- By Paul Bernard
Congratulations. After months of hard work, patience and persistence, you’ve just been offered a job. Now, take a deep breath — and don’t accept. Not yet.
Many people who’ve been unemployed jump at the first proposition that comes their way. But based on my two decades supplying career advice, I suggest you instead do some essential due diligence before signing on.
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Ask for a minimum of 72 hours, preferably a week, so you can take a clear-eyed look at the offer, your prospective employer, your potential boss and yourself. This will let you assess whether the job is a good fit for you now and in the long term.
These are the eight elements of the job that you’ll want to review:
Salary Find out the going salary for the position so you can see whether you should try to negotiate a better deal. Websites, like vault.com, salary.com, and glassdoor.com, can probably give you an idea of industry- and perhaps even company-specific salaries.
Between 2008 and 2011, employers frequently offered prospects 15 to 20 percent less than their predecessors and the new hires typically went along, because they were happy to land jobs. But these days, with the job market strengthening, you may be able to negotiate up to 15 percent more than what you’re offered. If the company feels you’re worth the price, you might get it.
Benefits Job seekers often focus disproportionately on salary and ignore the other major component of compensation: benefits.
If you’re offered a salary that's 15 percent higher than your prior gig but you’re moving from an employer that paid 90 percent of your health insurance costs to one that will cover only 60 percent, there’s a good chance you’ll be losing money in the long run.
Be sure to find out about retirement benefits, something that’s especially important to people in their 50s and 60s. Is there a pension plan? A 401(k) or equivalent requiring employee contributions? And if the employer has a 401(k), does it match some or all of the amount you put in? How long will it take you to be vested?
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Another important factor to consider is how much time off you’ll get. Many companies start new employees with two weeks’ vacation, regardless of age. Would that work for you? If you think the job is worth it, but you’d like more vacation time, request it. This is one perk where there’s often some wiggle room. For example, if company policy says employees start with two weeks of vacation and get four weeks after three years, you may be able to push for four weeks up front.
Your career path Getting this job is important, but it’s also vital to think about what it will do for you five to 10 years down the road. Will the position challenge you and give you room to grow? Will you learn new skills and gain experience to further your career?
The employer's prospects Think about whether your new company, nevermind your position, will likely exist in five years. No one has a crystal ball, of course, but ask yourself this question: How is the industry changing and is this employer aligned with that change or flexible enough to adapt?
Take a lesson from the mistake one of my clients made not so long ago. He jumped at an offer from Pure Digital Technologies, manufacturer of the Flip video camera, even though smartphones had begun catching on. That was the 21st-century equivalent of joining a buggy whip manufacturer after the introduction of the Model T. Unfortunately, my client lost his job soon after Cisco acquired his firm in 2009 and shut down the Flip enterprise.
Your ability to get the job done There are three question to ponder:
- Do you have the skills to meet and exceed expectations?
- Are those expectations reasonable? If not, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. One client of mine was offered a job as a major gifts officer with a big nonprofit that was embarking on a capital campaign. She was told that she’d be responsible for changing the culture almost overnight. I warned her that this mandate was completely unreasonable. My client agreed and despite the fact that she had been unemployed for more than six months, she declined the offer.
- Will you be given the resources to do the job? Never accept a position if there's no job description or if the boss and your colleagues believe you’ll make one up as you go along.
The culture Do you think you’ll fit in easily? If not, are you willing and able to adjust? Feeling like a square peg in a round hole will not only make you miserable, but it will also mean you’ll have a difficult or impossible time building the necessary relationships to be successful.
If you’ve spent the last 15 years enjoying the spontaneity and flexibility of working at start-ups, for example, would you be comfortable at a Fortune 500 company?
A client of mine previously worked for a company whose upper management viewed lunch as part of an urban golf course where managers could meet, greet and bond with colleagues and customers. When he left that job and joined a company where business lunches were discouraged, he felt as if he was suddenly imprisoned. He left after a year.
Compatibility with the boss Before accepting the job, try to suss out your prospective boss’s management style. Try to get a sense of whether he or she is intuitive and spontaneous, or prefers established systems and processes.
Also, ask how the boss feels about feedback. Do employees get positive and developmental critiques? If so, how often?
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You should also find out if you and the boss have a compatible sense of humor. The importance of this can’t be overstated since, at any job, the going will likely get rough one day.
Use your intuition about all of this. I can’t tell you the number of times that job-seeking clients sensed a potential new boss would be difficult but accepted the position anyway, figuring that they could handle it. They seldom could.
Commuting Factor in your daily travel time. People frequently kid themselves that going from a 20-minute commute to a 90-minute commute is immaterial. It’s not.
Remember that a 90-minute commute each way can be a lot more exhausting and aggravating when you’re 55 than when you’re 25. As one client of mine, now 59, told me recently: “Life is too short to be spending three hours a day on the Long Island Railroad.”
Also take into account the amount of business travel the position will require. My experience is that when a company estimates that you’ll be traveling 25 percent of the time, it really means 35 percent. That’s the equivalent of being away from friends and family a week and a half per month, a travel schedule that’s onerous even for a 25-year-old.
The bottom line is that astute employers clarify what they need and want from new hires up front and bring on people only if they have the right skills and fit. Make sure you follow similar due diligence. Follow mom’s advice: Do your homework.