Red Flags on an Out-of-State Offer
I have been heavily recruited for a vice-president of marketing job out of state, and yesterday I received the offer. The salary and bonus are fine, the sign-on bonus is generous, and the job itself seems tremendous. Three things concern me, however.
First, I asked for an employment agreement to reduce my risk in case the company is sold without warning or in case the leadership team doesn't appreciate my brand of marketing. Of course, if I were terminated for cause, I wouldn't expect any severance, but if the company one day decided to eliminate my job after I'd moved across the country, I'd need some protection. I also asked that the employer use a third-party relocation service to purchase my house so that I don't have to worry about selling a house in this market from two thousand miles away. The company turned me down flat on those two requests.
These led to my third concern. After I asked the internal recruiter that the offer be amended to include the house purchase and the employment agreement and was told no on both counts, I let the recruiter know I was very disappointed and unlikely to accept the job. Shortly afterward, I got a voice mail from the company's vice-president of human resources, saying "Gee, we are disappointed. We didn't peg you as someone so risk-averse and fearful. We thought you were more adventuresome. Why would you need an employment agreement? Don't you trust us?"
Her voice mail really turned me off. I thought it was terribly unprofessional to negotiate with a candidate by insulting him. Can you please share your thoughts?
I couldn't agree with you more, and I applaud you for trusting your instinct. Many small companies have never purchased a home for a relocating executive before (in these situations, the company doesn't actually purchase the home, it uses a third-party relocation service) but it's not a difficult vendor relationship to set up, or a terribly big investment for the employer in the scope of the overall hiring cost. Having done a million of these home-purchase deals before, I can tell you it's absolutely standard for an employer to purchase the home of an incoming vice-president who is being relocated to take the job.
If you think about it, with what kind of company would want you to dive into a new job with an unsold house in a distant city hanging over your head? They should want you to be totally focused on the job. The real estate market is not at its best, and there's zero reason for you to take on that risk.
As for the employment agreement, you could point out that if the company isn't planning to be sold, go out of business, or dismiss you for no reason, there's no risk to them in offering you an employment agreement as you request. You, as an outsider, cannot see into the company's plans. If the company were sold two weeks after you first sat at your desk and if your job were eliminated, you'd be jobless in a strange city. An employment agreement is appropriate for any VP-level new hire in any organization, and particularly when relocation is involved.
If you need a final reason to run away from these turkeys, the passive-aggressive message from the HR vice-president is more than ample justification. An employer who feels the need to insult its senior-level candidates as a negotiating ploy is not a company you want to work for. I wouldn't call you risk-averse, I'd call you prudent—and a senior-level hire who would walk into a job with a big real estate risk and no financial security in case of job loss could be said to be less a risk-taker than the most desperate marketing VP on the planet. I'd bail.