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Do I need a written job offer?

Dear Coach Joan,

The good news is that I just got a job offer after a long, six month job search. I am in professional sales with a strong track record, but have a 10 year gap due to taking time to raise my children, while doing part time work in a family business. Many prospective employers gave me the feedback that the gap was unacceptable, so I was delighted when an offer finally came in. The bad news is that in my haste to accept the offer I realize that the terms discussed in the interviews are not the same as the terms I agreed to when they called with the verbal offer. The base salary and commission structure are lower than I remember hearing.   I’ve agreed to start the job in a week, but what should I do about the discrepancies in compensation? If I call them back, I fear that I might lose the opportunity.

Thank you in advance for your advice.



Dear Pat,

Yes, it is very good news, indeed, that you have received a job offer and you are to be congratulated on your perseverance in moving through a long unemployment period. Congratulations on selling yourself into a new position. You must have conveyed confidence and competence, and that is not always easy after one has had a long period away from full time employment.

And I am hoping you get to read this article before you start your job. For other readers who may be in a similar position, please take careful note. Many conflicts and problems can be avoided if your employment terms are crystal clear. In my career coaching practice I see many problems coming from verbal agreements that were never put into writing. Employees have been promised promotions and bonuses only to have their managers leave the company without a paperwork trail to support the promises.  I am strongly encouraging you to have all agreements with your employer, from initial job offer, to promises made during performance reviews, to be put in writing.

And we only need to look at a current and local employment situation to see how important it is to have all employment terms in writing. This is the story about the pregnant employee who moved out to California for a job at The French Laundry restaurant who was presumably fired when they saw she was pregnant.  I am assuming the employee did NOT have  a written agreement or employment contract. If she had, I doubt this problem would have escalated as it has.

It IS vital, especially for a sales position, or any position beyond a basic hourly job, to get an offer letter from the employer with the terms clearly and fully explained. In fact, there is often an offer letter and then a formal employment contract as well.

The kinds of things that need to be included are:

  1. base salary
  2. commission structure with any and all details of percentages and amounts spelled out
  3. any bonus programs with dates and any measurable goals spelled out
  4. a clear start date, required hours, any specifics on the option of working at home
  5. benefits, including health, vacations, time off, possibly a car, a computer and other equipment
  6. your manager, the reporting structure and the scope of your territory
  7. other things relevant in your company, industry or the specific job

Pat, I’m sure you’ve heard the term, ‘well begun is half done’. Well, it definitely applies in this case. You don’t want room for conflict or problems. You want all the terms clearly spelled out. My advice is to respectfully ask for a meeting with either HR or the hiring manager to get the terms clarified and in writing.

It is not a good sign that they have changed the terms of the agreement from when you initially met to when they made an offer.

If you meet with your prospective employer and find out that in fact, they have lied to you, you are lucky to find out their lack of integrity now rather than later. You don’t want to work with a firm that does a ‘bait and switch’.

But without the terms ever have been in writing, perhaps you misheard? You might also want to refer to the employment web sites like, to see if any employees have noted problems with that company. In fact, one of my clients had verbally accepted an entry level sales position but when he read comments on Glassdoor from several former employees who said they were ripped off by the company, he researched further, found out they were a disreputable company and  he rescinded his acceptance.

One would like to think that all business agreements could be made based on a handshake but unfortunately, that is not a wise move. It is safer and better for all parties to have very clear, written terms.

Pat, see if you can email or call the employer and respectfully ask for a written employment contract.

Perhaps in the written contract you will see the original terms offered. If not, contact them to discuss the discrepancy.

All the best,

Coach Joan

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