With unemployment so high, many people are just excited to get an offer for work. After months and months of searching, it's easy to want to scream, "Yes, I'll take it!" when the first offer comes along. But before you pull that trigger and pack your lunch, make sure you get everything you need in writing. Often, that takes the form of a job offer letter.
If you have an actual contract, it's likely many of these terms will be addressed. If you're not working under contract (union, or otherwise), this letter is the only proof of certain rights and privileges you might get. If there are certain exceptions to company policy that your hiring manager may have promised verbally, get it in writing.
It Happens to Everyone
Need a real life example? Look at Conan O'Brien...he's going to leave NBC with millions because of terms in his contract (plus additional negotiation). OK, so he's got million dollar lawyers on his side, but still, you don't want to find yourself at a disadvantage down the line.
The Basics of a Job Offer Letter
What are some basics to include?
- Hours expected to work in a week. This might be flexible, especially in a salaried position. However, it makes sense to have it in writing. If you are expected to work 60 hours when you were told 40, you might be put in an uncomfortable position.
- Salary and how it gets paid out (biweekly, by check or direct deposit?)
- Benefits including 401(k), stock options, daycare assistance, education assistance, health care, profit sharing, sick leave.
- Title. Your title can impact your pay grade and potential for advancement. If an employer won't give you more money, sometimes, they'll boost your title instead.
- Overtime/Comp time. Even salaried workers can be eligible for overtime and compensatory time for work beyond the expected duties. Don't ever assume that you will or won't get it.
- Bonus/Commission. Will you get one? What are the requirements? Is it based on personal performance or company performance?
- Business Travel. Is there a certain percentage of your time that is expected on the road? Get it in this letter so there are no surprises later.
- Vacation. You should see how much time you get and how long it takes to accrue. Time off is another perk that an employer might be willing to extend before they would boost your salary.
The Extras You Might Need
What are some special considerations?
- Trips already planned. Perhaps you have already scheduled and paid for a vacation that falls before you are due vacation time. Get permission to take that trip in writing. Your employer might even thank you for giving so much notice and not springing it on the company a week before you need to leave.
- Flex time. If you have worked out a deal to arrive late on Tuesdays because of child care issues, make sure that's written out.
- Parking/commuting. At some companies, parking or a company car is a standard benefit, but if you have extenuating circumstances, you might get some help with it. Don't forget gas and tolls too!
- Electronics. Some companies expect you to be electronically on call 24/7. If this is the case, you want to get it in writing. You also don't want to run up time on your personal cell phone, so ask for a company phone.
- Travel for business. If you will be on the road frequently, you might want to get some benefits weighted more than others, if possible. You might need more emergency child care so see if your company might chip in.
If you have any questions, it makes sense to consult a lawyer. Sure, that costs money, but better to cover yourself earlier than lose even more money or time later.
And yes, a regular paycheck with health insurance benefits in these times may trump all. But when companies care more about their bottom lines than anything else, you don't want to turn around in a year and find out that your interests and needs were not met.