Handling Job Offers

If you have received a job offer, congratulations! Now it is time to evaluate the details and determine whether to negotiate, accept, or move on. Factors to evaluate include:

  • Pay: The whole package including benefits.
  • Duties: The job, projects, teams, subjects.
  • Level of responsibility: Is it lateral, up, or down for you? Where does it fit in the organization?
  • Location: Do you need to move? Does it work for your personal life, both preferences and obligations?
  • Commute: How long is it by time and distance? What cost and effort is required?
  • Workplace culture: Does it work for your demographic? Level of formality, typical age ranges, gender, styles?
  • Flexibility or lack thereof: Can you work remotely at times? This is tricky to ask about in an interview, but critical if you have reasons to need it.
  • Travel expectations: How often? Where?
  • Security of employer’s economic standing, and of the position: Is it an at-risk industry, employer, or group? Any concerning trends or media reports?
  • Growth opportunities: Does this move increase your market value, or narrow your skill set?

Explore whether the employer has internal opportunities to move around. This can be great, and an easier way to gain leadership roles and broader experience. It can happen at any size employer. Some employers reorganize frequently and may have a practice of reassigning you to an entirely different job than what you applied for. If this not appealing, evaluate whether you will maintain or grow your external market value such that you can leave the employer if you are rotated to a job you do not want.

If you are uncertain, talk to those you are closest to about the offer. Share your thoughts and get their opinions. They may offer insights you had not considered. Talking it through could help expose the right decision.

Negotiating Employment Terms

Generally, it is best to work directly with the hiring manager. Many employers will assign a human resources representative to coordinate with you, but she will often have less ability to influence decisions.

Consider the total compensation package. Most employers add on a “load factor” for each employee to account for benefits including healthcare, retirement savings plan, and other fringe items. It can be a significant part of total pay. Bonuses and stock options may have strings attached, so ask questions about how those work. Base salary increases are better than lump sums because they compound over time and continue.

A classic rule of thumb has been not to accept a new job unless you get at least a 10% raise. This is to make the transition worthwhile, to account for costs, and to ensure that you are achieving some upward movement. However, if you are shifting a sector, function, or area of focus, it may be worth it to take a pay cut or make a lateral move. Same if you are moving to a location with a lower cost of living. If your housing and taxes are less, you may net more take-home pay. Internal positions may not offer any increase, even if you are moving up levels. Employers expect job seekers to want the same or higher pay. Ideally, we would be able to screen for pay range early in the process, to find out whether the numbers are too far apart. But it is not common to exchange this information before the offer stage, so a lot of time can be wasted only to find out it is not a doable deal.

It can be hard to know what your market value is with specificity. Some fields have very clear training, job descriptions, and positions, so there are clear ranges. Many today are far less clear. Pay ranges can be all over the map. Desired qualifications can include variety and combinations of different skill sets, so comparing yourself to others may not be a one-to-one exercise.

Getting pay information is hard if not impossible in many cases, unless you have inside contacts willing to share details. Websites that seek to aggregate this data are of limited use unless you are in well-defined job codes such as engineering—and even then there are many kinds, levels, and types of employers. Size of employer is not a clear indicator—big companies might pay more or less than boutique or growing employers. The best way to get information is to ask around, carefully and gently.

If you do not have contacts, make the case for the best deal you can get. There is an expectation that you will ask for more, and most times some room for negotiation. A simple way to ask for more compensation is: “Can you do better?” This approach leaves the door open for them to come back with solutions without fixating on a specific number. Much has been written on males asking for more and getting more than females on average. Ask.

Sometimes offers are simply take it or leave it. Always try. Ask for more pay, vacation, whatever matters to you or you think the employer has room to give, even if it involves making an exception to their policy. It depends on the position, the employer, your market value, and the combination of those three factors. If you do not have leverage, you might succeed in sweetening the deal, but you might not. If they want and need you and you know it, you are likely to succeed in asking for more. You may already know what you would need to make it worth accepting. If you are in a more typical situation where you offer a good service to them, but they also have a moderate or large number of similarly situated applicants, they may not budge much from the initial offer.

Carefully think through any reasons you pitch for needing more money before using them. Do not use any that sound self-serving or that involve personal financial wants or needs. Frame the reasons in recruitment speak, because that is what they base offers on. You are seeking top of market compensation in your field, in line with your qualifications and experience. If you offer special features such as a deep network of contacts in the area, that is relevant. Wanting money to afford a new car or fancy vacations is not. Being paid fairly with peers is relevant. More compensation for extra duties or responsibilities is fair. Plenty of reports have shown that men ask far more often than women. Do not leave money on the table by not asking.

Multiple Offers

If you have multiple offers, congratulations. Take yourself out to dinner. Celebrate incremental achievement! Then play them out with careful evaluation and communications with each one. Use a mix of holding back and sharing information. Lining up different employer timelines can be tough—ask for offer extensions if you need them. They may or may not agree.

When weighing offers, consider your life stage, rough goals, and trajectory as you can currently articulate them, knowing they will continue to evolve. Do the new positions set you up for better marketability down the road? Higher income? Do you crave a certain experience—living in a big city, abroad, rural? Space to roam or high-rise life? Are the jobs near your family? Cost of living matters a lot—how do the locations and compensation compare in practical terms for your standard of living? Can you save early or will this situation require living mostly for the now? If so, can you plan for any liabilities such as debt service, obligations such as raising a family, or ways to save later?

While you can make plus and minus lists and comparison charts, you can also give weight to gut feel. Ultimately one option tends to emerge as the one that feels right at that time. Try to picture turning each one down, and observe how that feels. If you are not disappointed by the idea of forgoing one of them, that signals lack of interest. If you cannot imagine not doing one of them, that signals where you may be leaning.