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 nothing.
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.
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.
There was a job. You were qualified to do it — or not. The person who interviewed you had authority to hire you — which was why he or she was conducting interviews. Unlike today where you can be sure the first person you talk to is someone from HR trying to ascertain whether or not you are a serial killer or corporate espionage agent.
Contracts? Those were for really important jobs. Getting in the door was relatively easy. Getting an office with a window might never happen. And if you were a woman, you better know how to type.
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:
GET IT IN WRITING.
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.