Congratulations, you got a job offer! The hiring manager called and gave you the terms over the phone, and you accepted. But you're not done yet. The next step is to get that offer in writing.
Experts say getting a job offer in writing is something you can do to protect yourself when starting at a new company. A written offer can help eliminate misunderstandings about the details of your agreement, and it can also help improve the chances the company will follow through on the items outlined in your offer.
But keep in mind you may need to ask for it specifically. Not all organizations will automatically send you a written offer. "Depending on the size and professionalism of the organization, a candidate might get a verbal offer only," says Darrell Gurney, founder of CareerGuy.com and TheBackForty.com.
Companies typically make a verbal offer before they provide it to you in writing, says Lavie Margolin, a career coach and author of the book, "Mastering the Job Interview." "Paperwork related to your job is often not even shared until you have started the job."
But if you wait until after you've already started your job for the company to get the paperwork to you, you may face some risks.
The first and most obvious danger is that you don't have confirmation of critical details, such as your severance agreement or sign-on bonus. These details should be documented before your first day on the job. "Smart business practice and one of the tenets I teach in the book 'Never Apply for a Job Again' is to treat yourself like a business. You're simply leasing out your employable assets," says Gurney. "And anytime you lease out an asset, get it all written out before the asset leaves the lot."—getting the offer in writing heads off potential miscommunications.
A verbal conversation is much more likely to be misinterpreted than an offer that's delivered on paper. "Ideally, you'd want all of the details of the position spelled out in writing before you begin," says Margolin. "In addition to the salary, this could include the hours, benefits and job responsibilities of the position. No one wants to start a new job and receive a different paycheck than expected." Some 42% of job seekers report being uncomfortable with the process of negotiating a salary. You don't want to go through all that trouble and wind up not getting the right package.
But while you may want the offer in writing, you may also feel uncomfortable about asking. "If it is important to the job seeker to review the offer in writing before accepting, one can make it clear to the company that you are agreeable at the offered salary, hours, responsibilities and benefits, but you'd just like the opportunity to review the offer in writing before you accept," says Margolin. Ask if it's a possibility.
Many companies will be happy to send you the written document, but in some instances the company may have a policy against putting offers in writing—or just aren't in the practice of providing written offers and may push back. It might be tough to do, but Gurney advises standing strong until the company provides you with the offer details in writing. "I recommend to simply tell the employer that, with being on the market for the moment, in order to responsibly decline other offers, you need to have all which was discussed in writing," he says. "Otherwise, you're happy to continue to consider the opportunity but can't officially commit until it's in writing."
If you've got a slew of job offers or know more are coming that may be easy to do. "If someone is under financial stress or has faced prolonged unemployment, they may be more willing to take a leap of faith than someone who is already gainfully employed and considering better (or lateral opportunities)," says Margolin. If you're in that less secure position, you will want to mull your options.
"If the company declines to put the offer in writing, one would have to make a serious decision as to if he or she is willing to accept or turn down the offer," says Margolin. Of course turning down a job can be a tough choice. Ultimately you may need to decide whether there is something fishy about the company's decision or if it's just their policy, he says.
But, whenever possible it's best to get that offer in writing. Doing so will help ensure both you and the company are in agreement about the job they're hiring you to do.