Did you just offer me a job? Should I ask?

We took a look Thursday at the controversy over whether a job offer was made to a potential University of Minnesota basketball coach. The question led to a $1.2 million judgment against the U.

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It got me thinking about those gray areas in the job world. I mentioned Thursday I could recall a bunch of jobs I took on a handshake or a phone call, almost afraid to ask, “So, the job is mine, right?”

MPR News reporter Martin Moylan took a look at those issues through the eyes of legal experts.

I’m looking for people to share stories of being in similar circumstances that I plan to follow up on next week.

Meanwhile, I reached out to some human resources executives in MPR’s Public Insight Network to share some thoughts about the art of the job offer and how to avoid these kinds of sticky (and possibly expensive!) situations.

I got back two solid responses I wanted to share. Neither are connected to the U case. Take a look and then add to the conversation.

“Most recruiters are very careful about offers so that there is no confusion over whether a formal offer has been extended. That does not mean that only a written offer creates an obligation,” said Mike Carey, senior vice president for human resources for PDI Ninth House, an executive recruiting and strategy firm.

When a recruiter or a manager from an organization extend an offer verbally, I would consider it binding and an obligation. If not legally, at least ethically, the hiring organization has created a verbal contract at that point.

However, the gray area comes into play over what was actually said and implied….Managers and recruiters should be very clear about where they are in the process and tell the candidate explicitly, that they are still in the pre-offer stage.

Candidates, he adds, should never agree to something without seeing the offer in writing to avoid this kind of situation.

These kinds of problems are easily avoided when an organization has a process to hire people and stick to it, says Melanie Ulrich.

“From my prospective, if a verbal agreement is made with no exceptions stated, it can be held up on a court of law,” said Ulrich, senior manager for compensation and benefits at Twin Cities Public Television.

There was no verbiage from Tubby say “pending background checks” or “I just need to run this up the ladder”—from what I have seen from the conversations, it was all absolute. I know when we hire someone, we state that the hiring is contingent on background checks.

Its amazing how one or two phrases like the ones I stated above could have been uttered and would have saved the U the million plus dollars.

If you've been in this gray area before -- job offer or not? -- either as a prospective employee or as the one doing the hiring, share your story and make us all a little smarter.

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