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And the Winner Is

How to choose between job offers

By Chris Enstrom

Finally, after four (or more) years of college and an exhaustive job search, you've received a job offer. If you've worked hard and followed all of your leads, you might have even received two or more offers. Now you just need to decide which job is best for you.

Easy, right? Well, not necessarily. Students often stress about accepting a job as much as they do about receiving an offer in the first place. After all, the first job out of college could shape the direction and success of your entire career. Accepting a job offer can be even more stressful when students must choose between two or more closely matched offers.

There are many factors to consider when evaluating job offers, from salary and benefits to work environment and potential for growth. In this article we have compiled a list of the most important elements to consider when evaluating job offers, along with an easy-to-use chart that will help you through the dilemna of choosing between two or more offers.

Pay Day

The first question many of your friends will ask you when you receive a job offer is "What does it pay?" For most job seekers-especially recent college graduates-this consideration is near the top of the list. This is not surprising. Recent college graduates have invested thousands of dollars in their education, often racking up high student loan balances. Most graduates are looking forward to paying off debt instead of accruing it. Also, the value of a salary is easy to understand; the more zeroes after the first digit, the better.

In order to evaluate a salary offer you need to know what average pay scale is for your degree and industry. For most jobs this information can also be found in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook ( Your college career office can also connect you to resources that will help you evaluate a salary offer. Make sure you factor cost-of-living differences when considering salary offers. For example, after taking cost-of-living into consideration, you would need an offer of $95,000 in San Francisco to equal an offer of $50,000 in Huntsville, Ala.

Bonuses and commissions are considered part of your salary, so take them into consideration when evaluating a salary offer. It's also important to have a good understanding of an employer's policies concerning raises. "Employers will often start out recent college graduates at a relatively low salary, but provide quick performance-based raises, if they are successful employees," says Sue Dillon, a career facilitator at the Career Resource Center in Nashville, Ind.

Be sure never to make your decision on salary alone. From a career development standpoint, job satisfaction is more important. "Students tend to overemphasize salary when considering job offers," continues Dillon. "Money is important, but it's more important that you like your job. If you like your job, chances are you'll be good at it. And if you're good at your job, eventually you will be financially rewarded."

Factor in Benefits

Of course, salary is only one way in which employers financially compensate their employees. Ask anybody with a long work history and they'll tell you how important benefits are. When most people think of employer benefits, they think of things like health insurance, vacation time and retirement savings. But employers are continually coming up with more and more creative ways to compensate their workers, from health club memberships to flextime. (See "Benefits Breakdown" for a list of common employment benefits.) The value of a benefits plan depends on your own plans and needs. A company gym or membership at a health club won't be of much value to you if you don't like to sweat. And if you don't have or plan on having children, free childcare won't be worth much to you either.

Who's the Boss?

Who you work for can have as much bearing on your overall job satisfaction as how much you earn and what you do. First, analyze how stable the potential employer is.

If the company is for-profit, what were its earnings last year? What are its projections for growth? If the job is with a government agency or a non-profit, what type of funding does it have? How long has the employer been around?

You could receive the best job offer in the world, but if the job is cut in six months, it won't do you much good.

Also, consider the purpose and mission of the employer. Are they compatible with your own? Is this an organization you can feel good working for? It's easy to work for an employer that you believe in, but if you don't agree with many its policies, mission or central purpose, no amount of compensation will make you look forward to going to work.

Corporate Culture

There are three aspects to a work environment: 1) the physical workspace, 2) the "corporate culture" of the employer, and 3) fellow co-workers.

on't underestimate the importance of a good workspace. If you are a private person, you probably will not be able to do your best working in a cluster of cubicles. If you are an extravert, you won't be happy shut in an office for hours on end. Our surrounding can have a profound effect on our attitude and motivation, so consider your surroundings carefully when considering a job offer.

Corporate culture comprises the attitudes, experiences, beliefs and values of an organization.

What's the hierarchy of the organization? Is there a dress code? Is overtime expected? Do they value creativity or is it more important that you follow protocol?

These are all questions of corporate culture. Whenever possible, you should talk to current or previous employees to get a sense of the corporate culture. You may also be able to get a sense of the environment during the interview or by meeting your potential boss and co-workers during the interview process. Ask yourself if the corporate culture is compatible with your own attitudes, beliefs and values.

Your boss and fellow co-workers make up the last part of the work environment. Hopefully, you will like the people you work with. But even if you don't like them personally, you need to be able to work well with them professionally. "The student needs to feel a good comfort level with their new boss," says Jan Van Dyke, the senior assistant director of Career Development Center/Arts and Sciences Career Services at Indiana University. "It is important that the student feels that the boss is competent and will be interested in their professional growth." You may not be able to get a good sense of your potential co-workers or boss during the interview process. But if you do develop strong feelings one way or the other, be sure to take them into consideration when making your final decision.

Like What You Do

Of course, a great work environment and a compatible boss won't mean much if you don't like the job. Recent college graduates are seldom able to land their dream jobs right out of school, but it's still important that you at least like what you do. Before accepting a job offer, make sure you have a very good sense of what your day-to-day duties will be. What are your responsibilities? Will you be primarily working in teams or working alone? Will your job tasks be repetitive or varied? Will your work be challenging? What level of stress can you expect with the position?

"Most career counselors will tell you that job satisfaction is the most important thing to consider when evaluating a job offer," says Dillon. "You may have all the necessary skills for a job, but that doesn't mean you should take it. Just because you can do something well doesn't mean that you will like doing it."

Before you even begin the job interview process, consider taking a personality test such as the Myers-Briggs. A personality test, interpreted by a good career counselor, may reveal unrecognized working style preference that you can use to help you consider offers of employment.

Room for Growth

Few people want to be doing the same job five years after they've started with an employer. Make sure you know about what type of advancement opportunities there are within an organization.

Is there a clear career path within the organization? Will you be able to move into management or even move laterally into another position? And what about future employment?

In today's economy, the most valuable employees are the ones who are constantly learning. Ask yourself what knowledge, skills and experience you might acquire on a job and how they could contribute to your future employability and career growth.

Location, Location, Location

Even if you are not seeking a job in real estate, location is important. Climate, proximity to friends and family and local population (i.e., urban vs. rural) should all be evaluated against your desires and preferences.

If you are considering a job far away from you current address, will the employer pay for part or all of your moving expenses?

Even if you are looking at a local job, location can be important-especially as it relates to travel time. A long commute will cost you time, money and probably more than a little frustration. Even a one-way 20-minute commute will take more than three hours of your time in a given week. Make sure the trade off is worth it.

Do Your Homework

If you've done your homework, you will have virtually all the information you need to make a decision by the time job offers start to roll in. You should already have answers to most of the factors listed above before you give your first interview. Information about an employer's benefits package, corporate culture and job training opportunities are usually easy to find out by doing a little digging on an employer's Web site and visiting your college career center. Also, be sure to check with your college's alumni association to see if they can put you in touch with alumni who are working or have worked for that employer.

What you can't find out before the interview, find out during the interview. Keep in mind that you should not ask about salary or benefits until the second interview or until an offer of employment has been made, but there's no reason you can't ask about things like corporate culture, job training and the work environment during the initial interview. Come to the interview prepared. Remember, just as it's the employer's job to evaluate you, but it's your job to evaluate the employer and the position. You can't do that unless you have the right information.

Time Is on Your Side

"It is perfectly acceptable to ask the employer for some time before giving an answer on a job offer," says Dillon. Indeed, most employers won't expect you to give an immediate answer. It's acceptable to request two or three days to consider a job offer. And depending on the employer and the position, even a week of consideration time can be acceptable."

If you've already received another offer or expect to hear back from anther employer soon, make sure you have time to consider both offers. But don't ask for too much time to consider; like all of us, employers don't like uncertainty. Make sure you give them an answer one way or another as soon as you can.

It's Your Call

Once you make a decision, act quickly. If you are accepting a position, notify the hiring manager by phone followed by a confirmation letter or an email. Keep the letter short and state the agreed upon salary and the start date. When rejecting an offer, make sure to thank the employer for their time and interest. It always pays to be polite in your correspondence. You never know where your career path will take you and it might just take you back to an employer you initially rejected.

Chris Enstrom is a freelance writer living in Nashville, Ind.

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