How to Evaluate a Job Offer

Part 1: Salary, Office Environment, and Corporate Culture

Job Offer
When deciding whether to accept a job offer, salary is just one of the factors you need to consider. Michael M Schwab / Stone / Getty Images

You've spent the last few months answering help wanted ads, visiting recruiters, and networking. You've sent out your resumes and gone on a bunch of interviews. And now the moment you've been waiting for is here. It's your turn now. You have some job offers to consider. During those long days pounding the pavement, you didn't think making a decision would be this difficult. But this is serious business.

The job you take now may be yours for a long time to come.

What's the most important thing to consider? Is it salary, health benefits, or vacation time? Or could it be the corporate culture or the length or your commute? What about your boss and co-workers -- will working with them be pleasant? As you can see there are a number of factors to take into account and only some are negotiable. You can try to get a higher salary or more vacation time. However, health benefits are often standard packages. The corporate culture isn't going to change for you, and your boss and coworkers aren't going anywhere.

Each of us, of course, is different. And what carries a lot of weight for some of us is insignificant to the rest of us. A great example of this is a survey I conducted on the Career Planning site. I asked the question: "What gives you the most job satisfaction?" Given three answers to choose from, 20% chose "Respect from my boss," 17% said "The amount of money I make," and 62% said "I love what I do." As you can see, while the majority responding to the survey felt that loving what they do is the most important thing, there are those whose opinions differed.

Evaluating the Offer

Even if money isn't what gives you the most job satisfaction, no one can argue its importance. You need a certain amount of money to pay the bills, for example. Most of us also want to make sure we are being paid what we're worth and what is the going rate for jobs similar to ours.

It's important to find out what others are making for related work in the same industry, and in the same geographic region. You can start gathering this information by looking at salary surveys and other occupational information. And don't forget, if other aspects of the job appeal to you, you can try to negotiate the offer.

Office Environment
Every office has a different feel to it. Some feel kind of "dark pin-striped suit" while others feel a little more relaxed. Years ago I interviewed for an internship in a public relations firm. From the second I set foot in the office I knew I wanted to work there. There was a big bubble gum machine in the corner and colorful pictures hung on the walls. A few years later I interviewed for a job at a large investment bank. The office was the complete opposite of the one I just described. I was interviewed in a formally decorated conference room and given a tour of the department I'd be working in. It was brightly lit, yet furnished in dull colors. I was offered and accepted both positions and loved both jobs.

As you can see, you can be happy in two totally different environments. You just need to know which environment you'd be unhappy in.

Corporate Culture
Defined by Merriam-Webster as "the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a company or corporation," corporate culture should be an important factor in your decision whether to accept a job offer. If you value your time away from the office, a company with a corporate culture that encourages late hours may not be for you. Is the potential employer's philosophy "win at all costs?" Is your philosophy "always play clean?" This company isn't for you. Are you an ardent proponent for animal rights? Through your research you learn that one of the company's subsidiaries does animal testing. Although this won't affect the day-to-day activities of your job, it may not be a situation in which you'll feel comfortable.

Next: Part 2: Other Things to Consider and How to Accept or Decline an Offer

Commute Time
When you're considering a job offer, take into account the length of your commute. What may have seemed like an okay distance to travel for a job interview may begin to wear thin when you have to make that trip twice a day, five days a week, in rush hour traffic.

Your Boss and Coworkers
I was once being interviewed by the director of an organization and the head of the department I'd be working in.

In the middle of the interview the director yelled at the department head. When I was offered the job, I didn't even ask how much, I just said "no thank you." While I wouldn't have daily contact with the director, I knew I would have enough contact with him to make my life miserable.

The same could be said of co-workers who are difficult to get along with. They may not influence your job, but they will influence the quality of the time you spend at work. Generally an interview will involve a tour of the office. Try to notice if people seem friendly and happy. This may be difficult to ascertain, but it's worth a shot. This is where networking comes in handy. Start calling people on your list of contacts to see if anyone knows something about the company.

Each of these factors taken alone may not make or break your decision to accept or decline a job offer. When you put them all together, though, you will have the information you need to make an educated choice.

And then it will be time to let the potential employer in on your decision.

Accepting or Declining the Offer

Whether you choose to accept or reject a job offer, you must inform the employer who made that offer. This should be done formally, in writing, and if you wish by telephone as well. If your answer is "yes" it's obvious why you'll want to make a good impression with your future employer.

But, why is it important to be polite to someone you don't plan to work for? Well, you don't know where your future will take you. You may at some point wind up with that employer as a superior, a colleague, a client, or even your next door neighbor. You certainly don't want to leave a bad impression.

Previous: Part 1: Salary, Office Environment and Corporate Culture

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