Get It in Writing

You’ve interviewed with five people, you like your prospective new boss, and you’ve been verbally offered the job you’re after. You’re in! Your next step, the company tells you, is to review and sign an offer letter. So what should you expect to see in it? And how should you handle the conversation if the letter has things you’re not comfortable with?

The key, says Lisa Calicchio, vice president of recruiting, diversity, and employee relations at Covance, Inc., is to make sure you understand everything in the letter. By all means ask questions about anything that’s not clear or that you don’t like. While the letter isn’t a formal contract, it’s the template for your role at the company. By signing it, you’re indicating that you accept what’s spelled out.

Here’s what you’re likely to see.

Job Essentials

Most offer letters include basic summaries of the
position: title, department, whom you’ll report to, and how often your performance will be reviewed. The letter may also mention that travel is required. If the wording is too general, you might want to ask that specifics be put in writing.

Pay and Benefits

Typical letters cover your salary, benefits, bonus structure, stock options, and personal time (i.e., vacation and sick time). Don’t expect to see too much detail about medical, dental, and other benefits. Most often, the letter will refer you to an attachment, like the company handbook, for the nitty-gritty.


If a company offers unusual benefits that help make it an especially desirable place to work, such as on-site child care, gym membership, or flexible hours, these may be spelled out.

Special Arrangements

You might not see these in a letter, but if they are part of the package, they should be included. Offer letters or employment contracts are often drafted by the human resources department rather than the hiring manager. So it’s possible that something you and your prospective supervisor agreed on verbally—a weekly telecommuting day or additional vacation time—may not make it into the letter. Ask that these extras be included, with any specifics that are important to you. While you and the hiring manager may be in agreement, the letter formalizes your arrangements with the company as a whole.

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