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Job Offer Letters: How to Read Between the Lines

written by: Audrey F. Henderson•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 5/23/2011

You've been searching for weeks or maybe months and you finally have a job offer in hand! Before you say yes, pay attention to the details. Some factors such as salary are obvious, but your gut instinct may provide the best guide in making a decision.

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    Now, What Do You Do?

    The interview went well, your references checked out and your interviewer advised you to expect a job offer by mail or email. When it arrives, your initial reaction is one of pleasure, and perhaps relief, especially if your job search has stretched for many months. Your first instinct is to rush to the phone to accept right away. However, you should check out the job offer letter or message carefully before making a firm commitment.

    Are the basic terms of the job what you expected from your discussions with your prospective employer? Is the compensation sufficient to meet your financial obligations? Will you receive paid time off for vacations or sick days? Does the benefits package include health insurance? Does the job itself represent a career advance? Are the duties of the job and the company culture a good match for your temperament, lifestyle and personal values? The answers to these questions determine what to analyze on a written job offer, and whether you should accept, renegotiate, or walk away.

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    Examining the Job Offer

    Job Offer Letter -- Egan Snow The job offer should outline your exact job title, starting salary, work location, schedule, your immediate supervisor's name and the department where you'll be assigned. The letter may also include details about benefits such as onsite day care or profit sharing, although you may also discuss those details with a human resources officer before you actually begin working.

    Your interview may have included discussions about a signing bonus, a delayed start date, paid relocation expenses or other special accommodations. If the job offer does not include these provisions, ask to have them included in a revised job offer letter or hiring agreement. The time to work out these details, or any questions or misgivings you may have, including negotiating a more generous compensation package is before you actually accept the offer.

    The temptation may be great to accept an offer right away despite lingering doubts, especially if you have been out of work for a long time, you may be hesitant to push your prospective new employer about such details. However, your negotiating position will never be stronger. The company has demonstrated it believes you are the right person for the opening and has made a commitment to hire you. In addition, verbal agreements are often difficult to enforce, advises Kevin Buckley on The Insider's Guide to Job Search.

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    Researching Your New Job and Company

    You have probably already researched the company during your job search. After receiving a job offer, your evaluation should focus on determining whether the working conditions and company culture are compatible with your work style and personal values. Check out the company website and ask the public relations department for an annual report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests. Get in touch with anyone you know who works or used to work for the company.

    Identify how well the job matches with the features of a job most important to you. Make a list of your absolute core requirements along with factors on which you're willing to compromise. Compare your job offer against your list, developing an honest assessment of how well the job and its duties match with the items on your list. For instance, opportunity for advancement may be essential for you to be satisfied in a position. If you don't ever foresee the opportunity for a promotion in your prospective new company, how happy will you be in a year's time or longer? On the other hand, a job that meets all your core requirements may have a somewhat longer commute than you would like. If commute time has a lower priority on your list, the job offer is probably a good match, NewEnglandJobs.org explains.

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    Red Flags and Warning Signs

    In determining what to analyze on a written job offer, don't forget to consider red flags that should make you think twice about whether to accept or decline the offer. A bad fit may also result in your winding up back in the job market after only a few months. This could adversely affect any unemployment compensation you receive. Your benefits are based on the salary for your most recent employment, depending upon how long you stay with the company. Further, if you leave a position voluntarily, you will probably lose your eligibility for unemployment insurance altogether.

    ashleigh290 -- Warning -- Warning Flag in Seaside Inadequate compensation is a major reason to turn down a job offer. You will almost certainly feel unappreciated, and may be tempted to jump ship as soon as you receive a better offer, burning bridges that may come back to haunt you, U.S. News and World Reports warns. A low-ball offer of salary and fringe benefits from a prospective employer, or substantive downgrading in the stated salary or duties of the position are strong indications that you may be exploited once you're on the job. This is especially true if these factors are based on knowledge by the employer that you're desperate for work, Gradversity warns.

    If there has been a succession of short-term employees for the position you're being offered or the company has a reputation for treating its workers poorly, you should seriously consider declining the position, even if you're desperate for work, Monster advises. Even if the company treats its employees well, if the culture is a bad fit for your personality or values, you will likely be unhappy.

    Don't dismiss any misgivings you may have in your gut about the job offer, the company, or your prospective new supervisor. Even if you can't determine a concrete reason for your hesitation, your instincts may be picking up on potential land mines.You should not feel apprehension and dread the prospect of starting a new job.

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    References

    • ABA Search and Staffing Staff. Handling the Job Offer, at ABA Search and Staffing, retrieved at http://www.abastaff.com/resources/interview/offer.html
    • Paul W. Barada, Job-Offer Evaluation Checklist, at Monster, retrieved at http://career-advice.monster.com/salary-benefits/Negotiation-Tips/Job-Offer-Evaluation-Checklist/article.aspx
    • Kevin T. Buckley, CTC, Patience In Negotiating - Reviewing Your Agreement, in The Insider's Guide to Job Search, retrieved at http://jobsearchguide.ca/Patience_In_Negotiating_Reviewing_Your_Agreement.htm
    • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Evaluating a Job Offer, in Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, retrieved at http://www.bls.gov/oco/oco20046.htm
    • Donna DeZube. Part-Time Work Can Lead to Full-Time Trouble with Unemployment Benefits, at Monster, retrieved at http://career-advice.monster.com/salary-benefits/benefits-information/unemployment-benefits-part-time-work/article.aspx
    • Alison Green. Five Reasons to Turn Down a Job Offer, in U.S. News and World Reports, retrieved at http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2009/10/26/5-reasons-to-turn-down-a-job-offer
    • Alison Green. Five Things to Do When You Get a Job Offer, in U.S. News and World Reports, retrieved at http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2010/07/19/5-things-to-do-when-you-get-a-job-offer
    • Stephanie Legatos. How to Evaluate a Job Offer, at NewEnglandJobs.org, retrieved at http://www.opnocsne.org/Nonprofit_Employment_Articles/how_to_evaluate_a_job_offer.htm
    • Caroline Levchuck. Just Say No: Five Reasons to Turn Down a Job Offer, at Monster, retrieved at http://career-advice.monster.com/job-search/career-assessment/just-say-no-five-reasons-to-turn-down-a-job-offer-hot-jobs/article.aspx
    • Tim Tyrell-Smith. Wrong Job or Job Offer? Do Not Settle., in Ideas for Job Search, Career and Life, retrieved at http://timsstrategy.com/wrong-job-or-job-offer-do-not-settle/
    • Trevor Wilson. Six Reasons to Turn Down a Job Offer, at Gradversity, retrieved at http://www.gradversity.com/6-reasons-to-turn-down-a-job-offer/

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