When You Receive a Job Offer, Always Get Bonus Expectations in Writing

Every year around bonus time, we are barraged with calls from new employees at various companies. Some are past candidates, some are people we've placed, and some are just in a daze and looking for a sympathetic ear.

Their comments are usually the same: "My yearly review said I'm doing great at this new company." Or: "The whole team loves working with me." Or: "I should be up for promotion soon."

Then they drop the hammer: "But my bonus is nothing compared to what they told me it would be during the interview."


We then politely ask them what type of bonus expectations the company detailed in their offer letter. Almost always, the answer is the same: "Nothing's in writing. We just talked about it."

Game over. You lose. Sorry, my friend. We have made the same mistake in past jobs, so we can sympathize – but that won't take the financial sting away.

Today, companies are moving away from putting bonus expectations in offer letters unless the candidate is adamant about it. If you review your offer letter and there's no detail regarding an actual number mentioned, politely call the firm or recruiter. Simply tell them that you can't see the bonus expectations in the offer letter.

And then be ready to stick to your guns. They will probably say, "We never put bonus expectations in writing. It's not company policy."

Respond politely by saying something along the lines of, "Well, I'm certain that the hiring manager who I will be working for was telling me the truth when she gave me a target bonus number. But what if she gets promoted, or leaves the company? Or what if it's out of her hands? I need a bonus number in writing. Sorry."

If you can't get it in writing, then you need to think about whether this is really the right company for you.

Monica Vida and Peter Keseric are managing consultants with Korn Ferry Futurestep's Financial Services Search Practice.