Does an employer have a right to know whether you’re employed? Would you fess up that your employment status changed? How would you handle a situation like this?
Question: I began interviewing with a company four months ago while I was still employed; then I lost my job in a downsizing. I didn’t see the need to disclose this to the company I was interviewing with as I thought it wasn’t relevant and would put me in a weaker negotiating position. Since then, I’ve had two interviews and was never asked, so I didn’t disclose that I’m unemployed. Now they have offered me a job, and they are doing a background check, which is fine. Should I disclose that I am not at the company I was at when they first interviewed me, or do I let them find out when they do the background check? I don’t want to be misleading and blow my chances to work with them. Thanks for your opinion.
Nick Corcodilos: Congratulations on getting an offer after four months. My guess is the offer is contingent on the background check if not on additional contingencies. Lately I hear too often about offers rescinded after they seemed real. So be careful — don’t make any assumptions or plans until you have a bona fide offer in writing. (Note to employed job seekers: Please see “Protect Your Job: Don’t give notice when accepting a new job.”)
I sense your nervousness about this, but please don’t tell yourself you’ve misled anyone. Things change in four months, and you’ve been patient.
Some might argue that you’re obligated to disclose your change in employment status even if it happened after the new employer started “processing” you. I don’t agree.
I believe certain information about a job applicant is none of an employer’s business. After all, what really matters is whether you can do the job you’re being considered for. It’ll sound extreme to some, but I don’t think your current status matters, and it should not affect whether you get hired.
To gain some perspective, let’s put this shoe on the other foot. The employer’s business may have been going gangbusters four months ago when you applied. Suppose in that time its business tanked. Suppose its CEO got indicted. Suppose a class action was filed by its employees for illegal practices. Would the employer tell you, before you accepted the offer, in the interest of transparency? I doubt it.
Get my point? There’s usually a double standard. Employers have no qualms about withholding information, but expect total disclosure from job applicants. There’s something wrong with that.
But my observations won’t protect you. This employer may learn you’re unemployed and cancel the offer. I don’t think that’s right — and it may not be legal — but I don’t control the employer. (Some jurisdictions in the U.S. either ban discrimination against unemployed people or at least discourage it.)
So you must decide whether you’re justified in keeping your new status private and how important it is to you to do so.
I think you’re right about negotiating: If they find out you’re unemployed, they may lower their offer, and you’ll be at a disadvantage. That’s a risk of disclosing. The tips in this article may be helpful: “Negotiate a better job offer by saying YES.”
As you’ve also suggested, the employer might find out you’re unemployed during the background check. If you don’t tell them, they might not care. Or, they may ask you to explain. Or, they may conclude you’ve been dishonest and just withdraw the offer without explaining why.
What would I do? If you want this job, I’d disclose — but do it in a way that doesn’t compromise you, because I don’t think you actually owe them an update.
Because they may try to verify your employment and so many months have passed, I think I’d tell them in passing that you’re no longer at your old company. Don’t be defensive. You could contact the HR person who’s been working with you and say something like this:
The risk is that you’ll get a lower offer. Only you can make this choice. Use your judgment – do what you think is best. I’d love to know what you decide to do and how it turns out. I hope it works out to your satisfaction.
Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website.
Questions You Can Ask on a Reference Call
The best place to learn information about why a candidate left their plast place of employment is by contacting their job references. At the end of every reference call, you can casually ask one of the following questions:
Next, compare the responses to these questions to the stated reasons the applicant provided on the job application. Some of the more common ways job seekers try to avoid using the word “fired” on a job application is to use euphemisms like “by mutual agreement,” or “reduction in force,” or “company reorganization.”
While any of these responses could be valid, sometimes these kinds of phrases are used as “weasel” words in order for the candidate to avoid saying he was fired. That’s why it’s so important to ask references why the candidate left. After all, lying on a resume is, or at least should be, one of the quickest disqualifiers for further considerations for employment.
From the job seeker’s standpoint, using a phrase like “termination – will explain” is probably the best thing to put down under “reason for leaving.” It is possible for people to lose their jobs for reasons that should not ruin their careers, and they should be given the opportunity to explain. The prospective employer should also be given the opportunity to verify the explanation, as well.
The Dilemma: How to Disclose a Layoff
I started watching your videos regarding getting laid off and I need some guidance on how to handle a potentially sticky situation. I was given notice that I would be laid off in April of this year. I’d already started searching for a new job due to huge changes happening to the company such as my hiring manager moving out of the country, our team leader leaving the company, the company president retiring, and the company laying off people throughout the year. I had only been with the company for a year and a half.
I met with a hiring manager at a different company and we hit it off instantly. He asked me why I wanted to leave my current company. Instead of saying, “I’m going to be laid off in 30 days,” I said my decision was because of all the management changes. Now I’ve been offered the job and accepted.
My question is this: How do I share this information? There is a 30-day gap between my final day of work at the last company, and my start date for the new company. They will be doing a background check so I feel it might be prudent to mention it to the hiring manager prior to HR discovering the gap. This is the best offer and opportunity I’ve had in a while. Help!
What a Former Employer Cannot Say
Your past employer cant also give their personal opinion about you if they cant prove them – this could be a case of defamation. For instance, they cant say, In my opinion, John was the laziest employee we ever had.
Unless they can prove Johns laziness, such an employer faces the risk of a defamation lawsuit. This further explains why many employers choose to minimize the risk of such lawsuits by providing generic information, such as the date of employment and termination.
However, some potential employers may be aware of this legal strategy. As a result, when a former employer refuses to disclose certain information about you thats considered legally permissible, a potential employer could interpret it as a bad reference.
How To: Telling Your Potential Employer You Were Laid-Off
Can employers see if you were laid off?
Do you have to disclose you were laid off?
Can a company find out if you are employed?
Can I lie about being fired?