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Your Job Search: The Job Offer

All your hard work—the resume tweaking, the anxiety, the frustration, the researching, the interviewing, and the reference checking—has finally paid off. Congratulations, you’ve got the job!

Chances are you get this news in a phone call. You feel a flush of excitement and a sense of relief that you haven’t enjoyed in months. Now, more than ever, it is important to put your emotions aside and ask some important questions before you consider the offer.

Your Acceptance Criteria

Hopefully, before you receive your first offer, you’ve set some standards to guide your decision process. These should include:

Employment status. Will you be a regular employee or a contractor?

Pay. What is your preferred salary level, and what is your lowest acceptable amount?

Health benefits. Do you or don’t you need health benefits? Do the benefits need to be comprehensive or merely supplemental to Medicare or other insurance? How much are you prepared to pay?

Other benefits. What are your requirements for life insurance, disability income, and other essential insurance benefits?

Paid time off. What are your minimum expectations for paid holidays, vacations, and other paid leave?

Retirement income and savings plans. Are you hoping for a traditional employer-paid defined benefit pension (not very likely in most industries) or at least an employer-matching savings plan? A minimal savings plan should provide an employer match of 2 to 4 percent of your total annual pay.

Work schedule and flexibility. Do you have expectations for a reduced, compressed, or nontraditional work schedule? Would you like to telecommute?

Growth and development. Is the opportunity to train, grow, and advance important to you?

Try to get your acceptance standards in place before you confront your first offer.

Reacting to the Offer

You may desperately want and need this job, but try not to let it show. Raise these items with the recruiter or hiring manager:

The position. Review the job duties, accountabilities and reporting relationships. Get a written and comprehensive description of the position.

Compensation. Ask for a clear statement of the base pay and any variable or incentive pay being offered. If they have a pay structure, ask about the pay grade and range for the job.

Benefits. Request an explanation and written summary-plan documents for any health care, welfare, pension, savings or profit-sharing plans, as well as details about the paid time-off schedule.

Work schedule. Get a clear understanding of your scheduled work hours and any potential for flexibility.

Written offer and employment agreement. It’s not required that an employer give you a written offer by letter, but it’s a good idea to ask for one. It’s another way to minimize misunderstandings at what can be an emotional time. Depending on the job and employer, you may also be given an employment agreement stating the terms and conditions of employment and any specifics that relate to your employment.

Ideally, if the job meets the bulk of your essential job requirements, it’s strongly suggested you accept on the spot after clarifying the specifics of the offer. Now, it’s time for good will and big handshakes: Recruiters really enjoy “closing a candidate,” and they’ll remember your reaction.

In the event one or more important aspects of the offer don’t meet your preliminary standards, take a moment to gather your thoughts and then objectively and directly tell the recruiter your concerns. If it comes to this, it’s the moment that will cast your reputation with the employer. If you overreach and come off as demanding, you may have damaged your future prospects. If you timidly and reluctantly accept whatever is offered, you’re likely to resent the less-than-satisfactory offer in the long run.

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