Just as you would write a cover letter or interview follow-up email, sometimes a formal written response to a job offer is expected. But for every person who thinks it’s basic etiquette, there are those who find it completely unnecessary.
Tom Winter, co-founder of the New York based recruitment software platform DevSkiller, puts his opinion of acceptance letters bluntly. “To be honest, I think that they are outdated, and should be automated in some way,” he said. His perspective is not uncommon — for a lot of people in the tech industry, acceptance letters are clunky, too formal, even obsolete. After all, why would you need to submit a written acceptance when you can just hop on a phone call?
When To Write An Acceptance Letter
- If you're taking on a senior leadership role
- To make a good impression with your new boss
- For leaving a paper trail
- As legal protection at a startup
It’s true that formal acceptance letters are becoming a thing of the past. While it’s rare that you’ll encounter an employer that needs one, you should still learn how to properly accept an offer and why it’s important to have it documented.
When crafting your response, use it as an opportunity to let your personality shine. Pamela Nebiu, marketing manager at the Chicago-based company Edge Logistics, doesn’t think acceptance letters are entirely outdated, but she does recommend disposing with the formality. “There’s nothing like a personalized email — it shows your authenticity,” she said. “It’s a great way to connect with your employer from the start.”
Know When It’s Appropriate
There isn’t a consensus on when you should write an acceptance letter and there aren’t rules that apply to every situation. So when exactly are they necessary?
In many entry- and mid-level roles, you won’t miss out by skipping it. However, that might change once you rise in the ranks. “I think if you’re in a higher role, like a senior leadership or a director position, I do think it would hurt you in the long run to not write one,” said Yesha Savaliya, desktop engineer at Michigan-based Ascent Global Logistics.
Start Off on the Right Foot
Writing an acceptance letter could put you in the good graces of HR or your manager. So why not give it a shot? “I do think it makes sense as general etiquette,” said Savaliya.
“It’s important that when you step foot into your new job you start off right.”
The response demonstrates that you understand your expectations and take them seriously. “It’s important that when you step foot into your new job you start off right,” said Nebiu. “This is a great start to a successful and trusting relationship with your employer.”
Get It in Writing
An acceptance letter can keep you covered, too. In a worst case scenario, having documentation that you accepted an offer can protect you in the event that a company dissolves.
“One of the risks of establishing a startup is not having a paper trail,” said Savaliya. “If everything breaks down, you want to have something to prove that you've even worked for that company.”
A responsible company will fulfill all the terms of your employment, but in the chance that those terms aren’t entirely honored, a document may be valuable.
After sending your acceptance letter to your managers, save a PDF and a print copy somewhere you’ll remember. “This is your go to for all things, whether it’s PTO, benefits, compensation, or start date,” said Nebiu.
Secure the Bag
At a startup, there’s wiggle room to negotiate your compensation package. “There is a lot of potential to make your own rules and see what fits best with your business,” Nebiu said. “This then gives the employee the option to choose.”
“You need to know that you're taking the right risk.”
Since there might be more leeway at a scrappy startup, that also means your benefits package and pay structure might be in flux later on. When writing your acceptance letter, clearly define what package you’re getting as well as the exact amount of money you’ll be paid — it can be a useful reference. You can also use it as a baseline to negotiate for more benefits down the line in the case that your company grows and becomes more successful.
“You need to look at the future of the company. How far is it going to go?” Savaliya said. “You’re going to need good benefits, a 401k, and health insurance. You need to know that you're taking the right risk.”
Look Out for Red Flags
You should have already negotiated your benefits long before writing your acceptance letter — but you still have a chance to bring up any issues before you formally accept.
One potential red flag is when a company offers equity over a salary, Winter said. A company that provides equity in their benefits package does so because they believe in their employee’s long-term value, but there are also drawbacks.
“Make sure your employer has good, or at least not bad, word-of-mouth.”
“It can be a double-edged knife,” he said. “By accepting equity, your fate is also now tied with their success or failure, which you can never fully predict.”
This can prove to be tricky if your company’s luck turns — you may wind up with less than you expected. If you make the decision to accept, you should have done some background research into the company’s industry and prospects in order to understand whether your equity will pay out. Compensation is a major factor, but know that there are other benefits to consider like flexibility, work environment and culture.
“Make sure your employer has good, or at least not bad, word-of-mouth,” said Winter. “You will be surprised how much information can be gathered by digging through social media, particularly comments and reactions.”
Take Your Time
Receiving a job offer is exciting and you may feel inclined to jump and accept it immediately. But beginning a new role is a major milestone and it’s wise to take a bit of extra time thinking it over. Regardless of whether you send a formal acceptance letter or say “yes” over the phone, you should be absolutely confident in your decision. There’s nothing to lose by taking space to think it through. Depending on the role, it might acceptable to take a day or up to a week before giving your final answer.
Savaliya isn’t someone to make split-second decisions, and her advice is to think through all your options before agreeing to an offer. “I’m the kind of person who doesn’t accept an offer right away,” she said. “I sleep one night on it, and then I accept it. You don’t want to rush into anything.”