Whether you're looking to land your first job out of school or to move up from an entry-level position, you'll need to be smart about your hunt and your ultimate choice. No matter how ripe the field of opportunity, it's easy to focus so much on impressing the right people to land a job that you may forget to ask yourself an important question: "Do I actually want to work here?"
Many first-time job hunters overlook this key point until it's too late. You may be thrilled that someone actually wants to hire you and jump at the first offer. Or, if you have more than one offer in hand, you may instinctively choose the job with the highest salary -- after all, you've got bills to pay. But there are other financial factors to consider, as well as the job's compatibility with your skills, lifestyle and ambitions.
To help you make the smartest choice, check out these eight things you should evaluate when mulling a job offer:
1. Benefits. This is something often overlooked by young adults just starting their careers, but benefits can be worth up to 30% of your total compensation, according to Quintessential Careers, a job search and advice Web site. Start by finding out how much medical and dental coverage you'll get, which flexible spending plans the employer offers and whether the company offers a pension or 401(k) savings plan -- and if it will match your 401(k) contributions. You also should consider other financial perks that come with the job, such as tuition reimbursement, signing bonuses, relocation expense reimbursement and home-buying assistance. Don't underestimate the value of non-financial perks either, such as flexible work hours or telecommuting opportunities.
2. Location. Tempting as it may be to launch your career in Boston, New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, you may find it just as rewarding -- and a heck of a lot cheaper -- to look beyond the bright lights and high rents of those meccas for twenty-somethings. By considering locations with a lower cost of living such as Atlanta, Minneapolis or Austin, Tex., your paycheck dollars will stretch further. Check out our picks of smart cities for singles for more prime locations to consider.
3. Commute. This may not seem like a big deal at first, but fluctuating gas prices can impact your budget if you've got a long commute -- not to mention sitting in traffic can get old really fast. Commuters take 25 minutes, on average, to get to work each day, according to the Census Bureau. If they take just as long to get home, they're spending more than four hours a week getting to and from their jobs, or more than 200 hours a year. But time isn't the only factor: Consider how stressful the commute is, too. Will you be forced to travel congested side streets or is there a more free-flowing route to the office? Is public transportation an option? Make sure you add up the cost of any bus fare, parking fees or tolls.
4. Opportunities for advancement. No one wants to get stuck in a dead-end job. So ask your interviewer the possibility of moving up within the company and what it'll take for you to get a promotion. Find out if one job may equip you better for advancement than another. For example, are there training programs, mentor relationships or workplace education opportunities that'll allow you to sharpen your skills and make important contacts? These will help make you a more valuable asset to the company -- or increase your value elsewhere when you're ready to move on and move up.
5. Work environment. There are 168 hours in a week. If you spend 40 of those at work, that means you'll pass one-quarter of your week there. You better make sure you like the place and that you fit in. This reaches beyond the dress code and whether you get an office or a cubicle. Consider the company's size and culture. Is it fast-paced or laid back? Hierarchical or more democratic? Do the company's values match yours? Is it family friendly? Would you get along with your co-workers?
It can be hard to get a feel for the work environment in a formal interview. Ask a potential employer to introduce you to your future co-workers either on the initial or secondary interview. Ask them what they like and don't like about their jobs. If you haven't had that opportunity before the company makes you an offer for hire, ask for the contact info of a couple of people you would be working with and give them a call or send them an e-mail before accepting the job.
6. Job security. When you're young and just starting out, you probably aren't looking for a job that'll take you into your golden years. In fact, workers tend to changes jobs at least ten times during their adult life, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, you should assess your risk tolerance, even if you only expect to stick around for a couple years. Is the job at a start-up or a mature company? Is the firm well respected in its industry and performing well? Is the company financially stable? The last thing you want is to end up without a job because the company went out of business.
7. Level of responsibility. You'll want a job that'll allow you to utilize your hard-earned education and sharpen your skills, not one that reduces you to a coffee runner. But bear in mind that you probably won't land your dream job right out of school. You may have to "pay your dues" in some respect and work your way up the career ladder. Which brings us to our last point:
8. Where do you want to be in ten years? It sounds clichéd, but this is a biggie. Will this job take you where you want to go with your career? The two job offers I received fresh out of college with my journalism degree would have led me down two very different career paths. One was centered on editing and layout design while the other focused on reporting and research. Although the salary at the first job was nearly 25% higher than the second offer, I went with the latter because it aligned better with my long-term goals. Now here I am a few years out of college, and I love my job. Focusing merely on your starting salary is so short-sighted. You need to look at the big picture.