Question

The last two times I accepted a job I soon regretted it. In both cases I was happy with the money, I liked the manager, and the job seemed a fit. But that’s clearly not enough. You must have some rules of thumb about the decision to reject or accept a job offer. What are they?

Nick’s Reply

accept a jobIt would help to know what happened at those two jobs that led to regret. If the reasons were the same, then you may have the problem right there. But even if that’s the case, I’m more concerned about your criteria for accepting a job. They’re not sufficient.

Insufficient reasons to accept a job

The compensation matters, of course. Anyone that suggests money is not a prime consideration is lying, is a fool, or is trying to distract you from a low offer. And just because you like someone doesn’t mean you will like working for them (or having them work for you, if you’re the manager).

Then we have your third criterion: “job fit.” This is perhaps the biggest misconception job seekers have. You might check off every box on the job description, but that doesn’t mean you’re a fit.

How can that be? Well, virtually everyone I’ve ever polled laughs when I ask them whether, six months into a new job, the work they’re doing is what they were told when they were hired. The work almost always changes and evolves, sometimes so extremely that the new hire is doing something entirely different from what they expected. (Of course, this could be a good thing or a bad thing!)

So, what can you hang your hat on when deciding whether a job is right for you?

Necessary reasons to accept a job

As you have undoubtedly experienced, most employers take their time filling a job. Most job seekers, on the other hand, are rushed. They don’t consider enough criteria when making a decision to accept a job.

I’ll grant you the three criteria you’ve mentioned are meaningful. But all three are characteristics of a job opportunity that you will instantly feel in your gut. It takes no real effort to consider them.

  • I feel okay about the salary,
  • The manager and I hit it off,
  • The work described is right for me,

That may all be necessary to justify accepting a job, but it’s not sufficient. I think there’s more, but it requires some effort and patience.

4 criteria to accept a job offer

There are four other criteria you should apply to every job opportunity you encounter: the company’s (1) people, (2) products and technology, (3) finances, and (4) prospects. I believe if any one of these criteria is not met, you should walk away from the deal.

1. The people

The boss is just one part of the team, or the company, you’re joining. It’s likely that several other employees and managers will have a greater impact on your success (and satisfaction) at the job.

If the job is in Engineering, for example, it matters who is running Manufacturing and who is running Sales. If these latter managers are not competent, what the Engineering team designs may not be fully realized as viable products, and Sales may not be able to sell them. So you need to assess people at the company beyond just your boss before you decide to yoke your career to theirs.

Before making your decision to join up, ask to meet two or three managers whose departments are relevant to your own success. Also ask to meet two or three members of the team you’d be working on.

Accept the job only if the people in the company are competent, if not exceptional. It’s up to you to figure this out.

2. The products (and perhaps the technology)

Sure, you could do the job, but will you be working on products (or services) that are among the best in the business? Are the products competitive in the company’s market? Or is the company’s product line middling, if not low quality? Do customers rave positively about these products, or do they complain?

Does the company’s technology stack up well, or is it outdated? Will you be using tools at your job that enable you to work efficiently and to do your very best work? Or will you need to use bubblegum and baling wire to keep the machine working?

If the product line is not a shining light in the industry, and the company’s technology is obsolete, the company’s prospects probably aren’t good. Your prospects won’t be good, either.

Examine how the company’s products, services and technology compare to the competition’s. Unless you’re taking the job just for a paycheck, think twice before mounting a lame horse.

3. The company’s finances

I’d never take a job without meeting a finance manager or two at a company, or at least talking with someone that understands the company’s financial condition. This might seem irrelevant if you’re a machinist, or a programmer, or a production-line worker. But if the company has financial troubles, it may not be able to meet payroll. It may need to lay off workers before long. It may be unable to improve its technology, or afford to hire great sales people, and to compete effectively in its market.

If you’re considering a management job at a smaller company, ask for a brief meeting with the CFO. Ask about cash flow, debt and sources of funding for future growth. Even if you don’t know what these things are, the reaction you get will be telling.

At the very least, do an online search about the company’s sales and profits (if it’s publicly held). A simple search for any news articles could provide valuable insights.

4. The company’s pipeline and prospects

Invest the time to learn what new products, technologies, and business deals the company has in the pipeline. Does it have an edge over its competitors? Is it attracting new customers?

This is actually an amalgamation of the previous three criteria because we’re interested in the company’s plans for the future: What kinds of employees and managers is the company trying to attract, what new products and customers are in its pipeline, and how will it ensure its financial viability? What does the near- and long-term future look like?

If you want your future at a company to be good, you need to know how good the company’s prospects are.

Is this overkill?

In today’s fast-moving economy, when workers are more likely to jump jobs more often and employers are more likely to hire and lay off quickly, these suggestions might seem like overkill. Why do all that homework, ask for extra meetings and spend time thinking about all these factors — when you don’t plan to stick around a company very long anyway?

My answer is simple: You might get some big bumps in pay by changing jobs frequently among questionable companies. But there’s a lot to be said for working with high quality people that are producing exciting, desirable products that generate healthy profits — because that’s the path to a satisfying future for you and your employer.

A good salary, a boss you like, and work that matches your skills may be necessary for a job to work out well for you, but they’re not sufficient. Without meeting the four criteria I’ve described, I think you’re likely to be seeking another job again soon.

Accept the right job offer

What I’m really saying is, you should put a lot more into judging the place where you’re considering investing most of your waking hours. I find that the #1 reason people go job hunting is because they took the wrong job to begin with. Too often, they jump at what comes along — especially money! — rather than carefully choose the jobs and companies they pursue. The people, the products, the financial condition and the future prospects of a company will have a lot to do with your personal success.

I have no quarrel with you if you just need a job as quickly as possible so you can put food on the table and pay the rent. Take any job you must. But if you want a job with a future where you will be happy, successful and well-paid, it’s worth taking the trouble to figure all this out before you accept a job offer — so that you don’t have to go job hunting again any time soon.

What criteria do you consider important when deciding to reject or accept a job offer? Which of the four we discussed is most important to you? What criteria would you add?

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12 Comments
  1. Thank you so much Nick for this advice. I would say that my first criteria is how far is the office from home and my children’s school, then money (or course), if I get along with the manager, if I fit to the job and if I can work remotely.

    What I would add is getting to know people in the company and company finance. But all your criteria can be added really.
    Thanks

  2. I agree that talking to others directly “interfacing” with your area is important, as is getting a grasp of where the company’s going, etc. Unfortunately, we usually don’t get to do that in interviews. Maybe because the timeslot allotted for the interview was too short, they didn’t invite those folks to the interview (or maybe they want to keep that stuff “under wraps”), so you might only have to find out by taking the job and learning then.

    I have tried to ask some of those questions when I interviewed, and even just to talk with peers, and those questions are ignored.

    I know what I’d do if I can’t talk with peers. or even folks in adjacent areas. but I’m not sure about the other things being addressable in the interview process.

    • @Bob P: Some questions are indeed touchy to some employers. (If they’re too touchy, then you’ve got to re-think working for that company.) I find it may be best to hold off asking them until you (the candidate) have more leverage. I like doing this after an offer has been made and before it’s accepted. Upon receipt of a bona fide written offer, you have leverage. The company just made a commitment to you, and that means they’ve spent some money getting it done. I don’t mean the salary. I mean the overhead cost of hiring.

      This is the point where you immediately call (don’t e-mail) the hiring manager, express your thanks for the offer and your excitement about working together, and then gently ask to meet a few more members of the team — “and I’m happy to do this as expeditiously as possible because I don’t want to slow down your hiring process.” (This is why you call rather than e-mail, and why you do it immediately.)

      Some employers — especially HR — will balk at this. You can respond with something like, “We’re making a big commitment to one another, and I think it’s worth the time to make sure we’re a good fit. I’m glad to come in for these follow-up meetings — I think this is more than worth it.”

      If the company has integrity and is seriously interested in hiring you, this demonstration of due diligence on your part should not trouble them. If I were the hiring manager, I’d be impressed because you’ve demonstrated that you’re not in this just for a paycheck. You really want to make sure it’s a good match. What manager would not be impressed that you want to learn all you can about the team? (Yah, I know the answer to that: a manager and company you oughta think twice about working for!)

      So my response to your concern about doing this in the interview process is, wait til the ball is in your court — when you have the offer. I’m sure some will disagree with this because it may upset the employer, but taking a job is a serious decision. The employer’s reaction is part of the feedback you need.

  3. Nick,

    Why does HR and employer balk at this request?

    • @Marilyn: Some in HR seem to feel that when the employer gets to the offer stage, all the talking and meeting should be done. I think that’s when it starts, because now the candidate has the employer’s full attention. Not all in HR view it this way, of course, but I’ve seen enough HR managers determined to rush things along at that point.

  4. As noted, we all get the need for a paycheck & at times that need is the primary driver for the hunt. Unfortunately sometimes it shoves the other considerations aside. Where you MUST take a paycheck job, bolted to good intentions to do better later. And later has a nasty habit of moving out of reach.

    Nick’s 4 criteria are talking about critical context. That context is all about the major elements that affect building and maintaining the foundations of one’s broader long term goal of developing your life’s work (career for want of a word). A career that will not just compensate you & that of your family, but do so very well in all it’s forms….pay, benefits, a good life. Your career will come about via your own company or some organization(s) of your choice.

    This is an oversimplification, but I relate jobs, and a focus on job hunting to present need for compensation. And context (who, what, when, where, why), as relating to the broader development on one’s career. And running through both of them is change.

    Of course, jobs and careers are mutually inclusive. Jobs are a career building block, and your enterprise or other organizations provide the environment in which the jobs are found (or better that you create).

    One of my mantras is don’t look for jobs, look for companies. Nick’s criteria spells out what organizations to look for, and/or how to assess their career potential. Does it (or not) provide you a good sandbox to play in to for rewarding career development.

    I like the criteria because, you can apply them to flip the usual process and search for target companies that offer you solid career potential. You can then be your own recruiter to define a role/job for yourself, and sell it to decision makers in those target companies.

    Jobs are actually ghost-like. They change, go away, move to other places, but if you’ve found a good company, the foundation/context remains, and in the right company, most likely gets better.

    Another consideration. Even if you don’t buy into looking for companies the context is excellent research material to prepare you for a better interview. Interviewers, if they get any questions, most likely they will be about the job, not the company. Questions based on the 4 criteria signal you are not tire kicking for a job, but are interested in the company. Managers really do notice & appreciate people who ask good questions & doing so will make you stand apart from the competition.

    Some other points. A good interview isn’t all about good rapport vibes. it will expose you to the other people suggested in the criteria. They’ll be included, you won’t have to ask. I found this especially true in small companies. For example when I recruited VPs for a small privately owned company, I’d include the CFO and Owner, potential peers, subordinates.

    Not only may you experience a seemingly different job when you arrive, how about the instance when the hiring manager who offered it, is gone when you arrive? or he/she internally moved on & you report in to a stranger. Or the context moved via a reorg? But..that’s not all bad. As I said, change is all around you & that stuff could happen due to rapid growth.

    • @Don:

      “I like the criteria because, you can apply them to flip the usual process and search for target companies that offer you solid career potential. You can then be your own recruiter to define a role/job for yourself, and sell it to decision makers in those target companies.”

      Thanks for putting it that way, Don! I hope people read that several times and let it sink in. This is the top-level strategy for getting the right job! Select companies, not jobs. One right company can yield many right jobs.

      “Questions based on the 4 criteria signal you are not tire kicking for a job, but are interested in the company. Managers really do notice & appreciate people who ask good questions & doing so will make you stand apart from the competition.”

      Well, good managers do! That’s why this is also a good way to weed out the undesirable “opportunities” early.

  5. Nick,

    Your columns are always fascinating, but this one was really great. Nothing like a list to compare your job search to.

    Don Harkness made some excellent points about the old, “Look for a career, not a job.” Just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it’s not relevant.

    As far as the criteria, I would modify number 2 to include companies that are looking to revamp themselves. This is a very tough call, but if you’re comfortable with risk, it can be very rewarding to help turn a failing company around. Of course there is always the prospect that no matter what you and your peers do, it’s not enough to save the place. But when you succeed, it’s immensely rewarding.

    I think if you can truly answer all four criteria before accepting a new position, you will have a much better chance at happiness and success.

    • @Larry: Some of the very best managers I’ve known are turnaround experts. They tend to move on when they get it done, and do it again elsewhere. It’s an art and a very rare skill.

  6. The example of being hired into a solid engineering group, but having to cross-function with an incompetent manufacturing or sales groups, sums it up well. It can go south very quickly once onboarded. Been there, done that.
    While it can be both exhausting and frustrating, I think interviewing with the key people or departments you’d interact with if hired is beneficial. I believe “one bad apple does in fact spoil the entire bunch”.
    The young men I mentor like to say “I don’t get a good vibe” when something seems out of sorts. While some of my fellow boomers (I’m 64) excoriate them for this, they’re spot on 100% correct. Not trusting my gut has got me into some toxic jobs in my day.
    For me, first and foremost now is the people and the vibe. As the article points out, that’s not entirely fool proof, but it’s a good gauge of what a work culture is like.
    Managers and owners are the face of a company, and I’ve found that the foot soldiers reflect this.
    Today, my policy is a prospective employer has a 10 minute window to ease the scaries, and quell my suspicions, otherwise they’re history. This means everyone I interact with. If one spoils the broth, then the broth is poured down the drain.
    A bit harsh, but reality learned the harsh way.

  7. As a retired recruiter in no1 or 2 on my list is why you are leaving your current company is critical If every, ore most every reason is negative don’t do it. You will the bulk of the time make the wrong choice. It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire.

    My recruiting mentor and maybe the best I ever met (sorry Nick you are only no 2.) told me a story one time.

    Jerry was an engineering recruiter. He had a long time candidate that he had placed a couple times. This candidate had a very good career in engineering but he had wanted to design windmills He got an offer for less mone one day but something certainly something he could live on. Follow your dream

    Typically my experience money is at least third or fourth on the list I recruited in high tech and did a few software sales people. This was back when those people made high 5 figure incomes. The only reason they moved was a higher income. I stopped doing that was because the only thing that drove them was money. That is very difficult for a recruiter.

  8. OF COURSE MONEY IS VERY DIFFICULT FOR A RECRUITER. MONEY MATTERS TREMEMDOUSLY FOR THE EXECUTIVES, ITS GOOD THAT HR UNDERSTANDS THAT IT IS ALSO TREMENDOUSLY IMPORTANT FOR ALL THE REST OF THE POTENTIAL AND EXISTING EMPLLYEES.

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