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What to Do When Your Job Offer is Withdrawn

Jada A. Graves

"We're pleased to offer you a position with us," are coveted words for any ardent job seeker, while the dreaded words, "We unfortunately will have to withdraw our offer of employment," are almost too awful for a pavement pounder to fathom. Anyone who has heard them probably feels at a loss, but in this present economy, and with access to your social media profiles - and therefore, access to incriminating bits about you - at many hiring managers' fingertips, those latter words might not be so mythic. Here are some answers to the first flurry of questions to enter your mind if your job offer is revoked, plus proactive steps to stay a positive job candidate.

[Quiz: Should You Ask These Questions Before or After Your Job Offer?]

May I ask why? Yes, you can, and you should. There's no guarantee that the employer will tell the truth, but he or she might. "After the initial shock, you want to have a conversation with the employer where you find out why," says Vicki Salemi, a human resources expert and author of "Big Career in the Big City." "Maybe budgets were slashed, or maybe hiring for a position was put on hold."

However, "Don't always assume that the reason [for the revoked offer] is them," says Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert. "It might be that they found out something during a reference check or background report that they didn't like. It's possible that you did something they didn't like. They might not tell you the truth, but if they do, it could be a lesson for the future."

Do I have any legal options? According to Brian Waerig, an employment attorney with the Wayne, Pa.-based firm Susanin, Widman & Brennan, PC, it depends on a variety of issues. If you think your offer was revoked based on protected classes such as race, nationality, religion, age, gender and/or disability, you may want to consult with a lawyer. "There's a lot of gray area when it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act," Waerig says. "If an employer extends a conditional offer of employment contingent on how well a potential employee performs on a medical exam, and the employee fails the exam, the employer may decide to take the offer back and claim that there's no way for that employee to perform the job safely or perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. That employee might have a claim under the ADA, though, that there is a way for them to perform the job safely and effectively and that they were discriminated against."

[Read: A How-to Guide on Job Searching With a Disability.]

If an employer tells you the offer was withdrawn based on your failure to pass a background and/or credit check, you might also have a claim, depending on what was found on your report, how recently an incident on your report had occurred and how that incident relates to the job you were offered. "In Pennsylvania, felony or misdemeanor convictions may be considered by the employer, only to the extent to which they relate to the applicant's suitability to perform the job for which he has applied," Waerig explains. "So say you were applying to be a bank teller, and your background check reveals you've had a recent theft conviction. An employer could decide they don't want to hire you. But if you're applying to be a clerical employee and the employer decides not to hire you because you have a conviction for a DUI, you might have a claim."

You might also have a claim, depending on circumstances, under something Waerig refers to as common law, which is the area of the law that comes from judicial precedent rather than statues: "Let's say, for example, that an employer in the state of Pennsylvania extends an offer to an employee 'at will,' which means that the employee can be terminated at any time for any reason or no reason unless it is an illegal reason, and agrees to pay the new employee a salary of $80,000, and that employee quits her old job in California, sells her house and moves her kids across the country, at which time the company revokes the offer," he says. "A court in this state may look at that equitably and find that the at-will relationship was altered and an implied employment contract exists between the parties."

If you feel uneasy about the reason behind a rescinded offer, consult with an employment attorney to determine what may be done. "Though I am a defense attorney, if a friend or someone in my family came to me and asked about their legal options [because a job offer was revoked] I would first talk to them about the common law issues," Waerig concludes. "I'd ask them when the initial offer was made and when the employer revoked it. I'd ask them if they actually agreed to take the job. I'd ask them if they moved or relocated their family because of the job. I'd want to know if the employer gave a reason for the revocation and if the reason sounds legitimate."

What do I tell people? Friends, family and contacts are going to ask what happened, and for most people, Gottsman advocates, "Don't show any shame. Just say, 'I was given an offer, and circumstances with the company changed.'" You can use the same stock answer on the off (though rare) chance that you're asked about it by another potential employer. "Remember that you're not obligated to talk about it, and in a lot of cases, you yourself might not know the specific details of why the offer was withdrawn anyway," she adds.

If you were leaving an old job to go to the now-thwarted one, then you'll have to say something to your old employers. It's a bad idea to try to revoke your notice, but you could possibly extend it. Being honest with them about your current circumstances will also keep you from burning bridges. "There are a lot of possibilities as long as you're honest, and there's no reason you couldn't ask for some extra time [to find a new job]," Gottsman explains. "If you have good communication with the old company and they valued you as a good employee, they'll want to accommodate you if they can. And it will probably help them out to not have the position vacant while they try to fill your position."

How do I prevent this from happening again? Bad luck happens on the job hunt, and there are too many reasons behind a retracted offer to stopgap each of them from ever happening. Here are things you can do to lessen the pain:

1. Do proper due diligence. If you're interested in working for a company, then you need to know about its corporate health. Read up on the press it's received, and click beyond the first page of search results when doing so. Study employee reviews reported on Glassdoor.com. During interviews, "Don't be embarrassed to ask them questions about the tenure of most employees, about corporate culture and listen to your gut. It will tell you if something isn't right," Gottsman says.

2. Hold off on sudden moves until you have a formal job offer. A verbal offer is flimsy proof, as is your verbal consent. Also remember that you don't have a job just because you were offered one. You have to weigh the decision, negotiate the terms and accept them, and even then, you still need to ask for a written offer. After you receive that written offer you should send them a written acceptance letter. Do not give your notice at your old job until you have copies of both letters. Also hold off on making definitive relocation plans - if relocation is necessary - until you've received this confirmation.

[Read: How to Ruin Your Professional Reputation.]

3. Don't ever stop your job search. Getting a job offer is exciting, but nothing is guaranteed until you arrive your first day and receive the bathroom code and a key fob to the underground parking lot. Job searching is an ongoing process throughout your career, regardless of tenure and satisfaction with a current place of employment, but if you've yet to report for duty and fill out your W-2s on a new job, then you should still consider yourself an active job seeker.

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