Five Things to Check Before You Sign a Contract

Receiving the contract for your new job is often the moment it starts to feel real - all your hard work during the application process has paid off and you're about to begin an excellent new chapter in your career.

But before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you understand what you're getting into. Take the time to read through your contract - much of it will be standard but you need to be clear on what's expected of you and what you can expect of your new employer.

1. What's in a name?

First things first - are you signing up for the role you applied for? This may seem like a silly question but many companies call the same job different things internally and externally. If the title has changed since your interview, ensure the job description is familiar.

Equally your new job title should reflect the role you're taking on. If it's vague, ask your employer to clarify your responsibilities and how you'll work within your team. You don't want to inadvertantly take on a much bigger, or much smaller role than expected.

2. Salary, benefits and bonus

Many companies provide comprehensive benefits packages for their employees - the most common of which include a pension, private healthcare, ride to work scheme, travelcard loan and discounted gym membership. Check the renumeration package in your contract matches the one in your offer letter and find out how you can claim your benefits.

If you are eligible for a bonus as part of your new role, ask your employer how it's calculated. Is it based on your performance as well as the company's? What targets do you need to work towards? Get all the facts before you sign the contract.

3. Working nine to five...

Dolly Parton knows exactly how many hours she's working - do you? Although most firms operate on a basic eight hour day with an hour for lunch, many now offer flexible working. This is an opportunity to negotiate your daily start/end time as well as your preferred location if your company has a number of different offices. Make sure you're clear on the number of hours you're expected to work each day and week.

Your contract will also lay out over time compensation. It's normal to take on a few extra hours at your discretion but on the whole you shouldn't be working much more than what you're contractually obliged to. And if you do, you need to know you'll be compensated for your effort.

4. Holidays

As with studying, it's important to take regular breaks once you start your new job. Before you go booking your next trip, check how many days or hours of holiday you've been allocated. Look out for any restrictions on usage such as particular times in the year you can't take time off or limitations on the length of your holiday.

Most companies ask that you use up your allowance by a certain date. Read through your contract to see if there's the option to rollover holiday or if you can buy or sell days.

5. When it's time to move on

I don't want to rain on your parade but do be aware of your notice period. Standard length is one month but it may be longer or shorter depending on your employer. A very short notice period can be problematic in the unlikely scenario you're let go -you'll only have a couple of weeks to find a new job. However a very long notice period can be troublesome if you're looking to change company and your new employer is expecting you to start quickly.

Find out exactly how long your notice period is and if it varies depending on the circumstance of your departure - have a plan of action for any eventuality.

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Finally, if you have any questions about your contract, your first port of call should be your new employer. They will be able to explain anything you're unclear on. It's also worth showing your contract to a parent or lecturer - they will be able to point out any anomolies. We wish you the best of luck in your new role - we don't doubt you'll do exceedingly well.

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