How to Read a Job Contract

Maddie Ballard

You’ve landed a job and your employer has sent through your contract – congratulations!

But despite the excitement of this moment, it’s still important to read through your contract closely so you know what you’re agreeing to. This can seem like a boring task, given that contracts are often long and full of jargon – but we’ve got you covered.

In this guide to reading a job contract, we unpack what each section means and what to look out for. We recommend having a notebook handy while reading your contract.

The company
Your contract should give the full, formal name of the company employing you. Pay attention to whether any subsidiary companies are listed and whether you will be involved with these companies – this may affect where or when you work.

Employment dates
Your contract must provide your agreed-upon start date (and end date, for contract roles). If either date is incorrect, even by a small margin, don’t be afraid to bring it to the attention of the employer and have it changed! And make sure you make a note of your start date in your diary so you don’t turn up on the wrong day (it has happened).

Job title and function
This is one of the most important sections to read! Make sure your job title accurately reflects the position you’re taking up – after all, it could be on your CV for the rest of your life, and it will determine who sees your profile on LinkedIn. If it’s a junior managerial position, for example, ensure your title reflects that and doesn’t just call you an executive.

It’s also important to read your job function and responsibilities thoroughly. Of course, these will shift and settle when you begin the job, but it’s good to know what’s expected of you.

Place of work
An address will usually be given – but don’t just skim the fine print. Make sure you know whether you’ll be expected to move around (including between cities or countries), reimbursed for travel costs and able to work remotely.

In most entry-level roles, this means your salary – but you may also be compensated in the form of equity or bonuses. Make sure you check how much your take-home pay is, as well as your salary, so you can start building a budget if needed. If you want to negotiate your salary, now is the time to do it; you can find a guide to typical graduate salaries here. It’s also useful to find out whether, and how often, your salary is reviewed.

Work hours
Your contract will lay out your usual hours of work, whether you will be expected to work overtime (and whether and how much you’ll be paid) and, usually, whether or not your work hours are flexible. If you’ve agreed to something verbally with your employer but it’s not in your contract, always ask them to put it in (don’t be shy!) so that there’s a paper trail.

For jobs lasting more than six months, there’s usually a probation period (about one to three months) during which you’re not yet a full, permanent employee. You’ll be reviewed on your performance to date and told whether you can stay at the end of that period – so it’s worth knowing when it falls so you can put extra effort into impressing your employer during that time!

This section of your contract tells you how much holiday leave you’re entitled to, how far in advance you have to request it, whether there’s any mandatory holiday (e.g. over the New Year) and whether you can carry holiday days across years. Take note of this information and plan your holidays as early as you can, so you don’t run into any nasty surprises down the line.

Your contract will also provide information about what to do if you’re sick or otherwise unable to come to work – particularly who you should notify and whether you need a medical certificate. We recommend keeping these details in a safe place – you won’t want to have to comb through your whole contract while you’re battling the flu.

While you’re hopefully not thinking about leaving your job before you’ve even started, your contract does provide all the information about how to do so. Typically, it will list what kind of notice is required (usually written) and when (usually with one to three months notice). Worth noting!

Grievance procedures Your contract should detail how to complain if you feel you’re being unfairly treated or harassed in your job. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use this information – but it’s required to be either in your contract or staff handbook by law, so you do need to check it is there. Most importantly, know who your immediate superiors are, and who your HR contact is (if the company is big enough to have an HR arm) and what to do if you have a grievance.

Pension Your contract will provide brief information about whether you will receive pension payments – either out of your salary or through your employer’s contribution. Don’t worry too much about this – you’ll most likely receive more information during your induction.

Privacy and discretion
Nowadays, most contracts also include a few clauses on privacy and data management. There are usually regulations around how company data is used and shared, both while you’re at the company and after you leave it. In particular, it pays to check whether there are any clauses restricting your employment by competitor companies after you leave. If you have any concerns, check with Citizens Advice.

Once you’ve read all the fine print and are satisfied you have all the information you need, go ahead and sign! Good luck with your new job - it’s sure to be an exciting time of growth and learning.