I know of a person who was made a verbal job offer in the morning, only to have it withdrawn that same evening. Unfortunately, in the interim, he resigned from his current job. When he asked for his old job back, his employer refused.
While he may have had cause for action against the first employer who made the verbal offer, it would have been much easier had he requested the offer in writing.
So, the first lesson is: always get the offer in writing before you quit your current job.
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. The letter should state the position to which you report (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 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 increases occur. 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 that provides coverage for things like life insurance, health, dental, disability, etc. In most cases, your potential employer has a summary of the plan details, and you should ask for a copy. There is usually a waiting period to join the plan (often three months), but this can sometimes 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 a defined contribution or a defined benefit plan. Defined contribution (where the amount you contribute is determined in advance, but the amount you receive is not) is more common. The employer will usually match your contribution in these types of plans. 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. Typically, there is a waiting period to join either plan.
Vacation. You should be clear about how your vacation leave is calculated to avoid 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 you are entitled to 1.25 days’ vacation for every month you work. You should also ask how many years you have to work before your vacation entitlement increases. Sick days typically are calculated and accumulate the same way.
Confidentiality. 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, the letter of offer may contain an exclusivity clause that says, in effect, 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 the time of hiring, but it is in your best interest to understand what will happen if your employment ends through termination. The employer may terminate your employment for “just cause.” Just cause means some severe 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 requirements you must meet before the offer becomes binding. For example, the employer may require that you provide copies of your academic transcripts or satisfactory references before the offer is complete. Therefore, it would be advisable not to resign from your current job until the company has confirmed 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 understood its terms, that you have not misled the employer in the interview or on your resume, and that you accept the terms and conditions set out. Make sure that you understand what the offer letter 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.