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“Sign Here”

For many years I have advised people that, until they have a signed offer letter in their hand with an agreed-upon start date, they don’t have a job offer. Anything less is just a piece of paper or an email with little real value to you. That doesn’t mean it is of no value, it may be communicating an intention thereby making it a letter of intent, something hypothetical around which to base further substantive conversation by placing words into context. If it is sincere, it is a step in the right direction – but let’s get one thing straight, it is not a job offer. If it sounds as if I am splitting hairs I’m sorry, but when you are contemplating a decision that impacts you and your family – in this current job market and sluggish economy, all parties should be taking discussions of this type very seriously– I hope you are paying attention and not leaving it to others to do the right thing. But what happens when you receive something described as a job offer, which isn’t, especially if it is something upon which they want your signature? Trusting in someone else and abrogating what is in your best interests to others is just plain careless. If you receive something described as a job offer, a real job offer should include some of the following:
  • A specific job title and brief description of the role in which you will conduct your function
  • Indication of either the person or department you will report to in the reporting structure or organizational hierarchy
  • State your compensation level (details are usually contained in another document)
  • Clearly show your start date
To be fair, a job offer may not list all of these and the details might be on a separate work contract. However, any document that lacks most or all of these things cannot be described as a job offer.
Furthermore, if you are being pressured to hurry up and sign and you are not provided with sufficient time or information with which to make an informed decision, they might not be intentionally trying to mislead you, but you can be sure that at a minimum they are more interested in their own wellbeing than yours; this is why you have to pay close attention. This is especially true if you, by coincidence, receive something to sign within a day or less of a deadline. For example, in retail and other positions you may not receive anything to sign until the day you start – or even later. No one can make you sign anything if you don’t want to. Of course I am providing general advice and you should familiarize yourself with the labor laws in the state or nation where you will be employed.
Conditions are increasingly trending less advantageous to employees; companies are more lawyered up than ever, so you’ve got to pay close attention and when you get a job offer and subsequent contract READ IT (all of it)! If something doesn’t pass the smell test, ask. And if you fear their reaction to a few questions for more clarification, then why are you considering working for people with whom you’re nervous to speak? On the other side, don’t succumb to appeals to your vanity or ego and consider the offer objectively.  Keep your eye on the ball and if you have questions or doubts, seek clarification; especially if the words on paper do not reflect what has been verbally agreed.
Shared risk and mutual respect should be the benchmark of any business relationship. Anything less puts one or the other side in a vulnerable position. Getting the best deal you can before you sign, or don’t sign, depends on the substance of the job offer – a real job offer, which is all you have to go by when you make your decision.
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