It's not called a job 'contract' for nothing
There is only one correct way to accept a job and few people know it.
Before I became an executive coach, I was a recruiter for many years and before that I was a lawyer. My legal days still echo through in some of the career advice I give because, after all, it’s not called an employment ‘contract’ for nothing.
The cynical view of the recruitment process states that the employer lies to the candidate and the candidate lies to the employer and both sides spend the first 12 months working out where the truth lies. Hopefully, that’s not true in most cases, but I have seen occasions where it’s not far off the mark.
What is always true is that the recruitment process involves a fair bit of selling on both sides. The candidate is selling their skills and experience and the employer is selling the benefits of working for their company. When selling is involved, even with the best will in the world, the truth is likely to suffer.
This is particularly the case if you are looking to join an entrepreneurial start-up. Most successful entrepreneurs are great salespeople, and they tend to get carried away when talking about the company they created, their baby. That’s understandable and often, it’s endearing. The danger lies however when that enthusiasm leads them to make exaggerated promises about the nature of the job they are offering you, the candidate.
As a lawyer, we knew that the cases where you dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s rarely went wrong. The ones where you weren’t careful and failed to keep good notes of conversations were the ones that went pear-shaped.
Using this learning, I advise candidates to treat the recruitment process as carefully as you would do if you knew you were going to end up in court, litigating your employment contract.
Take detailed notes of every conversation with everyone you met during the recruitment process. When hopefully you receive a letter of offer, you can bet it will be a standard template. While all your contractual obligations will be detailed, 99.9 percent of the time the employer fails to repeat all the representations they made to you to convince you to join them.
My advice to candidates is simple. The right way to accept a letter of offer is to thank the employer, note that their terms are acceptable (assuming, of course, that they are) and at this point, it is appropriate to restate the representations, which have been made to you. I suggest candidates clarify the key representations at this stage by email. Such an email may read,
I received your letter of offer today. Thank you, I am flattered.
I have read the contract and the terms are acceptable to me.
Before I sign and return the contract, I just wanted to clarify that I fully understood our discussions. In addition to my obligations as set out in the contract, I note that we discussed the fact that you will do:
for me. These representations are materially important to me in accepting your offer. If I have misunderstood anything please tell me now.
If my understanding is correct, I am delighted to accept on the basis of our complete discussions.
If you want to be doubly careful, you might insist that the contract is amended to include those representations. I’ve seen this done on many occasions. It’s a good idea where they are crucial points such as the right to participate in bonus schemes or the right to work from home etc.
Many representations might be lighter, but none-the-less important to you. For example, you will be provided with an internal mentor or the right to participate in certain in-house training programs. Often a simple email will suffice to document these aspects.
My experience has proven that while this approach is not foolproof and may not be legally binding, it does give you a much better chance of having a positive start to your employment relationship. Nothing sours your experience in a new job more than having a sense that you were conned during the recruitment phase. Few people last long in a job once those feelings creep in.
The two reasons most candidates don’t adopt this approach is either they haven’t had the training around protecting their interests or they somehow feel awkward and pushy if they send such an email.
My advice is don’t feel awkward. Provided it’s well worded, this approach paints you as a professional and someone who is taking this role seriously. I wouldn’t work for any employer who took offense to this response. If they object to you standing up for yourself now, that’s not a good sign of things to come.