I had a recruiter work with a client who liked me, but due to various things the start date was almost always presented as within a day or two but kept on getting pushed back for weeks. After I was stood up (the recruiter set one start date, and didn't notify me even though I called both the individual recruiter and account manager that my start date was pushed back again; I showed up, called to ask which party to request with security, and was then notified of my start date being pushed back further), I emailed them asking for help, and then wisely or unwisely gave an ultimatum, requesting that the job either start for sure that day or the next day, or else treated as "This might happen and it might be really nice, but I'm free to look for something else," the client was not impressed and revoked the offer.

The biggest area where I'm wondering "What might I have done differently?" is in negotiation where the start date keeps getting pushed back even though it sounds like it is only one or two more business days more to wait. I'm wondering if after the first week of the start date being pushed back I should have said, "I need something to crystallize."

Maybe I should ask: If a start date keeps getting pushed back, when is it time to shift negotiation style, and how should it be changed? What is effective negotiation? I am in a way glad that the client was "not impressed" I tried to get a specific start date to crystallize; if he is "not impressed" about that after weeks of the start date being delayed, I'm glad I found out this as a candidate not a new hire. But I'd love to know if I should have recognized signs and perhaps been freer to look for a better fit after one week's delay rather than a few weeks.

When is a delayed start date (portrayed as just around the corner) something to accommodate, and when is it a red flag?

  • Did you quit a job to take this one on? Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 19:33
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    Maybe you should get something in writing?
    – user8365
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 19:36
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    Did they offer a justification? Moving the start date at all is a red flag, especially with no justification. After two moves I would start job hunting again, if not after the first. You can express a desire to move up the date, but until you have another job offer in hand you really aren't in a position to give an ultimatum. When you say "hire me or else" they always can go with the "or else". They called your bluff.
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 22:40
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    @all, thanks for the comments. They offered justifications that seemed to make sense; and I had an offer in hand, signed, but they still insisted on changing the date. And I wasn't bluffing; I would rather be looking for a new job than indefinitely on call on a volunteer basis. Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 20:04
  • What a beautifully written question, gg!
    – o0'.
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 19:00

4 Answers 4


I think anytime a company pushes back an established start date (and especially one they didn't even bother to tell you about) it is a big red flag. I would have continued my search from the first delay.

I can't think of any reason to push back a start date that was agreed on (and I certainly would not quit my current job without a start date) that doesn't indicate a company in trouble; often it is in financial trouble which you don't need as it is nice to actually get your paycheck after you have done the work. Other possibilities are a disorganized company (you don't want to work someplace like that) or a boss who doesn't care about jerking you around (you really don't want to work there). The only legitimate delay I can think of is a family emergency on the part of someone who is needed to get you in the system (like the only HR person have a spouse die) and a short delay until that is resolved. And even that would seem suspicious if they couldn't find an alternative person in 1-2 days.

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    You should have asked recruiter for explanation, and started looking for another job. Ultimate, as you found, does not buy you anything. Likely you avoided troubles being employed for few weeks in a company heading to troubles, possibly without a pay. Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 0:03
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    The ultimatum brought me a way out of a situation. That is nothing to sneeze at. Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 20:09
  • I agree with this answer, and @PeterMasiar's point about asking the recruiter for an explanation. Additionally, if this was a typical recruiter relationship, I'm surprised the recruiter didn't handle this with their client, or intervene and resolve the situation, since the outcome negatively reflects on them as well since they've lost both current and future income.
    – jcmeloni
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 0:37

I was in your situation, when a prospective employer strung me along with a series of start dates for months. Unlike you, I never gave an ultimatum. I just looked for something else and continued to upgrade my skills set - I have this thing about stacking as many of the odds on my side as possible to the point that it looks like I am smashing egg shells with a sledge hammer :) I knew something was up when the weeks were turning into months.

I was not totally grown up, though - I unfairly blamed the recruiter for this funky business and never did business with him again. My loss. I should have been fully dispassionate and objective and stuck with the fact of the situation, which is that the recruiter was being jerked around, too, rather than let my pent-up frustration do the talking.

Had I allowed my frustration to rise to the surface so that I could deal with it in a straightforward manner rather than remain submerged and pent up, I would most probably reacted in the right way and not blamed the recruiter. Pent up frustration is submerged, and to my detriment, harder to fight because it is not visible to me. And because I consciously repressed it, it manifested itself in ways that were not apparent to me at the time.

Next time, don't give out ultimatums. Simply continue the job search. If there is blame to go around, make sure that you apportion it fairly and not let your pent-up frustration do the talking.

As for me, it was a case of "live and learn" :)

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    +1. But I wasn't venting frustration. I had signed paperwork (i.e. an offer letter, which didn't stop them from moving the start date on an ongoing basis), which I believe specified I was as an employee not free to leave without notice. So I was not, on skewed legal grounds, in a position to walk away without notice. Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 20:07
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    @jonathanHayward I signed the offer letter, too. Not that it did me much good :) In the end, it was the prospective employer who disappeared without a trace :) Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 20:11

Always keep looking until you have an offer in writing! If you had one and they kept pushing the start date back, then alas, it wasn't meant to be :( I really hate these situations because there's really nothing you can do, and it's worse if they're jerking you around like this.

I've had a case where I was given an offer, accepted it, but it did state it was contingent on passing a background investigation. I believe it was 1.6 months later they gave me a start date. First day on the job, the manager told me she was very worried that my investigation wouldn't go through. She was actually more worried than I was! It turns out that 3 previous candidates who accepted the job offers did NOT make it past the investigation!

Another case, some woman who specializes in a type of nursing went through 5 interviews. She got called in for a 6th, but she told them "nope, I'm done here". She can hear the other person's jaw just drop over the phone. However, she was in a much better position as her work was in demand and she has solid skillsets.


This is not legal advice, but in my naive opinion, if you accepted in writing an offer of a job to start on a specified date, then you were employed by that company as of that date. If I had shown up at a place expecting to start work and they weren't ready for me I would have been very explicit that they entered a contract and that I expected them to keep it, and I expected to be paid from that day. Make it clear to them that you quit a job on the basis of their offer.

Starting from where you are now, I would at very least ask to be paid as if you had been terminated on that date. If you wish to follow it up, consulting a lawyer would probably be a good idea. But in reality the cost of a lawyer may be more than the money you get back.

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    I think this would have a similar effect to the ultimatum. I think they likely wouldn't pay it, and a lawyer would quickly cost more than you could hope to gain. It would completely burn your bridge and use valuable time you should be dedicating to your job search. I think the best advice is to just move on.
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 21:52
  • @Dan "and a lawyer would quickly cost more than you could hope to gain" this depends very much on the locale and on the details of the contract. In the US, you are likely right AFAIK. Not so true in many other countries.
    – o0'.
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 19:03
  • In the U.K. Employers would be clear about start dates, and it would only change by mutual agreement. The start date is part of the contractural offer, so you would be paid from that date, even if they hadn't remembered to order your work laptop etc... USA is very different. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 22:39

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