So you have a job offer -- congratulations! You're probably pretty excited, but don't let your excitement get in the way of evaluating the offer objectively and making sure that you fully understand the terms being offered to you before you accept it.
1. Salary. It sounds obvious, but don't let your excitement to have an offer get in the way of rigorously thinking about the salary you're offered. You're going to have to be happy with it for at least a year (since it's very rare to get a raise before 12 months), and possibly longer. Ideally, you should have a salary range in mind before you get to this stage. If the offer is below this range, now is the time to negotiate a higher salary. Make sure you base any negotiation on your research about market rates for this type of job and for someone with your skill set and background in your geographic area, and not on an arbitrary number that you'd just like to get.
2. Benefits. Beyond salary, it's also important to evaluate benefits. A great package can make up for a lower salary, especially if you're saving money on health care, allowed to work a flexible schedule or getting more vacation time than you'd anticipated. And don't underestimate how much a bad benefits package can end up costing you -- if you're paying thousands out-of-pocket for health care each year, that's a big bite out of your salary that you need to factor in. When you're evaluating benefits, make sure to look at:
-- Health insurance: What will your monthly premium be? Is there coinsurance (where, for example, you pay a certain percentage of all costs)? Is there an annual deductible that you must pay, and if so, how large is it? What are the copays for routine care visits, specialists, out-of-network doctors and prescriptions? Are dental and vision insurance included?
-- Retirement plan: Does the employer offer one? If so, does it match your contributions or otherwise fund it? Up to what amount?
-- Time off: How much paid vacation and sick leave does the employer offer?
Also, ask when benefits kick in. Some employers don't start your health care coverage until you've been there six months, or make you wait a year before you start getting matching funds in your 401(k). That's not the kind of thing you want to find out after you've already started.
3. Hidden costs. Will you have a much longer commute? Need to buy a fancier wardrobe? Be expected to schmooze in your community on your own dime? Even if the job is a salary increase for you, it might be eaten up if you suddenly have big expenses in these areas that you didn't have before.
4. The day-to-day work. Are you absolutely clear on what the job is that you're being hired to do? It sounds obvious, but too often people accept jobs without truly knowing exactly how they'll spend their time, what their most important responsibilities will be and how their success will be judged. As a result, you can find yourself in a role that doesn't match the hopes you'd had. While you're thinking through the role, ask yourself: Will I be able to excel at this work? Am I excited to do it? Is it moving me forward on a path I want to be on? Depending on your circumstances, you might not always have the luxury of choosing jobs based on the answers to those questions, but at a minimum you want to be clear-eyed about what you're signing up for.
5. Other items that are important to you. Do you need to ensure you can leave by 6 p.m. to pick up your child from day care? Care passionately about having your own office? Need relocation assistance to move for the job? Do you know what working hours are common in the office?
Ideally, by the time you receive a job offer, you should have already explored other key factors that will affect your decision, like the company culture or the manager's style. But if you still have outstanding questions on those fronts or any others, now is the time to ask. You're considering signing on to spend a large portion of your waking hours at this job for probably at least the next several years, and it's a decision that can have long-ranging impact on your career even after you leave, so it's important to get all your big questions answered.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.
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