The secrets that human resources keeps from you

BY Nick Corcodilos  May 13, 2014 at 12:18 PM EST
Don't let the human resources department keep the employee manual and benefits package from you before signing a contract. Photo by BernardaSv/iStock/360 via Getty Images.

Don’t let the human resources department keep the employee manual and benefits package from you before signing a contract. Photo by BernardaSv/iStock/360 via Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: I’ve been offered a job. The salary is fine and the company is very large. The offer letter states that I am eligible for benefits, but it doesn’t say what the benefits are. I asked the headhunter who was working to place me, and he said the company’s policy is not to disclose the benefits until after I’ve accepted the position. This sounds really bizarre. The headhunter has assured me that the benefits package is very good and I shouldn’t worry about it; I’ll be happy with the package.

Should I take his word for it and accept the job, or should I run the other way? The last thing I want is to end up in a situation where I have to start looking for my own health insurance and whatever else on top of moving to a new place.

Nick Corcodilos: You’ve run smack up against one of the most perturbing and ludicrous practices of many companies: They will not divulge the details of their benefits package or their employee policy manual until after you have started work. Why? Honestly, this is the usual answer: “Our benefits package is confidential and so is our employee manual.” The headhunter is merely parroting the human resources department’s policy.

You are right to be skeptical. You can play, but you can’t see the rules in advance. You can make an investment in the company, but you can’t see the financials. You can buy the house, but you can’t do an engineering inspection first. Did you ever ask to see a menu at a restaurant only to be denied? “You’ll eat what we give you.”

Please rest assured, the company you’re dealing with is being stupid. This is how employers lose good job candidates in a competitive market. You may be tempted to run away, but try my approach first. When the terms of a deal are such that I’m not willing to take it, I’ve got nothing to lose. Rather than say no, I state my own terms.

Call the office of the CEO and very politely explain that you are sitting on a job offer that you’re ready to accept, but you have a question that no one — including the HR department — seems able to answer to your satisfaction. Decline to say what the question is until either the CEO or the CEO’s representative (someone who is not in the HR department) agrees to talk with you. I’ll bet you dinner (I’ll even show you the menu) that the CEO’s office has no idea that HR withholds such basic information from potential hires.

If you get to talk with a sensible company representative, here’s how to say it:

“I am very impressed with your company, and I am eager to come to work with John Jones, the manager of your finance department [or whomever]. However, I cannot accept this offer without knowing all the terms of employment. I could no more sign an employment agreement without that than your company could sign a contract without knowing what it was committing to. I’m sure you understand. Would you please send me your employee manual, benefits package and any other documents that would bind me after I start the job? Once I have these, I will promptly respond. I look forward to accepting your offer and to making a significant contribution to your business. Please don’t ask me to talk with your HR department — they have already declined to provide these basic documents. I hope I can count on your help so we can all get to work.”

Benefits are part of a compensation package and cannot be hidden. (See “That’s why it’s called compensation.”) It’s a serious risk to take a job before you’ve seen the employee policy manual. This is where things like non-compete rules, prohibitions against moonlighting, surrender of invention rights and other funky terms are sometimes hidden. (Also see “Signing non-compete agreements for fun and profit.”)

If you balk at these rules after you’ve started the job, your only option is to quit — without the safety net of being able to fall back on your old job. A company’s employee manual is usually incorporated by reference into a job offer. When you accept one, you accept the other. Don’t accept any terms until you’ve seen them and agree with them. “Get it in writing.”

Be very careful. Question authority. Question such policies. They stink, and there’s good reason to say so. You risk getting the company upset, but as I asked earlier, would you pay for dinner at a restaurant before you know what’s on the menu? (In some European restaurants, they go a step further and graciously invite you into the kitchen where you can see how the food is prepared and check out the bubbling pots for yourself.)

Not all companies have such policies. I discourage you from signing a contract (that is, a job offer) with a company that will not divulge everything you need to know.


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

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