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The Riley Guide

Evaluating and Negotiating
Job Offers

In today's economic climate, any worthwhile job offer can seem like an unexpected gift. But the arrival of an offer doesn't necessarily mean the hard part's over. It's still crucial to read the offer and contract carefully, analyze your long-term career goals, and consider a potential exit strategy for down the road. Here, we'll explain how to frame these kinds of negotiations in terms of your worth to the company, and make sure you're getting the deal you deserve.

Evaluating a Job Offer

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Even if you've been unemployed for a while, taking the wrong job too hastily can result in worse stress, not to mention lost time that could've been spent tracking down a better-fitting position. Keep in mind that not all employers will treat you fairly - so before you sign on that dotted line, it's entirely reasonable to ask the employer for a few days to think the offer over. This will give you a little time to evaluate the details of the offer, do a little background research on the company, and maybe even wait for a competing offer to arrive.

Aside from obvious concerns like the job's salary and benefits, it's important to consider how often a potential employer will consider you eligible for reviews of your performance and salary (i.e., potential raises), how many paid sick days you'll get, and whether you'll be expected to work on national holidays. Though you may be comfortable making some concessions in these areas, you'll still be doing yourself a favor by checking them out now. And if any of them is an absolute dealbreaker for you, you'll be even more relieved that you did some digging before you signed a contract.

Aside from obvious concerns like the job's salary and benefits, it's important to consider other factors...

Declining a Job Offer

Despite what some of your family members might say, turning down an unsatisfactory offer may be the most responsible decision you can make - and in fact, it may pave the way for a better offer from the employer. Even if you've already accepted (or indicated you'll accept) a given offer, you've still got time to back out gracefully if you want. Although it's a bad idea to burn a bridge with any company, a respectful phone call or letter can help keep the door open in the future.

Turning down an unsatisfactory job offer may be the most responsible decision you can make.

The offer's salary and hours might've been ridiculous, but there's no need to mention these factors when you decline it. Your goal, after all, is to leave a glowingly positive impression - especially since you never know who your interviewer's friends at other companies might be. So keep your refusal quick, sweet and to-the-point, emphasizing that you've carefully considered the offer, you regret that it doesn't seem like a good fit, and you appreciate the employer's consideration. No need to go into more detail than that. The most important rule - whether you're declining an offer you've just received or one you'd already accepted - is to respond as soon as you've made your decision.

Employment Contracts

The verbal agreement your employer offers may sound promising, but the only way to know for sure what you'll be getting is to read over the contract the employer gives you once you've accepted the job offer. First and most obviously, the contract's salary and benefits should line up precisely with what you were promised in the offer letter. Beyond that, you'll want to carefully read your job description and make sure your duties are laid out clearly. If you have any questions, now's the time to ask the employer.

An important distinction is whether your employment will be for a set length of time or "at will."

Another important distinction is whether your employment will be for a set length of time or "at will" - terminable at any point of your or the employer's choosing. Though an at will position may not be the most secure, it may also be easier to escape without a blemish on your CV, if that ever becomes necessary. Again, if the contract isn't clear about this, it's a very good idea to ask.

Submitting Your Resignation

Whether you've gotten a better offer from another employer or are just ready for some time off, a resignation that leaves a good impression can require a delicate touch. You never know when you might need a recommendation or professional connection from the employer you're about to leave, so it's worthwhile to spend a little time preparing some gracious phrasing for your resignation explanation. And although it's true that some "jilted" employers hold grudges over resignations, plenty of others will take you back if you find yourself in dire straits - provided, of course, that you've parted on good terms.

You never know when you might need a recommendation from the employer you're leaving, so keep your resignation kind.

When you announce your resignation to your boss, be careful to express only positive feelings about the company, and about your time with them. Your boss may express shock and indignation ("How can you leave at a time like this?"), curiosity ("You've got a better offer? How much? From where?"), desperation ("What can we do to keep you?"), or perhaps even a combination of all three. In all these cases, the important thing is to stick to your guns, keep the conversation simple and to-the-point, and promise you'll stay in touch. And unless your boss refuses to let you leave on good terms, that's a promise you'll want to keep, for the sake of your own career prospects.

Considering a Counter-Offer from your Current Employer?

If you've been a profitable employee, your boss may respond to your resignation by making a counter-offer - whether you've revealed any details of your future plans or not. Some career experts advise against accepting any counter-offer from your current employer, for two main reasons: First, your own reasons for leaving are likely to be about more than money; and second, it's extremely hard to get accepted into the inner circle of a company from which you once threatened to resign.

Certain factors may sometimes make a counter-offer from your current employer worth considering...

Still, certain factors may sometimes make a counter-offer from your current employer worth accepting. For example, a counter-offer from your current employer may prompt a competing employer to further sweeten the deal they're offering you. The bottom line, though, is that you've got to consider your reasons for wanting a change, and think about whether your current employer's counter-offer outweighs all those reasons. If it doesn't, you're probably better off spending your time more productively.

Negotiating

As the old saying says, everything is negotiable. If you've been putting in long hours and pulling in consistent profits for your employer, you're in a good position to negotiate a raise - regardless of when your next performance review is scheduled. Asking for more money may involve some of the trickiest conversations you've ever had - but your success in these conversations mostly boils down to how you present your request, and how well-informed and prepared you are as you launch the negotiation.

Entering a salary negotiation well-informed and prepared will boost your chances of success.

Start by doing a little on-the-ground research in your immediate work environment. How are the company's quarterly earnings looking? Are new staff pouring in, or is the company having trouble filling crucial positions? How in-demand is your own skillset? All these factors can give you leverage. Then run some searches on the website of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), as well as the sites of professional organizations in your industry. What are others earning in your field, at your level? The more sources you have to back up your worth to the company, the stronger your argument will be. And don't forget that in addition to (or instead of) a salary raise, you can also negotiate for more work-from-home days, more vacation time, or other perks that'll improve your quality of life.

Negotiating Relocation Expenses

If your employer is going to require you to relocate, they've hopefully discussed this with you in the initial negotiations, before you signed a contract. Even so, no two employers' relocation packages are exactly the same, and you may have some room to negotiate yours. As with negotiating raises and other perks, the key is to go into the discussion with reliable information on the relocation packages other employers are offering employees at your level and in your sector. You may be able to find this out with some Google searches - but if not, recruiters and staffing agencies in your field are also good sources for this kind of info.

No two employers' relocation packages are exactly the same...

At the very least, a relocation package should include some kind of housing assistance; preparation of necessary documents, including visas and work permits; assistance in setting up foreign bank accounts, if applicable; and financial support for all business-related travel expenses. You may also be able to push for help with moving expenses, extra time off, and even assistance with the sale of your home and car. If you've got a strong bargaining position with the company, it's well worth your while to ask - because some companies do provide these benefits to relocating employees.

NonDisclosure / NonCompete Agreements

Should you sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or non-compete agreement (NCA)? The answer depends on what, exactly, it requires of you. Many companies simply use NDAs and NCAs as legal backup in case an employee shares trade secrets with competitors, or quits a job and immediately goes to work for a competitor. However, agreements like these aren't always legal - in California, for instance, NCAs are banned in the vast majority of circumstances - and they may include language that implicates you in legal trouble for discussing your job with anyone. Some of these agreements can even derail your long-term career. For example, this article says, one IT manager at a Fortune 500 company "didn't feel that he was moving up fast enough. So he accepted a higher-up IT management position at another big company. But when he gave his notice, his original employer threatened to enforce in court the noncompete agreement he had signed when he first took the job."

Read over an NDA or NCA before you sign it, and clearly understand what you might be getting into.

That means it's important to read over an NDA or NCA before you sign it, and make sure you clearly understand what you might be getting into. Check if the agreement allows you to list your work for the company on your resume and portfolio - and if it prohibits you from mentioning the work, check how long that prohibition remains in effect. If you don't understand why a certain type of information is protected under an NDA, it's perfectly reasonable to ask the company why this is. In fact, now's the time to ask about any wording in the agreement that you don't understand. You could be saving yourself a lot of headaches down the road by putting in a few extra minutes of reading time now.

Helpful links

Job-Offer Evaluation Checklist -- An extensive point-by-point list of important factors to consider in a job offer.

Salary Negotiation Guide -- Extensive tips and strategies for approaching a renegotiation of your salary, benefits, etc.

Don't sign away your future: Noncompetes done right -- A sobering look at what can go wrong with non-compete agreements, and how you can make sure your company's is right for you.