7 Tips to Help Size Up a Job Offer

For job-seekers on the hunt, seal the deal while getting what you need to grow professionally in the process.

There was a time when a job-seeker could accept an offer over the phone without hesitation. All a hiring manager or HR rep had to do was supply you with the job title and starting salary, and you were good to go.

Nowadays, a typical job offer has many moving parts -- from telework options to annual leave to tuition reimbursement -- and as badly as you may want the position, a careful review is a must. Remember, once you’ve officially accepted a job offer, any chance for negotiation is lost.

Here's a handy guide to help navigate a potentially sticky situation:

Get It in Writing

After an extensive search, it can be exciting to emerge victorious at the end of the interviewing process with an actual job offer. It’s at this point, however, that you need to switch from eager job-seeker to careful negotiator and thoroughly evaluate this new opportunity.

If the recruiter demands an answer before you've seen the job details and benefits on paper, politely say, "I am thrilled at the opportunity and plan to accept, but there are too many moving parts in the offer for me to give you a formal acceptance now. I need to see the offer in writing." You've got a big decision to make, so don't let anyone pressure you into making it too quickly.

Check for Consistency

When reviewing your offer letter, check your meeting notes and your e-mail threads to make sure the offer reads the way you expected it. Pay special attention to the start date, salary and employee benefits. A red flag should immediately go up if there are gaps between what you were promised during interviews or offer-related conversations and what you see in fine print. If this happens, reach out to the hiring manager by phone and call attention to each of those variances so that you can determine whether a clerical error was made, someone forgot what was previously discussed or the hiring manager simply doesn’t have the power to implement what you agreed upon.

Beware of employers who say, "Oh, did I say $80,000? We always start people in this role at $65,000. We'll make it up to you over time." If they can't be trusted to put their money where their mouth is, how can you trust anything else they promise down the road?

Review the Incidentals

If you're eligible for a bonus, you need to see details of the plan in writing. The words "You're also eligible for a bonus" in an offer letter, without elaboration, are of little value. You need to know how bonuses are calculated and when they're paid out. In addition to asking for a copy of the bonus plan, also request to see a copy of the employee handbook and any other agreements such as a non-compete clause you'll be asked to sign once you start. You'd hate to find that your new employer believes it owns the intellectual property you have already developed or wants to forbid you (via an anti-moonlighting policy) from working a part-time job.

Think Twice Before Accepting a Side Deal

Many a job-seeker has been in this situation: You’ve been made an offer, but the hiring manager isn’t able to give you the job title you’d hoped for or previously discussed. He attempts to make a side deal in an attempt to get you to accept the offer anyway, "I know you wanted the Associate Director title, but the best I can do right now is Senior Manager. We can informally make you the AD and get that on the organizational chart by December." This type of situation should be a big cause for concern.

If the hiring manager is serious about bring you on board, he can have the conversations needed with higher-ups to make your deal official. However, if you really want the position -- perhaps due to it being at a top firm with lots of professional development opportunities -- and it turns out you will have to sacrifice a fancy job title in order to be there, you have every right to push on other fronts of the offer. Consider requesting a flexible work schedule or an upgraded benefits package or even an office technology allowance. Whatever terms you finally agree upon, remember to get it in writing. Managers depart companies every day, and you can’t be left in a lurch if said agreement hasn’t been documented in HR.

Speak Up About a Low Salary Offer

If the starting salary amount doesn't satisfy you, think about if the position is worth accepting or if you’re better off declining. Salary is important and an insulting offer signals that an employer doesn't value your talent. However, there are other equally important elements to factor in. (If you've ever worked for an overly demanding boss or with a severely understaffed team, then you should understand.) Take into consideration if the staff is ethical and smart, the work is interesting and if the company's prospects are good.

If the job appears to be great, but the money stinks, discuss it with the hiring manager directly. Don't start the conversation off by saying, "I was expecting a better salary, considering my experience." That is defensive and off-putting. Instead, say something like, "I'm really excited to get the offer, Stan. Thanks a million. I'm eager to jump in. However, I feel we're a ways apart on the salary. Is now a good time to brainstorm about how to bridge that gap?"

Read Between the Lines

At least once a week, I hear from an unhappy person who took a job he or she should have run away from. "I guess I should have paid closer attention when my manager said I'm an adequate marketer," one woman told me. "When did he call you adequate?", I asked. "He told me that while he was extending the offer," she admitted. "He said I'm adequate, and that under his guidance I could be a fine marketer one day. He turned out to be a passive-aggressive jerk." No surprise there.

If this job-seeker had been on her game, she would have responded to the adequate comment with, "Oh, that's interesting. You know, you should have a marketing manager you feel is exceptional at marketing, already. I should work for someone who thinks I'm a strong marketer right now. It's probably best that we part ways." Listen carefully for clues to help avoid getting dragged into a position that you’re better off fleeing from.

Ask Friends for Advice

You don't have to evaluate your job offer in solitary confinement. Share it with a business-savvy friend (or two) to make sure you're not overlooking anything important. One friend told me she had mistakenly accepted a full-time job offer without noticing that it didn't include health care or paid time off beyond a skimpy vacation plan. It’s always smart to consult a trusted ally to ensure you’re negotiating the right things.

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