Signing on the dotted line? Things to clarify before you add your signature.
There are few things more exciting than receiving that coveted call telling you you've been offered a job. Especially if it's something you really want to do. But after the offer comes the tedious but important part of the process: The signing of the contract.
Whether it's your first job, or simply the next step in your career, the piece of paper that you're about to sign will define your work environment for at least the next year, so it would be a little crazy of you just to skim it and hope everything is covered right? But many people do. In fact, most people don't spend enough time making sure they've got everything the want in a contract.
So what do you need to check before you commit?
A clear title and description...
How are you meant to be good at a job if it's not clear what it is? The contract should outline quite clearly what the job title is and what the role requirements are. Although this seems a little over detailed, you have to remember, if ever there is a performance issue, your contract will define your employers ability to assess whether you have met your obligations. It is important that it's clear what is expected of you. This will also give you a good platform for salary negotiations if the scope of your role grows over time. How can you ask for more pay if your job scope covers everything ever... and you agreed to it?
Where you have to be...
It is important to know where you will be expected to work, especially if your organisation has multiple offices. Of course, it is unwise to show an unwillingness to be flexible, but if you have a blanket geography clause that says you'll work anywhere, you really can't kick up a fuss when your company wants you to spend a year in Preston.
Similarly, flexible working is becoming more and more popular within companies but, if this is something you might be interested in the future, it is worth making some allowance for it in the contract. That way, when you ask your manager for some time working from home, it doesn't come as a surprise.
The bells and whistles...
Your salary should be mapped out clearly in your contract, and often there will be a review schedule built into it, which is totally reasonable. But one other aspect of your contract is the benefits your receive. A lot of people don't consider the significance of health insurance, access to a gym, pension etc. but it's important. Although it doesn't feel like it, it's extra pay. Your gym might cost you £60+ per month, and if your company is going to pay that on top, you want that in writing. That's the equivalent of an extra £720 per year!
Hours and overtime...
Make sure your daily hours are clear. We all know that in a lot of companies you will end up working longer days than you are contracted, but if you want to leave on time one day, having an official end time in your contract will make that conversation easier. It is also important to make sure you have clarity on your overtime rights. Often companies will ask you to void your rights to overtime, think before you do this. But also consider whether the salary reflects the risk of long hours.
Make sure you understand your holiday restrictions and processes. There will be a limit to the number of days you can take, sometimes you'll have an accrual, there may be a liability for taking more than you have in one day, some companies don't allow rollover, and some companies require you to work over the holidays. Just make sure you know the answers to the key questions:
1. When does the holiday year run to and from?
2. Are there any limitations to when you can take them?
3. Is there rollover?
4. How much notice do they need before booking in holidays?
Make sure you understand the parameters of your departure. A lot of service companies will include specific non-compete clauses in their contracts to ensure that there is a period where the client competition is restricted. If you don't check this when you start, an extensive non-compete period could hinder your ability to work after you leave the company. Typically a non-compete period would be between 3-6 months, but they can be longer. Remember, if you sign without checking, you will then be at risk if you move into another competing organisation.
Your notice period should be somewhere between 1-3 months. Be aware that if its too long you might find it difficult to get a new role without taking the risk of leaving your job without an offer, and if its too short, you might find yourself in an unstable employment contract that could leave you out on your own with no job. So balance is key.
Contracts are boring, not because they don't contain important information, but because they are long, tedious, with unnecessarily complicated language. BUT the can define not only your current role but the progression your career makes of the coming years, so get it right the first time. JUST READ IT!