According to a recent study by business publication Money, the average job search takes 43 days. For many, the process can — and often does — feel like an eternity, especially when you consider the time it takes to write and submit a résumé with a cover letter and schedule multiple rounds of interviews.
Anyone who’s been through this process knows the feeling of relief and joy when they finally receive a solid offer in writing from a company they’re eager to work for. And many of us who’ve experienced that rush of pride and exhilaration are guilty of breezing through that offer letter, skimming the details, just to sign on the dotted line and put an end to the tedious hiring process.
But is that really wise? Probably not. Many offer letters include things that may not have been discussed in the interview. Or they could inadvertently have the incorrect job title, list of duties, or worse: salary.
Because offer letters are legal documents, making changes after they’ve been signed can be difficult and time-consuming. Reading through the letter carefully before signing can save you a lot of headache and hassle later, and can prevent you from making a poor impression for lack of due diligence before you’ve even begun your work. But what exactly should you be looking for? We’ve compiled a list of the four most important things to look for in an offer letter. Check your offer against this list to make sure that you’ll be off to a smooth and successful start.
Nothing looks worse than missing your first day at a new job because of your own negligence. Be sure that you check the expected start date in your offer letter, and ensure that it’s a date that will actually work for you. If you’re relocating or need to finish out a contract at an old job, you might want to request that the date be pushed back or changed.
Other important dates to check? When your benefits kick in, whether or not there is a probationary period, and when you’re eligible to enroll in employee programs like a 401(k).
Occasionally, salary will only be discussed vaguely in interviews and job postings, meaning that the first time you actually see a hard number will be in your offer letter. Whether or not you’ve discussed numbers with your new employer previously, double check the base salary, and be sure that it meets your expectations. You have the right to negotiate if you feel that it’s not what was agreed upon, too low, or in a format that is different from what was previously discussed.
An offer letter is also a great time to ensure that the bonus system is clear and appropriate. Does your company offer bonuses? Are they discretionary or guaranteed? What goals do you need to hit before you’re eligible for a bonus? Does the company offer equity? Ensuring that you’re clear on all money matters before you begin working can save you a lot of trouble later on.
Glassdoor reports that 80 percent of workers prefer new or additional benefits to a salary increase when looking for a new job. And while not all benefits may be listed in an offer letter (most companies will spell them all out in the employee handbook instead) be sure that you check for a few keys ones. Know how much vacation time you’re entitled to; what kind of parental leave you may get, if applicable; and how many bereavement days you are entitled to before you sign a legal document. Additionally, if you’ve negotiated any additional benefits for yourself, be sure that they’re included in the letter.
4. Non-Compete and Non-Solicit Clauses
While you’re hopefully not looking for your next career move while signing an offer letter, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on the future. Non-compete clauses can severely limit your ability to find a new job in your industry and geographical region for a certain length of time. A non-solicitation agreement restricts you from soliciting employees or customers of a business after leaving your past company. Violating either clause can lead to serious legal ramifications, so knowing what you are and aren’t allowed to do after parting ways with your company can save you a lot of trouble and stress.