Conditional Job Offer Letter

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A landscaper from Georgia called me the other day to talk about employee staffing issues.  During that conversation we discussed selection interview protocols, pre-employment drug testing, and various components that should be included in a New Employee Orientation Program.  Fruitful discussion; some might even say “peachy.”

Get it?  Peachy.  Georgia…

Okay, okay.  I’ll try harder next time.

As our dialogue continued, I shifted the focus toward developing and distributing a conditional job offer letter to every new employee.  Initial resistance was completely anticipated and duly encountered.  The skeptical landscaper lodged standard hesitations against the practice:  too time consuming, more paperwork, slows down the process, we can’t get those documents translated quickly enough, and of course, it adds no real value.

Serve and volley.  Reflexively, I relayed two related stories that have come across my radar screen on this topic.  First, a landscape business owner and a management candidate just completed a successful interview eventuating in a job offer.  At that point, the owner inquired “What will it take to get you to join our team?”  After a well-orchestrated pause, the interviewee said “40.”  The owner agreed, the two men shook hands, and agreed the new employee would start work on the following Monday.  A “win-win,” right?

Now, fast forward three weeks, when the new employee finally received his long-awaited first paycheck.  Immediate disappointment.  The upset employee walked directly into the owner’s modest office to complain about the insufficient compensation in his paycheck.  The irritated employee stated, “We shook on it.  You agreed to pay me $40 per hour, and this paycheck is nowhere close to that amount!”  Surprised, indignant, and slightly defensive, the owner responded, “I thought we shook on $40,000 of annual salary?”

Second story.  A Field Supervisor interviewed a qualified Maintenance Laborer and extended a verbal job offer to the candidate who gladly accepted it in kind.  At the time of the new employee’s first payroll, the Maintenance Laborer was caught off guard by his gross pay rate and as such went to his Field Supervisor for clarification.  Perhaps due language, dialect, or accent nuances, the Maintenance Laborer thought his hourly pay was going to be $10.50 per hour.  By way of contrast, the Field Supervisor thought the agreed upon rate was $10.15 per hour.

In both cases, the company paid the misinterpreted pay differential to the employees.

While misperceived by many to be unnecessary and bureaucratic, a conditional job offer does add value to the pre-employment process:  clarifies non/exempt status, introduces the at-will employment agreement, specifies the start day, supervisor’s name, and position title, summarizes key benefits (e.g., vacation, medical insurance, 401k, holidays), and of course, clearly presents the rate of pay offered to the applicant.

The conditional job offer letter, containing that amount of fundamental information presented at the beginning of an employment relationship, often serves as a pivotal resource capable of minimizing various perceived disagreements between management and employees that can cause awkward discussions, hurt feelings, and strained trust.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.