Do I actually have a job?
May 15, 2014 4:50 PM   Subscribe

Someone please share some experience so I can stop worrying and get some sleep. I received a tentative offer from a federal agency. I then received an email asking for my preferred start date so they can send a confirmation letter. I responded, haven't heard back for a month. I sent an email to check in but haven't heard back for a week.

A few details between. I sent in my paper work for the background investigation immediately after the tentative offer. Two weeks later, I got an email about the start date. The person said they would follow up with a confirmation letter and employment forms in a few weeks. That was about a month ago. My start date is a month or so from now.

This is pathways type job so I believe the background check and everything is not as stringent.

I'm worried because I checked in via email and haven't heard back for a week. The individual has normally been very responsive.

Should I call or check in in another week? Should I contact the main person now (senior analyst, not HR person) who was facilitating my interview process and has been very friendly?

Does this somehow mean I actually don't have a job? I'm not sure to prep or not to start in a month. Thanks all.
posted by inevitability to Work & Money (17 answers total)
Everything takes forever. I was six months from offer to actual first day as a fed. Background checks, even for pathways, can take as long as three months. Be patient.
posted by rockindata at 4:54 PM on May 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Until you have an official confirmation letter and have officially accepted, you do not have a job, and you should not start acting like you do (e.g., don't quit your current job, don't move for this job, or whatever). But it's not been so long that you don't have a job either, especially how I understand federal jobs to work.

I think a month and then a week is long enough to send another follow-up email (or make one phone call) without seeming too pushy, though I'm not an expert in federal jobs and other people might correct me there.
posted by brainmouse at 5:00 PM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

You should call either the HR person or main contact.
posted by wrok at 5:07 PM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

What were the contingencies of the tentative offer? Passing the background check?

You don't have a job until you get a firm offer (confirmation letter) and have accepted the offer. Continue to go on job interviews and, as brainmouse said, don't leave your current job or move.

A week without a response to an e-mail is a long time to wait, though you could have had unlucky timing where the person you e-mailed went on vacation and forgot to set an out-of-office auto-reply. I would again contact the senior analyst you'd be working under, not the HR person. The analyst is likely to be able to give you more information.

Try calling them rather than e-mail. They may prefer that method of communication, or their voicemail message (if they don't answer) may give more information like "I'm on vacation and I won't be back until St. Swithin's Day."
posted by tckma at 5:09 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks all!

Yes, the only contingency was passing the background check.

So even if in the email they explicitly said "We will send you a confirmation letter for X start date"--that's not firm enough?

Oh worries.
posted by inevitability at 5:16 PM on May 15, 2014

I work for a public entity and shit takes forever. Really it's a bit ridiculous sometimes. If they said a few weeks and it's been a month, I wouldn't worry at all but I would send an email or call. Frankly, they may just need a reminder.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:28 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not getting your official federal offer letter until very late is a very common thing and doesn't actually mean anything. Depending on the HR office and the agency and the time of year, they sometimes get backed up. I know people who didn't get their offer letter until days before they started.

Because of this the "tentative" offer is all people have to go on sometimes, which is totally backward but there it is.

Call everyone. Call the hiring manager and let them know you are enthusiastic to start, let them know you're waiting on your offer letter. Call HR and ask how things are going and when they expect to get to your letter. They should be able to give you some kind of estimate.
posted by zennie at 5:46 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's not to say things never fall through, but don't make assumptions. Talk to someone.
posted by zennie at 5:50 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The "Pathways" program is a student internship type deal where they fund the student during college and provide them summer/etc break work opportunities, and then you work for the feds for 2-3 years after graduation. This is both for undergrad and graduate students with slightly different terms. There's also one for recent grads with yet different terms.

The tentative letter kicks off a bunch of paperwork. Fun fact, earlier this year, a friend of mine got a tentative offer with 72 hrs to respond; I asked him, and his firm offer arrived 50 days later.

My advice is to call your contact and ask him questions. He can lean on HR internally to get you information or hurry up the process. Check in with him every two weeks or so, or when he estimates you should hear. This will NOT make you seem annoying, just very interested.

Congratulations! Feel free to MeMail me.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:51 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have two friends who got federal jobs. A background check for Domino's pizza may be running your SSN through a service and making sure there are no warrants. A federal background check involves actual shoe leather. I happened to be at a certain place when a retired ATF agent showed up to interview one of my friend's references, and he also interviewed me when he found out I knew the guy. So a week is not a long time to get this completed.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:58 PM on May 15, 2014

You should feel free to send the senior analyst an email just checking in, but most likely it is just going to be a response to the effect of,"All the paperwork is in on our side, we are just waiting for HR, sorry for the non-answer"
posted by rockindata at 7:41 PM on May 15, 2014

Fun fact, earlier this year, a friend of mine got a tentative offer with 72 hrs to respond; I asked him, and his firm offer arrived 50 days later.

I got a tentative offer and received 90 minutes to make a decision. I received my confirmation letter (confirming the "firm" offer) 10 days after I started work many months later.
posted by arnicae at 7:55 PM on May 15, 2014

Hi, so I work at a federal agency in the U.S. Hiring and our hiring process is torturous, and it has increased in duration and difficulty particularly on the internal side (with an accompanying but much less severe increase on the external side) in the last decade.

Right now it can take me years, multiple years to successfully work my way through the process of hiring for positions considered vital to emergency response and safety. YEARS.

This is super hard, but I would strongly encourage you to sit back and do your best to relax. Treat this as your first object exercise as to what working in government can be like. You do what you can, then you give it time, more time and even more time before agitating the waters further. Give your person another week to respond (so this is giving them 14 days to get back to you) then follow up with a cordial, friendly phone call.

Good luck. Stay patient and be extremely detail oriented to every element of the application and forms you're filing out (this goes for everyone using USAJobs, read every line and be sure everything "required" is attached for consideration!).
posted by arnicae at 8:00 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also remember that you are thinking about this way more than the person you sent the email to a week ago--they probably have a billion other things they are dealing with and don't even realize a week has gone by since they read your mail, nor that a month has passed since the first offer. Definitely just call them or send a polite follow-up email to inquire about your status.

Please let us know how this turns out!
posted by gubenuj at 9:40 PM on May 15, 2014

Nthing that it just takes forever and a day. Everything is still on paper and done in-person, sent by foot courier and through U.S. Mail. Welcome to working for the government! This is totally normal.

Because of that, it is also totally normal to send a polite inquiry about how the process is going. They expect that and will give you a "we sent it to the other folks and are waiting for it back, sorry" answer. A week is also not very much time in this context, so give it another week or two before you send another courteous inquiry.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:23 AM on May 16, 2014

Definitely phone. I work for a federal agency, and it took 2 months to hear back from my response to the job ad. But then my new boss - who as a member of the Senior Executive Service may have had extra flexibility or clout - hired me a month later (after I phoned her once to nudge), and I had to move and start in a month after that. Everything was asap from the first contact - sounds fishy, but it's worked out really well.
posted by mmiddle at 6:52 AM on May 16, 2014

I'm happy to report that I waited (mostly) patiently as many of you recommended, and I just received my formal offer plus a million forms to fill out. Thanks again all!
posted by inevitability at 11:04 PM on May 19, 2014

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