In the November 30, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to make a choice that more people would like to face:

I have two job offers, both in the same dollar range, from two good companies. I have never before been in a situation like this. The opportunities are very comparable. Usually there’s a pretty big difference between two job situations. How do I choose? Any thoughts or suggestions?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

It’s easy to get so excited about a job offer that you forget to vet the opportunity carefully. I’m convinced that the chief reason people go job hunting is because they took the wrong job to begin with. Don’t succumb to excitement when you should be focused on carefully analyzing the offer. When you have to choose between multiple offers, the importance of the vetting process becomes more evident.

Here’s my rule, which usually helps people crystallize the real issues: Select a job on the basis of the people, the product, and the reputation.

Sure, that sounds obvious. But when faced with an offer, most people think about only two things: the money and the job. Of course, these are two crucial decision factors. But they blind people to other important considerations. The money might be great, and the job exciting, but have you looked at the bigger picture? Have you carefully evaluated the success factors that will determine whether you’ll get to enjoy your work and that paycheck?

This idea might shock you, but consider it. If a company scores high on its people, product, and reputation, the actual job you take is almost secondary. Suppose you take a not-quite-perfect job for less money than you’d like, but in a company that scores high on those three criteria. If you are good — very good — at what you do, you will likely make your way into the right job quickly and the money will follow. The company’s people, product, and reputation will affect your long-term career success more than any job, which is after all ephemeral.

After doing this analysis, I think you’ll see differences that will lead you in the right direction. (One caution: In your present state of excitement, do not discount the possibility that your further analysis may reveal that neither offer is a right one. If you don’t exercise Choice and Control, any offer can look good to you.)

Is that job offer any good? Maybe the offer sounds great, but is the company good enough? How do you decide whether to accept a job offer? Is it the money? Is it the excitement of the job? Do you go with your gut, or do you stop and vet the employer more thoroughly, once you have that offer in hand?

I think that’s the point where you hold the strongest cards, and it’s when you should ask the really tough questions. But I don’t think an offer is worth anything, unless the people, the products and the reputation are top-notch.


  1. Can I ask a tough question? When do you ask the tough questions?

    Isn’t it supposed to be before the offer? Am I to assume that now I have an offer, that I didn’t bother to ask to meet everyone I was to work with? I didn’t do my research on the company and it’s products? I didn’t talk to everyone I could find?

    Ok. So I did all this and I landed two offers. Now how do I parse the comparison of these two offers?

  2. Whose employees are happier? Can you eat lunch at their cafeterias and snoop?

    A poisonous work environment will take everyone down with it.

    What does your gut say? Use your brain, yes, but don’t neglect your gut feelings either.

    You ask the tough questions when the offer is in hand and you are considering accepting it.

  3. Once upon a time in a far away land – one of the main deciding factors for taking a job was people, people, people.

    Now that we’re in hinterland, the ONLY deciding factor is stability, stability, stability. Mr/Ms two-job-offer – first of all congratulations. You’re going about this the right way – ask. In my opinion, if they’re both fairly equally weighted – I’d go with the company that looks like they may be around longer. And I’d also go with what Erika says – listen to your gut. Good luck to you!

  4. 24 years in recruiting have shown me over and over again that, assuming the money is close enough and the location is one in which you and your family are willing to live, there are only two questions 1) quality of the company and 2) quality of the people. Sure you research the numbers, you talk to folks in the industry etc but it is ultimately gut check time – how does the company feel to you? Does it feel like a place you would like to work? what about the people? how would you feel about introducing them to your family? you are single? how would you feel introducing them to your best friends or your Mom?
    Like many things in life the decision is not really quantifiable – at least, not completely.

  5. @Lucille: Ask the tough questions early if you can. But after receiving an offer, there are more questions you can ask – and I think the company is more likely to give you frank answers when it’s waiting for you to say yes. So I think some Q’s can be “expanded” after the offer. E.g., ask to sit in on a working meeting, or to spend some time with people you’d be working with if you took the job.

    @Peter: My only comment is that a job candidate must be careful about “feel.” It’s important to gather solid evidence, and that means meeting with the players before taking the offer. There are just too many times when I’ve seen candidates accept offers after they were shown the “gloss” – and once they were aboard, they got to see the underside of the operation. Certainly not much of this is “quantifiable,” but some evidence is based on judgment, and to make good judgments you need experience with the thing you’re judging.T

    That’s why I like to do a follow-up interview once the offer is in hand.