Top Mistakes Employers Make in Job Offer Letters

Employers do lots of things that drive away top talent – from neglecting their employer brand to making candidates “jump through hoops” during the application process.

One of the most frustrating is investing a ton of time and energy recruiting, interviewing and vetting an exceptional candidate, only to lose him or her because of a mistake at the job offer stage.

When it comes to putting an offer of employment in writing, even a small misstep can cost you the candidate – or worse yet, put you at risk for a lawsuit down the road. So be sure your offer letter is rock-solid – and that you’re not unwittingly making one of these potentially costly errors:

Failing to make a verbal offer.
Always make a verbal offer first, either in person or over the phone. Then, follow up with the written offer to make the details official. Why? Time is of the essence – especially in today’s tight market. Extending an immediate, verbal offer may prevent your candidate from accepting a competitor’s offer before he or she finds out that you want him or her, too.

Omitting important information.
A comprehensive offer letter should include the following:

  • Job title
  • Job status (full-time or part-time)
  • General overview of primary tasks
  • Supervisor’s name
  • Expected start date
  • Pay rate and frequency of pay (weekly, biweekly, twice monthly, etc.)
  • Whether the employee should be exempt (i.e., not eligible for overtime wages) or non-exempt (i.e., must be paid overtime) under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • Benefits

Avoid stating compensation as an annual salary, so you do not imply an employment term of at least one year. State compensation in terms of hourly, weekly or monthly salary, instead.

Failing to include an “at-will” statement.
All states have some variation of “at-will employment.” This means that private-sector employers and employees generally have the right to terminate the employment relationship at-will anytime they choose, for any reason (though not for an illegal reason). Make sure that you understand your state’s employment legislation, and that you include an appropriate “at-will” statement to prevent your employee from misconstruing the offer letter as an employment contract.

Using imprudent wording. To avoid misunderstandings, stick to non-specific terms when drafting your offer letter.

  • Use words like “generally” and “typically” when describing terms and conditions of employment – especially benefits and company policies.
  • Steer clear of phrases that might imply guaranteed employment, such as “family company” or “job security.”

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