New Job Paperwork: What you need to know

Posted on May 27th, 2015 | Career, College

When I was 17, I scored a summer job at an investment banking firm. Since my only prior work experience was that of camp counselor or babysitter extraordinaire, I remember my first day getting off to a rather rocky start–not because I messed up on the job, but because I had no clue how to fill out the mountain of paperwork I was asked to complete.

To spare the rest of you newbies the awkwardness of not knowing how to tackle these forms, here’s a quick guide to some of the documents you may be presented with at your first corporate job:

The W-4
This standard form is what companies use to determine how much federal income tax to withhold from your paycheck. On this form, you’ll be asked to claim allowances based on your individual circumstances. The more allowances you claim, the less tax your employer will withhold. Many find this form confusing, but the gist of it is as follows: If you don’t have any dependents and aren’t married, you’ll probably wind up claiming a total of one or zero allowances. Claiming zero allowances means erring on the side of being overtaxed, but if you’re afraid of owing money to the government, you can always go this route (worst case, you’ll get a tax refund instead of getting more money in your paycheck up-front).

The I-9
This basic form is used to verify your identify and ability to obtain work legally. You’ll be asked whether you’re a US citizen, and if not, what your legal status is. Note, however, that you’ll need to bring in a passport, or a driver’s license and social security card, as your employer will need this documentation to process your form.

The Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA)
Also known as a confidentiality agreement, an NDA is essentially a contract you sign promising not to disclose certain information about your company without permission. NDAs are designed to protect companies’ trade secrets, which can include things such as software codes, marketing strategies or manufacturing processes. If you sign an NDA and then a year later get hired elsewhere, you won’t be allowed to divulge your first company’s trade secrets, as doing so would be a violation of your contract (not to mention a rather unethical move).

The Non-compete Agreement
By signing this type of contract, you basically agree not to start a competing business or work for a competitor for a certain period of time after leaving your job (be it voluntarily or otherwise). Many employees are hesitant to sign noncompetes for fear of having their options limited in the future. Before you sign a noncompete, make sure you understand its terms–specifically, what counts as competition and the length of time during which the contract can be enforced. If you’re uncomfortable with a noncompete’s language, you may want to consult a lawyer or ask your employer to alter its terms so that they’re not quite as limiting.

Though that initial pile of paperwork may seem overwhelming, if you take the time to read through everything carefully, you shouldn’t have a problem filling out those forms. And if you do hit a snag, don’t be afraid to ask your HR person for help. Had my 17-year-old self not been so timid, I could’ve been spared a lot of internal panic that first day of my big summer job.

Photo by Thirteen of Clubs via cc.