The Offer Letter

October 20, 2015

You have courted, cajoled, persuaded, and incented; finally it’s time to present your offer in writing. You have explained your values, the vision for the company, and how you work as a team. You have shared your approach to engagement and the importance of a happy workforce. Finally you reach agreement on terms and a start is determined but it is the offer letter that will reinforce or destroy the picture that you have created in the candidate’s mind. The vision of engaged colleagues, happy in their endeavors, where a munificent employer helps them learn and grow will quickly dissipate when the tome of legalese arrives in their mail box.

Not unreasonably an employer particularly a smaller one, wants to limit their legal liability and protect their assets from a potentially disgruntled employee down the road. Any worthwhile candidate will get this (and if they don’t they are probably not the one you want!) but they will have concerns if an offer feels overly protective of the employer and written in terms that they don’t understand. Plain English has exactly the same effect but will appear welcoming and transparent. Clients and employees can be protected just as effectively as with unfathomable legal jargon.

Offer letters become stale and the same dated template including one or two sentences that haven’t been updated will cause a candidate to think that they are no longer the special hire that you led them to believe that they were.

Customize the introduction to recognize the candidate’s special attributes as they relate to the role while retaining as a core common terms and conditions. Take care to place them in the right order. Don’t start with severance arrangements or notice period and keep employee undertakings regarding protection of your clients and employees until the end and ideally as appendices. These are details that need to be addressed but not to tarnish this beautiful beginning. Refer to previous incumbents that have gone on to bigger roles within the corporation to underline longevity and career opportunity but without creating expectation.

Sometimes a candidate will try to reopen negotiations upon receipt of an offer; a behavior that will provide insight into the ethics of your prospective employee. Unless there is a compelling reason resist such an advance.

The more senior the position the more likely a candidate is going to want severance terms spelled out and the letter legally reviewed. Transparency is important in recruitment at any level but why not suggest for senior candidates, that they may wish to obtain a legal review at your expense. Such clear statement will likely mean most not taking up your offer.

Celebrate acceptance for senior positions with an announcement in the press or trade publication and devise a similarly appropriate recognition for other levels. Make sure that everyone else knows of the new arrival and are encouraged to extend a corporate welcome

Good people are scarce and ones that fit your culture are priceless. Hiring someone new is a key investment that will start to add value immediately if a tailored offer process is followed. You cannot exert too much effort on an investment that is going to pay dividends immediately and for years to come.   

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