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How to tell if a job offer is right for you

Closely evaluating an offer can make all the difference between taking a job you run to and realizing you made a huge mistake, which could force you to restart the job-search process.

Student Hector Guevara is interviewed by Lucia Donat during work readiness training at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles.
Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters | Caption

“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to askbrianna@nerdwallet.com.

This week’s question:

“I got an offer for a full-time job. How do I decide if it’s right for me, or if the salary is fair?”

The job hunt can feel like a decathlon: multiple contests, many competitors and one victor — hopefully you. There are so many individual events, from the resume revamp to the post-interview thank-you note, you may feel nothing but exhaustion by the time you get that congratulatory call or email.

But keep your energy up. Closely evaluating an offer can be the difference between taking a job you run to and realizing you made a huge mistake, forcing you to start the job-search process from the beginning.

Of course, you may not have the luxury of weighing multiple options. But even if you have a single offer, you can still think critically about how to make the best of the opportunity — and whether you want to negotiate for perks you value especially highly, such as health insurance starting on day one.

After doing your happy dance, thank the hiring manager and request 24 hours to respond. Then use the following framework to assess the position from all angles.

Boost your salary smarts

The proposed salary will have a big effect on your day-to-day lifestyle and your future earning power, so make sure you know what you’re worth. Use resources such as PayScale or Salary.com to find the average amount your role commands where you live.

Rick Sass, a career coach at Lee Hecht Harrison near Seattle, recommends having two numbers ready, ideally before the official offer comes in: the salary you want to make (say, $55,000) and a lower amount you’re willing to accept (say, $50,000, which is about the mean wage, or average salary, for 25- to 34-year-olds across all education backgrounds, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). If you haven’t already shared these salary expectations or your pay history, don’t do it just yet.

“The first person who gives a number is generally the loser,” Sass says.

Think beyond base pay

Turn your attention next to employee benefits, such as health insurance and matching retirement contributions. These add up: As of September 2016, 31.4% of what employers paid for the average civilian worker’s total compensation was for non-salary benefits, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says.

Ask the hiring manager for a summary of your total package. It should include paid time off, out- of-pocket costs for health insurance and whether your company offers a retirement plan or matching contributions. Check whether there are tenure requirements to participate in any of these programs.

Consider your non-compensation priorities, too. You might want your gig to include a strong social mission, a more reasonable commute, a boss committed to mentoring you or experience working for a big-name company.

If the offer checks most of your boxes for salary, benefits and values, it’s time to negotiate.

Be flexible and confident

The employer will expect you to negotiate, so don’t let nerves or a fear of seeming overbearing get in the way. If the proposed salary is lower than what you deserve, say thank you for the offer, and then counter with what you believe is appropriate for your skills and experience.

If salary negotiations stall, ask instead for a non-salary benefit you value. That could be the option to work remotely one day a week or a signing bonus, Sass says.

When Camille Galles was looking for a new sales job in the digital media industry, she had four job offers. One was a startup that didn’t offer her as much in salary as the more established companies. But when she asked for a signing bonus and an additional performance-based bonus after her first 90 days on the job, the startup went for it.

Now Galles, 31, is the CEO of her own three-person digital advertising company. Weighing different job offers based not just on salary but on how much she could learn in each role helped her get where she is, she says.

“It’s really given me the fuel to stay two steps ahead of my peers.”

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: bmcgurran@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @briannamcscribe.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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