If you've secured a job offer after an exhaustive application experience, it's tempting to accept immediately. But you should take a deep breath and carefully weigh whether it's the right decision for you. Here are the main factors to think through and most important questions to ask before you accept a job offer at a financial services, management consulting or professional services firm.
Compensation is the obvious factor that most people focus on. For some, it is the be-all-and-end-all that determines whether or not they decide to accept a job offer.
As part of the negotiation process, ask whether your bonus will be for a full-year or prorated, which is essential when you’re joining a firm mid-year and you’re leaving a job where you know you’d be getting a bonus if you stuck it out, according to Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. If you’re leaving money on the table to make a move, will your new employer make you whole?
It's also particularly important to think about work-life balance, according to Janet Raiffa, an investment banking career coach, the former head of campus recruiting at Goldman Sachs and a former associate director in the Career Management Center at Columbia Business School.
Both banking and consulting offer high salaries, but demand more hours than many other professions. Do you understand how many hours you’ll be expected to work, and if you compute the compensation on an hourly basis, is the compensation just as attractive? How much travel can you expect?
“I knew a single mother who accepted a job understanding that she might work long hours, but not understanding the extent of the travel required, because most of her target areas were local,” Raiffa said. “There ended up being many multiple-day training and affiliation events all over the country, and the salary increase she received from her previous position was completely eaten up in childcare costs.”
Key information to gather is the reason that the position is open and how often has there been turnover at the firm.
“You don’t want to step into a mess where other people have failed repeatedly,” Cohen said. “Chances are, if others have been unsuccessful you might not change the course of history.
“If the company as a whole is unstable, then you want to know you’ve addressed the risks by getting a guarantee to make sure you’re not shortchanged if your position is eliminated or the company unravels,” he said.
Raiffa also suggests doing research about where the last person to hold the job went.
“If they were promoted in the company that's a good sign,” she said. “If they left quickly or involuntarily, that might be a red flag.”
“Ask yourself, will it strengthen your resume?” says Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio career coach and partner at SixFigureStart.
A big brand name will also help you in the event that the position doesn’t work out the way you had hoped or the firm decides to restructure.
“In terms of career advancement, I'd also think about exit opportunities when accepting a job,” Raiffa said.
Is the position so niche that there are few logical steps afterward? Does the employer have such a brand and alumni network that it would open many doors even if the job itself doesn’t excite you for the long run?
“I might not ask your future boss or the HR department, but I’d do some research through peers or even social media about next steps,” Raiffa said
You want to weigh how accepting the offer will impact your daily routine, so the office having a prime location and a relatively easy commute are important factors to consider, Thanasoulis-Cerrachio said.
It may seem like a minor point, but you should try to figure out where your office will be, and if space is a challenge for the firm, ensure that you’ll actually have an office, or at least a cubicle.
“A client joined a mid-sized investment management firm and found herself sitting at a long table in the office library,” Cohen said. “They didn’t even have a desk for her, let alone an office.”
It sounds basic, but make sure you know exactly what your responsibilities will be to avoid unpleasant surprises, Thanasoulis-Cerrachio said.
“A client joined a firm and on his first day discovered that he’d be managing a person who no one wanted to manage, which turned into a huge mess,” Cohen said. “From the very moment he joined, this person was a headache with a long history at the firm, and no one wanted to take her on."
Cohen said if you’re currently working, then the essential questions to ask yourself is: Why would this opportunity be better than what you’d be leaving?
While benefits aren’t typically the first factor that comes up in a job offer, they aren’t something to overlook, Thanasoulis-Cerrachio said. In some instances you may be able to negotiate a better benefits package even if the starting salary is non-negotiable.
Who are your peers? What are their backgrounds? How do you compare? Are you coming in at the right level?
“If the folks you’re being compared to are either more or less experienced than you, that provides insight into what your level of competition will be or how your position is valued,” Cohen said.
If you haven’t been introduced to the people you’ll be working with, why not? What is the firm hiding?
Is the person you’ll be reporting to planning to stay at the firm long-term or is he or she on the verge of making a move?
“You don’t want to join to find out that your new boss is moving on,” Cohen said.
Ask yourself: How will my success be measured?
“You want to know that they have reasonable expectations and will not set you to a standard that is unachievable,” Cohen said.
It’s important to gauge your potential for career progression, Thanasoulis-Cerrachio said.
How are promotions determined? Is your current role a potential starting point for a long-term career at the firm, assuming the culture is a fit and you’re successful? Is there room for you to climb the ladder or is the firm’s hierarchy rather top-heavy?
“If you’re ambitious and find yourself in an environment where it’s simply the longer you’ve been there the more likely you are to get promoted, that’s not ideal,” Cohen said. “You want to know that your hard work and talent can earn you a promotion.”
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