BEFORE You Accept a Job Offer, Know the Details!
By Susan P. Joyce
Great! You have a job offer! This is typically when the real negotiations begin.
Be VERY careful to learn as much as possible about the job BEFORE you accept this offer!
Speaking from painful experience, accepting a job offer without knowing most of the details in the list below can be a very big mistake, resulting in dissatisfaction with the job and another job search too soon.
As the wise old saying goes, "Look before you leap!"
Read this whole list of questions, below, to know some of the issues you may encounter and want to negotiate. The smartest strategy is to know the answers to most of the questions below before you accept this job offer.
Do NOT quit your job, if you are currently employed, until the details of the new job have been agreed upon, the employer has sent you an official offer, and you have accepted the terms in the offer letter.
Take Good Notes, and Follow Up!
Before you accept a job offer, you want to know exactly what is being offered by the employer. Take very careful notes when the questions below are answered, being careful to be correct and to specify the name and job title of the person who provided the answer.
Don't be afraid to ask for their standard employee documentation, like a list of the employee benefits (healthcare plan options, for example) or the other options for benefits.
Before you officially accept the offer, send a summary of your notes in an email to the HR representative. Document the salary, job title, starting date, and anything else you negotiated, requesting their confirmation of the details in your message.
Your message to them -- and their emailed confirmation in response -- confirms the important details about the job, providing you with some "proof" in case disagreement occurs later.
50+ Questions to Ask to Understand This Job Offer
When you ask many of the questions below, you are learning about the possibility of negotiating some (or many) of the details about this job. Some aspects may be "non-negotiable" to you or to the employer.
Don't be afraid to express your concern or request a modification if the answers don't work for you. This is the time for you to learn as much as you can about the job, and negotiate changes when necessary to make sure the job is a good fit for you.
The initial job offer is usually verbal. When you have received that job offer, you are able to ask the important details about the job before the offer is finalized.
Salary is only one aspect of a job offer. Don't immediately say "YES!" because you like the salary without understanding the other details about the job and the total compensation being offered.
This discussion will probably be between you and the Human Resources manager, with or without the presence of the hiring manager.
Know the Details About THIS Specific Job
First, ask for the details about the job being offered:
- What will be my official job title and department?
- Is this officially a full-time or a part-time job? What are the hours of work and days of the week work is needed?
- When do you want me to start?
If you are currently employed, you probably have an obligation to your current employer to give them a couple of weeks of notice before you leave. And, you may want a few days "off" between jobs.
Know your current employer's requirements for "notice" before you leave when you ask this question, and don't ignore those requirements to your current employer. You may need to negotiate a start date that is different from what the employer expects.
- What is the salary being offered?
- Is this an exempt or a nonexempt job?
Understand that in the USA, jobs fall into one of two categories that impact your income, defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA):
Jobs that are not covered by the FLSA are typically called "exempt" jobs (because they are exempt from the requirements of FLSA). This means your paycheck does not increase even if you work 80 hours a week.
Usually the job offer for an exempt jobs specifies a monthly or annual salary.
These jobs are covered by the FLSA requirements. You are likely expected to check in and check out of work so the employer knows exactly how many hours you have worked, and paid "over-time" when you work more than 40 hours in a week.
When the job offer specifies a dollars-per-hour salary, it is a "nonexempt" job (not exempt from the requirements of the FLSA rules).
Verify the Manager and the Work Day Details
It can be very discouraging to learn that your manager isn't the person you thought it would be on your first day of work. Or the job isn't what you expected. So, nail down those details as much as possible now.
Verify what you learned during the interview about who your boss will be and other relevant details. Organizations re-organize and people move on to other employers and other jobs.
You need to confirm the details about management and the work.
- Who will be my manager (and supervisor, if any)?
- Where is my boss located?
- Do I report to anyone else?
- What are the hours of work (e.g., 9 to 5, 5 days a week; 8 to 6, 4 days a week, 12 to 4, 3 days a week, etc.)?
- Where is this job located? Street address and, if an office job, location of desk or office.
- Is there an official time for lunch?
Nonexempt jobs usually have a specified time and length for lunch plus other short breaks for a full-day job
- How often will I receive a performance review?
- Who writes my performance review?
- Who contributes to my performance review?
- Will there be any "on-boarding" training to introduce me to how the organization operates? When? Where?
- (If this is a training or entry-level job) when can I expect to be promoted to the next level, assuming my performance meets your expectations?
- How often will I be expected to travel?
- Are employees able to work from home? If yes, then -
- How many days (or hours) a week do employees work from home?
- Will you (the employer) provide the equipment required for me to work from home? (Or, will you be using your own computer, internet connection, etc.? If so, does the employer reimburse you for your added expenses?)
Don't assume that anything will be consistent with your other jobs. I once accepted a job, expecting to work from 9 to 5 as I had in my previous jobs, only to discover -- on the first day -- that we were expected to work from 8:15 to 4:30 instead. So, I was late for my first day of work. Yikes!
Understand the Total Salary Being Offered
Be prepared to negotiate the salary by researching the salaries paid for this job by this employer and other employers using PayScale.com, Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, and other resources.
Now, learn the details about the salary being offered:
- What is the base salary you are offering?
- Is there a signing bonus?
This is typically for a more senior job or when there is competition among employers to fill this kind of job. If there is a signing bonus, ask for the details:
- How much will it be? It may be 5% to 10% of the base salary.
- When will it be paid? Often they are paid after you have been in the job for a few months.
- If the bonus is paid when you start the job, you may be expected to return all or some of the bonus if you leave the job too soon, typically before the end of your first year of employment.
- Will I be eligible to receive any other bonuses?
If the answer is "yes," ask these follow-on questions:
If the job is a sales or other job which includes commissions, how are commissions earned and paid?
- How is the bonus determined?
- When would I qualify for a bonus?
- When would I receive the bonus if I qualified?
Important: Learn How Compensation Works for This Employer
The starting salary is only the beginning. Don't assume that raises happen every six months or even every year.
Also, learn what you can about how the employer pays their employees and where this job fits. Most employers have "salary ranges" for each job, paying some jobs more than other jobs because of local competition for people with those skills or a limited number of people who are qualified.
Salary ranges have a minimum, midpoint, and maximum.
- Most employees are paid at or below the midpoint, assuming that as they gain more experience, they move on to the next higher-level job where they are at the bottom of the salary range again, but in a higher salary range.
- New workers are typically paid near the minimum of the salary range for that job unless they are considered "senior" for the job -- highly trained and experienced.
Ask these follow-on questions to understand more about where this job fits and the kind of salary increases you can expect in the future:
- How often is the salary paid? (weekly, monthly, every Friday, or ??)
- How is the salary paid? (check handed or mailed to you, or a direct deposit in your bank account?)
- When would I be eligible for a raise?
- How often do good performers receive salary increases? Other performers?
- What is an average salary increase for someone in this job?
- What is the salary grade for this job and the salary range for this grade?
In an attempt to pay employees fairly, most employers have developed salary grades for their jobs. The more senior jobs usually have a higher salary grade than the less senior jobs.
Each salary grade has a salary range -- the amount of salary that can be paid -- from a minimum to a maximum with a "midpoint."
The salaries for employees within a salary grade usually vary based on the amount of experience the employee has, fitting with the requirements of the job. Typically, most employees are at or below the midpoint for their range.
- Where does this salary fit into the salary range? (Top of the range, midpoint, or bottom?)
- Will I be paid for overtime work? (Applies only to "nonexempt" jobs)
- Is there an employee stock purchase plan? Are stock options available/given to employees? (Typically, available only for large corporations with publicly-traded stock.)
Ideally, this information is provided in a document for new employees that is handed to you, emailed to you, or available on the employer's internal network providing you with the details for your records. It is not usually included in the offer letter.
If you are relocating for this job and have received assurances that the expenses (and time) associated with the relocation will be covered, confirming those details now is a very good idea. Read Very Important Elements of Your Compensation Negotiation to understand some tricky details about the cost of relocation.
Learn About Other Benefits Available to Employees
The details on some of these benefits may be negotiable, and others may not. Choose the most important issues to you.
Look for answers to these questions:
- How much vacation time is earned per year? How is vacation accrued (1 vacation day earned each month or?)
- If I don't use my vacation time, will it be carried forward to the next period?
- What is the maximum vacation accrual limit?
- When will I be eligible to take some vacation time?
- How many/any "personal days" per year? When will I be eligible?
- How many sick days per year? When will I be eligible?
- Is health/medical insurance available/provided? Ask for their standard documentation.
Is dental insurance available/provided? Cost to employees?
Is vision/eye care insurance available/provided? Cost to employees?
Is disability insurance available/provided? Short-term, long-term, or both? Cost to employees?
Is life insurance available? How much is available (annual salary amount or?) and what portion is paid for by the employer? Cost to employees?
Is a 401K (for corporations) or 403B (for nonprofits and some other organizations) retirement savings program offered? What is the employer contribution? What is the maximum an employee can contribute?
Does the employer provide a work mobile phone or reimburse the cost of the personal mobile phone?
Assistance with school loan payments?
Training -- in-house or outside? Who pays and how much does the employer cover?
Is tuition reimbursement available for coursework related to the job? For coursework not related to the job?
Will a company car be provided (usually only sales jobs)?
Is reimbursement for travel expenses to/from work or compensation for mileage and parking expenses available?
Is dependent care available? On-site child care? Associated cost paid by the employee?
Is there an employee "wellness program" or health club membership benefit?
Do benefits increase with increased time of employment?
- When does it start? (There may be a "waiting period" of up to 90 days before coverage begins.)
- How much will it cost me per month?
- Does it cover families? If there is an extra cost to me for family coverage, what is that cost?
- Does it cover prescriptions? Cost to employees?
- Do I have an option to "opt out" of the medical insurance? Will my pay increase if I opt out?
Are there any other benefits available?
- Do employees qualify for added vacation time after ?? months or years of employment?
- When would I be eligible for a promotion?
You may also want to ask about internal promotions -- what the process is and when you would be considered for a promotion. Caution: Some employers may expect you to stay in this new job for at least a year before looking for another new job inside the organization, so this might be a question better asked at a later date.
Some employers may automatically promote you from a junior job to a more senior one as you gain experience and receive good performance reviews. Others will not.
The Contents of the Job Offer Letter
The final version of a job offer is usually documented in an offer letter. Whether it is a printed document or an email, be sure that the letter documents the important details of the job.
Do not assume that the offer letter will match the agreements made in the discussion. Trust AFTER you have verified!
Be very wary if the "official" offer doesn't agree with what you have negotiated. Read the letter carefully to be sure that the agreement is there before you sign or accept it.
The offer should include these important details:
- The job title
- Full-time or part-time
- The job's location
- The starting date
- The salary and exempt or nonexempt job classification.
- The manager's name and job title.
- Anything else you have negotiated that is not standard (amount of vacation, bonuses, training, etc.).
Once all of your questions have been answered satisfactorily, ask if they have any additional questions.
Read What to Expect in a Job Offer and Very Important Elements of Your Compensation Negotiation for more details.
The Bottom Line
Keep good notes in all of your discussions, particularly noting agreements on aspects of the job that are not standard for the employer. Hopefully, you won't receive any unpleasant surprises after you begin working in your new job. The best way to avoid unpleasant surprises is to ask your questions and know the answers before accepting their job offer.
Ask for documentation of everything so you have it for your records in case questions arise after you have started work.
Unfortunately, people leave organizations and organizations change frequently. So, do not expect all of these details to be "set in concrete" for you whole time working for an employer. In my career, I have accepted a job only to have a new boss and a different job title within a few months because the hiring manager left for a new job with a different employer and my employer reorganized.
More About Successful Salary Negotiation
About the author...
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.