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I moved to a new city and I've spent last weeks looking for a job intensively.

After a long application process with several interviews over several weeks (it's a temporary position, I was surprised the process took so long and was so complex), I got an offer last Tuesday around noon. They told me they wanted me to start on Feb. 13th (this Thursday). As I was in several other recruitment processes I asked for a few days to make up my mind. They told me they needed my decision by Friday early morning given I would be starting shortly. I called them earlier than that, on Thursday morning telling them I wanted the job and starting on Feb 13th was OK. Additionally I wrote them an email. They told me to wait for the contract to be sent immediately.

At this point I still didn't have any written offer, nothing in writing, just what we verbally discussed.

I waited on Friday and yesterday, didn't want to be impatient. Nobody contacted me. So yesterday afternoon I contacted them by mail asking for an update since I still haven't heard back concerning the contract. Got no reply. Today in the very morning I needed to call them twice. They didn't call back after the first call. The second time the reaction was: "You are starting on Febr. 13th. Oh, it's this week? So sorry, let me check it". They were so surprised I got the impression that if I hadn't contacted them (several times...) they would have never contacted me again.

It's just now that I got the information I can start next month as they haven't got some signature. The HR told me they could try to keep the date Feb. 13th but given that in my country you need to do some formalities before starting and normally need at least 2 days to arrange them, that's totally unrealistic. 

I now got invited to the last rounds by two other companies offering the same or better conditions and I'm not sure whether the process at the company described above was a red flag or not. Would it be unfair if I now ask them for a week or so to sign the contract since I want to consider other opportunities?

It's a white-collar job at a big company.

  • @JoeStrazzere, I was planning to move to the city anyway. I was looking for jobs while moving here. – user5276953 Feb 11 at 11:42
  • @gnasher729, that's the point. I haven't signed anything since I haven't received anything to sign yet. I should receive the contract today after basically chasing the HR of the company for some information. – user5276953 Feb 11 at 11:47
  • If the join date has been postponed, or if any of the terms have changed, obviously, you can delay sending back the contract. The same if the contract includes a statement about you accepting their employee handbook. Don't agree to sign it until you've actually seen the employee handbook. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 11 at 21:22
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A "promise" of a contract is not a contract. If you have not signed anything, you are not bound by any contract.

You only hurried to provide the verbal confirmation, because of the immediate joining date they provided.

As I was in several other recruitment processes I asked for a few days to make up my mind. They told me they needed my decision by Friday early morning given I would be starting shortly.

Now if they are delaying the process, then it seems they don't need to know your acceptance that quickly, allowing you to take some more time to think and reflect.

You can do couple of things here:

  • Ask them whether your joining date will still be considered from Feb 13th or not. This seems to be a delay from their side in the execution of preparing / signing the contract - so they should have you covered for the promised time period. However, it's equally likely that they'll just postpone the joining date after they can have the contract signed and sealed. You need to take a call what you'd do in either of the cases.

  • Also, in the meantime, you can continue with the other interviews. If you manage to get a better opportunity before you actually sign the contract with the first company, you can surely accept the other one. Legally, there's nothing stopping you until you actually sign a contract.

Then, to answer

Is a bad HR communication a red flag?

Yes, it is a red flag - however, this one incident is too little and too early to decide about the whole organization. It might be the case that the person handling your case is plan sloppy, or is ill, or on unplanned vacation and some stop-gap person is handling the load. Follow through a little more, and based on the outcomes, you'll be able to make a decision.

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I now got invited to the last rounds by two other companies offering the same or better conditions

I'd continue on with these offers as if the other company's offer never occurred. Until you get a written offer and a signature could you consider it valid.

and I'm not sure whether the process at the company described above was a red flag or not.

It's not a red flag but a huge red flag. Whenever something is urgent, right now or the entire world ends then you should stop and ignore it. It's never that important and never that urgent. You expedite your moving process which could have consequences to your finances as a result of this sense of urgency. Now you don't have a offer in hand and their supposedly urgent starting date is rapidly closing.

Would it be unfair if I now ask them for a week or so to sign the contract since I want to consider other opportunities?

I wouldn't even ask them that. I would just continue with your business. Since they didn't keep their promise, you must assume the offer is withdrawn and invalid.

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1) An offer is not an offer until it's in writing and signed by the company. As such, what you responded to and what they needed your approval on was not an offer, it was an offer of an offer. You still do not have the offer.

2) They pressured you to give them your acceptance of their offer of an offer within a short time window, because they wanted to accelerate your start date. That put you in a very stressful position. Now that the stress is off on their side because they have someone on the hook, they are jerking you around. What you should reply with is to confirm with them that your start date is still February 13th and that you will be paid from that date, and not from whatever arbitrary date they pull out of their butt in a month from now, regardless of whether you are working from that date or not.

3) This is an enormous red flag to me. Whenever HR pulls a stunt like this, my go-to opinion is to say "what if they did this sort of thing in other situations?" The go-to on that would be your paycheque. What if they said "We'll pay you on February 13th...oh wait, we have to get some approvals for your paycheque sorry we won't be able to pay you until the end of March, please wait a month and a half for your paycheque". That would suck, wouldn't it? It seems that this is not particularly outside the realm of possibility for this company based on their culture, and you should heavily consider whether or not that is something you are willing to put up with.

4) You should continue job searching. Since you've already set up your move, I guess you should continue searching in the locale to which you are moving, although optimally I would have said you should cancel your move (although that's probably too difficult at this point). If you find another offer, at any point, you should immediately drop this company and move to that one, even after you've signed their offer, and even after you've started working there. Even if you come in on day 1 and say "Sorry, I found a better job offer, I won't be working past today", just do that.

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