“I accepted a job offer, but now they insist on one more reference. Must I comply?”

Question: I had a successful interview with a prospective employer and upon request I furnished the names of three references. Some weeks later, an offer was made, and I accepted.

Two days before commencing work, the company withdrew the offer, saying one of the references must be from the company where I spent most of my professional career, even though when I was there I was a very junior worker. I felt that it was irrelevant to the new, higher, managerial position offered to me.

Must I comply? Why? What can I do now that I already have the signed offer in hand?

Los Angeles, California

Answer: If, as you write, your offer was “withdrawn,” it would seem you have no choice but to comply, if you want the job.

As a matter of fundamental contract law – which is in effect in every state – once an offer is accepted, it cannot be later withdrawn. A deal has been struck. However, there are two reasons you must comply if you want the job.

First, also as a matter of fundamental contract law, if two parties agree to something – but neither has begun to “perform” his or her side of the deal, they can both back out. In this case, the contract is called “executory,” which really means “not yet acted on.” The law permits either side to “back” out before the other has begun performing.

Second, if your offer of employment is like 99% of other offers for employment, it is not for a definite period of years, but instead it is for an indefinite period of time, what is called “at will.” That means that both the employee and the employer can end the relation at any time, sort of like dating. So, your prospective employer has decided to end your employment relation even before it started. That they can do, just as you can. Just like in dating.

Interested in getting back on track, and being employed in the new managerial job you were about to start? Simply provide the reference requested of you. If that is a problem, do your best to deal with it, “head on”: if you can’t provide it, ask for a meeting with your prospective boss.

If you seem valuable enough for him or her to hire you, you probably seem valuable enough to him or her to make them consider waiving this requirement.

You will be not be successful in trying to force your prospective employer into become your actual employer. It just won’t happen.

Best, Al Sklover

© 2009 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

If you would like to obtain a “model” memo to help you request a reference letter, with three sample reference letters [click here].

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