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Careers After College: Job OffersHow to Navigate and Nail Your First Job Offer After Graduation

Graduating from college is an exciting time, and most look forward to making the transition from starving student to real-world worker. Landing that first job is a huge accomplishment, but it can be a tricky process, as graduates may not know exactly what goes into the hiring decision. Making the right choice is important not only for short-term satisfaction, but also for laying the foundation for a career. Read more to find out more about how the workplace operates, how to evaluate and compare job offers, how to negotiate a higher salary, and how to ultimately accept or decline a position.

Meet the Experts

Written By

Kenya McCullum

Making the Decision:
Questions to Ask While Evaluating a Job Offer

Choosing among multiple job offers can be nerve-wracking; however, prospective employees can ask themselves several questions to help reach the best decision.

18 Career Terms to Know Before Accepting a Job

When people get their first job after college, they may not be aware of the ins and outs of how full-time employment works. Graduates should familiarize themselves with the following common workplace terms:

Base Salary

The salary workers receive based on a specific unit of time, such as an hour, day, week, month, or year. Base salary does not include overtime pay, incentives, commissions, or benefits.

Bonus

A payment that workers receive in addition to their base salary. Performance-based bonuses are often given to workers for completing a specific task or achieving a goal. Bonuses can also be non-performance based, and are typically given to workers at the end of the year.

Benefits

Benefits are the compensation workers receive in addition to salary. Benefits can include health insurance, disability pay, life insurance, retirement plans, and tuition assistance.

Paid time off

Paid time off is part of an employee’s compensation package and can include sick days, vacation, bereavement time, and personal days.

Employment Contract

An employment contract is the agreement that an employer makes with an employee regarding salary and benefits. Contracts can be issued in writing or verbally.

Direct Deposit

Direct deposit is an alternative to receiving paper checks, and is required by some employers. Wages are automatically electronically transferred into an employee’s bank account.

401(k) Plan

This common retirement plan allows workers to make deposits directly into a tax-advantaged investment account. Some employers also make matching contributions to these accounts (up to a certain amount) on their employees’ behalf.

Insurance Plans

Employers offer different types of insurance plans as part of their benefits packages. The following are some examples of the insurance that workers may have access to through their jobs.

  • Health

    Health insurance is provided to employees to help them pay for routine medical care as well as major expenses.

  • Dental

    Dental insurance operates similarly to health insurance, but is offered under a separate plan.

  • Vision

    Allows workers to receive reduced fees for vision exams, glasses, and contact lenses. Some plans cover the entire cost of these services.

  • Life

    Life insurance is designed to give workers’ families financial support when they die.

  • Other

    Disability insurance is for workers who have suffered an injury or illness and are unable to work. People with this insurance receive a portion of their salary. COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) allows workers to extend their health insurance coverage after they have left a job.

W4

Also known as an Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, a W4 is designed to furnish employers with details about a worker’s tax situation, including how many exemptions they have. Generally, workers claim themselves as the head of household if they are unmarried, and list any children they have as dependents. Those who are unsure of what to claim can get help with this IRS calculator.

FSA or HSA Plan

Flexible Spending Accounts, or FSAs, are a type of employee benefit that allows workers to set aside pre-tax funds that can be used for dependents’ day care or eligible health-related expenses. Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs, also allow you to set aside pre-tax money for qualified health expenses, but there are a few differences. For instance, with an HSA you can invest the money in the account, and take the money with you if you leave that job.

Tuition Assistance

Some employers pay for their employees to earn a degree or get specific training. Assistance may cover full or partial tuition, as well as books and supplies.

Stock Grants, Stock Options, and Profit Sharing

Some workplaces have ways to allow employees to invest in or be compensated through ownership in the company. There are many varieties, but some common forms include Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs, which allow employees to invest in the companies they work for under favorable tax terms), stock options (which allows employees to buy stock at a reduced price), and stock grants (which gives employees shares of stock as part of their compensation package).

Trial/Probationary Period

During this period—usually 30 to 90 days—workers are not considered regular employees, and do not have access to the same benefits as regular employees.

Overtime

This pay is given to certain employees when they exceed 40 hours in a single workweek. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are required to pay one-and-one-half times employees’ regular wages for all hours beyond the 40-hour mark – but this only applies to “non-exempt” employees, meaning non-salaried workers.

Travel Premiums

Payments workers may receive for traveling for work purposes.

Company culture

Company culture refers to the unwritten workplace rules regarding beliefs, attitudes and values to which employees are expected to conform.

Non-disclosure agreement (NDA)

An agreement that prohibits workers from sharing their employer’s confidential and proprietary information with anyone else.

Severance package

A severance package describes the pay that people may receive when they have been terminated from their job.

Expert Advice: Negotiating a Job Offer and Salary

Dana Manciagli has leveraged a 30-year career as a tech executive into a position as a blogger and job-search expert. She offers online classes on finding a job and is the author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job! A New Job Search Process for a New Era. We asked her for some expert insight.

What criteria should people use to evaluate whether a job offer is good for them?

The attractiveness of a job offer is a very personal thing based on the individuals’ needs at the time. It is key that every job seeker know their needs well before going through the interview process and receiving the offer. Break the offer down before reacting to it. List the salary; calculate the bonus if there is one; secure the details of the health coverage; re-read the job description to remind yourself about the duties; and consider the “soft” elements like length of commute, new skills you will learn, and the quality of the people you will work with.

Should people negotiate with potential employers for better compensation, or do they run the risk of losing the offer?

In my 30 years hiring and negotiating my own offers, I have never had an offer repealed due to a negotiation. However, if a candidate is rude, overly demanding or disrespectful in any way, the company can repeal the offer. In summary, yes, I recommend everybody negotiate. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

What strategies can prospective employees use to negotiate a better job offer?

Most important is to begin your negotiations being grateful for the offer, respectful, and professional vs. emotional. Try to negotiate with your hiring manager, not the recruiter or other intermediary. The hiring manager has the budget and is the ultimate decision-maker. And, they already want you on their team, so they are motivated to assure you are satisfied. Also, write out the specifics of your negotiation, and e-mail it prior to discussions. Keep it brief, but clear. Itemize every request you have, provide a target for a satisfactory solution and provide the justification for the request.

Accepting or Declining an Offer

Just as there are protocols to follow while job hunting, there are certain steps that workers should take when accepting an offer:

  • Thank the employer

    Just because someone has been hired for a job doesn’t mean they can stop making a good impression. Once receiving a job offer, it’s a good practice for workers to send a thank-you note to everyone who was involved in the hiring process—from the direct supervisor to the human resources professionals.

  • Get it in writing

    Written offers reduce the chances of misunderstandings. Also, having the details in writing (e.g., email) helps employees to really evaluate if the job is what they want.

  • Negotiate

    When evaluating a job offer, candidates don’t have to walk away if they feel they need more. It’s fine to negotiate with your prospective employer by highlighting the skills or education you feel should translate into higher compensation.

  • Think about it

    Once getting a final job offer, candidates should spend time reviewing it to make sure it meets their needs. It’s fine to ask for time to think it over, and to use that time to seek guidance or advice.

  • Accept and ask about next steps

    Once accepting a job offer, new hires should ask about next steps in case they are required to go through an orientation or fill out paperwork before they officially begin.

Failing to respond to an offer is a professional blunder. If a company has considered your candidacy, it’s good form to hold up your end of the bargain by responding. Plus, you never know when a particular person or company will be a player in your career again, so it’s a good idea not to ruin connections you might want later.

  • Answer in a timely manner

    When people know they don’t want to accept a job, they should inform the company in a timely manner. It’s not professional to keep the organization waiting and waste the time they need to choose an alternate candidate.

  • Thank the employer

    Even when candidates don’t want a job, it’s a good idea to acknowledge the time that was spent on them and show their appreciation for the company considering them.

  • Explain the decision briefly

    When turning down a job, give a brief explanation letting the hiring manager know why the position was not the right fit.

Additional Resources

Looking for a job entails a lot more than poring over the want ads or doing a resume blast. Knowing how things work—and being smart about taking advantage of it—can give candidates an edge in a crowded field. The following resources can help recent graduates with their journey toward building their careers.

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