How to Evaluate a Job Offer
You receive that long awaited call from the company recruiter. The conversation goes something like this: “Hello, we’d like you to join our company as (title and function). The yearly salary (or monthly rate) will be ($$$$$).” Your initial reaction is a big “Wow!” The realization that you’ve aced your interviews and landed the job offer, for the position you believe you really want, is starting to sink in. Now, you’re pondering your decision. While you’re feeling somewhat enthusiastic, you’re also experiencing the normal anxiety that comes with making this most important decision.
Once an offer is made it’s time to start whatever negotiation strategies you can make (to the extent that you can depending on the level of the position and the company) and your final decision about the offer. Depending on the position, employer and company circumstances, you may be surprised to know that you may be able to negotiate anything from salary, to signing bonus to even some of your job duties. You just have to make certain that you’re aware of just what is or isn’t negotiable and acceptable to your new employer.
In making your decision, you will find that the company recruiter will play a key role in this process by keeping the communication flowing between you and the hiring manager. The hiring manager has the final say about the salary level and other points related to your job offer. This article focuses on tips for evaluating the job offer and how to tie up any loose ends before you actually say “yes” (or “no” depending on whether you feel the offer is right for you personally). Let’s get started.
Clarification Points: Additional Things You May Need to Know about Your Prospective Employer, the Position and Your Future Manager
Although you’ve researched the company and have been through a round of interviews, check to see if you still have any questions that you would like to have answered before accepting or declining the offer. These could include any remaining questions about the position, your manager or even the company. Remember your key points of contact for getting any additional information start with the company recruiter, the hiring manager and any other individuals you met during your interviews.
To make this go smoothly, make a list of the questions you would like answered. Next to each, make a note of who specifically might be the best person to answer them. Then proceed with either phone calls, or if the information needs to be discussed face-to-face, arrange a time to meet. If you are having trouble deciding on whom to ask, ask the recruiter for guidance on whom you should call. Remember to review any written resources such as the company’s annual report, benefit brochures and other sources to assist you in making your decision. If you don’t already have copies of materials, please ask that copies be sent to you or check their Web site. Once you are satisfied that information you need has been clarified, you are ready to move on to the next stage.
You will also want to be sure to ask the recruiter for time to evaluate the job offer. This will allow you to discuss the offer with your family, network contacts or others whose opinions you value. The recruiter may give you a specific date when the company wants an answer, or they may tell you to take a few days to get back to them. Be sensitive to the fact that the sooner you make your decision, you’ll be able to make additional plans on your journey to the world of work. However, don’t become rushed in making the decision. Take your lead from the time frame provided by the company and get back to the recruiter within the time expected.
Prioritizing What You Want Most in Your New Position
It’s your career so it’s really up to you to take charge of it. By this point in your job search process, you should have a good idea of what you want most in your new position. Even as a freshly minted college grad, you have ideas about the kind of lifestyle, money, prestige and other factors you want your career to offer you. As you move from the college corridors into the world of work, be clear on your priorities. It’s also probable that between the time of your first interview and the time you receive an offer, you have thought about the position that you feel will offer you the most challenge. Try to shoot for duties you would like. You’ve probably also given some thought to the role you want to play in a company, the type of manager you’d like to have as well as your level of responsibility. You may be starting in an entry-level position, however remember that all positions are important. The main point is to get started on your career journey and move forward with your career goals. The salary range you desire, the working environment that best suits you, the geographical location, whether the company is considered an “employer of choice” (high on the list of where college grads want to work), the kinds of benefits and perks you are interested in receiving, signing-bonus are also key points to consider. If your list is short, do not fret. Take some time to look at all these factors and decide what’s important to you. As you move along and up the career ladder, eventually some or all of these will have greater or lesser importance.
At this point, it will be helpful for you to make a list of your “must haves” which are items you consider critical in order to accept the offer. Prioritize your “wants” and “needs” in evaluating the offer. Top on most lists are two items: one is salary and the other is the job and job content. Ask yourself this question: “Is the salary offer that was quoted in the targeted range that I will accept?”
With the competitive market for job candidates, some employers are luring new hires with hefty signing bonuses, car phones, laptops, leased luxury cars, association dues, etc. To help you with the salary answer, you should already have some idea of your target salary range. This range is most often based on industry and company knowledge, and on your research of salary ranges for similar jobs in the same industry and region. Expect your salary to vary according to the area of the country you live in. Location is a big factor also since the cost of living varies geographically as well. For example, if you work in New York City or San Francisco versus Birmingham, AL, your take-home pay will vary greatly. The U.S. Department of Labor, salary surveys, the Internet, your college career services office, and this issue of our magazine are sources for this type of information.
Also assess any strengths you have in relation to the offer. Do you know how much the employer really wants you? Has the company recruited heavily on your college campus for grads with your specific experience? Are you the only candidate or among a group of candidates being selected in a mass “hiring pool”? Has the position been open a long time? Have others refused it? Are your skills rare in the marketplace, or can the employer readily find someone with similar skills for the job? If you feel that you are in a good negotiating position, you will find the employer will be willing to respond to various aspects of the negotiation. For example, a recent grad can ask if a salary-hiring bonus is part of the salary offer.
Assessing the Total Offer and Making Your Decision
In addition to salary, remember to look at the key part of taking the position, which includes your job function. If the position is new, being changed, or very complex, you may need to ensure that you have clarified items in detail with your future manager. Ask yourself, “Am I comfortable with the content of the job I am being hired to perform and do I feel that I will do well with my manager and the team?” Are you satisfied that you’re clear on your reporting relationship and your manager’s expectations of you in the job during the first year. Do you know what the company’s introductory (probationary) period is, what your scope of your responsibility will be, who will conduct your performance review and when, how your performance will be measured, how superior performance is rewarded and so forth?
In addition to these questions, you’ll want to consider making a list and noting your response to them. Here are some items to include (as appropriate) to the list you develop:
- Base salary
- Bonus/commission, if any
- Medical, life, disability insurance
- Vacation and other paid time off (holidays, sick days, etc).
- 401K Pension Plan
- Equipment (car phone, laptop)
- Relocation benefits and expenses, if any
- Company Car
- Professional association dues
- Fringes and perks (stock options, profit participation, equity)
- Working at home (usually with computer ties to the office)
- Time off or a flexible work schedule
- Tuition reimbursement
- Other (Expand this list to fit your specific circumstances, the company and the position).
Saying “Yes!” and Getting the Offer in Writing
When you feel that you’re comfortable with the fact that the job is right for you, that the company fits and the salary and other benefits meet your needs, then it’s time to let the recruiter know of your acceptance (or decline) of the offer. If you say yes, most companies make it a practice to provide written offer letters. Often, the letter is accompanied by a copy for you to sign and return, indicating your acceptance. These are kept on file for your first day orientation session and become a part of your official personnel file that is kept in human resources.
If there isn’t a written offer, you can send a letter expressing gratitude and confirming all key aspects of the offer, but requesting that you still receive a formal letter of offer before official acceptance. Remember that the key items should include a re-iteration of your title, start date, salary, and eligibility for bonuses: sign-on or performance, vacation eligibility, etc). If for some reason you decide that the offer isn’t the right one for you, remember to decline it in a professional manner. Briefly explain why you have decided against taking the position and sign off gracefully. You want to keep a positive posture with the employer whether you accept the position or not. You want to build bridges, not burn them.
Thanking Your Network for Help and Keeping in Touch With Your Contacts
There probably have been many people in your network who have assisted you during your job search. This list of references may include your teachers, college career services counselors, friends and others. Purchase a box of standard “thank you” notes at your local stationer and take the time to personally write a note to thank all who provided you help. Why is this often overlooked but important step suggested? The answer is these are probably going to be among the individuals you will want to remain in contact with and who, as you advance your career, you may find yourself turning to when you need further career assistance.
In closing, accepting a job offer (or declining one) is an important part of the job search process. By communicating with the company and thoroughly reviewing your list of wants and must haves, you’ll hopefully end up with the decision that is right for you.
Chris Bardwell is the CEO of The Career Connection, a human resources and career development consulting firm in Chicago.