Learn why a job offer letter is important and what to include in it – and omit from it.
- A job offer letter is a written communication sent to a prospective employee who has been selected for a specific position.
- A job offer letter should provide the candidate with information on salary, job status, job duties, contingencies, supervision and starting date. It should be written in a professional yet friendly tone.
- A job offer letter becomes legally binding once the employer and employee have both signed it, so it should be carefully worded and as accurate as possible to avoid misunderstandings and legal issues.
- This article is for business owners and human resources professionals who are hiring and want to know the best practices for writing a job offer letter.
After interviewing candidates for an open position at your company, you've finally found a prospect who's the right fit for the job. Now it's time to extend a job offer. You may be tempted to make an offer in person at the end of the final interview or by telephone. While that's fine, it's essential to follow up with a written job offer letter.
What is a job offer letter, and why should I send one?
A job offer letter is an official offer of employment – an invitation for someone to work for your company. It lays out critical information such as what the prospective employee's title, salary and available benefits will be if they take the position.
Sending a job offer letter to a prospective employee is valuable because seeing the details in writing may help the candidate weigh their options and decide whether to accept. The faster you get a decision, the sooner you can start the onboarding process or move on to the next candidate (if the individual declines your offer).
A job offer letter also makes sure your company and the prospective new hire are on the same page about the job's details. Less confusion means less back-and-forth between you and the candidate while the offer is on the table and fewer problems in the future.
Should a job offer letter be an email or a traditional letter?
You can convert a paper job offer letter to an electronic (PDF) file and email it to the candidate as an attachment. However, many human resources professionals and business owners believe it's better to print out a paper copy of the letter and send it to the prospective employee via overnight delivery service, such as USPS Express Mail, FedEx or UPS.
A traditional printed letter looks more professional. Some candidates may respond to such a letter faster than they would an emailed one they must sign and return, especially if they can't open and print out PDF documents.
Whichever of these formats you choose, use your company's letterhead. It will look more official than an email, so the recipient will take it more seriously.
Key takeaway: A job offer letter officially extends the offer of a job to a candidate and contains critical details like salary and title. A written job offer gives the candidate the information they need to accept or decline the job and can prevent misunderstandings between the employer and prospective employee.
How to write a job offer letter
The introduction to a job offer letter is your chance to state the obvious – that you are offering the candidate a job. It also gives you the chance to address the recipient in a personal yet professional way that makes the offer and the idea of working for your company sound appealing.
Begin by noting that you're "pleased to" – rather than that you'd "love to" or "like to" – inform the candidate that they've been selected for the position of (job title) at (your business's name). It should be friendly enough to show your enthusiasm about hiring the person, yet professional enough that the recipient knows it's authentic, said Jay Scott, director of HR at Pugsquest.
Make the recipient feel welcome and valued by including a sentence or two about why you chose them. You may even want to note how many other applicants were vying for the job. Joy Poli, president and CEO of Strategic Talent Resources, suggests this: "We are impressed with your skills and accomplishments and feel your background and experience in ______ are a good match for our present needs."
Matthew Dailly, managing director at Tiger Financial, uses a similar message – with a twist. "I like to add things like, 'Your relevant skills would suit this position in particular because …' or something like, 'It was your enthusiasm that made this decision much easier.'"
What to include in the body of a job offer letter
While the order of these items may vary, all job offer letters should include the following information:
Include a sentence or two about the position's job duties, responsibilities, and work hours, and whether it requires travel. Indicate whether the position is full time or part time and exempt or nonexempt from overtime in keeping with the Fair Labor Standards Act. List the name of the position's immediate supervisor.
Unless your company is headquartered in Montana, state clearly that your offer is for at-will employment. Briefly explain what this means – that the employee can be terminated at any time and for any legal reason or no reason at all, with or without notice, and that they can quit the position whenever they wish, with neither an explanation nor advance notice.
Salary and commissions
When detailing the salary offer, it's best to explain the pay cycle, said Michael Timmes, HR consultant at Insperity. "For instance, if the employee will be paid bimonthly, the salary should be presented as such."
If the employee will also earn commissions, explain the commission structure and what conditions must be met for them to collect commission payments.
Provide an overview of the benefits the employee will have access to, such as a 401(k) retirement plan, paid time off, and medical, dental, vision and life insurance. Briefly explain when insurance coverage starts (for example, after three months) and how vacation time accrues.
Contingencies and conditions
Clarify any conditions that apply to the offer of employment, such as the candidate passing a background check or drug screening, signing a confidentiality or noncompete agreement, or having a certain certification to perform the job.
Note also that employment is contingent on the candidate's ability to provide I-9 documentation of authorization to work in the U.S., as required under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
Listing contingencies and conditions in a couple of sentences can protect your business if you have to rescind the offer down the road, Timmes said.
Statement that the letter takes precedence
Include a statement clarifying that the contents of the job offer letter supersede any oral discussions about all matters addressed in it. This protects your business from later claims by the employee that they were promised something during an interview that wasn't delivered.
Tell the prospect whom to call if they have questions about the offer or want to discuss it. By welcoming questions from the applicant, you encourage an open dialogue and limit misunderstandings that could lead an otherwise interested and qualified candidate to decline the job offer.
Instructions for accepting the offer
Request that the candidate sign and return the letter to signify their acceptance of the position. Specify a deadline for the acceptance. It's good form to set the deadline as one week from the date the letter was received.
"This gives enough time for the person to really think about the offer and make a thoughtful decision," said Jacob Martinez, founder of SwiftClean.
Key takeaway: Open your job offer letter by saying you're pleased to inform the candidate that they have been chosen for the open position. Use the body of the letter to discuss the job responsibilities, start date, benefits and contingencies. Explain how to accept the job offer and whom the candidate should contact to discuss the offer.
What not to include in a job offer letter
Do not include these things in a job offer letter:
Implications about termination: Don't write that termination will happen only for cause or with prior notice. This is a conflict with the at-will nature of employment.
Promises of promotions, pay raises or bonuses: Don't make any promises in the job offer letter that aren't set in stone, said Jon Hill, chairman and CEO of The Energists. "If the (prospective) employee accepts the job under false pretenses, they have legal grounds to seek what they were promised or else look for employment elsewhere."
- Statements that allude to job permanency or duration: For example, don't say, "We're confident you'll be with our company for a long time." All statements like this "can, and have been, construed to create a contract," leading to expensive legal battles for companies, said Michael Trust, HR leader and certified mediator at Michael Trust Consulting.
Key takeaway: No job offer letter should include promises or statements about termination or the duration of the job.
Examples and samples of job offer letters
Here is an example of a job offer letter from iHire:
These are some other online resources that provide sample job offer letters: