Evaluating Job Offers and Negotiating Salary
Although the majority of your time and energy during your job search and interview process is focused on getting an offer, it is a good idea to think about the your ideal work situation and the type of offer you would accept, negotiate, or decline BEFORE an offer is on the table. Having thought about your priorities and needs in advance to actually receiving an offer will allow you to ask the right questions during the latter stages of the interview process and will also make the process of accepting or declining an offer less stressful.
When people hear “evaluating job offer” they usually think only about the salary. We will go over how you might negotiate your salary and/or benefits (both monetary and intangible), but first review the factors that you should definitely weigh no matter how attractive your salary offer may look. As you read through the list, try to evaluate how important each of the factors will be to you and your preferred lifestyle:
Of course, no matter how much money someone is offering you, you have to actually like what you will be doing day in and day out. If you are going to hate the daily tasks and projects within your job, no compensation package will make up for that! Consider the following questions: Will this work be challenging and meaningful to you? Does it fit in with your long range career goals? Are you proud of the products or services with which you will be working? Will the job become boring once the learning curve has flattened?
Opportunity for Advancement/Professional Growth
Will this position give you the skills you need to advance to your next career goal? Is there opportunity to move up within the company? Will the organization contribute to your professional development through performance feedback, trainings, tuition reimbursement, etc. You can ask during the interview process what opportunities the company offers for professional growth. You want to make sure that the position will not only utilize your existing skill set, but add to it as well.
Reputation of Company or Organization
Think about being at a networking mixer or family gathering. Would you be proud to say you work for this company or organization? Has there been any recent news about them (either positive or negative)? Do you believe in the product or service? How does the company stand within their industry?
People often go bankrupt because of medical costs they were not prepared to handle. That said, your benefits package is an important factor of your job offer. What kind of health insurance coverage does the organization offer? What kind of retirement package? Will they match your contribution to your IRA (401K or 403B)? How do you accrue vacation and sick leave? Will they provide money for relocation or temporary housing as you get settled? These factors can add a significant monetary value to your base salary.
The most common reason people list for leaving their job is their supervisor. It is important that you have met the person that will be your immediate supervisor and that you think you will have a mutually respectful relationship. You not only want to think about whether you can get along with this person, but also whether this person is someone who will be interested in your growth. If they have the potential to be your mentor, that is an added bonus, but they at least need to facilitate opportunities for you to grow within your role.
Typical Work Week (including Travel Required)
You need to ask what a typical work week would look like. If the company expectation is that you work 60+ hours a week, but that does not fit in with your conception of a balanced life, the company may not be a good fit for you. Or if your typical work week consists of a great deal of travel (i.e. you are not home for 4 days out of the week), you have to make sure this will fit with your lifestyle needs. If your life requires that you be home to feed your dog, be a parent, or coach little league, the travel requirement might be a deal breaker. During the interview process, you can ask your interviewer what percentage of your work week will be spent traveling. That should give you a good idea of the requirement.
Where is the job located? Does this require you to relocate? How far would you have to commute? What is the cost of living in the given area? What are the tax requirements of the city, county, or state (how much will this affect your salary)? Will you have a support network there? All of these questions could affect your life satisfaction. You also may want to think about the company headquarters and whether or not you could live there if promotional opportunities led you that way. You want to make sure all of your social, economic, and cultural needs are met.
Co-Workers and Work Environment
Remember that you will be spending the majority of your waking hours during the week at work. It would be a major plus if you enjoyed your coworkers and work environment. You do not always get a chance to meet with many of your coworkers during the interview process, but you can at least ask your interviewers questions about the office culture and collaborative nature of your colleagues. Your coworkers can greatly influence your happiness in the work setting, so try to find out as much information about this as you can. You also may want to ask what the company does to help hires adjust to their new environment (i.e. training programs, social opportunities). Lastly, you want to make sure the company culture is consistent with your personal values and professional work ethic.
Especially if you have multiple offers to consider, sometimes it helps to quantify the factors of a job on paper to see a concrete, numerical value of the job at hand. Click here to see a job evaluation matrix that may help you clarify your thoughts.
Stall for Time and Reflection
You almost never want to accept an offer when it is first given. Regardless of how much you want a given job, you need to give yourself time to see the written offer (including all aspects of salary, benefits, vacation/sick time, etc.) and evaluate its contents. Stepping back for a couple days at least will allow you time to assess the offer and identify any potential points for negotiation.
When given a verbal offer, you could say something like: “Thank you for the offer. I am excited for the potential within the position and within (insert company name). I would like an opportunity to review the written offer (and/or complete my interview process with other companies) before making a final decision. May I give you my decision in a couple weeks?”
First and foremost, you want to appreciate the employer’s interest in you. Even if you ultimately reject the offer, the world is too small for you to burn bridges. Two weeks to make a decision is customary and an employer should feel comfortable with giving you that. If, however, the employer pressures you to make a decision sooner, you need to make sure that you are still able to review a written offer. You also need to think about the ethics of pressuring you to make a decision before you are ready and if you really feel comfortable accepting the offer within that timeframe. Ethically, you cannot renege on an offer once you have accepted it, so you need to make sure it is the correct decision before accepting. Also, make sure not to drag an employer on for too long. Holding on to an offer for weeks and weeks just in case you do not find anything better is also unethical.
Accepting an Offer
Before accepting an offer, you may want to negotiate salary or other aspects of the offer. See the below section for tips on how to do that. If any changes are made to your offer based on your conversation, make sure you get a new written offer specifying the terms of your agreement. Your offer letter should most likely specify your start date as well. You can verbally accept the offer with whomever you have been talking and, in most cases, you need to follow up with the signed offer letter. Once you have accepted an offer, you need to let any other organizations you have been interviewing with know that you have accepted another offer and are withdrawing from their interview process. It is unethical to continue interviewing after having accepted an offer.
Rejecting an Offer
Just like when you received the initial offer, again show your appreciation for the organization’s interest in you. Say something positive about the job and/or organization, but let them know that you have decided not to take the offer. Most likely they will ask you why, so you will want to have something prepared to say. If you feel like the reason is pretty diplomatic, you can let them know why you accepted a different offer. If, however, you do not want to give them the true reason, that is okay. Pick a secondary reason or something to at least be honest and give them something they can improve in their recruiting process and/or position structure. Telling the employer that you accepted another offer based on salary, benefits, location, job function, opportunity for advancement, etc, are all pretty objective reasons. You can give the rejection in writing via email or verbally. If you have been continuously talking to the person that gave you the offer, it is probably better to speak with them over the phone.
First off, you should know that trying to negotiate your salary & benefits package is not a required step in the job decision process. If you are completely satisfied with the offer on the table and think it is fair given your education, skills, and experience, it does not look “weak” not to negotiate the contents of the offer. That said, however, it never hurts to ask how much room for improvement a given offer may have (provided that you do this in the professional manner outlined below)!
Set the Tone
The job offer negotiation process is the first indication to your future employer of how you will conduct business. You want the process to be as friendly as possible. You have not even started your job yet, so appearing undiplomatic or overly aggressive will not put you on the right foot. The job offer negotiation process is just a conversation about your education, skills, and experience related to the job and the value of your contribution. Stick to the facts, and not personalities or subjective feelings. You can tell your employer that you want to discuss the offer, including salary and possibly other intangible benefits that you may be able to negotiate (i.e. increased vacation time, schedule flexibility, etc.). If calling on the phone, be sure to ask your future employer if this is a good time to for him/her to talk. If it is not a good time, ask if you can set up an appointment to discuss the offer in more detail. This will ensure a conversation that is not rushed. When possible, in-person negotiations are the most effective; trying to negotiate via email is highly discouraged.
Do Your Research
You need to be prepared for your talk with your employer. Being prepared includes having objective reasoning for why you deserve more salary, benefits, whatever!
If you have local salary information that suggests your salary is on the low end, then you could say something like this:
“I would like to discuss the salary offer. According to my research, the salary offered is at the bottom 25% of what the Account Manager I or similar positions get paid in, Fresno, CA. I thought that my 2 years working in a similar role (insert whatever you feel qualifies you to make more) would put me in a place to earn at least average salary earned by Account Manager I. Can we discuss how you came up with this number and/or if there is a possibility to raise it to reflect my experience?”
This is a good way to phrase the conversation because you show your employer that you have done your research and actually have a basis for asking for the higher salary. This will go over better than just saying “May I have $5,000 more?” for no apparent reason! From here, they may want to discuss a bit more, or they may give you a reason why this salary cannot be changed. Often times, they will have to talk to someone else in HR to try to adjust the salary.
If the employer has indicated that you have their “top salary offer” (e.g. they won’t budge), and you want the position (despite it being lower than your expectations), you could say “even though the salary is not as high as I had anticipated based upon my research, I am still interested. Can we re-visit the package and see if there is anything here that is negotiable such as …(bonus, relocation expenses, performance review dates, job title, insurance, professional association fees, training schedule, tuition reimbursement, vacation days, etc.)?” In many work settings (like government or other unionized settings), the employer may not have the flexibility to give you these intangible requests, but it could at least be worth asking.
Know Your “Bottom Line”
You need to have an idea in your head about what you can live on and be prepared to walk away from an offer if they cannot give you what you need. Make sure, however, that you have done your research before doing this. Having an offer in hand is a lot better than having no job offer and searching for another 3 months to no avail. You have to be VERY sure it is an unfair offer if the only reason you are not satisfied with an offer is because of salary. You will also need to gauge the current economic climate and your job search thus far to assess the likelihood that you will easily find a better opportunity.
Click on the below resources for additional information on evaluating job offers and negotiating salary.
- Job-Search Advice for New College Graduates
- The Riley Guide
- Occupational Outlook Handbook – Bureau of Labor & Statistics