Searching for a job is hard work. Scanning help-wanted listings, researching companies, sending out customized cover letters and résumés and attending interviews can be tiring and time-consuming. If you're like most job seekers, you're excited -- or at least relieved -- when your efforts result in an employment offer.
In some cases, a pressing need for a paycheck may outweigh any potential drawbacks to a new role, especially given the uncertain economy and rising prices for gas and food. But if you are in a position to be selective, you must consider every angle before rushing to accept a prospective employer's offer. After all, a new full-time job usually isn't a short-term affair. Following are some guidelines to help you determine whether to accept a job offer or wait for a better opportunity:
Scrutinize the job description
Carefully reviewing the job requirements, key tasks and responsibilities, as well as whom you will report to, may be the single most important step in assessing an offer from a potential employer. Ask yourself these questions:
If the answer to any of these questions is no, accepting the position might not be in your best interest. While some negative factors can be overlooked -- a slightly lower starting salary than you prefer, for instance -- fundamental problems with the job itself are a definite deal-breaker.
Evaluate the company
The work environment affects how you feel on a daily basis, so make sure it's one you feel comfortable in. If, for example, you strongly prefer a conservative corporate culture with set hours and established processes, you probably won't be happy in an informal atmosphere with a "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" business approach.
Also consider the work styles of your future boss and co-workers. If you sense that you and your potential colleagues have conflicting styles or personalities, tread carefully. While differences in character and opinion can result in better group dynamics, frequent disagreements often lead to unproductive and unhappy work teams.
Review the compensation package
How does the salary compare to what you made in your last position or what others in your specialty and with the same skills earn? Take a look at the benefits package, too. How generous are the perks? Keep in mind that attractive benefits can sometimes outweigh sub-par compensation.
Or perhaps you're offered a job that requires you to work long hours but offers the option to telecommute. Being able to work from home several days a week may give you the time you need to attend to personal obligations and compensate for the rigid work schedule. Additionally, if an offer meets most of your requirements but doesn't include a benefit that's important to you -- such as tuition reimbursement for a professional certification you seek -- it doesn't hurt to ask if that perk can be included in your employment agreement.
Ask about opportunities for growth
There's nothing worse for your career than getting stuck in a dead-end job. While a so-so role may be fine in the short term, holding a position that does not allow for advancement for an extended period of time can take a toll on your health and happiness.
Try to get a realistic idea of the growth opportunities available within the company. For example, have people who held the job before you moved up with the firm? Where did your prospective manager start out? If the answers to such questions don't seem to support a policy of promoting from within, you may want to continue your job search.
Careful consideration of the issues discussed above will help you decide whether to accept, reject or negotiate a better offer. If, after evaluating each of these points, you are still unsure which way to swing, go with your gut. If your intuition tells you that something is a little off, conduct some additional research or ask more questions of the hiring manager before making your decision. Moving into a new role is a big step, and you want to enter the arrangement knowing all the facts. With a thoughtful analysis of the pros and cons, you'll be able to make the best decision for your career.