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Avoid a New Job Disaster: Get a Job Offer Letter!

By Stacey Hawley

How to Avoid a Job Offer DisasterAfter networking, interviewing, and receiving an offer, the thought of another employment hurdle seems incredible.

You negotiated, confirmed key terms, and, most importantly, trust the people you have met.

You are ready to update your LinkedIn profile and start working. However, one more hurdle exists: reviewing and accepting the written job offer.

This may seem obvious and ALMOST like an unnecessary formality. After all, you negotiated all the terms – or so you thought – and are ready to start work.

Everyone seemed professional -- honest, trustworthy, and committed.

You cannot possibly imagine people changing their minds, changing any of the terms you negotiated, rescinding the offer, or walking away.

But. It. Happens.

5 Reasons to Only Accept a Written Job Offer

I have seen offers rescinded, terms changed, and people’s lives turned upside down because they accepted an offer based on a handshake or back-of-the-envelope discussion. They quit an existing job, moved, announced their great new opportunity to the world, and then, the new job disappeared or changed unacceptably.

They just could not imagine the employer would not follow through and provide them with the compensation they had negotiated -- NO inkling that the employer would change the rules of the game.

Yet in other situations, what was promised was not delivered (like the promise of stock options that are never granted) for numerous reasons:

  • Companies get acquired or merge.
  • Divisions are sold.
  • Or, companies promise "giveaways" to get you to start -- you will be eligible for stock options in the future, but do not include any language as to when and how they will be granted (leaving it unclear whether you will actually receive anything).

Promises are not always kept -- accidentally or on purpose.

The best defense: You need to get the offer in writing. Email counts, but letters are better.

There are 5 reasons you should only accept a final offer that is in writing (a letter on the employer's letterhead):

  1. A written offer documents the agreements reached during negotiations.  

The issue:

Throughout the negotiation process, many aspects of the job may be discussed, including the financial terms, of course, and also the nonfinancial terms like job location (which employer's location, if more than one), the remote versus in-person work split (if applicable), what equipment is provided when working at home (laptop, Internet, etc.), start date, and other onboarding items.

You may have very detailed notes, but you have nothing from the employer that documents their agreement to your points except a nod or a verbal "yes" during the discussions.

The implications

These aspects of the job can be very important for job satisfaction and are often key aspects of accepting the job offer -- or not. If these important details are not documented and honored, they can be the difference between staying in this job and looking for another job sooner than you anticipated.

  2. A written offer generally includes more terms than are discussed during negotiations.  

The issue:

Many salary negotiations only focus on key terms and conditions – title, base salary, start date, vacation time, and/or equity.

Benefits may sometimes be referenced but people rarely ask to see the health and welfare-benefit plan information unless the company provides it to them. Benefits can be substantial: the amount of employer-paid versus employee-paid benefits, whether eyeglasses or prescriptions are covered, and more.

The implications:

People overlook a potential contract term that they later wished they had negotiated. Money can be "left on the table" or the employee may feel being taken advantage of or just naïve.

Some of the terms (like benefits) cost money, and reduce your take-home pay. 

Some of the potential terms might not have any short-term implications but could have potential long-term consequences (i.e., restrictive clauses precluding you from working for competitors or clients for two years after being terminated). You are not bound to these restrictive clauses unless they are in an offer letter that you sign.

You want to use the opportunity to understand what you might be asked to sign on your first day of work and the potential risks associated with them.

  3. Some of the negotiated terms may still be vague and require further discussion.  

The issue:

One party is convinced the negotiations resulted in one outcome while the other party is convinced everyone agreed to something entirely different. If the item is not in the letter, the company is not legally obligated to provide you with what was discussed.

Common miscommunications occur regarding equity. The hiring manager might promise an equity grant in the future. But the actual value, date, and terms of the grant are never discussed or written in the letter, leaving a lot up for grabs.

The implications:

When the future actually comes, the employees either do not receive a grant or receive significantly less than what was promised. Equity grants may need to be approved by the board of directors and the final grant – if awarded – could fall short of the anticipated value.

In this situation, the letter should include language indicating that the grant is based on board approval but should also include the target value to be delivered.

  4. The hiring manager might leave before any promised compensation is delivered – leaving no paper trail or evidence that you deserve anything else.  

The issue:

You negotiate terms with one person who promises you compensation in the future – i.e., a raise in six months for various reasons (the company was not able to pay more, they did not want to disrupt their internal equity, you had to prove yourself, etc.). And the person who promised you the raise has left the company before the raise is given.

The implications:

You are not owed anything. No one else at the company agreed to this arrangement and will not follow through on any "supposed" agreements. You are left high and dry without any recourse.

  5. The written offer sets the stage for a professional working relationship.  

The issue:

Work situations never stay the same. They are always evolving. Without a written offer, the relationship is based only on mutual trust.

People might want to honor a verbal agreement but cannot because of situations beyond their control -- you might accept a job without a written offer, but then a pandemic hit, changing everything.

The implications:

Work situations change, as we have seen with the coronavirus. A written letter provides a foundation from which to discuss situations and negotiate future compensation.

By maintaining a professional working relationship from the beginning, expectations can be clearly managed, and, more importantly, high-risk situations can be avoided or at least mitigated.

The Bottom Line

Written offers provide more information than verbal discussions, and ensure all parties clearly understand the terms of the agreement. If something changes after you start working, the written offer becomes your documentation -- and only recourse -- to ensure you receive what you were promised. If these important and agreed terms are not included in the offer letter, ask to have them added.

More About Successful Salary Negotiation


Stacey Hawley About the author...

Stacey Hawley is a salary and compensation consultant and career coach. She helps companies reward and recognize their people effectively and helps individuals like you earn more money. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or via her website.
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