Is this a job offer, or are we just talking?

“A 14-minute phone call has cost the University of Minnesota $1.2 million.”

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That’s how the Pioneer Press this morning summed up the trial over whether University of Minnesota basketball coach Tubby Smith made a job offer to a potential assistant or simply discussed the possibility.

Beyond the cash and basketball angles, it got me wondering when a job offer is a job offer and when it’s just talk.

Finding or keeping a job has been tough enough in the Great Recession. We’re starting to hear more stories of people getting hired, which is great. But as hiring slowly resumes, do workers need to make absolutely sure they have a deal in hand?

I can recall a bunch of jobs I took on a handshake or a phone call, hoping the paperwork would follow. There’s a lot of trust greasing the hiring wheels, it seems. Is it misplaced?

I’m reaching out today to human resources pros MPR’s Public Insight Network on this issue. I’d love to be able to get some discussion going.

If you’ve been a position where you weren’t quite sure if a job offer was made to you, post something below or contact me directly.

I’d also love to hear from the people who do the hiring. Do you end up dealing with prospects who try to pretend they got the job when you made it clear they did not?

I’ll do some reporting on this over the next couple days and post on it next week. We really need MinnEcon readers to offer their insights and stories.

In the Smith case, the assistant, Jimmy Williams, quit his job at Oklahoma State believing Smith had offered him one at Minnesota. Smith said he’d never offered that job and didn’t tell the assistant to quit.

Minnesota backed away from Williams after athletic director Joel Maturi pointed out NCAA recruiting violations in his past, according to the Associated Press.

The jury sided with the assistant. The U said afterward it stands behind Smith and is weighing an appeal.

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(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

  • Jill

    I’m working in an AmeriCorps position which ends on July 15. Several times during my term, the organization has said that they could hire me after July 15 for various programs, and asked if I was interested. I don’t exactly have legal grounds to sue, but I think asking for my commitment before actually offering a job is unprofessional at best. I’m left wondering, should I look for another job? Should I plan a vacation or not?

    We had an unpaid intern earlier this year who thought she would have a job after she graduated, but had overestimated the organization’s commitment. I’m trying to learn my lesson form her.

  • Kris Oberpriller

    We always make it clear on the phone that we’re making an offer and then ask the individual if they would like time to think about it or if they have an answer right then. I then tell them that we will be mailing a letter to them to confirm our phone conversation, make sure we’re in agreement on the start date and starting wages and that the letter will be informing them of what to bring on their first day of employment with us. We also indicate that the offer of employment is contingent on the individual passing various background checks and confirmation of their credentials.

    It sounds like maybe the conversation between Tubby and the prospective coach wasn’t terribly clear — or perhaps there wasn’t language shared that the offer of employment was contingent on the candidate meeting various factors.

  • Charlotte

    I have been on both sides of the story. With the first I was told “We will see you Monday!” But when I showed up on Monday, I was told by the same man that he never offered me employment.

    When the shoe was on “my foot”, I made it very clear by stating, “We are/are not offering you employment at this time.” I never wanted to put anyone in the position that I found myself early in my career.