When you are ready to offer a job to an applicant, there are steps you can take to help increase the likelihood of acceptance and help ensure the employment relationship gets started on the right foot. Here are some do's and don'ts for extending a job offer:
- Put it in writing. While some employers choose to gauge the candidate's interest by first extending a verbal offer, it is a best practice to follow up with a formal written offer. A formal written offer should include the job title, supervisor, location, work hours, starting pay, and an abbreviated summary of benefits. Additionally, clearly state the conditional nature of the offer and identify any contingencies that could lead to withdrawal, such as results of a background check, drug testing, references, and/or the individual's inability to demonstrate work eligibility.
Note: Some states and local jurisdictions prohibit criminal background checks until after an offer of employment has been made or impose restrictions on other types of pre-employment screening. Even in jurisdictions without such restrictions, it is a best practice to wait until after the job offer to conduct these types of checks.
- Give candidates time to consider the offer. When making an offer, provide a reasonable timeline for candidates to respond. Many employers give candidates 48 hours to either accept or reject the offer orally, but there may be cases when a longer timeframe is warranted, such as for assignments that require the candidate to relocate.
- Ask candidates to sign and return the offer letter. If the candidate chooses to accept the offer, instruct him or her to sign and return it to you, even if they have already orally accepted. Keep the signed offer letter in the employee's personnel file.
- Be prepared for questions. Be prepared to answer important details about the company. When considering an offer, or upon accepting an offer, candidates may ask about the dress code, parking, benefits, and work environment.
- Keep communication open. After the candidate has accepted the offer, keep the lines of communication open. Answer any outstanding questions they may have and ease them into the onboarding process. Prior to their start date, let the employee know where to report on their first day and what documents they need to bring, such as supporting documents listed on the last page of the I-9 form.
- Don't surprise candidates. Be open with candidates during the pre-employment process so that there are no surprises if and when you choose to extend an offer. For example, if the role is entry-level, be straightforward about the job title and job description. This information will ultimately be revealed in the offer, especially if the compensation reflects an entry-level position. Transparency can help set proper expectations and ensure the candidate goes into the decision-making process informed.
- Don't make promises. Avoid making any promises or statements that can be construed as promises related to the length or permanency of the employment relationship. Clearly indicate in the offer that the individual—if they accept—will be an at-will employee and the letter does not constitute an employment contract. This means that either you or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any lawful reason. Employment relationships are presumed to be at-will in all states except Montana. If employment is intended to last for a specified duration, consider including the employment period while still reserving the right to terminate the relationship at any time.
- Don't state compensation in annual terms. If you plan to pay the employee an hourly wage, communicate his or her pay in hourly terms. If you plan to pay the employee on a salary basis, communicate their weekly salary. It's a best practice to avoid listing their salary in annual terms. Depending on whether the employee is exempt or non-exempt, his or her actual pay may differ based on the number of hours worked. Further, you don't want the employee to misconstrue an annualized salary as a guarantee of a full year of pay or employment. Additionally, include any bonus or commission eligibility, but reserve the right to modify or rescind these arrangements.
Note: Most employees are non-exempt. Employees classified as exempt from overtime must meet the minimum salary requirements for exemption, satisfy certain duties tests, and generally must receive their full salary in any workweek in which they perform any work. Learn more.
- Don't take it personally if candidates try to negotiate. It's fairly common for candidates to negotiate a job offer. The candidate may ask for higher pay, additional benefits, a flexible schedule, or other perks. If you are willing and able to meet their requests or you make a counter offer that they accept, give them an updated offer letter to sign. If you are unable to meet their requests, you can tell them that the initial offer is firm, but consider highlighting some of the other advantages of working for your company to persuade the candidate to accept.
An effective offer of employment can set clear expectations with potential employees and persuade an otherwise uncertain candidate to accept employment with you. Additionally, an offer that clearly outlines benefits, pay, and other relevant information can help ease the employee's transition into the workplace.