Job offers should work this way.
1. The company makes a job offer.
2. The candidate makes a counteroffer.
4. The candidate either accepts or rejects the offer.
But, sometimes, companies stop everything after step two and revoke the offer. It's not a common occurrence--most companies expect that you will negotiate--but it does happen. There are a few reasons companies yank back an offer.
The candidate makes a ridiculous counteroffer
If you get a job offer at $50,000 and counter with $90,000 and a company car, I won't blame the company one bit for revoking the offer. You're so far out of the range that it's clear that negotiation will go nowhere.
Asking for over the top things in all categories count here--you want six weeks of vacation as an entry-level employee when the standard is two, or you want to be flown via helicopter to work each morning. (Not unheard of--when I lived in Bucks County Pennsylvania helicopters used to come to the small airport each morning to pick up executives and take them to their jobs in New York City. Mostly, though, that's an unreasonable request.)
If you are absurd when you attempt to negotiate, the hiring manager may assume you'll be unreasonable later on. She'll revoke the offer and look for the next person. It's not worth it.
The hiring manager is ridiculously rigid
I've seen a few of these examples recently. Managers who are literally offended that the candidate makes a counteroffer or asks for time to think it over, then revoke the offer. In this case, the candidate should be relieved, because this is not a boss you want to work for.
Not all hiring managers negotiate. And that's fine. (I don't negotiate either, by the way. I'll make my highest and best offer first thing. But, I won't hold it against you for trying to negotiate. I'll say, "the offer is firm.") But not negotiating is different than revoking an offer for attempting negotiation.
A reasonable counteroffer is a five to ten percent salary increase, a bump in bonus, or a change in a relocation package. It can be saying, "can I work from home two days a week?" or "I am getting married in June. Can I take three weeks off then?" A reasonable manager will say no or yes, depending on the reason.
A manager who immediately yanks an offer for a reasonable request is not someone you want to work for.
The hiring manager didn't like you anyway
This is a weird one, but I've seen it happen. A hiring manager reluctantly extends an offer to someone, and at the slightest hint of negotiation, she yanks the offer back. I recently had a conversation with a hiring manager who did this. It started with the hiring manager claiming that the candidate's counteroffer was unreasonable. Still, as I asked for details, it came out that her request was to match her current company's salary and benefits (which she had explained before), which is reasonable (although not always possible). Then the hiring manager said the candidate was "too direct" and "not a good fit." Ahh, clear. You don't like her.
While I tell managers not to hold out for perfect, don't make an offer to someone you're going to resent. I suspect that even if this candidate took the job precisely as offered, the hiring manager wouldn't have liked her, and it would have been a miserable relationship.
This happens when senior leaders pressure managers to hire a specific candidate, or the manager has to get someone in the door before a deadline, or any number of high-pressure situations.
There is an illegal reason for revoking
While it's perfectly fine to say to a candidate, "no, you can't take three weeks off in June for your honeymoon" and then let the candidate say yes or no, it's illegal to say, "no you can't take six weeks off in June when you have a baby."
You have to treat pregnancy as a disability. If you'd allow someone to take time off to recover from a broken leg, you have to let them take time off to recover from childbirth. (This is not to say that pregnancy qualifies as a disability--it generally doesn't --that's just the law.)
Sometimes hiring managers revoke an offer when they learn about a disability. As long as there are 15 or more employees, the candidate is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. You need to go through an interactive process with the candidate to see if there is a reasonable accommodation. There isn't always a reasonable accommodation available, but you have to work through the process.
The candidate fails a background check
This is a pretty straightforward reason for revoking a job offer. Job offers should be written with a clause that says they are subject to a successful background check or drug test. (If you do that.) A candidate who lied about a degree, a job, or drug usage can expect to lose a job offer.
Hiring managers need to be careful, though. Arrests are not convictions. Some controlled substances are from prescription medication and shouldn't affect the candidate's ability to hold a job.
On a rare occasion, the company will revoke the position between the offer and your start date. In this case, it is often not the hiring manager or the candidate's fault, but someone on the senior team who didn't want to let people know what is going on.
Have you ever revoked a job offer, or had one revoked from you? I'd love to hear your stories. Send them to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.