Once in a while, I hear from a job seeker who has a very nice conversation with an employer, and hears something like “When can you start?” or “I think you’ll fit in well here.” These sound like job offers, but they are not necessarily job offers. It is quite dangerous to make an assumption that you have received a job offer, and some employers (especially small organizations without much HR training) can sometimes be unclear with job-seekers about whether they actually are making a job offer. It can then become the job-seeker’s task to clarify things.
A job offer includes the following:
An offer letter, either on paper or by email, with a paper letter on letterhead being preferred. The letter should come from the hiring manager, HR, or the Dean/ Executive Director/leader of the program.
The offer letter should state, at minimum: your starting date and your salary. It could also include a brief job description, any contractual language (especially if the job is a term-limited position), statement of hours per week expected, benefits and vacation days, other HR related policies, specific information about bonuses or raises, anything related to union membership, etc.
If you are unclear about whether you’ve been offered the job or whether you’ve just had a really nice chat with someone, you can ask for clarification. Questions like, “So, please let me understand. It sounds like you are excited to possibly work with me. To clarify, are you offering me the job, or are there other steps in the hiring process?” are actually OK. At the end of an interview, you can and should ask what the next step in the process is, when they will be making a decision, whether they need any further information etc.
If you are in a situation where you are unclear about whether you’ve gotten the job, it is entirely within your rights to call an employer and say you are still very interested in the position and would like to know what the next steps in the process are, whether there are going to be any further interviews, whether they need any further information from you, and most importantly, the date by which they plan to make a hiring decision. You mostly have to sound enthusiastic and interested in the position, but also try to make it clear to them that you need to know an answer either way (in fact, the truth is that you are totally entitled to continue your job search, and you really must continue your job search, until such time as you receive an offer letter and start working at a new job; and they should know that until such time as they offer you a job with an offer letter, you will continue searching and they stand the chance of losing you to another employer).