how to evaluate a job offer

So you have a job offer – congratulations! You’re probably pretty excited, but don’t let your excitement get in the way of evaluating the offer objectively and making sure that you fully understand the terms being offered to you before you accept it.

1. Salary. It sounds obvious, but don’t let your excitement to have a job offer get in the way of rigorously thinking about the salary you’re being offered. You’re going to have to be happy with it for at least a year (since it’s very rare to get a raise before 12 months), and possibly longer. Ideally, you should have a salary range in mind before you get to this stage. If the offer is below this range, now is the time to negotiate a higher salary. Make sure you base any negotiation on your research about market rates for this type of job, for someone with your skill set and background in your geographic area, and not on an arbitrary number that you’d just “like to get.”

2. Benefits. Beyond salary, it’s also important to evaluate benefits. A great benefits package can make up for a lower salary, especially if you’re saving money on health care, allowed to work a flexible schedule, or getting more vacation time than you’d anticipated. And don’t underestimate how much a bad benefits package can end up costing you — if you’re paying thousands out-of-pocket for health care each year, that’s a big bite out of your salary that you need to factor in. When you’re evaluating benefits, make sure to look at:

  • Health insurance: What will your monthly premium be? Is there co-insurance (where, for example, you pay a certain percentage of all costs)? Is there an annual deductible that you must pay, and if so, how large is it? What are the co-pays for routine care visits, specialists, out-of-network doctors, and prescriptions? Are dental and vision insurance included?
  • Retirement plan: Does the employer offer a retirement plan? If so, does it match your contributions or otherwise fund it? Up to what amount?
  • Time off: How much paid vacation and sick leave does the employer offer?

Also, ask when benefits kick in. Some employers don’t start your health care coverage until you’ve been there six months, or make you wait a year before you start getting matching funds in your 401K. That’s not the kind of thing you want to find out after you’ve already started.

3. Hidden costs. Will you have a much longer commute? Need to buy a fancier wardrobe? Be expected to schmooze in your community on your own dime? Even if the job is a salary increase for you, it might be eaten up if you suddenly have big expenses in these areas that you didn’t have before.

4. The day-to-day work. Are you absolutely clear on what the job is that you’re being hired to do? It sounds obvious, but too often people accept jobs without truly knowing exactly how they’ll be spending their time, what their most important responsibilities will be, and how their success will be judged. As a result, you can end up finding yourself in a role that doesn’t match up with the hopes you’d had. While you’re thinking through the role, ask yourself: Will I be able to excel at this work? Am I excited to do it? Is it moving me forward on a path I want to be on? Depending on your circumstances, you might not always have the luxury of choosing jobs based on the answers to those questions, but at a minimum you want to be clear-eyed about what you’re signing up for.

5. Other items that are important to you. Do you need to ensure you can leave by 6 p.m. to pick up your child from daycare? Care passionately about having your own office? Need relocation assistance in order to move for the job? Do you know what working hours are common in the office?

Ideally, by the time you receive a job offer, you should have already explored other key factors that will affect your decision, like the company culture or the manager’s style. But if you still have outstanding questions on those fronts or any others, now is the time to ask! You’re considering signing on to spend a large portion of your waking hours at this job for probably at least the next several years, and it’s a decision that can have long-ranging impacts on your career even after you leave, so it’s important to get all your big questions answered.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 45 comments… read them below }

  1. Ash (the other one!)*

    Great list, but I think two critical things are missing:

    1) How will this job affect the “story” of my resume.

    No job is ever permanent anymore and we will all need to find a new job eventually. I really wish I had thought more about how limiting my current job would be to put me into a box I really want to escape now. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received on my job search thus far is to think about my career narrative, how it all fits together, how jobs grew from the previous, etc. If the job doesn’t easily fit in the narrative, it may be the wrong one.

    2) Will I be happy here

    Alison touches on this regarding “company culture” at the end, but I think before accepting a job its really important to candidly talk to people who actually work there. Also, take hints from the negotiation process. When I took my current job I should’ve seen the huge red flags that they refused to give me the title they originally were hiring for, that they had looked up my previous salary (I was a government employee so it was public record) and used that against me despite the fact it was a year old and I had since received a significant raise, that my asking for a private office was “unbelievable,” etc. etc. Needless to say I’ve been miserable from day 1 and should’ve taken a clue that this organization is really poorly run.

    1. CT*

      This is really helpful advice but I’m having a hard time putting into practice. I’m weighing several opportunities right now and I think I’m going to scrap one precisely because it doesn’t fit well with my career narrative to date (and it’s a short term thing that can’t be changed into a long-term thing).

      But with the other two options, I can easily tell you how each would fit with what I’ve done so far and I’m having the hardest time deciding between the two. It’s essentially choosing between two different roles that are trying to move the field forward in different ways (i.e. one is making new teapot designs and the other is figuring out what kind of software the teapot designers are going to need in the future). I’m passionate about the end goal (viable new teapot designs being released) but I can’t figure out which company/role I will be happy in…they both have mostly pros and completely opposite cons…

      1. Diane*

        Would it help to look at where where you’d like to be in five or ten years, then evaluate these two jobs based on the destination? If they are both great opportunities after that, go for the money, benefits, good commute, and relationships.

    2. Mimmy*

      I’ve never thought of looking at my career as a “narrative”…I really like that!

      I know I can’t speak to your situation, but not seeing the red flags is probably common when you just want a JOB. I’ve had my fair share of those types of jobs.

  2. JM in England*

    First thing I check is that everything discussed during the interview process is there in writing in the offer letter.

  3. Anon for this one*

    How would you go about asking an employer about maternity leave benefits (without making them worry that you’ll be taking time off right away)? I’m interviewing at some startups now, and most of them are new-ish (~3 years old) companies that haven’t had any employees need a maternity leave policy yet. (I’m not pregnant, but I’m planning on it in the next few years, so I definitely want to factor it into decisions).

    1. Ash (the other one!)*

      You could start by asking about FMLA more generally, which applies to maternity as well as anything else that could cause short term disability for you or a family member. They should have a policy on that, keeping in mind that if they have less than 50 employees it may not apply (someone check the figure on that, I think that’s right)…

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I wouldn’t approach it as asking about FMLA, because the answer is likely to be that they … follow FLMA law. I’d either ask to see the employee handbook or, barring that, just ask directly.

    2. BRR*

      I would ask when you get an offer. If they don’t have one yet I would ask to have something in writing as part of the offer.

      A question to the others on here, would you ask what it is and explain that it’s not an immediate thing?

    3. KC*

      This was an important factor for me when I was hunting for new jobs (also planning to have a kid in the next couple of years). I asked to see their benefits package when we got to the offer stage; it was a document which included information on maternity leave (my last company had it in the benefits doc they sent me too).

      So maybe start there during the offer stage and get more specific if they don’t have an explicit policy laid out.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, it seems to me to be part of an overall question about leave and benefits. “I see the information about PTO and defined benefits, but I didn’t see if you also offer a Roth 401k, and what your maternity leave policies are. Can you fill me in on those?”

    4. Burgher*

      I waited until I had an offer and then asked to see an outline of their benefits policy. However, between the interview and the offer, I found out I was expecting. I initially declined the offer citing a need for stability & my current excellent benefits, and yes I did tell them that I am pregnant. They came back after I declined and said they want to hire me anyway, and we can work it out. Currently going through the “working it out” part and hoping for a successful outcome. Honesty is the best policy. If it raises a red flag for the company, do you really want to work somewhere that is that unfriendly toward women/families?

  4. Ellen Fremedon*

    Those are all good guidelines for choosing between multiple offers or a new offer and a current job.

    What’s your advice for evaluating an offer if you don’t have any other good options? I’ve been unemployed since January (and searching for longer than that), my UI is going to run out next month, and I haven’t had a single offer yet. At this point, I’d accept a lot of things that I might have ruled out earlier in my search, and I’m probably going to end up taking the first offer I get.

    Any advice for how to deal with red flags when you’re not able to make them deal-breakers?

    1. hayling*

      That’s a great question. I accepted a job with a much lower pay than I wanted because I’d been unemployed for 8 months.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d say go into it with your eyes open. Less-than-ideal circumstances are often easier to live with reasonably contentedly if you’re clear on what they are and why you’ve decided to accept the job anyway.

    3. Dan*

      I understand how you feel. Sidetracking the topic a bit, that issue makes “my range” a bit hard to pin down. If I have no job, I’m going to give you a range with a bottom number that I can live with because “lower than I’d like” is still better than what UI pays in my state.

      But if I get multiple interested suitors, guess what? I’m not likely going to be happy with or even need to accept the bottom end of “my range.” And if I turn down an offer from you when you’ve come in at the bottom end, that’s why. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

    4. Mints*

      Also, if the red flags are bad enough that you’re basically still job hunting, I think it’s good to frame it to your network like “I’ve found a job doing [things] at [place] but I’d still like to move into [other thing] sometime soon.” People who might be sort of looking out for jobs that would fit you might not be thinking about it as much if you present it like “TA DA I’m working, now I’m done.”

      I think I’ve made that mistake

    5. MissDisplaced*

      You have to do what you have to do, but be wary of jumping at the first offer you receive. I did that and left the job after a short time, and it wasn’t a good scene. A lot of good people end up in a lot of really bad jobs due to this!
      I know it’s hard though. The UI doesn’t last nearly as long as it takes to find another good job nowadays.

  5. CTO*

    If PTO is important to you (like it is to me!) it’s also helpful to understand nor just how much you earn, but how you get to use it. For instance:
    When do you start accruing time?
    When can you start using your PTO? Is there a probationary period in which you can’t take any vacation?
    What are policies around using your time off? Do you need to give several weeks’ advance notice? Is it easy to get time off around holidays? Are there blackout dates? Are there limits on how many consecutive days you may take?
    Can you carry over unused time into the next year?
    How often do you get a “raise” in your accrual rate?

    It may not be wise to interrogate a hiring manager about these policies, but they should be in the employee handbook if you’re allowed to see it. Otherwise, ask a question or two about the aspects that are most important to you, or may affect your ability to take time off for commitments you already have planned.

    1. Maggie*

      Don’t forget the cultural aspect that you want to find out about PTO (though it might be difficult to get a true answer). You may be able to do all of those things yet still get passed up for promotions, or get interpersonal push back that you don’t understand, because you used it. Happens in a number of departments where I work. It’s not “fair” but it’s true.

    2. Chinook*

      The other thing with PTO is to find out when you will be eligible to use it. There was a large amoutn of resentment among the office staff at my last job because we didn’t realize that the warehouse industry standard was to accrue all your vacation time the first year to use in your second year, which you are accruing to use in your third year, etc. We also learned that that year meant froma year from the last day of the monthyou started your job, not the calendar year (in other industries, you accumulate as you go with the ability to use it after a probationary period of 3 months and the calendar rests at the fiscal year). So, technically, you could be hired in December 2013 and not be allowed to take a vacation day until January 2015. I don’t care if time will be paid out as cash if you leave (as per our laws), it still sucks to find out that the three weeks PTO you negotiated won’t kick in for a couple of fiscal years.

  6. Young Professional*

    Ironically enough, I just received a job offer and the link won’t load in my browser. I can’t wait to read it when I get home!

  7. Betsy*

    This is not really about the subject matter of the article, but I cannot figure out why some of those in-article links are there. Some of them make sense, but some seem to be going to really unrelated articles, like the “want to find out” one in the benefits section leading to an article on things that will lead to losing an offer (with no conversation about benefits)!

    1. hayling*

      I’m sure Alison doesn’t create them. They’re probably inserted by the publication to encourage you to read their other articles.

  8. Anon Q&A*

    I’m wondering about #1 for an internal offer. A transfer is possibly in the works, but it’s been mostly an informal process & I approached them first. Bottom line: I’d make the move with no salary changes.

    I’ve been off in Chocolate Teapot Development as an analyst for ~5 years, and this is a Chocolate Teapot Services (CTS) Project Management position. (I worked in CTS positions for ~10 years before). I have no idea if my current rate is in line with the CTS PMs, but I’m not sure about bringing it up.

  9. Gilby*

    Hopefully I will be recieving a job offer this week.

    Great article. I got a lot of this covered already.

    Had a great phone interview with corp HR where she discussed the basic screening as well as salary ranges and PTO time. Had a great face to face with the facility HR and 2 managers. Also discussed salary ranges and PTO and stuff like that. Discussed more detailed job stuff with managers.

    Got a call last Tues from the org HR gal and she just wanted to let me know they still had a couple of interviews and also asked IF I was not chosen for the org job I applied too…. would I consider another position. Of course I will. ( I know from what has been posted what they might be looking at).

    So, I have the salary issue at least on the table so they know we are in the same range. I know about the PTO. They have ins ( so does my hubby so I can choose which would be better).

    I know we wear jeans. It is 15 mins at most away from home. I know the hours.

    What I don’t know… is if they want me and if so for what position !!

    There is only so many weeds I can pull take take my mind off this !!

  10. Stephanie*

    So much yes to #2. SecondJob just matched the salary of FirstJob, but I failed to really look into the benefits. Health insurance didn’t kick in until month three and cost three times as much for significantly worse coverage and the 401(k) was a lot less generous (match was good, but it took six years to vest and I couldn’t enroll until three months after starting as well).

    I should have negotiated for a slight bump. I didn’t negotiate at all because I was happy with the number, but failed to take into account that the more expensive insurance resulted in what ended up being a pay cut.

    Re #3, how would you figure out the community/professional involvement? Just ask when you’re discussing the offer?

  11. Dan*

    This article is timely.

    It’s intern season at my company, and this is the first “big company” I’ve worked for in a professional capacity. Man, we have *a lot* of young faces floating around here.

    I had lunch with one of the students, and we were shooting the breeze about careers and what to look for. I mentioned that the “401k match” is pretty good here. He says to me, “What’s that?” I said, “Between the contribution I have to make to get the full match and what the company offers, something that’s going to contribute $20k to my personal account this year.” My point in phrasing it that way was that I wanted him to know that 401k matches are a really big deal and something to pay attention to when evaluating offers.

  12. Brett*

    One thing I saw missing was to look at company stability and the related risk/reward.
    You have to view an offer from an 18-month old 10 person startup with no revenue stream differently from an offer from a 20 year old 200 person company that is turning a regular profit even if all of the other factors are identical. If you are at a point in life where you can handle instability and risk working for a failed company in exchange for the change of big payoff later, then the startup looks better. If you need long term stability, a better guaranteed paycheck, but little chance of the company making you a millionaire, then the latter is a better offer.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      This is a good point, and I think you can look at company structure and ownership even more broadly when you’re evaluating potential stability and long-term prospects.

      Is the firm solely owned by the founder? How old are they & when will they be looking to make an exit? Will they sell? Is there an employee ownership structure in place? Is the firm publicly traded? Is it a government organization subject to federal funding cuts?

  13. Kelly O*

    I’m always curious about when you start asking these sort of questions. I got fairly burned with New Job, and I have a mental list of things I’d like to ask but I’m not sure when the right time to do that would be.

    I’m not even entirely sure how to frame them, but things as simple as figuring out if there are certain days you can “never” be off, or how the sick/vacation policy is laid out. I’d love to know how much the insurance will set me back.

    In a perfect world, you’d also know what they mean by “occasional” overtime – and whether or not the “flexibility” only flexes one way.

    1. Erin*

      Yes, I’m curious about this too – and to whom do you ask these questions? After being in touch with both the HR rep and the project manager for several months, I just accepted an offer that was ultimately made by the PM. I followed standard advice and tried to negotiate salary, and 1) immediately felt like I had somehow offended him, and 2) was told he didn’t have authority to make salary decisions. Obviously it would have been a better conversation to have with HR, but how do you walk this line when the offer comes from your future supervisor?

  14. Lanya*

    Is it ever appropriate to ask for another short meeting to sit down and talk with one’s potential manager after receiving an offer?

    I happily just received an offer myself, but I feel like the one 35-minute interview I had with the company was just not enough time to get a thorough feel for my potential supervisor. I didn’t sense any red flags, but I’d like to really be sure, because I’ve been burned on this one in the past.

  15. Rebecca*

    How do you bring up travel?

    A coworker and I interviewed for the same job about 2 years ago. I backed out, she accepted, and neither of us remembered anything about travel being mentioned by the recruiter or interviewers at the company.

    She found out the hard way that the company expected her to travel to another facility, out of state, for a week at a time, many times, during the first year.

    For me, I couldn’t afford to do this, as I’d have to board my pets, and that’s quite expensive. Occasional day trips or even a few overnights here and there would be OK, but I could not be away for a week at a time once or more per month.

    How would you approach that aspect? I wouldn’t like to accept another offer and then find out, too late, that extensive and lengthy travel was involved. But I don’t want to sound like I wouldn’t be a team player, either.

  16. RoseRed*

    I’m another person for whom this was fantastic timing as I received a job offer today which I’m mulling over.

    I like nearly everything about this job but my possible sticking point is that I’m currently on a 4 day week. This was due to the fact I suffered severe depression three years ago and when I came back to work my (current, amazingly supportive) boss and I agreed this would be a good way to make sure I was getting the time I needed to take care of myself.

    I’m doing a lot better now but really appreciate having that extra day in my schedule. I didn’t want to go into the background of this with the new hiring manager but just asked if I could continue with my present set up (as it’s an internal move I’d stay on the same contract)

    His response was that, because I’d be moving to manage a newly created department, he’d really like me in for a 5 day week for the first two months whilst we got a feel for the demands of the role and then we’d agree hours (including a potential 4 day week) in September. This seems reasonable to me but my current boss has warned me that in a couple of months my bargaining position wont be that strong and not to accept the position if I can’t put my health first.

    Any advice welcomed as I’m a bit confused and need to give an answer by tomorrow.

    1. Lanya*

      Maybe you could get a better response if you explained that your current arrangement of a 4-day week is for health reasons, and that knowing whether the same arrangement would be a firm possibility would be a major factor in helping you to accept.

  17. Vicki*

    One thing I would add, after all of the logical considerations is: what’s your immediate gut reaction? How will you feel about telling people about this offer?

    Will you run to Facebook (or AAM :-) and post “I got the job!”. Will you call a friend? Are you enthusiastic?

    Try the coin flip test. If you flip a coin — “Heads, I say yes. Tails I say no.” — when the coin lands, is your immediate reaction “Good!” or “I need to flip the coin again.”?

  18. tay*

    Question about job offer. I’m going through an internal process for a perm position (temp to perm) and concluded all my interviews And my application to the job As well. I was told by HR early last week ( tuesday) that she is working on my offer. It is already the end of the week (Saturday ) and I’m wondering why so long for the offer. I’m an internal candidate and background checks were done when I was hired as a temp. They do credit checks but I’m guessing that would already be done.

    Can I followup with HR although I already asked them when they expect to get back to me on the offer? This is a bigger concern for me since my manager (hiring manager) has gone away on medical time due to an emergency health situation for a week now and likely another week. The manager used to followup on my behalf many times but now I don’t have anyone.

  19. julia*

    I applied to an internal job within my same department, if I where to get the job offer, can I negotiate more than our HR/Company 5% job offer and how to I approach it? I’ve been with the company for 5 years.

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