This is THE biggest question after a job interview, particularly when the people in the interview have been so warm and welcoming, describing the job and the people, showing you where you will work, giving you a tour of the premises and the company cafeteria, talking about “when you work here,” and closing with “see you soon!”
Although those words may have been sincerely meant when spoken, those encouraging words don’t guarantee you a job offer, unfortunately.
When Is It Clear that You Have an Offer for Your New Job?
Until you are holding a piece of paper in your hand with the job offer on it, including the salary and other details like the official start date, you do NOT have a new job. A verbal offer is excellent, and very promising, but, by itself, it is not a guarantee that you have a new job. When you have that piece of paper, called a “written offer,” THEN you have a job offer.
There are exceptions to this rule, and different accepted practices in different states and countries, but doing anything – like quitting your existing job or moving across the state – based only on a verbal offer that is not backed up in writing can be a very big and expensive gamble. For YOU.
How Do Job Offers Work?
Employers usually make a verbal offer before they go to the effort of making a written offer. Don’t accept that verbal offer immediately. Think about it, and read Patra Frame’s excellent post “Great! They Want to Hire You, Now What?“ Once the verbal offer is acceptable to you, ask for the offer in writing.
As the classic old saying goes, a verbal offer ”isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” Do your very best to avoid making any plans for that new job until you have received a written offer.
A written offer commits the employer to giving you the job. If they aren’t willing to put it into writing, they aren’t really sure they’re going to hire you.
It should be on the employer’s letterhead or, possibly, from an official employer email address (like [HR or hiring manager name] @ [their-domain-name.com].
Why Is a Written Offer So Important?
Putting the job offer in writing is very useful for both sides. It documents the arrangement, making a bunch of very important details clear (see below for what is included in a job offer).
And, things change – people die or leave the company, budgets are cut, locations are closed, etc. If you have accepted a verbal offer from someone no longer with the employer or in a location that has been closed, the employer may not believe that they really owe you a job, without “something in writing.”
When you accept the written offer, the offer letter is a contract between the employer and the employee/job seeker. That means both parties agree to the terms and can make plans based on them. If either party backs out, there is legal liability associated with anything the other party has done to prepare to fulfill the contract.
What Should Be in a Written Offer?
A written job offer has several elements, and they basically lay out the agreement between you and the employer. A written offer will typically include many of these important pieces of information:
- Job title
- Job location
- Job start date
- Hours - the total number of hours per week and, often, starting and ending clock times
- Salary and other compensation
- Employee benefits
- Vacation – number of days and when you can start taking them
- Sick days
- Probationary period (if any)
- Time out of the office for business travel expected or required per time period – day, week, quarter, or year
- Relevant details about the job, like the territory and a company car for a sales job, a new laptop computer for working at home, training, or whatever else is approriate or already negotiated.
- Reimbursement of costs associated with moving to a new location, if necessary
Not all of the items in the list above will be included in every job offer, but many of them will – the top 5 would be a minimum.
Job offers usually have an expiration date, but don’t complain if it doesn’t.
How Do You Accept a Written Job Offer?
Assuming the offer is what you expected and/or negotiated, provide your written acceptance. Often there is a place on the letter to sign and fax or scan and email back. If there isn’t, type up your acceptance on your computer, referencing all the details in their letter, print it, sign it and send it back to them. One page is usually best.
If the offer is not what you expected and/or negotiated, ask for clarification from the person you’ve been working with. Don’t expect the employer to put one thing in writing but do something different. What is in writing is their legal commitment to you, and that needs to fit with your understanding.
If the written offer doesn’t agree with your understanding, there is no need for anger or confrontation. This may only mean that there are some misunderstandings or miscommunications. Simply ask for clarification of something you don’t understand or that doesn’t seem to be what you expected based on the discussions. When the misunderstandings are clarified, it is probably best to get those clarifications and any corrections in writing or in a modification of the offer letter.
“IANAL” – I Am NOT a Lawyer
This is not legal advice. These are my recommendations for you to avoid costly mistakes made by eager job seekers who make major changes only to have a job ”offer” evaporate on them or turn out to be different from the verbal agreement once they are working in the job. I’ve seen that happen too many times.
Your mileage may vary, of course. Some organizations operate very informally, but larger organizations will typically use this process.
Winning Negotiation Strategies for Your New Job (Job-Hunt.org)
© Copyright, 2013, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.
About the author…
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 1998, her company, NETability, Inc. purchased Job-Hunt.org, and Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt since then. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.