Office Hours: What to Weigh When Comparing Two Competing Offers

This post originally appeared on Medium.

by Richard Oneslager, 2016 Fellow

After weeks, maybe months, of writing cover letters, sending out resumes and going on interviews, finally getting an offer can feel like crossing the finish line and winning the job hunt marathon. Getting more than one offer feels even better. Knowing that more than one company is vying for you to join them can be an incredible confidence boost. After that initial feeling subsides, you may start to realize that picking between two competing offers can be extremely difficult. It can be hard to compare two similar offers; even after you make a decision you may still be left with many “what if” questions. When I first joined VFA as a Fellow, I was in a similar position. I was happy to receive offers from two companies — one in Pittsburgh and one in Baltimore—but I quickly had to decide which of these offers I’d accept and which I’d decline.

Of course, the first things to consider are the basics like salary, location, and benefits. If these things are more or less equal, the most important things to consider next are whether you’ll be challenged and fulfilled.

To make my decision, I asked myself these questions to decide which role, team and company was the right one for me. Look at are the role, people, company, and development. You’re going to be spending almost 30% of your waking hours there, and while a free paid lunch may be nice once a month. It’s important to make sure that you are enjoying the other 95% of your job more.

Is the work interesting?

No job description ever fully captures what you actually do in your role. I have had friends start jobs as analysts and ended up in sales cold calling prospective clients. I’ve know other people hired to lead projects who ended up becoming secretaries. With startups you really don’t know until you are there, but the better you can understand what your responsibilities would be and the more excited you are about the work, industry, and product the happier you will be.

This ambiguity can actually be a good thing, especially at the beginning of your career. If this is one of your first few jobs, you may not really know what you will enjoy doing until you do it. Maybe you saw yourself as a marketer, but are given a sales opportunity and thrive in it. Or you could be looking for an operations role and land a business analyst position. It’s hard to know what you will or won’t like until you do it. The good news is that most people rarely finish their careers in the exact role or industry they started out in.

Do you like the team and its culture?

This may seem obvious, but it can not be overstated. People really do make the difference. Being talkative and extroverted in a quiet office can be just as difficult as being the only 20 something in an office of 40 year old parents. Having a great manager, strong team culture, and working with people you enjoy and get along well with can make a job truly incredible.

If you didn’t meet with your future manager or anyone on your team during your interviews, reach out. Try to set up a quick call or meeting with someone on your team. This is not only a great way to evaluate the team and culture, but also a great way to gauge their excitement about you as a potential new hire. Ask yourself if you mesh well with them and if you can see yourself learning from them. You will end up spending more time with your coworkers than with your partner, friends or family, so make sure that these are the kind of people you want to be around.

One word of caution — be wary about joining a company for one specific person or manager. Make sure that you’re equally excited about the rest of the team and the role itself. If things change (as they often do at startups) and that person left, would you still want to work there?

How is the company doing?

If you’re positive on both the role and the team, make sure to evaluate the company itself. This includes everything from their leadership, their product, and their overall financial health. The thing that differentiates a good company from a great company is strong leadership that charts a path forward. Does the founder, CEO or leadership team have a clear vision for the company’s future?

Now, ask yourself if you’re excited about where this company is going or what problem they’re trying to solve. Ask yourself “is this a product or service that I would use?” or “is it solving an actual problem that I believe in?” You may love the culture, but if the product doesn’t excite you then it’s going to be hard to stay motivated on the mission. As much as you may enjoy the convenience of cloud storage, if you don’t personally believe in it, you may find it hard to stay motivated to get out of bed each morning.

Lastly, get clear on the financial health of a company. Ask or find out if they are profitable or cash positive. When was their last fundraise or round of investment? It may feel intrusive to ask some of these questions, but it’s not — a company that is interested in you and financially sound shouldn’t hesitate to offer some insights.

Will I grow and develop as a professional here?

The first few years out of college will offer some of the best learning experiences of your career. It’s an amazing time to learn new skills and really stretch your professional muscles to tackle unexpected challenges. Make sure that the company and role you accept offer ways to help you develop and grow in your career. The expectation to begin will obviously be that you’ll focus in on the role that you’ve been offered, but make sure that you’ll have the opportunity to take on more responsibility over time as you prove yourself.

Ask your soon-to-be manager how they see your role evolving and growing over the next 6 months to a year. Find out what the next position would be if you are successful in this one. Also ask how frequently or infrequently people at the company are able to move laterally or onto new teams. What you’re looking for is the right combination of a role that will be interesting and challenging to you right now and the opportunity to stretch and grow in the future.

These are just a few ways that I’ve approached comparing offers between competing companies. The most important thing is to recognize that you are in a great situation because multiple companies want you! Try not to get bogged down in the salary and benefits, and focus more on the work you will be doing. Make sure that the role is interesting, the team is a good fit, the company is solid, and the opportunity as a whole provides you the chance to learn and grow.

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