Ten red flags in your Midwest technology offer letter

Ten red flags in your Midwest technology offer letter

CHICAGO — So you snagged a job offer from one of the employers you’ve been tangoing with for the last three months. This is a big step. Think of it as getting an interview but squared. It means they really like you.
However, the gratification we all feel when we are wanted (not to mention the prospect of getting a real paycheck if we’re currently unemployed) can at times overwhelm our good judgment.
Taking a job is not like going on a first date. It’s like agreeing to live with someone after only two or three conversations. If it doesn’t make sense for the long term, you don’t want to do it.
Now that you’re in the driver’s seat with an offer in hand, here are 10 warning signs that the job you’ve just been offered may be far from the ideal situation. As much as you’re itching to call your hiring manager and accept the job, check your offer against this list before you dive in.

1. No offer letter

When I said “offer in hand,” I meant it literally.
If the company won’t give you a written offer letter, you simply can’t take the job. While they can include language about “at-will employment” and “not to be construed as a contract,” no offer letter means no dice. Without the paper, you don’t play. That’s that.

2. Offer letter varies from discussions

When you receive your offer letter and go over it carefully, all the details should match the verbal description of the job that you received during your interviews. Here’s a checklist of items that should be covered:

  • Job title
  • Who you report to
  • Pay
  • Salaried exempt or non-exempt status
  • Vacation time
  • Bonus (if any)
  • Equity (if any)
  • Special requirements (like 25 percent of travel)

If any of these vary from your understanding, get it cleared up right away and get a new offer letter. If they agreed verbally to a six-month salary review, for instance, it needs to be in the offer letter as well.

3. Key elements invented

This one is common and highly annoying. If there’s anything in the offer letter that wasn’t discussed with you at all, it means the hiring manager or HR person made it up (such as the salary you’ve been offered or your job title).
I don’t care what kind of salary history you gave them. Who makes a salary offer without discussing it with the candidate first? That’s the height of presumption, and it’s incredibly rude.
If a company is willing to dump an offer on you with a salary that you’ve never heard of or suggested to them, think carefully about whether or not you want to work there at all. The same goes for your job title or any other element that wasn’t discussed in an interview.

4. Big changes from beginning to end

If major changes have taken place during the interview process about the job (e.g. the reporting manager changed from one person to another, major job duties changed or the compensation structure changed more than a little), that’s a huge red flag.
Sure, companies make changes on the fly and have to react to market conditions, but companies should know what they want and communicate it early in the hiring process. If your offer is for the mysterious slippery job that jumps around from group to group and can’t quite be pinned down, run.

5. Unexpected offer letter

Though you may not believe me, this actually happens all the time. You interview with a company and hear nothing or you know they’re deliberating and will get back to you. All of a sudden, an offer letter arrives in the mail (or by FedEx or e-mail) that takes you completely by surprise.
This signals not only confusion in the company but disregard for basic courtesy as well.
It’s like they’re telling you: “We didn’t bother sharing the news with you that we had decided to hire you. Because we knew you’d be there waiting like a good boy if we stooped to offer you the job, we just put the offer in the mail.”
Have some evil fun with this one and don’t reply at all.

6. Interview process too fast

These days, job seekers know that interview processes are paaaaaaiiiiinfully slow.
If you interview on Thursday afternoon for half an hour with one guy and get an offer on Monday, beware. The position may be a revolving door or they’re just desperate because the company is hard to work for (or something else equally scary).
Respond calmly and politely to say that you weren’t finished with your due diligence process.
Ask to interview a few more people and see how they respond. Don’t jump in and accept the offer or you’ll be agreeing with their demonstrated position that your data collection and decision-making process doesn’t really matter.

7. You don’t get to meet co-workers

If the company really wants you, you should have the opportunity to meet at least some of your prospective peers (and not just bosses).
In fact, you should have the opportunity to meet customers (if it’s a customer-facing gig) or talk to them by phone. These are perfectly reasonable requests. If the company is squirrelly about who can interview you, that’s a danger sign. What are they afraid of?

8. Lack of access to your boss

Once you interview with the boss and he or she likes you, your boss may believe that his or her job is done. An HR person will extend the offer, you’ll accept it and life goes on. But wait! You are part of this negotiation, too.
If you have questions after the interview (and you should if you’re serious about the opportunity), you may need access to the boss again by phone or in person. If it’s hard to get that access, think twice about going to this company.
They’re supposed to be in sales mode right now. How much of your this person’s time will you be likely to get once he or she is no longer trying to sell you?

9. References aren’t checked or bad predecessor stories

These two red flags share ninth place because they’re not absolute deal-breakers.
Even though I know better, the truth is that I myself have made offers before without checking references. The reason it’s bad is because when you ask the candidate to provide references, he or she is bound to prep the reference givers for your call.
Don’t ask if you don’t intend to check references. This is a semi-warning sign. At a similar red-flag danger level is any unpleasant folklore about predecessors in the job. You’ll have to listen to the gossip and gauge for yourself.
If there is more than one recent predecessor and more than one bad story (someone got fired, cursed out the boss, left in a huff or left in tears), I wouldn’t take the job.

10. “Oliver Twist” reaction

Here is the advice that I hope you take to heart more than anything in this list: When you get the offer, ask for something.
Ask the company to improve some part of the offer (even if it’s just to allow you to take one of your vacation days a month before it’s earned). You could try asking for $1,000 more in salary if the offer is a little low, too. It doesn’t matter what it is.
Basically, you’re testing how flexible they are to negotiations initiated by you (a candidate). I’m not saying you have to hold out for your additional sweetening. If you don’t get it, you can still take the job. Still, I am interested in how the company reacts to your counter-proposal.
If they freak out (like Mr. Bumble at the workhouse when little Oliver Twist asks for more gruel) and start talking about the other candidates in line for the job, get out of Dodge.
The key thing is not getting your way but having a friendly and gracious conversation about negotiating points. If they can’t do it, consider it a valuable learning experience and make a new plan, Stan.
Run into one of these red flags? Write to us at lizryan@worldwit.org with your story.
Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at lizryan@worldwit.org. Her column Nine2Five, which appears on ePrairie every Friday, is designed to keep you up to date with career trends and advice related to working and managing organizations in the post-bubble technology world. This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.