How to Evaluate a Job Offer
By Walter C. Vertreace
It seemed like an eternity since the on-site interview. You had thoroughly researched the potential employers who would be visiting your school; you signed up for campus interviews; and you were invited back to several companies for further evaluation. After weeks of waiting, you were worried that you may not get an offer from any of them. Then, the first offer came in the form of a telephone call.
The salary they offered was in the ballpark, and the position was exactly what you had in mind. You would have to relocate to a city far from home, but the benefits package you discussed with Human Resources was generous and the potential for promotion seemed great. Still, you were hesitant as questions raced through your mind.
Do I have to answer right away? If not, how much time do I have to answer? How can I tell if this is really a good, competitive offer? Am I obligated to accept all the terms of the offer? Can I sweeten the deal?
The good news is that you do not have to answer right away. Listen carefully to the terms of the offer, but don’t feel compelled to give an immediate answer. Advise the caller that you will need additional time to consider the proposal, and that you are currently considering several offers, if this is the case. If the company wants you on the payroll, they won’t strike your name from the “good” list because you want to think it over. The better news is, you can review the offer they made in light of your requirements, and you can, indeed, sweeten the deal.
You should receive a written offer letter in a short time. Once you do, review it carefully, and jot down any areas that you do not completely understand. Call the company back and, in a positive manner, ask questions about anything that makes you uneasy or about which you are unsure. Talk to people whose advice you respect. It is always good to bounce such life decisions off of an objective third party.
There are some basic criteria for evaluating the offer, but in the end, the important question is, what is interesting and important to you? Prioritize your wish list from most important to things you can do without.
The process of evaluating the offer actually began before you received it. In fact, before your second interview with the employer, you had already determined what it was you were looking for in a position. If you researched the company before the interview and asked the right questions during the interview, many of the answers you need to properly evaluate the offer will be at your fingertips when the time comes to use them.
There are many ways of looking at the evaluation process, but in the end, you can divide it into four basic categories:
Job content. Although the job title is one important factor, there are several others that are even more critical to determining if this is the job for you. Some questions to consider: What is the scope of your responsibilities? Will there be enough of a challenge to keep you interested and focused? Will you get a chance to use your education, skills and background? How often is performance reviewed and evaluated, and how are expectations articulated to the employees? Will the position require travel, and if so how much? Is there mandatory overtime? Will you be expected to relocate every few months or years (“move out to move up”)? What is the travel reimbursement policy? Does the position meet your personal goals and objectives? What have been the opportunities for professional growth and advancement offered to others, and what can you expect? Do you prefer team activity or independent work, and which does this position require?
Economic factors. Don’t get too excited about the salary, even if it’s more money than you have ever made in your life. You should consider several matters when determining if the dollars offered will really meet your long-term needs. What was your salary target, and did the company hit it? Will you be salaried, or will you be depending upon commissions? If you are moving from a low to a high cost of living area, you need to compare the two, as the big offer in New York may not be worth the same as a smaller offer in South Carolina.And how often are salaries reviewed in your new firm? If a rookie has to wait two years for an increase, you may want to re-think the initial pay scale. Also, you should find out what the increases have been like for the last two years or so – this may indicate what you should expect when your turn comes.
Salary is only one aspect of your total compensation package. Some positions are offered with a signing bonus, and some companies provide other bonuses, often based upon personal performance and company profit. What is the company’s overall compensation philosophy? Although stock options for junior employees may be falling out of favor in some circles, there are profit-sharing plans, retirement plans, and a 401(k) that may be offered. In addition, does the company provide relocation assistance for your move from school to your new work location, and if so, in what form? If you plan to continue your studies, does the company provide continuing education or a tuition reimbursement plan? What about a company car, professional association dues, or such tools as a laptop, cell phone, or Blackberry? You should also review the company’s benefit package, particularly such standards as health, dental, life insurance and coverage for dependents. Now is the time to inquire. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.
The work environment. Every day, you will be spending a substantial amount of your waking hours at work. It is important that the environment be conducive to your health, happiness and general well-being. When you visited the facility, you may have formed an opinion about the general office environment, attitudes of the personnel, and layout of the office spaces. You should also inquire about the corporate culture, including its core values (which may be posted on the company website), working hours, and philosophy of management. In addition, try to gather information about the day-today operation. If this is a buttoned-down company, and you are more comfortable in a dressed-down culture, perhaps this is not the place for you. If your coworkers and prospective supervisors are free spirits and you require more direction and structure, wait for the next opportunity. Workforce diversity should also be a consideration. Will you be the first or only person of your racial or ethnic group in your position, and if so, will you be comfortable in such an environment?
Quality of life. You live in Philadelphia; the office is in Manhattan. Although many of your future coworkers commute, you may be concerned about the prospect of spending three hours out of every day commuting to work. This is one of many quality-of-life factors you need to consider. Is time off important to you? If so, what are the company’s policies regarding vacations, holidays, personal and sick time, maternity and family leave? Is there a work at home option, or flex time? It is better to find out now, while considering an offer, than after you have committed to the job. If you have children, or plan to start a family soon, does the company provide such amenities as on-site day care, job sharing or other programs that would permit you to spend more time with the family? Quality of life means that the 40 hours you spend at work every week should not take the joy out of the other 128.
Having reviewed and evaluated this offer, and perhaps others you have received, you may face a dilemma. The company has met your needs in some areas, but in others the offer falls short. Do you accept the offer, take the job, and also take the bitter with the sweet, or do you continue looking for the perfect opportunity?
Is there room for negotiation? The rule is, negotiate only what is negotiable, and everything is negotiable. Even such core issues as job content Just make sure you can back up your requests or demands with facts you have gleaned from your own research.
Regarding salary, let the employer state an amount first, so you will not underbid yourself. Know what your walk-away position is – that’s the lowest number you will accept. If you know what you want, speak up – and you should know what you want before you enter into negotiations. It would be wise to discuss any negotiation strategies with your campus career counselor in advance.
If you have decided to accept the offer, write an acceptance letter to your contact person, expressing appreciation for their offer of employment and enthusiasm for the challenges to come. Some companies will provide you with a sign -and-return copy of their offer letter. In either case, re-state the salient points of the offer, to make sure you are both on the same page.
If you are declining their offer, call your contact person by telephone first. Then follow up with a thank-you letter. You may be interested in that company later, and you want to leave a favorable impression.
Finally, call and thank those who agreed to serve as your references. They may be in a position for you to reciprocate in the future, and you may be calling them someday for advice or perhaps for another reference.
The job offer is a snapshot of your immediate working future. With proper consideration and coaching, you can make the kinds of decisions that will serve you well in both the short and long term.
Wishing you all the best.
Walter C. Vertreace is Manager Corporate EEO, Amerada Hess Corporation.