From the Blog: Understanding an Offer Letter
by Jessie Richardson, Contributing Writer
The offer letter is often the final step in the interview process. It follows compensation negotiations and signals to both the company and the new employee to cease searching.
The offer letter is especially important to former military personnel who are already out and working for a civilian employer but have decided to change jobs. You will need to give notice (two weeks is typical) and you should never do this until you have received an official offer letter from your new company and accepted the offer.
The typical offer letter contains the terms of employment (full-time vs. part-time or independent contractor, exempt vs. hourly, job title, the name of your boss, etc.) and details regarding compensation. The information includes details about bonuses and commissions, which should be specific enough so as to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding later. Items such as vacation, company vehicle, severance, etc., are typically included in a separate attachment. The letter may also contain conditions of employment (more on that below) and company policies such as expected work hours.
Beware that many offer letters are canned documents. Read the letter thoroughly to make sure there is no discrepancy between what you were promised in the interview and what appears in the letter. Most discrepancies stem from administrative oversight. Resolve the issue by contacting the authority listed in the letter (usually a human resources title) and ask for a corrected letter.
While smaller companies may be unfamiliar with offer letters, no reputable company should refuse to give you one. Once a verbal offer has been made, reply, "That sounds great - when may I expect the offer letter?" If that is not the company's common practice, be wary, ask why, and offer to draft one yourself.
Also note that in some cases, offer letters will outline conditions of employment. Many offers are contingent on the candidate successfully passing certain screening procedures such as criminal background checks, driving record review (in cases where you will be driving a company vehicle as part of your job), financial / credit history and a drug screen. Unfortunately for the candidate, due to the cost, much of this type of screening is typically not done until after you have accepted the offer.
Jessie Richardson, CPRW, is director of resume services at MilitaryResumes.com, the military-to-civilian transition experts. She is a Naval Academy graduate and a regular commentator on job search best practices for military-experienced job seekers. Read more transition advice online at the MilitarytoCivilian.com blog.
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