Celebrate the offer—but don’t accept it without thinking
There’s a small group of college students that is the envy of the rest of the student body. Believe it or not, it isn’t those attending on full scholarships—it’s those with a job (in their chosen career field, no less) already lined up before graduation. For them, the weeks leading up to graduation were full of relief, pride, and celebration. For the rest of us . . . well, we were still proud. But relief was replaced with anxiety, celebration replaced with hours scouring job listings online and re-tweaking resumes.
So when all that anxiety and effort comes to fruition in the form of a first official job offer, it can be tempting to shout “see you Monday!” from the rooftops. But you shouldn’t. After thanking the company’s representative for the offer, and expressing your sincere excitement, here’s what you should do next:
Ask for time to consider the offer
This isn’t about playing hard to get. You’ve already made it past hundreds of other applicants, a grueling interview process, and a background check. They want you as an employee. It is about making space to come down from the high of being offered a job and to think about what this offer really means. After all, the job you accept is where you’ll be spending at least 40 hours a week for the foreseeable future. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be bearable. If you have a spouse or a family depending on you, you’ll likely want to take their opinions into consideration as well. Consider the following aspects of the offer:
Ask questions—as many as you have
Once you’ve received an offer, you should feel free to ask whatever questions you have . . . within the boundaries of professionalism, of course. If you need clarification on the responsibilities of your role, growth opportunities for the position, insurance benefits, paid time off, required travel, or anything else, now is the time to get those explanations.
Get the offer (and the answers to your questions) in writing
Most companies will send you an offer letter over email. It will include your salary or hourly wages, terms of employment, and potentially links to any other corporate policies you’ll be subject to by accepting their offer. Those things are the bare minimum you’ll need to have in writing before accepting. But the offer letter likely won’t include things like their time off policy, professional training opportunities, working hours, or retirement benefits. If any of those aspects of the role are make-or-break for you, don’t be afraid to confirm them over email.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate
So you’ve asked your questions and gotten your answers. What happens if one or two of those answers aren’t what you’d hoped for? If a company is worth joining, their initial offer of employment won’t be entirely rigid. While negotiating the terms of employment isn’t a game—it would be ideal if both parties came to the table with their best terms forward—there’s often a bit of wiggle room if you play your cards correctly. If you need a higher salary to accept the offer, for example, do your research first and present your request as being more in line with market averages. If the offer your received initially is at the top of the company’s range and they truly can’t go any higher, remember that not just dollars are negotiable. Perhaps a few more paid days off, an upgraded job title, the ability to work from home once a week, or the guarantee of a salary review at six months would lessen the sting of a lower than ideal starting wage.
Watch out for red flags
Being eager to jump-start your career and get your foot in the door somewhere (anywhere!) is an admirable quality in a new college graduate . . . most of the time. But being willing to ignore major red flags just to get on a payroll could end up hurting your career in the long run. You should strongly consider walking away from an offer if you see any of these red flags before accepting:
Sure, dealing drugs pays pretty well, or so I’ve heard. But your wellbeing and your reputation isn’t worth any amount of money. If a job offer would require you to hurt yourself, hurt others, or go against what you believe in, even if there’s nothing really wrong with the role itself (Salary.com gives the examples of “a vegetarian meat-packer, an environmentalist working for big oil, or a personal privacy advocate making telemarketing calls”), you should feel free to walk away.
Work is work, and you will never love everyone you do business with. In fact, learning to work with—and even grow to appreciate—personalities different than your own is a crucial skill as you begin your career. However, your job is where you’ll spend most of your waking hours. If all the other employees at a company make you feel uncomfortable, unhappy, or unwelcome, your self-esteem is worth more than whatever they’re paying.
A position often becomes available because the person previously holding it has moved on to something better suited to them, and that’s perfectly fine. However, if nobody has managed to stick around in the role for more than a few months—whether because they couldn’t stand it and quit or couldn’t live up to expectations and were fired—the chances that you’ll magically be a perfect fit are slim.
Often, the job descriptions accompanying newly created roles or at small companies are nebulous. But you should at least understand what value you’ll be adding at a company and what the eventual goals are for your position. If nobody can really give you an idea of what will be expected of you, you’ll have no way of knowing whether you’re able to meet those expectations.
If you feel like a company is being less than honest or less than transparent with you—about anything—trust your gut. Reputable corporations with above-board hiring practices should have nothing to hide.
Consider your job search process as a whole
If you’ve been offered a job that seems pretty great, but you just interviewed for your absolute dream job and are expecting to hear back from the hiring manager next week . . . what should you do? Especially when you’re early on in your career, it’s easy to assume that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. But as always, honesty is the best policy. You can try to buy some time with the company that’s offered you a job by asking for time to consider and negotiating aspects of the offer, but you can also just let them know what’s going on. They’ll likely give you a firm deadline by which to make a decision, but they shouldn’t be upset by your honesty. Then you can take that deadline to your dream company and see if it inspires them to move the decision process along any more quickly. If they’re unable to, then at least you’ll have more clarity around your decision.
When this advice doesn’t apply
Not everyone always has the luxury of time and choice surrounding job offers; there will be times when this advice just doesn’t apply. If you’re unable to pay your bills, falling into debt, or otherwise badly in need of a paycheck, your ability to take care of yourself comes first. There will always be opportunities to move up in your career and move on with your life. So congratulations on your new job and the invaluable experience that will come along with it!
Unfortunately, the questions and uncertainty don’t disappear as soon as you accept an offer. We’ll discuss how to succeed in your first few weeks on the job in the next edition of Career College Central.