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Your search has paid off, and you are on the verge of accepting a job offer. Congratulations!
Take a deep breath. You are almost at your goal, but you're not quite there yet.
The way you handle the salary negotiating phase of the job search process could have a big impact on your compensation, which, in turn, can have a huge impact on your lifestyle, your long term earning power, and your job satisfaction.
Don't be that person who's so thrilled to just have a job that she neglects to find out all of the details about that job before accepting the offer.
Get All of the Relevant Information Before You Say Yes
Before accepting a job offer, it is important to:
Discuss with the employer all of the relevant terms of employment
If necessary, negotiate the employment offer
Ask the employer to put the terms of employment in writing
Evaluate the job offer
Accept (or possibly decline) the employment offer
Why do you need to get this information before you say yes to a job offer?
Because this is the time in the hiring process when you have the most power. Once you have accepted the job, you don't have as much power to negotiate terms. That's why you need to get the details first, before you say yes.
Are you tempted to accept a job offer without getting all of the details? Here's what happened to a client of mine who did that. I hope his story will help you avoid a similar problem.
A client of mine had been job searching for a short time when he received a job offer. He was so excited to get the offer, he accepted the job without even asking what the salary was.
Everything was okay until his first pay day. That's when he discovered the pay for the job was significantly lower that what would be reasonable in his field of work, and it was not enough to cover his bills.
He continued to work there for a while. There were other problems, but the extremely low salary was the biggest issue. It eventually got so bad, he ended up quitting the job.
Then he was back at my office job searching again. Understandably, he didn't want to add the job he quit to his resume, which meant he had a gap in his employment that he didn't have when he first started job searching. It was hard for him to explain that gap, and it made his job search tougher than it needed to be.
He did eventually find a job that was a great fit, but his job search took longer and was a lot harder than it would have been if he had discovered the salary of the first job he was offered was not appropriate before he accepted that job.
Discuss With the Employer All of the Terms of Employment
That's good advice. However, once you have made it through the interview process, and you have been offered the position, at this point you must ask a lot of questions about the terms of employment.
Before accepting a job offer, ask the employer about any of these factors that have not already been clearly discussed in the interview process, and are relevant to you and your work:
salary or hourly wage (whichever applies)
hours of work
opportunities for training and professional development
in house training
nature of the position - is it a short term contract or a permanent position
specific work duties and expectations
nature of the work environment
who would be your direct supervisor
anything else that is relevant to the work and may impact your decision to accept the employment offer
Of course, many of these subjects will probably have been covered by the employer during your interview, and some of these factors might not be relevant or important to you. I've tried to organize the list starting with the terms of employment that are most important to most people, and then moving down to things that are only important to some people.
You don't have to ask about all of these things on the list, but do ask about anything that would impact your decision to accept the job.
Negotiating a Job Offer
If you feel that some of the terms of employment are not in line with what you could reasonably expect based on the nature of the work, your experience, and the current labor market, you may decide to negotiate a bit.
To negotiate salary effectively, you need to do some research before you're offered the job, and you need to be able to demonstrate to an employer exactly why you are worth the salary you are requesting.
You will find detailed information about negotiating here including sources for researching salary information and tips for handling a negotiation when the employer is not willing or able to increase the salary for the job.
Ask For a Written Job Offer Letter
Ask the employer if he or she will provide a written letter to ensure all of the details are clearly spelled out, and there is no opportunity for misunderstanding about the terms of employment.
For some employers, providing an employment offer letter is a standard part of their hiring process, so it will be not be an issue. For other employers (usually at smaller companies), letters are not a part of their standard hiring process, and, therefore, the employer may be hesitant to provide a letter.
Ideally you should spend some time evaluating the position and how well it meets your needs immediately after the interview. That way, if the employer calls to offer you the position, you will already have a good sense of whether it is right for you.
After the interview, you may not have all of the information required to determine whether the work and the company are a good fit for you, but you will have enough information to at least start the process of evaluating the situation and determining whether it is a good fit.
When you evaluate an offer, assess the following:
Is the salary in line with industry standards?
Does the salary meet your needs and expectations?
Are benefits provided? Do you require benefits?
Is the vacation time in line with industry standards and your needs?
Are there any additional benefits that make the position attractive?
Will you be allowed a training budget to take outside courses? Is that typical in your field of work?
Is there in-house training?
Are there opportunities for advancement within the company?
If it is a temporary position, is there a chance that it might develop into a long term position? Or could it provide important experience or business contacts that will make it easier to find your next job once the contract ends?
Does the situation fit with your long term career goals?
Would you enjoy doing the day-to-day tasks required?
Do you believe you would be good at the work you would be doing?
Do the employer's expectations for success appear to be clear and realistic?
Based on the information you have, does it appear to be a good place to work?
Will the job help you to achieve other goals and priorities in your life?
Is the work in line with your values?
Will you be able to fit your other important obligations around your hours of work?
Do you have reliable transportation to and from work?
Will you need to commute? If so, how long will the commute be? How much will the commute cost?
If you drive, will you need to pay to park at work?
Will you need child care? How much will that cost?
How do the costs of going to work (public transportation or gas and parking, child care, etc.) compare to the amount of money you will earn?
If the Job is Not a Great Fit
What is the labor market like in your industry? If you decided to turn down this opportunity because it wasn't a good fit, how likely is it that you would get another job offer in the near future?
If it is not a good fit, how badly do you need the job? Do you need to get an income coming in immediately and, therefore, may need to accept a situation that isn't ideal, or are you okay financially and able to wait for a better offer?
What would need to change to make the work a good fit? Can you negotiate that change or can you meet that need in another way?
Is there a possibility that the role may change over time to become a better fit or help you develop the skills and experience to land another job that is a better fit for your needs?
Accepting a Job Offer or Declining an Offer
Once you have determined the terms of employment and evaluated the opportunity, you will either accept or decline.
Accepting a job offer can be done verbally or in writing. Often you will receive the offer over the phone, so your initial acceptance will probably be verbal.
In most cases, a verbal acceptance is all that is necessary, but occasionally people choose to follow up the verbal acceptance with a letter accepting a job offer under the terms that were discussed.
If you decide to decline, do so with tact and professionalism. For more details about turning down a job offer, please see the article Declining a Job Offer.