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Get It In Writing – Why You Need all Offers on Paper Before Agreeing

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I grew up in a small town in the southern United States where a handshake is all you need to seal a deal. Where I lived, the common belief was that a man is only as good as his word. If everyone lived by that motto, the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, not everyone believes or acts that way.

Whenever you are dealing with with anything of importance, get it in writing. This includes things such as a contract for employment, salary negotiation, contractor’s estimate, negotiating a purchase, or anything else that involves money or a service. If you don’t get it in writing, you open the door to unscrupulous people trying to take advantage of you.

Real Life Example: Get a job counter-offer in writing

Get it in writing

Always get it in writing!

I left my previous job a few months ago because I needed a new challenge, and quite frankly, I didn’t like the way things were going with management or the company. In the weeks after I left, I was followed by several other individuals who left for various reasons. One of my former coworkers accepted a job offer from another company, resigned from his position, and then had an exit interview with his managers.

During his exit interview, he caved in to management. As I mentioned in my exit interview, my former managers tried placing blame on me when I left. The company is/was having financial difficulties and was in the middle of bidding for a large contract. The large number of people leaving was adding fuel to the fire and hurting the company’s image. The managers told him he was letting down the company and his team. To entice him to stay, they offered to give him a raise that didn’t quite meet the other company’s raise, but came fairly close. They followed that up with a promise to bring his salary up to the other company’s offer during the mid-year promotion cycle. He relented and agreed to rescind his acceptance at the other company.

Fast forward a week. He met with his management again and verified he declined the job offer. Management then gave him a paper to sign. It was verification of his new salary, which was only half the promised raise. His managers gave him a half-baked excuse about budgets or something. What it boils down to is that they coerced him into staying by lying.

What could my former coworker do at that point? He could either remain with the company or look elsewhere. He had already burned his bridge to the new company and didn’t have anything else lined up. So he signed the paper. I hate to say it, but now management knows they have a pawn and I seriously doubt any of them respect him now. He has already shown his willingness to leave for greener pastures, he has shown weakness in negotiation, and he allowed himself to be manipulated by management. I think his future is very limited at that company.

I rarely think people should accept a counter offer. At that point you have accepted a new position and you risk burning a bridge and ruining your reputation. Other people’s perception about you can change, which can limit your future with the company. If you decide to accept a counter offer – get it in writing.

What you need to get in writing:

When in doubt, always get as much information as possible in writing. Ask all the important questions such as Who, What, When, Where, How, How Much, Who is responsible for what, etc.

Other times you need to get it in writing:

  • Moving household goods. Always get your moving estimates in writing. Is your move based on weight, total boxes, number of people moving you, is there an extra charge for stairs or mileage?
  • When buying a car. Read the fine print and check for items being added that you didn’t request. Also make sure everything verbally agreed upon is in the contract. You don’t want to find out your warranty expires earlier than the salesman told you.
  • When getting work done by a general contractor. Does the price include parts and labor? IS there a warranty?
  • Salary and benefits negotiations. There are many things to think about in a salary negotitaion. Be sure to get your proposed salary in writing as well as time off, retirement package, job description, other benefits and anything else that was important during your negotiation. More reading: Salary Negotiation Tactics.
  • Other: Anything else that requires a contract, compensation, money changing hands, work being done, or anything that can cause you to lose time or money. Get it in writing!

Feel free to add tips in the comments section. I’ll be more than happy to include them in this article.


Published or updated January 2, 2013.
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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David

Receipts for making big payments, like on medical bills. I gave a hospital my CC over the phone and they then claimed I never paid it, even though the CC company had proof. Always ask for a receipt in writing, not a verbal guarantee.

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2 Ryan

Eric,

I had a similar experience, but my new company actually started paying me substantially less salary than my offer letter stated (20% less). I have to think it was an honest mistake though because the problem was solved by my second paycheck and they gave me back pay to fix the situation. Having a sign offer letter guaranteed me the salary I agreed to.

David,

Great tip. Unfortunately, getting receipts when you ask verbally over the telephone doesn’t always happen. Thankfully you had your credit card statement to cover you.

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3 Eric

I almost slipped on this last December when I took a new position with my current company. I had negotiated a salary and a signing bonus with HR. When they emailed me the offer letter (getting it in writing) it did not have the signing bonus on it. I’m not sure whether they were trying to slip one past me, or if it was an honest mistake. Either way, I called the HR rep and he sent me a corrected offer letter that included my signing bonus. 3 weeks after I started I got the check for my signing bonus which padded my savings account nicely.

Always ALWAYS good to get things in writing.

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4 Ron@TheWisdomJournal

The things YOU should write down are your personal reasons for leaving…and don’t hold back. If something bothers you, write it down. When I left my last position, I had 85 things that drove me nuts (some worse than others). I knew that I would be tempted to cave in when the counter offer came through, so having a list of things to get my blood boiling helped me maintain my resolve.

If your friend had reviewed HIS list prior to that interview, I’d bet he would be in a new position.

Not only that, but when he DOES leave, I bet he is very vocal about what the management weasels did to him. THAT should boost morale.

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5 Ryan

Deepali,

I agree. Sometimes counteroffers are acceptable. this was just an example. And always get it in writing! ;)

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6 deepali

I can think of a few times when a counteroffer can be accepted, but it also depends on why you are looking for another job.
It also helps to get the counter offer before you accept the other job… but it isn’t always necessary. Bridges aren’t always burned when everyone knows this is how it goes.

And yes yes yes to getting things in writing.

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7 Laura

Getting it in writing is a great advice and I appreciate Ron’s take on it too. This past job, I had my job and pay in writing and they still tried to manipulate it where they could add work w/o pay raise. Having that may not meant much to them, but it showed me that it was a good decision to leave the place.

Now I just have to find another job. :)

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8 Jarhead

Always gotta get it in writing. You wouldn’t believe the number of Marines I hear saying that the recruiter lied to me or he screwed me over. I look at them and say no they didn’t you signed that piece of paper saying you understood what you were getting.

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9 fathersez

You are right. Counter offers are bad. A friend of mine accepted a counter offer after submitting his resignation.

And while the first 4 months went well, he is ruing the day now. Looks like the offer of more money made him forget the real reasons why he wanted to resign in the first place.

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10 Ryan

That’s why Ron recommends making a list of all the reasons you are leaving you don’t get blinded by the money. Personally, I would rather turn down an offer for more money than be unhappy. Life is too short to hate your job. ;-)

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11 Richard @ Student Scrooge

@Ryan – I agree with your idea to make a list of the reasons you are leaving, but I think money can certainly be enough of a factor to swing in favor of accepting a counter-offer. While you are right that at that point you have shown yourself to have been interested in change, I think in certain situations it does not have to be a detriment — especially if you’re doing your job well.

Regardless, you are absolutely right about getting it in writing; I can’t imagine ever making such an important life decision based on verbal agreement.

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12 Ryan

Richard,

I agree, there may be times when a counter offer is worth accepting; that was only one example I gave and not the point of the article. The point was to get everything important in writing. There is too much at stake to leave to a verbal agreement. IT ended up costing my former coworker thousands, and I’m sure a countless number of other people have similar stories.

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