First — and this advice works for all sorts of situations — don’t slam anyone on Twitter. Limit venting to close friends and family. “When we get the bad news, every molecule of fear, anger and helplessness rushes in,” says executive coach Liz Kislik. “Sometimes we can say things that are not useful to our future selves.” Instead, look for ways to express disappointment without burning the bridge. “It doesn’t hurt to tell them, ‘I am crushed that I will not be able to join your company and I hope that when your circumstances change we will have another opportunity to work together.’”
A lot of people will tell you that it’s a blessing in disguise that your offer has been rescinded, because it probably means you’re dodging a troubled company. But if it’s your dream job, it’s worth hoping that the company will get its act together and change their mind (again).
Nathan Furr, a strategy professor at Insead, told me his path to a faculty position at the prestigious France-and-Singapore-based business school was full of U-turns. The school seemed to be on the cusp of formalizing an offer, then said they didn’t want to hire him after all, and then — nine months later — came back with an offer. So if the job that evaporated is one you really want, don’t give up on it, said Susannah Harmon Furr, an entrepreneur and Nathan’s spouse and co-author on “The Upside of Uncertainty: A Guide to Finding Possibility in the Unknown.”
If you’ve already given notice at your current job, consider trying to un-resign. “If you still have a fantastic relationship with your old boss, get on the horn,” says Kislik. “Say, ‘If my old job is available, I would like to come back, and I would like to talk to you about how we can make it a better situation on both sides.’” Acknowledge the social awkwardness of the situation, and admit that your about-face has been disruptive. That could help assuage the fears of an employer who now has extremely good reason to see you as a flight risk.
Let other places you interviewed know you’re back on the market. There is an old-fashioned idea that companies will be too put off by a candidate who withdrew to give them another chance. But Laura Mazzullo, founder and owner of New York-based recruiting firm East Side Staffing, says the power dynamic between employees and employers is now more balanced. “The rule book of 10 years ago, five years ago, really isn’t relevant right now,” she says.
If returning to a previous job isn’t possible and other opportunities have dried up, come up with a short-term plan to manage your cash flow. For about 40% of all job seekers, it takes six months to find a new job, and the Federal Reserve estimates that only one in four US households has emergency savings that would last that long.(1)
If yours is among them, perhaps you can reframe this unwanted employment break as a spontaneous sabbatical. Have you always wanted to apply for a fellowship, take a class or volunteer abroad? Maybe this is your chance.
But be intentional about how you use this windfall of time. A 2015 study showed that unemployed men tend to spend most of their waking hours watching TV, and unemployed women spend a ton of time on housework. You probably don’t want to look back on this period to find you spent it vacuuming. Besides, having “extracurriculars” will make you more attractive to a potential employer.
The Furrs cautioned against taking a job, any job, just to end the uncertainty. Kislik, too, warned that taking a pay-the-bills gig can drain some of the energy needed for a job search. Perhaps a better short-term answer is part-time consulting work or freelancing; the company that withdrew your offer might even have some leads. Seems like the least they could do.
Realistically, with even some high-earning Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck and full-time employment still an essential source of health insurance, you might have to take a job you aren’t that thrilled about while you keep looking for something better. It used to be considered a professional sin to stay less than a year — but that’s one of those outmoded rules that serves employers more than employees. As long as you leave gracefully, the short tenure won’t haunt you.
In all sorts of ways, work has become more fluid and less rigid than it was in previous decades — for better and for worse. We dress more casually, boomerang back to former employers and blur the line between business and pleasure travel (giving us hideous portmanteaux like “workation” and “bleisure”). Employers ghost applicants, and applicants ghost would-be employers. Nine-to-five is now “always on.” And formal, written offers don’t mean what they used to, either for new hires — who sometimes back out after signing — or for employers.
Of course, employers shouldn’t rescind job offers — it’s not fair to the candidate and it reflects poorly on the company. “This is a horrendous thing to do for their brand,” says Mazzullo. Nonetheless, there is only so much a person can do to prevent it. One way to protect yourself might be to ask for a sign-on bonus; that way, if the offer evaporates, you’ll have a cash cushion to fund your search for a new one. Ideally, one that sticks.
More From Other Writers at Bloomberg Opinion:
Anxious About a Recession? Start Thinking Like a Freelancer: Erin Lowry
How to Win the Hybrid Workforce Revolution: Adrian Wooldridge
If You Already Hate Your New Job, It’s Fine to Quit: Kathryn Minshew
Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X All Basically Agree on WFH: Chris Hughes
(1) That estimate is from a 2018 study, but is in line with more recent surveys.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Sarah Green Carmichael is a Bloomberg Opinion editor. Previously, she was managing editor of ideas and commentary at Barron’s and an executive editor at Harvard Business Review, where she hosted “HBR IdeaCast.”
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com/opinion
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