Offer Letters: Forget these DOs and DONTs at your own peril!

So you’ve found the perfect employee. They check all the boxes, and have all the right qualifications. If you’re a smaller company, or a startup like we are, you may be inclined to keep the hiring process a bit more casual, and skip a formal offer letter. That would be a mistake. An offer letter sets expectations, clarifies any items that may need more detail, and outlines their job description. Consider it the first step in their on-boarding process (which we wrote about more extensively here). Here’s a few DO’S and DON’Ts to make sure you get it right.

DO consider a phone call before the letter. It’s an exciting moment to tell a prospective employee that you’d like them to join the team. Nothing wrong with that. Just make sure you explain to them in the phone call that you’ll be following up with a formal offer letter.

DO include the basic job description in the letter. Or, as a reference, you could attach the full job description that you used when advertising the position. This provides clarity for the position, both at the time of the letter and at any point in the future. It’s protection for both you AND the employee.

DO give the employee a timeline of when you expect a response. You want them to think about it and ask questions… but not for too long. Communicate that to them. We feel like 3-5 days should be a sufficient expectation for candidates to provide a response.

DON’T forget that job offer letters ARE admissible in court. In fact, there is precedent that they can even supersede any other employment agreements that are signed after the offer letter. So if you have any other more detailed employment agreements, non-disclosure agreements, or policy documents, include them with your offer letter. And make sure it’s clear that the employment is conditional upon signature of ALL the enclosed documents.

DON’T mislead them on what they will be doing. The catch-all phrase employers like to add to job descriptions is “other duties as assigned.” This does not mean you can ask them to clean garbage cans. If you think you might ask them that in the future, then include it in the job description. If the company is a small startup and everyone pitches in often on a variety of things, include language that describes this environment.

DON’T promise promotions in an offer letter. A million things can change between an offer letter and a timeline upon which you’ve told the candidate they would be promoted. Locking yourself in could be detrimental to the business and the employee, especially if you realize they wouldn’t be a good fit for the position they’ve been promised in the future.

Finding the right candidate is difficult, sometimes it feels like finding a needle in a haystack. Or even finding a needle in a whole field full of haystacks. Just make sure you take that extra step by sending a formal offer letter. Both you AND your new employee will benefit from it.

Further reading: Check out our post on ONBOARDING and why you need a process!