Deciding on Job Offers


Congratulations, you have a job offer! The decision to accept or decline an offer can be challenging, and there are many factors to consider. Your first reaction is often excitement, followed by relief to have something in hand. Always be certain to take the time you need to consider an offer carefully – don’t accept a job out of excitement or desperation, because you don’t want to find out a week later that it wasn’t the best decision for you. The question remains, though: How Do I Decide Whether to Accept a Job Offer?

Factors to Consider in your Decision

List of possible factors to consider when evaluating job offers:

  • Responsibilities, tasks, scope of work
  • Skills necessary
  • Working conditions
  • Size of organization, corporate culture
  • Colleagues and supervisor
  • Salary and salary reviews
  • Training and development opportunities
  • Potential for advancement
  • Job security
  • Status, prestige
  • Travel on the job
  • Parking/Transportation costs
  • Number of hours worked per week
  • Lifestyle options
  • Taxes
  • Retirement savings plan
  • Vacation time, leave policies
  • Geographic location; cost of living
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Bonuses, sign-on and annual
  • Relocation allowance
  • Non-compete agreements

Too many students make decisions based on a very narrow set of criteria, particularly on the basis of salary. You have to be the person to work in this job for 40, 60, or 80 hours a week, so be sure to take some time to evaluate what you truly want out of your job (which also includes consideration of things like: How much leisure time will I have? What geographic location do I prefer? What opportunities will there be for professional growth? etc.). Your most important considerations are probably about the job itself, the quality of work and responsibility you will have, and the people you will work with. Did you like the people you met during the interview process? What sorts of new skills and knowledge will you develop from this job? Are you going to be exposed to people in your career field who can serve as good teachers and mentors?

When it comes to compensation, salary is not the whole story. Consider the benefits package: a full employee benefits package can add 30-40% to your base salary. For certain types of jobs, more and more employers are now also offering stock options as part of the package. Some employers will subsidize or completely pay for your graduate degree. For certain faculty jobs within higher education, the package might also include travel and start-up research funds. Other important benefits to look for are vacation and sick time, health coverage, life and disability insurance, profit sharing or retirement benefits, and dental, vision and prescription plans. More enlightened employers are also providing on-site or subsidized day care and a flexible parental leave policy.

What if you have just been offered your dream job, but at a disappointingly low salary? Express your enthusiasm for the job, but ask the employer whether or not he or she has any flexibility in determining the salary. Listen carefully to the response, because it will give you an idea of whether or not it’s worthwhile to pursue the issue. Remember, a high salary won’t make you happy if you’re in the wrong job. Don’t make your decision on financial grounds alone.

Many students make decisions based on the perceived reputation of the firm. Certainly, there are some organizations that “everyone” has heard of. But, do you like the people there? How much do you know about the corporate culture and the ins and outs of daily work life in that organization? A well-known, highly reputable firm might look nice on your resume, but be sure you have truly evaluated the people and can feel confident that it is the right environment for you. Again, a big-name firm won’t make you happy if you are in the wrong job.

Finally, keep in mind that this one job will not determine the course of your entire career. Although some jobs seem like a “better” place to begin a career, your success and satisfaction are determined largely by your own effort, willingness to work hard toward goals, and a bit of luck. If your first job is not what you had hoped for, then make a change and find something else. Stay focused on the things you most enjoy and usually the rest falls into place.

Decision, Deadlines and Pressure

Most employers will allow you a reasonable and fair amount of time to decide on a job offer – and this is something that can be negotiated. Because of the competitive nature of recruiting in some industries, and due to the tight job market, some employers may present decision deadlines that are too short (less than one week). Still other employers may go so far as to extend an “exploding offer” (i.e., if you don’t accept a job by the stated deadline, the job offer is rescinded). Although Career Services requests those employers using On-Campus Recruiting to avoid the use of undue pressure through exploding offers, we cannot require employers to adhere to this request.

If the employer gives you a deadline that seems reasonable to you, then try to accommodate the request. If the employer doesn’t give you a deadline, be sure to ask for one. If you are given a deadline but need more time to make an informed decision, then ask the employer if it is possible to have more time. Most employers understand that you are making a very important decision and more often than not will be willing to do as much as they can to allow you the time you need. You might say, “Before I make my final decision, I’d like to be certain I have all the information I need by completing all the interviews I have already arranged. I want to emphasize how interested I am in your firm. Do you have some flexibility with your deadline for my decision?” You also need to be respectful of the company’s time and expenditure in this process. If you have no intention of accepting an offer, inform the employer as soon as possible so they can make offers to other candidates.

When you are interviewing on campus, odds are that you will be interviewing with multiple companies and will hopefully be waiting for multiple offers. If you are waiting to get feedback on multiple final round interviews, it can be really tough because not all firms operate on the same timeframe. Sometimes the timing is awful: Company A needs a final decision by Thursday, but Company B isn’t going to extend offers until next Tuesday. Once you receive a job offer, it is perfectly acceptable to contact the other firms of interest to you or with whom you have already interviewed to see if they can accommodate an earlier interview date or give you a more firm date on which they will make their decision. Mentioning the fact that you have another offer (especially if it is in the same industry) can provide leverage with other companies in deciding on your application. Always be courteous, “I recently received a job offer from Company A, and therefore I wanted to discuss the possibility of arranging an earlier interview date with you.” Don’t presume that they will be able to accommodate you, and don’t be insistent once the answer “no” has been given.

How to Handle Exploding Offers

If you are faced with an early deadline, contact your career advisor to discuss your options. We are happy to discuss how to negotiate for more time to make a careful decision. It is completely reasonable to expect at least two weeks to consider offers received in the fall. Although it may not seem like it, you have considerable power. Many students have decided that they will not be bullied. They have informed companies that they need more time, and have walked away rather than commit too soon.

Our belief is that this undue pressure increases the chances of reneging, and turns off the very students – those willing to take a risk – that the companies are most anxious to recruit. But this is how some firms operate. Ask yourself: do I want to work for such an organization?

I Accepted One Job, but I Just Got a Better Offer

Once you accept a job offer, you should notify all other employers with whom you may have offers pending. Having accepted an offer, you have made a contract with an employer and you are then obligated to withdraw from all other job search activities. It is not ethical, nor is it good for your reputation and integrity, to accept a job offer and then renege because a better job has come along. This reflects very poorly on you and the University as a whole. If you have any questions about the timing of your response, ask a career advisor.

If you aren’t sure about a job, you would be better served to keep looking for a job that offers a better “fit” than accept a job out of desperation. This may be more or less economically feasible for some, however, so consider alternatives like working for a temp agency, or pursuing a postdoc if you are graduate student, while continuing to pursue the “right” full-time opportunity. While you might be anxious about not having a job by graduation, the majority of Penn students who want to find employment do within a few months after graduation. Persistence pays dividends.

Please let us know how things are going. Let us help you in your decision-making process, so that you can exercise as much control as possible at this important time. And from all of us at Career Services, best of luck with your job search.

By Jingy Yen
Jingy Yen Associate Director, Wharton Undergrad