Unless you're high up in the executive ranks or have a skill that's in especially short supply, it's unlikely you'll be asked to sign an employment contract in connection with your next job. Instead, you'll probably receive an offer letter that confirms, in writing, your prospective employer's intent to hire you and outlines the terms of the job.
Offer letters are important for several reasons. First, they are quasi-contractual. They usually state your job title and salary and, often, some of your duties and the benefits you will receive.
If the company later fails to keep up its end of the bargain - by not paying you what you were promised or giving you a lesser job title, for example - the letter can serve as proof that the company reneged on its deal. That's why, for example, if you are promised things orally during interviews, insist they be included in the offer letter. For example, if you were promised three weeks' vacation instead of the standard two, make sure the longer period is spelled out.
A personal experience illustrates the point. When I accepted a job offer at a company that paid its employees a salary and an annual bonus, I asked for an offer letter confirming the arrangement. The offer letter sent me by my immediate boss stated my title and my first year salary and bonus. (The letter itself was shockingly unprofessional: no company letterhead, no personal letterhead and no date! My boss simply scribbled her name on the bottom.)
When bonus time rolled around five months later, my boss was home on maternity leave and her boss had been fired and replaced by someone else who had to approve my bonus during his first week on the job. He did just that, and a few days later the bonus envelope arrived. I opened it to discover that half my bonus had disappeared.
What happened? It seems the new guy - with the help of the finance staff - assumed that since I had been on the job for just half the year, I was entitled to just half the bonus. When I told him about the arrangement made when I was hired, he asked me to show him the offer letter. I did, and despite his shock at its amateurishness, he agreed that I should be paid the remainder of the bonus. Thank goodness I saved the written offer!
In today's job market, a written offer can trigger the start of end- game negotiations. Since you know the company wants you, and they know you want to join them, this is the time to make any last-minute reasonable requests. Is working from home one day a week very important to you? What about having a laptop to use on business trips or when commuting? Or maybe a company-paid course to become proficient in a foreign language?
If everything else about the job offer seems right and an extra goodie or two - as long as they're not outlandish - would put the icing on the job cake, go for them - and get it in writing.
(c) Article Copyright 2000 Evan Cooper. Syndicated by ParadigmTSA