When the Job Offer is Different in Writing

What do you do when you your offer letter doesn't match the verbal offer over the phone?

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Suzanne Lucas
What do you do when you your offer letter doesn't match the verbal offer over the phone? Skipping the recruiter is the first step.

A reader recently wrote: After a series of interviews, the HR person calls me and tells me, 'Good news! We decided to give you 10 percent more then you requested… .' it sounded too good to be true. But she insisted that I would be given a salary 10 percent more then I said I wanted. She asked if this was something I’d agree to. I confirmed.

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Then the written offer comes… it doesn’t have the 10 percent increase. I email the HR person and ask why the written offer is different from the verbal. She says she has no idea what I’m talking about and perhaps I had a bad phone connection when she talked with me…. It was crazy. I persisted (in a nice way) and mentioned that I was told specifically about a salary that was 10 percent higher than my request. She then tells me that she had added the yearly bonus into my salary quote. However, this 'yearly bonus' is very sketchy. It has no guarantee – it’s variable and I asked a few friends that worked at this company and none had ever had this bonus in the years they worked there. Due to my concerns, the HR person informed one of the bosses, who then responded through the HR person that I made a verbal agreement to take this job… and if I try and rework the terms I will not be hired.

My worry wasn’t about the money. My worry was about the ethical issues here. If the company is this tricky, what will I expect after I get hired? My friends have said, “all that matters is a job and money. Take it.” I just am nervous about joining this company now, especially that they have mislead me and lied verbally.

Well, your friends have a point. If you are unemployed and without other hot prospects, you take the position and keep your eyes open for something else.

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Here's my guess: The HR person is a flake--unless she actually forwarded you an E-mail from the boss saying they will withdraw the offer if you attempt to negotiate.

Now, this does not mean you can negotiate. Some job offers are firm, others are not. But, you should always be able to ask without being penalized.

But, I would skip the HR lady and call up the hiring manager. Say you are excited about this position and are looking forward to it, but that you have one thing you are concerned about. The recruiter quoted one salary over the phone and a different one appeared on the offer letter. You just want to be clear about what the salary and bonus expectations are. If he comes back with a psycho response similar to the recruiter's then I would be hesitant to take the position.

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If he comes back with, "I'm sorry about the misunderstanding. The salary is as stated in the offer letter, and while there is a bonus it's not guaranteed." Then I'd feel comfortable taking the position.

You can have a flaky HR department and a fabulous boss. Most people have little contact with HR during their daily working life, so it doesn't really matter. The relationship with your manager and department is much more important.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.