It was Samuel Goldwyn who once said that “a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” He had a point.

Almost everything is done online these days from legal papers to mortgages. Job offers, book deals, major purchases (like cars) are all done online, without people meeting face-to-face. I’m still not willing to make major commitments without a personal meeting, but I’m old-school. Maybe you should be, too.

Computers, or not, get it in writing. Without the handwritten signature of a live human with a name, address, and phone numbers, you ain’t got nothin’.

Credit: CC0 Public Domain from pixabay

Credit: CC0 Public Domain from pixabay

When I was working my first jobs out of college, I would take anything with some connection — no matter how vague — to professional writing or editing.

It was the 1960s. Those days, before home computers and the Internet, getting a job was pretty simple, at least at entry levels.

72-Alien Computer-B_06

You saw a listing in the paper for something you figured you could do. You phoned them (if they gave a number to call) or wrote a letter. On paper. Put it in an envelope with a stamp and dropped in a mailbox. You included a résumé or brought one with you for the interview.

You went to the meeting in person. A day or two later, that person (or his/her secretary) called back to say “Yes, you’re hired,” or “No, thank you.” An entry-level job didn’t require 30 hours of interviewing, or meeting everyone from the company president to the IT crew, and the overnight backup guy.

marilyn office desk computer

There was a job. You were qualified to do it, or not. The person who interviewed you had authority to hire — which was why he or she was conducting interviews. Unlike today where you can be sure the first person you talk to at an interview is someone from HR trying to ascertain you aren’t a serial killer or corporate espionage agent.

Contracts? Those were for important jobs. Getting in the door was easy. Getting an office with a window might never happen.

BW Worcester Tower

The company made me an offer. I took it. I was optimistic back then. Any job might lead to the coveted and elusive “something better.” I was already working, so I gave my current employer two weeks notice.

On the appointed day, I showed up for work.

The guy who had offered me the job was gone. Quit? Fired? No one seemed to know … or no one was talking. Worse, no one had heard of me, or my so-called job.

I had nothing in writing. Without proof, I had a hard time even getting unemployment. I had learned the most important professional lesson of my life:


Whatever it is. If it’s not on a piece of paper, dated, and signed, it’s a verbal contract. Which, in the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn, is not worth the paper it’s written on.

22 thoughts on “GET IT IN WRITING

  1. To the best of my recollection, this never happened to me, but, my recollection isn’t as good as it used to be either! What a hard lesson to learn, but those are the ones that teach us the most and are long-lasting! In retrospect, you are probably in a better place because you did not get that job anyway. Only the Shadow knows! 😉


    • Although I’m not a subscriber to the “everything has a reason” philosophy, I believe I WAS better off for not getting that job. It wasn’t on any track I really wanted to be. It paid pretty well and it was in the Big City, but it would not have taken me anywhere I really wanted to go. I learned to be more careful, at least in business matters. Nothing is going to save me from being a fool about people, though.

      The Shadow DOES know. I just wish he’d TELL me what he knows!

      Liked by 1 person

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    Liked by 1 person

    • Until that point, my jobs were also “when can you start?” And I would say “two weeks” (when employed) or “tomorrow” otherwise. But this one was far from home and involved quitting one job to take another. Still pretty low-level stuff and I never considered that something like that could happen. It was probably an accidental coming together of stuff … but it sure did land on me. After that, I required an offer in the form of a letter. Not a formal contract, just a letter of intent. Probably not even binding under law … just in case something went sideways, I could at least prove to the people at unemployment that I hadn’t voluntarily quit.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Marilyn, I like this piece. Nice quote. I am enjoying your photography too.
    On a different note, I had a good chuckle with your comment on the llamas on Angloswiss’s blog:)
    The grown up donkeys running the town:)


    • I never made that mistake again … at least, not where work was concerned. I’ve continued to assume that people are friends and they turn out to NOT be friends, but I’m not eager to start treating everyone in my life like a potential back stabber. Not yet, anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I learned that a job offer isn’t a job offer unless it’s in writing. I deal with my personal life far too casually and I get screwed now and again … but no piece of paper will protect you from treachery. In the end, there’s got to be some good faith involved. In that case, the person who offered the job had completely disappeared, so without something in writing … well … gone with the proverbial wind.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s awful what happened to you, Marilyn. We hired a new person in my department a few months ago. She interviewed with the department head, a co-worker, the CEO, and company president. Three different interviews. At this point it was anyone’s guess if she had the job or not. Crazy.


    • The worst is when they put you through 20+ hours of interviewing, then no one ever gets back to you. Not so much as an email to say, “sorry, not happening.” I don’t understand it. How hard is it to just be polite?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wise words. We all want to get that something better, or just a chance to pursue a new livelihood. Like JT Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” We’ve all been there, at least once, and there is nothing worse than realizing that we dropped our guard.


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