, during and after the interview process.

Don't be afraid to ask questions during the interview process. You should be interviewing the company as much as they're interviewing you. Find out as much as you can about the company. Check Hoovers and other resources.

During the interview process, don't ignore warning signs. Is the process taking a very long time? Is the company timely about getting back to you? Did they check your references after saying they would? If you feel something is not right, it could be a warning sign that the job offer could eventually fall through.

At the senior level, when there is much more at stake, an executive could negotiate an employment contract that might provide compensation if the offer is rescinded and you've already resigned from your previous employer.

Are there things about a candidate that might make an offer evaporate?

If your potential employer does background checks and you know there might be an issue, tell them in advance. They are going to find out and it's always better to have them hear it from you directly. You will have the opportunity to explain the situation and help them understand what happened.

If the offer is contingent on a background check (covering criminal, credit, employment and education records), a company can rescind the offer if the background check comes back with issues. Candidates will often wait to resign from their current position until the background check is complete.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act provides a specific process employers must follow when using a credit check for employment purposes. Notably, if an employer rules out a candidate due to a credit report, the candidate must be told and have an opportunity to respond.

Because of SEC compliance and more detailed background check requirements, financial services companies may have more rigorous requirements than some other industries, especially for higher level positions.

What options do I have after an offer is rescinded?

First, if you left your job on good terms, you could ask for your old job back. To preserve this possibility, remember never to burn bridges, act with integrity and respect throughout your employment. (But don't forget there was a reason you considered leaving your job, so ask yourself if going back makes sense. You don't want to go back half heartedly.)

Second, just move on and look for a new job. This one wasn't meant to be.

What if the process involved an external recruiter?

If you are using a recruiter, make sure the firm you are working with is reputable and that they are knowledgeable about the role and the company they are presenting to you.

Understand that you play a role in the process as well. It's your responsibility to investigate, do your research and ask questions as much as it is the recruiter's.

If an offer is rescinded after you resigned from your previous employer, work with your recruiter to find another role. Remember, everything happens for a reason!