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USE CAUTION IN OFFER AND START DATE WINDOW

Dear Joyce: I received a job offer letter from a company that seemed anxious to hire me, but called back and rescinded the offer. Can they do that?

-- W.A.K.

Dear W.A.K.: The general answer is "yes." Your prospective employer probably with impunity can take back an offer -- especially if the company learns a negative fact, such as that you have inflated your resume or lied on an application.

Offer letters usually contain statements stipulating that the document is not a signed contract and can be withdrawn at the employer's discretion.

I've heard of offers being whisked back when the selected candidate tried to change the employment start date, or revealed to the recruiter her displeasure with the assigned work location.

An employer's reaction may be that if you're this much trouble now, what will you be like once on board and it's more trouble to get rid of you?

Don't give an employer a reason to rethink your hiring before your first day of work.

Company background

Dear Joyce: I'm lucky to have excellent skills. Although I am interested in making a move, I was about to accept a job offer from a company I accidentally found out was about to file for bankruptcy protection. I backed off. What else should I try to find out before entrusting the care and feeding of my career to a company?

-- H.G.
Dear H.G.: The main factors to check are the company's history, management, financials and products. Ideally, you'd like to talk to company employees, present and former.

You can do much of this online if you have the patience to dog your quarry.

Search engines. Search on the name of the company and look at the first five pages -- more if you have the forbearance. You can proceed to advance search by adding additional terms that clarify key themes that turn up in the first five pages, or that your career field suggests.

The big three engines are Google, Yahoo! and MSN.

Insider sites. Two sites are known for letting it all hang out. Vault.com and the crudely named www.f--kedcompany.com. Unfortunately, you won't find Tilly's Little Shop of Crafts included or most other small employers. But for the big brand names, these sites are a goldmine. Red flags to check further: Some comments may be factually challenged and posted by people with an ax to grind.

Message groups. Check Yahoo's Finance board -- finance.yahoo.com; enter your target company's ticker symbol, then click the message boards link on the right.

Blogs. Short for "Web logs." By now everyone knows about personal pages on the Net where hosts blab on and on. Use a search engine for your target company's name and the word "blog."

Company pages. Don't overlook the obvious, the company's Web site.

Reservist losing house

Dear Joyce: My husband, an Army reservist, is in Iraq and we're about to lose our house to foreclosure. It so worries me that I'm doing a lame job hunt. Should I tell employers that I need to get a job as quickly as possible to save our house?

-- R.O.
Dear R.O.: Only as a last resort. Instead, tell the foreclosing company that you know your rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (usmilitary.about.com/od/sscra). This law protects all active-duty military families from foreclosures and certain other financial consequences of military service.

If you need allies, call your member of Congress or lawyers who will work pro bono on the issue; see the About.com Web site above or call the local bar association.

Contact Joyce Lain Kennedy at jlk@sunfeatures.com (use "Reader Question" for subject line) or at P.O. Box 368, Cardiff, CA 92007.

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