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What You Need to Know Before You Sign a Job Offer

Job Offer"Get it in writing!"

You've probably heard the phrase many times. Whether it's an IOU, a business agreement, or a job offer, documenting something in writing helps ensure that it will protect all parties' interests and hold everyone to a commitment they have made or plan to make. It can also serve as a legally binding contract.

By the time you get a formal job offer, you've probably discussed most of the major details of the job during the interview process, especially your salary and starting date, along with benefits such as health insurance and paid time off. But talk is cheap, and misunderstandings can be serious when your livelihood and financial security are on the line. So, it's important for every job seeker to get the specifics of a job offer in writing before taking the job.

When you receive the written offer, review it carefully and make sure it states your new title, the starting date, and the name and title of your new boss, among other things:

  • COMPENSATION. Base salary and anything extra, such as bonuses, commissions, stock options, or profit sharing. If commission and raises are part of your compensation, know what it would take for you to reach those goals.
  • BENEFITS. Insurance coverage (e.g., health, dental, life), that identifies how much the employer will pay for premiums and how much you will pay. Make sure you're aware of how the health insurance plan works, including important details such as whether you'll be served by an HMO or PPO, along with your deductibles or co-payments. (Often, benefits are spelled out in a separate document from the job offer letter. Just make sure you get them in writing somewhere.)
  • PAID TIME OFF. Sick and personal days, vacation days, and paid holidays. If you're paid an hourly wage, make sure the offer indicates whether or not you'll get extra pay for holiday hours you may have to work.
  • RETIREMENT FUNDING. Investment options such as 401(k) or pension plans. Make sure there is written documentation of how much you can contribute, how much the employer will chip in (if anything), and when it kicks in.
  • TRAVEL. If travel is part of the job, how often (or what percentage of time) you would be required to travel over the course of a year.
  • SCHEDULE. Any arrangements you've made for telecommuting or flexible work hours.

The offer may include other issues, such as employer-provided training and use of company-paid resources, such as a cell phone and laptop. In fact, if there's anything not in the offer that you believe is important enough to include, ask the hiring manager or human resources representative to add them.

If you're satisfied with all of the details in the offer, go ahead and sign. And good luck with the job!

Is the formal job offer more important for the employer or the employee? Give us your opinion.

RELATED LINKS

How to Choose the Best Job Offer: Part III
How to Choose the Best Job Offer: Part II
Wellness Programs: Good Investment or Corporate Waste?

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