Hey, New Grads: What You Need to Know About Contracts

It’s graduation season. I have been invited to attend a number of college graduation parties this month. No, not graduation age – just a “friend of the family.”

Not that these super capable, smart and educated young people are asking for career advice from me – they aren’t – but if they were, I would share the following about employment contracts:

  • Read before you sign
  • Ask before you sign
  • Negotiate before you sign

Got that? Before. You. Sign. (Or It’s Too Late). And especially be on the look out for one-sided contracts – here’s what I mean (after the jump).

Let me give you an example.

I will never forget my first full-time job offer. I sat in the partner’s law office and he said, “We would like to offer you a position to start in September at the following starting salary: $XX.XXX.” I had already decided the night before I would negotiate on salary: be strong, be firm, ask for what I was really worth. But when the verbal offer was made, I made no effort to negotiate. I simply said yes and thank you. Like a big fat wuss.

Most lawyers don’t have employment contracts, so the good news was I wasn’t tempted to roll over twice. But many new graduates are asked to sign contracts that might include oppressive, unfair and patently one-sided agreements.

Fair? No. Legal? Yup.

So I recommend the following approach:

“Dear employer, thank you for your generous offer. I will need a few days to consider the terms and conditions of this contract. I will be back in touch as to whether the terms are agreeable.”

Smile. Take the contract with you. Then, read it. Maybe even hire a lawyer to read it so you really understand what it is you are signing. Then discuss it with friends and family and ask them if the terms seems fair.

Most importantly, ask for changes – maybe more money, or insurance, or a limit to the non-compete compete. Be polite. Stand up for yourself. Understand what you are signing. After all, you are an adult now – entering the work force. Act like one by standing up for yourself and your skills.

So that’s what you get for free unsolicited advice. Congratulations, graduate! Now get to work.

Lauren Ellerman
Lauren Ellerman

In 2011, Lauren Ellerman was named "Young Lawyer of the Year" by the Roanoke Bar Association for her work in the community. To speak with Lauren about your personal injury case, contact her at lellerman@frithlawfirm.com.