Career Doctor: Considering the Imperfect Offer

By Dave Willmer

Question:

"’I’ve been searching for a job for five months, and I finally received an offer for a network security position. Even though it’s not a specialty that I’m passionate about, I’m leaning toward taking the job. But now that the economy seems to be picking up again, would it be smarter to hold out for something closer to my ideal?"

Dave Willmer responds:

First of all, congratulations. IT hiring does appear to be gradually heating up – a net 5 percent of CIOs plan to add staff in the second quarter, according to the latest Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report – but job offers remain difficult to come by. Unfortunately, your good news doesn’t make the decision any easier. It’s difficult to accept a less-than-ideal offer when a better one might be just around the corner.

Your lack of passion for the work itself is a potential problem you shouldn’t sweep aside. If you can’t imagine yourself being engaged by the work, and your financial situation isn’t dire, "no" may be your best answer. But if you have the luxury of being at least somewhat choosy, briefly re-examining your priorities as well as the offer itself should help you make a decision with confidence.

Distinguish needs from wants: Start by ignoring the offer itself for the moment (we’ll come back to it later). Clarifying your priorities becomes much easier when you remove the offer from the equation. Consider the most important qualities of your next position. Is salary your top concern? How important are advancement opportunities? Does the cachet of working for a highly respected firm matter much to you?
Are some of your priorities set in stone, such as making a certain amount of money or avoiding a certain type of work? What aspects are you willing to compromise on – for example, receiving two weeks of vacation instead of three. You might be surprised to find that some aspects you considered indispensable are actually preferences rather than deal-breakers.

Re-examine the offer: Once you’ve clarified your own priorities, you’ll be on firmer footing to evaluate the offer. Make sure you’re clear about all the details of the position. For example, do you have a solid grasp of what your typical day would entail? Are there aspects of the role or offer, such as unique perks, that might offset some of your misgivings? If you have questions about any of these matters, ask the hiring manager for clarification.

Also make note of any subjective factors, such as your sense of the firm’s corporate culture. During your office visits, did the atmosphere seem energetic or dreary? Did you establish rapport with your interviewers? Such intangibles often play a much larger role in your long-term satisfaction than a few thousand dollars in salary.

Consider the long term: When evaluating the offer, don’t let your immediate concerns obstruct your long-term prospects. How long might it take to move up within the company, get a raise or switch to a position you’re more passionate about? Does the firm provide training opportunities that interest you? Does it seem committed to investing in IT, or is it still proceeding with extreme caution? Again, don’t hesitate to ask the hiring manager about these issues. Suppressing your concerns is a surefire way to start your new job on the wrong foot (if you accept the position).

If your hesitation is centered around one aspect of the offer, such as a salary that’s slightly lower than you’d hoped for, consider asking the hiring manager whether it can be adjusted. Even though the job market remains tight, you may have some room to negotiate.

Don’t view the role as a layover: Before you accept an offer, make sure you’re not approaching it as a stopgap that you’ll endure until you can find something better. If you’re constantly keeping an eye on the door, you’re unlikely to contribute much to your new employer. Such situations can easily damage your reputation and stall your career, potentially making your ideal position even more elusive than it is now. A more effective way to keep your career moving forward in such cases is temporary or project-based work, which may allow you to assume a role you are more passionate about and could even lead to an attractive full-time opportunity.

A bird in the hand: Even during strong hiring markets, holding out for the perfect opportunity can be a mistake. The position you think you’re best suited for may not end up the most rewarding in the long run. For most IT professionals, a quick look in the rearview mirror confirms that their career has rarely progressed in a way they would have predicted or even welcomed.

But it’s this unpredictability that can lead to meaningful career growth. Meeting an unexpected challenge or making an unlikely connection is more likely to keep you stimulated than steadily trudging a preordained path. If you can commit to your new position and win the respect of your employer and colleagues, you may find your prospects expanding before long – perhaps in less time than it would have taken to find that one flawless opportunity.

Comments

6 Responses to “Career Doctor: Considering the Imperfect Offer”

April 15, 2010 at 8:49 am, Don Nations said:

I have to concur with the last two paragraphs. Sometimes, by taking a less-than-ideal position, you find new ways to work, make unexpected friendships and networking connections, and learn more about other (unpublished) openings in the company. Believe me, if you have been unemployed for as long as I have (six months)–and I know it sounds cliche, but–something is better than nothing. Holding out for that “one flawless opportunity” may never happen.

Reply

April 15, 2010 at 8:49 am, Don Nations said:

I have to concur with the last two paragraphs. Sometimes, by taking a less-than-ideal position, you find new ways to work, make unexpected friendships and networking connections, and learn more about other (unpublished) openings in the company. Believe me, if you have been unemployed for as long as I have (six months)–and I know it sounds cliche, but–something is better than nothing. Holding out for that “one flawless opportunity” may never happen.

Reply

April 15, 2010 at 9:17 am, Curtis Spears said:

Thanks, Dave, for the well-thought-out response to this question. Often times in the turmoil of trying to find a new job, we get tunnel-vision about many things, especially about getting that offer letter. Your advice to step back and evaluate what daily life at that new position would mean after the ‘honeymoon’ wears off is invaluable.

Both the you and the employer want to get the most benefit possible out of this relationship. If either side has expectations that never materialize in reality, then neither side will be really happy. So we do need to take that step back and think beyone just the first few months. We need to ask ourselves if this union has strong possibilities of continuing success down the road.

Reply

April 15, 2010 at 9:17 am, Curtis Spears said:

Thanks, Dave, for the well-thought-out response to this question. Often times in the turmoil of trying to find a new job, we get tunnel-vision about many things, especially about getting that offer letter. Your advice to step back and evaluate what daily life at that new position would mean after the ‘honeymoon’ wears off is invaluable.

Both the you and the employer want to get the most benefit possible out of this relationship. If either side has expectations that never materialize in reality, then neither side will be really happy. So we do need to take that step back and think beyone just the first few months. We need to ask ourselves if this union has strong possibilities of continuing success down the road.

Reply

April 23, 2010 at 9:26 am, Rob Dejournett said:

The other issue is how would this experience look when you transition jobs to what you really want? Security is pretty close to other job areas like network administration. But if you want to do, say, game programming, it may be a bit of a stretch; you may be better off in a programming position or a project management position. What I have found is that skill sets really have to be very similar to get the job, since nowadays you are competing with tons of people.

Reply

April 23, 2010 at 9:26 am, Rob Dejournett said:

The other issue is how would this experience look when you transition jobs to what you really want? Security is pretty close to other job areas like network administration. But if you want to do, say, game programming, it may be a bit of a stretch; you may be better off in a programming position or a project management position. What I have found is that skill sets really have to be very similar to get the job, since nowadays you are competing with tons of people.

Reply

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