Whether you're a new grad eager to enter the world of work or a seasoned pro ready for a new opportunity, know what you're getting into before accepting that job offer.
"The job market is strong across the board," said Dawn Fay, district president of staffing firm Robert Half International. "It's really become more of a candidate's marketplace. If you've got some sought-after skills, you're probably going to wind up with more than one job offer."
Indeed, with a low national unemployment rate of 5 percent and positive hiring outlooks, the odds are in favor of job seekers. Salaries overall also are expected to be 4.1 percent higher than they were in 2015, according to Robert Half's 2016 salary guide.
So how do you decide whether an opportunity is worth taking? Very carefully. And it all begins long before you get your offer. After all, your job is where you are going to spend the majority of your waking hours.
"For the employer, it's a commercial decision," said Kim Seeling Smith, founder and CEO of human resources training and consulting firm Ignite Global. "For you, it's a life decision, so you have to put a lot of thought into taking the next opportunity."
The first thing you should do when approaching a job hunt is figure out a three-year career plan, said Seeling Smith. This process should involve evaluating your personal goals, your career values, and your strengths and weaknesses. If you've figured this out, you can more easily determine whether your next job offer is the right step to take.
Next, you have to assess whether the company and job are a good fit for you. Ideally, you'd already know plenty about the position and the employer before even submitting your application.
Check websites such as Glassdoor and Vault to get an insider's take on the company. Also try asking employees for the scoop. If you don't know anyone personally, see if you have any connections to the firm through LinkedIn.
"Talk to other people that work for the company, and insist on meeting the team," said Seeling Smith. "Find out what the company culture is really like and what their career opportunities are like as well. Do as much due diligence as you can."
Also, use the interview to glean some insight.
"People think of the interview as just being about the company evaluating the candidate when really it is an equal and two-way street," Fay said. "It is the best time to find out and evaluate if that role will be good for you."
Ask whatever you need to in order to fully understand what you'll be doing and whether you're a good fit. Some questions might include: What would you be doing day to day? What does the company stand for? What is the company culture like? Who would you be working with daily? Why is the position open? How long was the previous person in this position, and where did that person go?
If you've missed your chance to ask some things during the interview, don't worry. Once you get an offer, you can ask any questions you still have about the company and the role.
Plus, at that point, you can dive into questions about compensation . Before you get an offer, you should already have a ballpark idea of what the salary might be. Do your research — using resources such as Robert Half's salary guide, sites such as Payscale or Salary.com and data from the Department of Labor — to understand what is a reasonable amount to expect.
Don't be afraid to negotiate right off the bat, even if it's your first time. "New grads can negotiate but they should follow the same advice you'd give to anybody, which is to have the hard data, have the facts and really know what those roles are paying in today's marketplace," Fay said.
And remember: Money isn't everything. Understand the benefits package, too. Be sure to ask about health insurance, retirement plans and employer contributions as well as paid time off (including vacation time, sick leave, personal time and parental leave) and transportation benefits (to cover parking and commuter costs).
Especially if the pay isn't what you were hoping, perks can make or break the job. For example, you might ask about additional flexibility and the chance to work from home. Or perhaps the company can offer financial assistance for additional education and training that can help boost your future prospects.
Also understand when you can expect to be up for review and potentially earn a raise or bonus.
"You want to have a full understanding of how all the compensation and benefits work and how you can advance yourself after you get in there," Fay said.
If you were lucky enough to score multiple job offers, you might be able to leverage one job against the other to boost your starting pay, but it's a risky maneuver. "You don't want to make it seem like you're threatening one against the other," said Fay. "Even if you get that [higher] offer, you may be starting off on the wrong foot."
Seeling Smith agreed that you don't want to start a bidding war for your services. Instead, she recommended that you "evaluate those job offers in conjunction with [your] personal goals, career values and strengths. The job offer that ticks off the most of those boxes wins," she said.
Once you make your selection, be sure to let the other employers down easy. Keep it professional and gracious. "You never know when your paths may cross again," Fay said. "And one of the most important things you want to be doing throughout your career is building your network."
In the end, even after all this careful assessment, if you find the job you chose turns out to be the wrong fit, you can always venture back into job market. Just be sure you give the job a fair shot — waiting at least a couple of months before you quit, Fay suggested. (Other experts have recommended sticking it out a minimum of six months before walking.)
"More often than not, it's just the getting-to-know-you-phase that takes a little bit of time," she said. "You just gotta take a deep breath, take a step back, be patient and really work the internal network to get yourself up to speed. That typically solves the problem."
On the other hand, Seeling Smith advised you leave immediately, if you wind up at the wrong job. "Unfortunately, 22 percent of employee turnover occurs within the first 45 days of employment," she said. "So this is not an unusual situation, but it's up to you as the candidate to do the due diligence before accepting the job offer."
— By Stacy Rapacon, special to CNBC.com
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