What To Look For In A Job Offer

By Gerald Walsh ©

I read in The Globe & Mail this week about a person who was made a verbal job offer in the morning, only to have it rescinded that same evening. Unfortunately, in the interim, he resigned from his current job. When he asked for his old job back, his employer refused.

The article went on to explain that while he may have cause for action against the first employer who made the verbal offer, it would have been a whole lot easier had he requested the offer in writing.

So, the first lesson is: always get the offer in writing.      

But what should be in a job offer? Let’s take a look at the components of a typical job offer.

Reporting relationship and responsibilities. Your immediate reporting relationship should be identified. It is always best if the offer refers to positions or titles (such as “Manager of …”) rather than a person’s name as that individual may change over time. A list of your duties and responsibilities should either be listed in the offer letter or enclosed as an attachment.

Salary. In addition to stating your starting salary, the offer should identify how your salary might increase and when these reviews will take place. If your position has incentive pay, such as a bonus, how this is calculated and paid should be explained.

Benefits. Most organizations, even small ones, have a benefits plan which provides coverage for things like life insurance, health, dental, disability, and so on. In most cases, your potential employer has an summary of the plan details and you should ask for a copy. Review it carefully and understand it. There is usually a waiting period to join the plan (often three months) but this can be waived if you ask. The cost of this coverage is generally shared 50/50, meaning the employer and employee share the cost equally.

Pension. Not every organization has a pension plan but if they do it will either be defined contribution or defined benefit. Defined contribution (where the amount you contribute is defined in advance but the amount you receive is not) is more common. In these types of plans, the employer will usually match your contribution to a plan. For example, if you contribute 3% of your salary to this plan, the employer contributes the same amount. Defined benefit (where the benefit you receive is identified in advance, such as 2% times your years of service) is less common. Normally, there is a waiting period to join either plan.

Vacation. You should be clear how your vacation is calculated so there are no misunderstandings. Typically, vacation is “earned.” For example, if you have three weeks’ vacation, the offer may say it is earned at a rate of 1.25 days per month. This means that for every month you work, you are entitled to 1.25 days’ vacation. You should also ask how any years you have to work before your vacation entitlement increases to, say, four weeks. Sick days typically are calculated and accumulate the same way.

Confidentiality. Frequently, you will encounter confidentiality clauses in offers. Essentially this clause says that information you learn about the company, like client lists, pricing information, and trade secrets, cannot be disclosed to others while you work there or even after you leave.

Exclusivity. For senior positions in particular, an exclusivity clause may be inserted. In effect, this says that you will devote all your time and attention to the organization. It also guards against potential conflicts of interest by stating that you need to obtain your employer’s consent before becoming involved in any outside interests, such as ownership in other companies.

Termination. It may seem strange to talk about termination at time of hiring but it is in your best interest to understand what will happen if your employment is terminated. The employer may terminate your employment for “just cause.” Just cause means some type of serious misconduct on your part which justifies your immediate termination, for which no notice or severance pay is due to you. More commonly, when employment is terminated it is done “without just cause.” In that case you are typically entitled to some form of working notice or severance pay.

Conditions. Sometimes job offers contain conditions that must be met before the offer becomes legally binding. For example, the employer may require that you provide copies of your academic transcripts or satisfactory references before the offer is complete. It would be advisable to not resign your current job until the company has confirmed to you that all conditions have been satisfied.

Acceptance. There may be an acceptance clause at the end of the letter to confirm you have read and understand its terms; that you have not mislead the employer in the interview or on your resume; and that you accept on the terms and conditions set out. Make absolutely certain that you understand what this document says and all the implications of each section. That’s because once you sign it, it becomes the official employment contract between you and your new employer. 


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.