When looking for a job, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. With negotiating salary, health insurance, even shopping for professional clothing, we often forget about the nitty gritties of having a job. (And besides, we’re often so excited to have any offer that we’re afraid of looking at the fine print, because we don’t want to ruin a good thing.)
You could be thinking that you’ve landed your dream job but, before you know it, you might find yourself regretting your decision. It’s up to all of us, before we sign onto a new position, to make sure that it’s truly right for us — and not just for the exciting first two weeks. Here are five things to think about before accepting any offer which can make or break a job:
1. Commute Time and Cost
I currently pay $320/month to commute to work That’s a little less than 40% of my paycheck lost to commuting cost alone. My salary does not allow me to live in an area that would be closer to work, and I live too far to away from the city to take my car. The train is my only option.
When I took the job, my commute was the last thing on my mind. I was desperate to get out of my previous work situation and I wasn’t thinking about the cost of commuting vs income (after benefits and taxes) that I would be making. 40% of your paycheck to commuting is not an acceptable expense, but it’s not one that I have the ability to change at the moment. My current commute time is 2.5 hours each way to and from work. The average commute time in America is 25.4 minutes (though it varies depending on location). This takes time out of my day to exercise, to make dinner, to spend time with my boyfriend, etc.
Your priorities are important. If you value making time to exercise, being with family, or even cooking a healthy dinner, your commute is going to have a direct impact on your ability to do so.
When I say control I mean control over two things: control over who and when you speak to people, and control over your daily schedule. At work, we all have a variety of issues and situations that happen out of our direct control. However, most of the time you have at least some control over who you speak to and on what terms — and you are generally treated with respect and professionalism by all of the people you encounter on a day-to-day basis. For other jobs, you do not have this luxury. This happens more often in entry level jobs than mid-career positions.
For example, let’s take our favorite foot-in-the-door job: the Customer Service Representative. In a customer service position, you most likely will not have control over who you speak to, as well as the content and tone of the conversation. You probably won’t have the ability to control your schedule and you will probably be doing the same thing every day. This can cause job dissatisfaction, boredom, and eventually burnout. If you cannot survive without differentiation in your daily routine or cannot compartmentalize, you might be in trouble.
These foot-in-the-door jobs can be a great way to break into a competitive industry/job market as long as you make sure that there is plenty of number three.
3. Real Growth Potential
There are industries that are moving at the speed of light, and industries that move slower than a snail in molasses. There are industries that have the financial means to hire and promote quickly and those that do not. If you want to advance quickly where you work, make sure to do your research. Competitive industries like publishing are popular to work for, but often without the ability to expand or offer meaningful advancement, so there’s a lot of competition for relatively few (and notoriously low-paying) jobs.
If you want to work for a shrinking industry, be prepared for a lesson in simple supply and demand. If you get one of these rare positions, but it’s in a department that doesn’t thrill you, make sure you are prepared for a long haul in the trenches.. If your chosen career field has transferrable skills (like marketing or IT) you might be better off looking for young, growing companies where turnaround is lower and growth is high. You probably have a better shot of getting promoted or at least a higher raise after a year of paying your dues than you do in shrinking industries. (And for information on individual companies from the employees themselves, utilize sites like Glassdoor, which are filled with honest reviews of what it’s actually like to work there, and what advancement opportunities there really are.)
4. PTO Plans
What is the vacation policy? Is it earned vacation pay, or do they just give you 2-3 weeks? Can you rollover your unused vacation time to the next year or do you lose it? Do you get any maternity/paternity leave? What is the sick leave policy? Paid time off is more than just vacation. It’s a Human Resouces jungle of legalese and is worth looking in detail before accepting any job offer.
Hint: European-owned companies sometimes have better PTO plans than US companies. Also, state laws on paid time off can vary. If you’re moving to a state with fewer worker protection laws, you should know what you are losing and/or gaining.
5. Your 401k and Employer Matching Program
When you first enter the workforce, your starting salary will probably leave something to be desired. It’s easy to contribute as little (or nothing at all) to your 401k plan in order to get more money in your pocket. However, starting your 401k early can be one of the most important pieces of advice that I can give you. You are giving yourself a huge gift later in life if you start your 401k early. If you’re having trouble finding a job and just need anything to get by, forward-thinking companies like Starbucks offer 401k plans and investment options to all employees and many companies will match up to a certain percentage of what you contribute to your 401l. When you get a new job, you should be able to rollover your 401k to an IRA.
If your employer offers stock options, make sure you know what you have is vested vs what is unvested. Your vested stock is what you can take direct ownership of or exercise an option. Unvested stock is stock that will be vested to you over time. So if you are offered 12 shares, six vested and six unvested that will be vested to you in five years, you will not have access to those six shares until your five-year mark. This is referred to as the vesting period. If you leave in four years, you will lose your options.
When searching, applying, and accepting a job, it’s easy to get lost in the thrill or frustration of it all. But being knowledgeable and empowering yourself can help ease any doubts you may have about accepting or declining an offer and to make sure that you get the most out of your new position. Landing a job in itself is an incredible experience, but just having any job isn’t the point — you need to find something that will grow with you and for you, unless you want to be on the hunt again in just a few months.