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. That’s fine, but it’s essential to follow up with a written job offer letter.
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 your preferred candidate is valuable because seeing the details in writing may help the individual weigh their options and decide whether to accept the position. The faster you get their 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 potential 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.
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 an 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 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 and formal than an email, and the recipient will take it more seriously.
A job offer letter officially extends the offer of a job to a candidate and contains critical details like the proposed salary and title. It gives the person the information they need to accept or decline the job and can prevent misunderstandings between the employer and prospective employee.
Approach writing a job offer letter like you would any formal letter for your business. In this case, the introduction is your chance to state the obvious – that you are offering the candidate a job. It also gives you the opportunity 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” – and inform the candidate that they’ve been selected for the position of whatever the role is at your business. This introduction should be friendly enough to show your enthusiasm about hiring the person, yet professional enough that the recipient knows it’s authentic.
Make the person 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 language: “We are impressed with your skills and accomplishments and feel your background and experience in (area) 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.'”
Once you have the opening down, you can move on to writing the rest of the letter with the components outlined below.
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 if 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 company whenever they wish, with neither an explanation nor advance notice.
When detailing the salary offer, it’s best to explain the pay schedule, 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. [Read related article: How to Create a Desirable Compensation Plan]
Provide an overview of the benefits package and perks 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.
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. [Find out more about best background check types.]
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 job offer down the road, Timmes said.
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 potential 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.
Request that the candidate sign and return the letter to signify their acceptance of the offer and position. Specify a deadline for their response. It’s good form to set the deadline as one week from the date the letter was received. That provides time for the candidate to consider your offer and make an informed decision.
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.
Just as important as what you say in your job offer letter is what you don’t. Do not include these things in your letter.
A job offer letter is a critical part of the employee hiring process. It’s a make-or-break moment when your preferred candidate finds out you want to hire them and decides whether to accept. If they decline your offer, you’ll have to go back to your pool of candidates or even possibly begin your search again. You should avoid common hiring mistakes, like being unclear about what the job entails, and make it a point to stay on top of recruiting trends. A well-crafted offer letter from a company with modern hiring processes can make all the difference.
Ross Mudrick contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.