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My company hired several experienced scientists, all experts in their field, including some former consultants, promising that their position would become a team leader position after the first few months, with an appropriate pay raise.

Instead, after probation nobody gets promoted, and we are all being told, "Yes, if you keep working hard and you make a business case in a few years you might become a team leader."

In practice, most of us are doing 50% technicians' work, because we have no support, and 50% what senior scientists should do (the company is leveraging our experience by not providing training and making us churn out as many products as possible without any challenge).

Talking to other people, this turned out to be quite common. My question is: are promises made during hiring binding, or is this situation the employees' fault for not being cautious enough?

I am asking this to understand if this situation would justify leaving a company before one year in the eye of another company.

  • UK. Binding in at least a professional sense, meaning that it would at least widely recognized as unprofessional behaviour. – Monoandale Aug 29 '15 at 21:55
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    It's quite possibly binding if you can prove it. But if they pull off that kind of thing, and not just once, but with several people as you say, then they were probably careful to cover their tracks, and you have no evidence of any promises. – gnasher729 Aug 29 '15 at 22:13
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    "A verbal contract is as binding as the medium you recorded it on." If you can't show evidence that a promise was made, all you've got is "he said/she said" and that's darned hard to win a case on even if you have a witness who'll support your story. But you're unlikely to ever get this sort of promise on paper. Even with the best intentions, the needs of the business change and they may discover that they need different personnel than they expected. In that case, would you rather they reassign you, or lay you off and hire for the new needs? The former is usually better for all concerned. – keshlam Aug 31 '15 at 17:07
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    Are all of you willing to collectively claim you were made the same promise and take it to court? – user8365 Aug 31 '15 at 20:28
  • Joe: yes, indeed. I was hired with certain promises, and after less than one year it's pretty clear that they wanted to exploit my technical background, without real training or support. gnasher: thanks, my understanding is that colleagues are giving up on the situation and don't talk much to each other. keshlam: I do hope the former happens soon as well. jeffo: no court, it would be a career suicide. I am just happy for this to be a good reason to lease in a professional way for my next employer. – Monoandale Sep 1 '15 at 7:54
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Your problem seems to be either "what do I say to prospective employers asking why I'm leaving so soon?" or "how do I avoid this in the future?"

Prepare a short summary indicating the direction of travel in your career; leave out hint of resentment or blame, no matter how strongly you feel it or how justified it is. Your having been wronged is something you can't prove and the prospective employer probably doesn't care about. You won't get a job because the new employer feels sorry for you, the point of asking why you're leaving is a) to fish for flags like inability to get on with colleagues or manager, being sacked for disciplinary/capability reasons, etc., and b) to check whether your expectations of the new job meet what they're going to want you to do.

You could say something like

My role at the moment is a mix of senior work and technician work, but I'm finding I do well at the senior work and am looking for a more leadership-focussed role.

Or even

I was interested in the role of a senior with team leadership elements. As it turns out the roles here were not quite what I'd expected, so I'm looking for something more challenging that better uses my skills.

Of course, that assumes your prospective job isn't also 50% technician work.

Now, you ask

are promises made during hiring binding, or is this situation the employees' fault for not being cautious enough?

Well, yes, actual promises made on behalf of the employer in hiring are generally considered binding in the UK, but they're worthless unless you're willing and able to enforce them. Specifically, you say:

promising that their position would become a team leader position after the first few months, with an appropriate pay raise

Promising? Unconditionally? In writing? Even though verbal agreements tend to be legally binding in theory, generally, unless it forms part of the written offer, it's going to be really hard for you to enforce that (and it isn't easy even if the wording is clear and written). It's sadly not uncommon for companies to do this, for instance because the hiring manager thinks at the time the company is committed to a particular path. Collectively, maybe, if you have a union and the company keeps making and breaking promises, you might be able to hold them to account for it.

So yes, I would say if you accept a job based on something that was not written into your contract then you are not being sufficiently cautious. If employers do make an offer having mentioned something verbally that would make the difference between you accepting an offer or not, ask for it to be in put in writing in the offer.

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My question is: are promises made during hiring binding, or is this situation the employees' fault for not being cautious enough?

I am asking this to understand if this situation would justify leaving a company before one year in the eye of another company.

(Binding in at least a professional sense, meaning that it would at least widely recognized as unprofessional behaviour.)

If the company has a widely-known public reputation for making promises to potential employees and not following through, then you may be able to convince a hiring manager that this is a great reason for you to leave the job in less than a year. (Although if it was that widely-known then an interviewer might ask you why you accepted a job there in the first place.)

Otherwise, it might come across as an unhappy employee looking for a reason that will make him appear sympathetic. It's really just an unsubstantiated claim at that point. That may work, or it may work against you.

Some of that may be a result of what your references within this company say about you, and about the company. Some of it may be a result of how you portray other aspects of your employment. If you come across as overly negative, what you say about the "promises" may be discounted.

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Mis-representing the position is certainly a valid reason for leaving. If an applicant told me that the position they were in was not what was represented to them, I would certainly take that as a valid reason to be looking for a new position.

I might be a little cautious if the applicant seemed bitter about it, though.

It's interesting, though, that your profile says you are a software developer, but here you are saying you are a scientist. I have to ask: Is some of the vagueness of the position/expectations coming from you, as well as from them?

  • digression: I always wanted to be a Scientist when I grew up, and I was delighted that working in the research division let me make that my official title for a while... but really, I'm an engineer. – keshlam Sep 2 '15 at 2:12
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If you didn't get it in writing, then it is not binding. Future job position is a classic hiring tactic used for a long time. Unfortunately, most companies HR systems are very process driven and these kinds of promises are not in line with those processes.

If you were to look for a new role right now when you answered the questions of "why are you looking to leave your current employer" you'll only have a verbal promise during your hiring process. A potential employer has a good chance of looking at this and saying to themselves "He's a stickler and we'd have to put everything in writing. He's not worth that."

It's harsh truth and I'm sorry for that. If you leave because of this reason, you'll be the one seen as unprofessional and possible a bit naive for taking an informal hiring conversation as a written commitment.

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I was once hired by a company that told me a particular role was wonderful - I'd be doing C++ on Linux development work with 10-20% of my time spent team leading.

When I got there, it turns out it was C# on Windows and after a few months they wanted me to do 80% team leading work.

Some companies, or their management, are just pants. My experience with these kinds of companies - the ones where they promise lots but deliver little - are that they will never get better, you are just a resource to them and you will never be happy there unless you just suck it up and lower your expectations to correspond with what they will give you.

I've always found that moving jobs even after a short time somewhere is perfectly fine though. Its job-hoppers that recruiters have a problem with, people who cannot hold down any job. Nobody can predict the future and so sometimes holding a job for less than a year is just one thing that happens. Nobody will hold that against you unless its repeated (and then you can pretty much expect to be passed over at the CV stage). Just be honest about the situation without being derogatory.

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The agreement, unless it was in writing, is useless. (Even if you could prove it and enforce it, it's not going to advance your career at that location).

Now, the good news - this isn't a terribly uncommon occurrence. I've been hired on the "management track" and ended up in a warehouse indefinitely until I quit, because the company needed people in the warehouse. I know someone who was an Executive Vice President who was in line to take over President when the current Prez retired - and when retirement got pushed back, he moved to another company to continue his career. Sometimes it's a company being sneaky, sometimes it's just circumstances changing.

So, when you're asked about leaving, you can put it simply - you were hired at company X with the expectation of advancing up to a leadership position, and due to changes at the company the planned expansion was cancelled, and you're looking to continue your career.

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