No formal offer before getting current references - is this normal?
March 7, 2012 8:18 AM   Subscribe

I've been offered a job but not offered a job. Is this normal?

I'm an early/mid-career professional in my early 30's and I've been offered a new position at a company that is the logical next step to my career. It's a slight salary rise, a significant increase in responsibility, and has more long-term opportunity.

But, they simply will not put anything in writing unless I give a verbal acceptance AND give them two supervisor references from my current employer. Is this normal? I know the net effect is that I'm taking a minor/moderate risk, but it also undercuts my ability to negotiate and ask tough questions. Any sort of advice/experience in this case would be appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
they simply will not put anything in writing unless I give a verbal acceptance AND give them two supervisor references from my current employer.

It sounds like you definitely don't have the job yet, based on this info. References are a big deal, that's something that usually needs to be resolved prior to an offer being made.

Get them the references, then follow up to see if they formally offer you the job, then you can accept verbally. You can't accept anything less than a real offer, and they probably can't give you a real offer without the references.
posted by clockzero at 8:22 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience, no, the "verbal acceptance" part of this is not normal - what exactly are you accepting? Their interest? You can't accept a job that hasn't been offered, and this doesn't sound like an offer but more of a "confirm you are interested in moving forward before you continue." The references-before-written-offer part is fairly standard.

On the flip side, where I live a verbal (or written) acceptance of a job offer is not set in stone, so you may not lose anything by doing this, but I may be under-thinking this.
posted by sm1tten at 8:25 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

If there's no formal offer letter including the company name, job title, and wage scale, then you haven't been officially offered a job. A verbal job offer commitment can often turn into an official offer, but it just as easily can be retracted. Protect yourself.

The real decision looks to be whether or not you want to give the new company access to people at your current company as references. Can you find references at your current job that wouldn't have possible negative consequences should this job possibility fall through?
posted by seppyk at 8:33 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

This would not be that strange in some industries, for example law. What you need to be clear about is whether they are telling you, yes, we will hire you if these references are satisfactory. In a professional setting (consulting, finance, accounting, etc.), they may want to verify that you are "in good standing" or are not leaving because of some incident or something like that.

(Legal job offers at many law firms may also be contingent on resolution of any potential conflicts, which can also occasionally give rise to some dicey confidentiality issues.)

If they are not willing to tell you that you have the job if the references are satisfactory, you may have to tell them that you have nothing to hide but that it's going to be a major problem if your current employer is getting references calls from a new job you end up not getting, and therefore you have to regretfully decline to provide current references and authorize calls to them until you have a formal job offer.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 8:47 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

This doesn't seem normal to me, unless this is particular to your field. I've never had anyone ask for a reference from my current employer, which could have negative repercussions, and some companies don't allow references other than to confirm employment, length of employment and salary. (I've worked primarily in financial services and consulting.) Unless you've been at your current job a long time or this is the first you've had in your field, this is not the norm.

I think this may be the time to use your negotiation skills and admit your desire for the position but say that you're not willing to risk your current job. They want you to take all the risk while protecting themselves.
posted by shoesietart at 9:04 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

In Silicon Valley I've seen this happen many times, where someone is offered the job verbally "contingent on reference checks".

I've seen this done verbally, as well in some cases having it put on paper that the offer is contingent on a successful reference check.

Even in the cases with no "paper" people ask tough questions and negotiate. It seems having the paper in hand might reduce your ability to negotiate with them since its already been 'put on paper'
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:39 AM on March 7, 2012

Send them your references (sans current-job peeps) and tell them you're still evaluating the details.
posted by rhizome at 10:52 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's not much to negotiate after you've accepted the job, verbally or otherwise. If you don't agree to what they're offering, it doesn't matter if the offer is verbal or written - the time to negotiate is before you accept the job. Once you accept, you're telling them that negotiations are over.

Assuming you actually do want the job and agree with everything they say they are offering, just tell them the truth: "Assuming the written offer matches what we've discussed, then, yes I accept the position."

At some point you just have to trust people. If you have any feeling that these folk are going to go back on what they say, you don't want to work for them.
posted by dchase at 12:25 PM on March 7, 2012

For the record, I never got a written offer at my current job. But yeah it sounds like they are interested but still need to do some final things before a formal offer.
posted by radioamy at 12:31 PM on March 7, 2012

i second rhizome. i guess it depends on the field, but it seems like they are asking for a lot before making a written offer. Also, TWO supervisors? Additionally, a lot of companies have policies where supervisors CAN'T give references for a current employee. They must forward all inquiries to HR. I'd check your HR handbook on that one.
posted by dovesandstones at 7:28 AM on March 8, 2012

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