Use Our “HR Interview Memo” To Prevent New-Job Problems

Collateral Issues can be Critical – Ask for “Details” Before Accepting a Job Offer

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: For six weeks, Jason had been through a series of interviews in his quest to become the Vice President – Training for a computer networking company based in Tucson. Compared to his present job at an internet firm whose fortunes seemed to be sinking, this new possible position seemed to be a big step up in terms of compensation, job security, chances for stock and pension, experience and prestige.

Following his fourth and final interview, and after shaking hands on – what he believed to be – the material terms of his new employment, Jason was given a “standard” job-offer letter that seemed quite simple. It said that it was “subject to standard company policies.” That seemed to be reasonable enough. Though Jason wasn’t at all sure of the “details” of those “standard” policies, he accepted the offer with enthusiasm. He was assured the “details” would be provided later by Human Resources.

Jason then gave two weeks’ notice to his present firm. He didn’t taken any time off between jobs, at the request of his new supervisor. With great excitement, he started his new position. Looking back, there just didn’t seem to be a convenient opportunity – before or after the offer was given to him – to go over those “details” with anyone, neither his new boss, nor HR.

It cost him dearly; as the saying goes, “the devil was in the details.” The “standard company policies” turned out to include the following: (a) benefits (including health insurance coverage) didn’t start until after three months on the job; (b) salary was paid once per month, retroactively; (c) no vacation was permitted to be taken during the first 12 months; (d) bonuses were paid only 20% in cash, and 80% in restricted stock, which vested only after five full years on the job, and (e) the profit-sharing plan – something Jason was very excited about – was unavailable to him, because eligibility required three years service. These “details” didn’t completely change Jason’s view of his position, but he felt cheated in some ways, tricked in others. Mostly, he was angry with himself.

Then it got worse. Two months later new “details” arose: Jason was required to sign an agreement that made him promise that (1) if he ever left, he’d give at least 6 months notice, and (2) he would then not be able to work for a competitor for three years. It was required, not requested. Now Jason felt upset, resentful, even angry.

Had Jason been aware of all of these “details,” these “standard company policies,” he just might not have taken the new job in the first place. It turned out the “material terms” he agreed to were not all of the material terms, and the “new details” were surely not to his liking. But he’d made his move from his old job, and he had no choice now but to accept these new “details” of his employment relation.

LESSON TO LEARN: Before you make a decision about accepting a job offer, make sure you know all of the terms. A good negotiator does not say “yes” or “no” until he or she knows all of the issues “on the table.” And a good negotiator doesn’t change his or her position until the negotiating is over . . .completely over. SkloverWorkingWisdom™ reminds us that Preparation is the Key to the Face-to-Face part of workplace negotiating. It is always a negotiating advantage to have more data – all the data – before committing to a decision.

  • Had Jason known during negotiation that he had no new health care for three months, he could have asked for reimbursement for his health care costs in the meantime.
  • Had Jason known that salary was to be paid only once per month, and retroactively, he could have asked for a one-month sign-on bonus to tie him over.
  • Had Jason known no vacation could be taken for 12 months, he surely would have taken a few weeks off between jobs, or requested an exception to the rule.
  • Had Jason known that bonuses were mostly deferred, and deferred for at least five years, he could have insisted on more salary, or payment of equivalent cash in case he was let go before vesting was completed.
  • Had Jason known that the negotiating wasn’t “over,” he could have waited until it was over before making up his mind, and accepting.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: There are ways to get all of the issues on to the table. Though nothing is fool-proof, there are two good ways to get more data, if not all of the data, you’ll need. First, in every negotiation, before giving your opinion on the offer you ask, “Are there any other points to discuss? If not, please understand that my response to my employment is made relying on the fact that there are no other obligations or restrictions to be placed on me.” That might help.

Secondly, but more importantly, before accepting the offer, Jason could have asked for “Ten Points of Prevention” of vital information from HR, in what we call an “HR Offer Memo,” like this one:

By Email Delivery:
Dear HR Department Manager: So that I can prudently consider the employment offer I’ve been given, asap, please email answers to the following:

1. Is my Job Offer “conditional” in any way (such as a drug test, background check, physical exams, etc.?) If so, how soon can they be completed, as you can imagine, I’d be foolish to give resignation notice to my present boss until these are completed satisfactorily.
2. When will I become eligible for participation in major benefits, such as health insurance, life and disability policies?
3. Will I be given a written offer letter or contract?
4. What percentage of bonus is given in the form of stock or options? How long to complete vesting?
5. Will I be required to sign a non-compete agreement?
6. If I’m to be paid in any part by commissions, when are they earned, and what happens when I leave?
7. How does vacation time accrue, and when may I start taking it?
8. What are the “standard payroll practices”?
9. If employees are terminated without cause, do they get severance and pro rata bonus?
10. Will I be given an “employee handbook” or other conduct guidelines? If so, may I see them now?

Please get back to me by email ASAP. Thank you.
Jason Smith

It’s without doubt that “you can’t do better than your best.” Your best response to any job offer is that response based on the best information, and the complete, best information at that.

Our “Ten Points of Prevention” HR Interview Memo is not exhaustive, but illustrative; you can add or delete items as you see fit. But remember that “The large print giveth and the small print taketh away.” Don’t tell yourself, later in disgust, “Why didn’t I ask???” Be prudent, be careful, be smart. Be a wise negotiator for yourself at work. Remember that Preparation is the key to negotiation.

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