Once you are ready to hire a candidate, extending a compelling job offer can impact the likelihood of acceptance and whether the employment relationship gets started on the right foot. Here are some do's and don'ts to help you navigate extending a job offer:
- Put it in writing. While you can start by extending a verbal offer, follow up with a formal written offer. 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, vaccination requirements (where allowed), and/or the individual's inability to demonstrate work eligibility. Also make clear that the offer letter should not be considered an employment contract (see below).
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.
- Allow reasonable time to consider the offer. When making an offer, provide a reasonable timeline for candidates to respond. Employers sometimes give candidates 48 hours, but there may be cases when a longer timeframe is warranted, such as for opportunities that require the candidate to relocate. Candidates may also ask for more time if they are considering multiple job offers.
- Ask candidates to sign and return the offer letter. If the candidate chooses to accept the offer, instruct them 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 continue answering important details about the company and job. 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 and ease them into the onboarding process. Prior to their start date, let the employee know where to report on their first day, that you're looking forward to their arrival and what documents 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 clear about that in the job title and job description. Transparency can help set proper expectations and ensure the candidate enters 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 any offer letter doesn't 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 you are expecting the position will be needed for only a set length of time, 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 their pay in hourly terms (e.g., $20 per hour). If you plan to pay the employee on a salary basis, communicate their weekly salary (e.g., $1500 per week). Avoid listing their salary in annual terms since their actual pay may differ based on the number of hours or weeks 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.
- Don't take it personally if candidates try to negotiate. Some candidates will try to negotiate after they receive a job offer, especially in a tight labor market like we have now. The candidate may ask for higher pay, additional benefits, a flexible schedule, or other perks, such as working from home. If you are willing and able to meet their requests, or you make a counteroffer that they accept, give them an updated offer letter to sign. If the initial offer is firm, let them know that and highlight some of the advantages of working for your company to help 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.