As you make your way into the workforce, you might feel eager to take on the first job offer that comes your way. But I encourage you to proceed with thought, caution and with the best interests of your future self (and maybe, family) at heart. In this third and final installment of our series on advice for college graduates, we share a few questions to ask of yourself, and your potential employer, when it comes to your next chapter.
Develop Your Personal Brand, Daily
People hire those they like and connect with. You have an opportunity in front of you, every day, to present yourself as likable. Or not. What do you want people to remember? Be somebody you (and others) want to be around. (If you’re feeling bold, you can try this tact.)
Get involved in things you care about and with people you want to know, now. That’s, now. Not tomorrow, or this summer, or next year. Now. Whether it’s with the Chamber of Commerce, the food bank or your local Rotary Club, get yourself out there and meet people. Give of yourself by donating your time. Find areas that spark your passion and pursue them. Keep connections with everyone you meet and never burn bridges. Your town (state / nation / world) is small. Everybody knows everybody. No matter what career you are pursuing, one of your most valuable assets will be your relationships and the networks you foster. If you are sitting across the table from an employer and they see your involvement in the community, they’ll have confidence you plan to stay a while, and that you’re not someone who stands on the sidelines.
Every time I’m faced with the hiring process, I briefly review a candidates paper resume, then I Google them. You can bet others are doing the same. Keep your online and social media posts tasteful and – as much as possible – private. Change the settings on your profile(s) to private where possible, and before updating your public profile photo, ask yourself, “Does this picture give the impression I want a potential employer to have?” (If you’re doing a keg stand in the photo, the answer is no.)
Evaluate the Offer
As you review a job offer, we encourage you not to skip to the salary and consider it in a silo. Every job opportunity that crosses your path will have pros and cons, and some perks that extend far beyond the amount of your paycheck.
Review the employer retirement plan in detail. If you don’t understand, ask the HR department to help you interpret.
- What is the vesting schedule?
- What are your investment options?
- Is it a standard 401k plan, or something more unique?
- Does the employer match a percentage of your contributions? If so, is that match set, or does it change over the years / with the profitability of the company?
If you’re looking for more information on how best to get started with investments, click here to read our previous post on the topic.
Always have health insurance. If the job you’re courting doesn’t offer a group plan, factor out of pocket expenses into your decision, and your salary negotiation.
- What is your deductible?
- How much (if any) of the insurance premiums are paid by the employer?
- Is an HSA or FSA available? If so, does the employer make any contributions to those accounts?
Of course, salary is a big part of what you’ll be evaluating. Use PayScale.com or GlassDoor.com to understand how much someone with your education, experience and zip code can expect to make walking in the door. While you’re at it, get a sense of what your salary might be like with another 5 years of experience, or 10.
- Does your potential employer align with industry norms on salary?
- Is there a standard review / raise procedure in place?
- What are the benchmarks that you need to achieve in order to continue progressing?
One of the most important parts of evaluating an offer is to consider the opportunities for future growth and promotion, both in terms of your salary and your professional development.
- Is there a clearly defined career path?
- Does the company have procedures in place to support the development of their employees?
- What is the hierarchy of management and staff?
Finally, consider the soft benefits of the job.
- Is there some opportunity to telecommute?
- Is there flexibility in hours?
- Will your employer support your involvement in volunteer and professional development organizations? If so, to what extent? (Allowing time off to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity vs. paying your salary during that time away from the office.)
- What happens if you start a family?
All of these can make a job with a salary below your target a more attractive offer than one that may pay more.
Negotiate With Class
Salary is an important part of any career, but not only for the lifestyle it can afford you. A comfortable income can give you security, options and the opportunity to help others. It is incredibly difficult to be happy when you are broke, or constantly stressed about money.
Be polite, honest and compromising. Show that you’re willing to meet in the middle. Don’t haggle over the small stuff. If you ask for more than the initial offer, give tangible reasoning for your request. Why do you deserve to earn more than someone else they may have interviewed for this position? If you have a hard time coming up with an answer to that question, your counter may not be justified.
Prepare to be asked a couple of questions that might make you uncomfortable. Some employers will ask if you have other offers, if they’re your first pick and most awkwardly “If we make you an offer today, will you say yes?” Think through your responses to these questions in advance and don’t lie when answering them.
All of what I’ve said here is meant both to boost your confidence as you walk into that conference room. But please, don’t let it give you a sense of entitlement. Your job has the potential to be outsourced, and could certainly be filled by someone else who may or may not be more qualified than you. Be humble while at the same time, confident that you are the right fit. Once you accept an offer, show up every day with a willingness to learn. Seek ways to exceed expectations and you will make yourself indispensable.
We wish all of you the best as you pursue your next chapter in life.