Handling Offers

It should be signed by someone in authority, eg: a director, manager or senior human resources member of staff. Until you receive something of this kind in writing, it is unlikely that you have been made an offer, so do not make any decisions based on a verbal agreement alone. People sometimes return from an interview feeling that they have been promised a job, only to find themselves disappointed when they are later formally rejected.

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A formal written offer should include the following information:

  • Your name, and the name of the employing organisation
  • The date of the offer
  • The job title and department/location
  • Salary
  • Period of notice required for either party to end the contract
  • Your start date (or it may state that this is negotiable)

It may also include:

  • your hours of work
  • your holiday entitlement
  • details about pension schemes, bonuses, salary reviews, company car schemes and other benefits
  • if there is any information you feel you need before accepting the job, contact the organisation as soon as possible. Some organisations will invite you to their premises after making an offer, so that you can have a look around and chat to other employees before making your decision. This could be a good opportunity to clear up any lingering doubts you may have.

For information on employment law, see the UK Government website.

Read every line of any contract you sign with a recruiter – some firms promise an expensive training that must be repaid by the graduate if they leave within, for example, two years. Some of these companies offer postings to remote geographies within the first two years putting graduates in a very difficult position. We wish this were not the case, this practice is disrespectful but not illegal, the only way to protect yourself is to read the fine print.

It is standard for offers to be conditional and dependent on a number of things.

For example:

  • Satisfactory references from your nominated referees.
  • A specific classification of degree. If you don’t get the stated grade –  don’t assume that all is lost, contact the recruiter to discuss the situation.
  • Satisfactory completion of a probationary period – the time should be specified.
  • Acceptance by a given date.
  • For quality employers, treating their employees with respect is one of their most important values. If a recruiter puts you under a lot of stress to accept quickly, you have to make your own assessment on what this says about the integrity of this individual and this company. It is disrespectful to put people under pressure, or create stressful situations, by exploiting a power imbalance.

A common problem for finalists and graduates can be the timing of offers. The employer of your dreams may be running later than expected in completing their selection process, but you have an offer from another, less preferred organisation. Should you cut your losses and secure the offer you have, or take a risk, turn it down, and wait for the one you really want? If you find yourself in this situation, the following tips may help.

  • It may be helpful to see a careers adviser to discuss the situation and re-examine your options.
  • Do try to think beyond starting salaries and look at the total package being offered. Firm A might offer you a generous joining bonus, but Firm B might offer better training
  • If your preferred employer is slower at responding/making a decision than others, contact them and ask how far they have proceeded with your application and when you are likely to hear of their decision.  You may also wish to let them know that you have another offer ( you don’t have to mention the company’s name) but emphasise that you are still keen on interviewing with them.
  • Contact the employer who has made you the offer, and ask if they are prepared to extend the acceptance date.  If the company insists on your making a decision very quickly, you might ask yourself whether you want to work for an organisation which is pressuring you to make a hasty and ill-informed choice. Remember, however, that you can’t stretch their patience forever – they need to know your decision, so that, if negative, they can offer the position to someone else.
  • Don’t accept an offer that you feel unhappy about. You have successfully secured one offer – you can do it again!

If you are fortunate enough to have more than one offer and there appears to be little between them, you may need to revisit your original list of needs and reflect these against the current offers in terms of location, company culture, approach to training, how you felt at interview, and so on. It’s probably worth trusting your instincts, but still do some extra research, if it will help you to make a better decision.  Remember, organisations want to hire people who are excited about working for them. If you have any questions and/or concerns you can also speak to the recruiter that you have been communicating with. If you would like advise on how to manage such a conversation, it would be a good idea to speak to a careers adviser.

Think deeply about what you are looking for in a job and assess whether the organisation/role meets your expectations. For example:

  • What are the responsibilities, pressures and demands, both intellectual and physical, of each job? Does the work that you will be expected to do conflict with your values?
  • What is the team structure? Who will you report to? Will you be given training? What form will the training take? Who pays the training fees (if any)?
  • Will the work style suit you? Speaking with people at the organisation and Oxford alumni on the Oxford Careers Network or contacting them via LinkedIn can be very helpful when analysing this issue.
  • What is the salary? What are the opportunities for promotion and salary increases? Will you have performance reviews and if, so how often? Are there any fringe benefits eg: private healthcare, gym membership?

Remember that if you accept a job and later, once in work, find you have made the wrong decision, this is not the same as reneging on a contract before starting work. If the reality does not meet expectations, this is a simple and common misunderstanding. Most recruiters are just as keen to have square pegs in square holes as you are keen to find the right job for you.  However, read every line of offer letters and employment contracts for financial penalties for leaving within, for example, the first two years. This aside, most recruiters only require a month or less of notice to terminate employment. Applying for other jobs in the light of this experience and with a greater knowledge of your needs, will usually result in a positive outcome.

Accepting an offer

It is common, these days, to accept T&Cs without reading them – read every line of any contract you sign with a recruiter – some firms promise an expensive training that must be repaid by the graduate if they leave within, for example, two years. Some of these companies offer postings to remote geographies within the first two years putting graduates in a very difficult position. We wish this were not the case, this practice is disrespectful but not illegal, the only way to protect yourself is to read the fine print.

Write to thank the person making you the offer, mentioning any reference number they have given you and enclosing any information that has been requested. You should also mention the date of the letter, and quote the full job title and the starting date, if stated. Don’t forget to say that you wish to accept the offer, and that you are looking forward to starting work with the organisation. Keep a copy of this letter/email, the contract or any other documents you have received as part of the offer. As the word ‘contract’ implies, if you accept the offer, you are making a legal undertaking. You should not accept a job with the intention of rejecting it later, if something ‘better’ turns up.

Declining an offer

If, after serious thought, you decide that the job is definitely not for you, contact the employer, ideally by telephone (confirming afterwards in writing) and politely let them know your decision. It’s worth remaining on good terms as you might find yourself working with or even applying to that organisation again at a later date. Try to inform them as soon as possible, so that they can offer the job to someone else.

Can I accept an offer and reject it later?

A contract is a legal document, and you should never sign such a document with the intention, however vague, of reneging on it at a later date. It is possible, although unlikely, that an employer may take action against you for breach of contract if you do so.

If you do find yourself in a position where you feel you would like to reject an offer that you have already accepted, you should let the employer know as soon as possible. Ideally speak to the relevant person/recruiter by telephone. Delay will only make the situation more difficult, as the organisation may wish to offer your place to another candidate. Be honest, and explain your reasons for now declining their offer. Organisations prefer to employ people who are genuinely motivated, and you may find that they will appreciate your honesty at this stage.

Bear in mind that recruiters at different firms talk to each other, companies might merge at some point in the future and human resources staff do move between companies. In other words, be polite and apologetic, and try to leave the organisation with a positive impression, you never know when you might come across these people again in your career!

Reneging on an offer is something to be avoided if at all possible. Our advice would be to talk to a careers adviser about the situation before taking action.


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