Job Offer Sign
by Valerie Arendt, MSW, MPP
The moment you have been waiting for is here! You have been offered a social work job! When you’re unemployed, leaving a bad job situation, or have recently graduated and need to start paying back your student loans, it can be tempting to take the first offer that comes along.
Many of us have been there. Should I take the job or not? I turned down the first job I was ever offered after graduate school. Why? The position was with a reputable organization, but I would basically have been doing what I did before grad school. Was there room for me to move up? Maybe. But it would have been a few years until I was promoted, and I had just spent three years working hard on my master’s degrees. It was the right decision for me. However, I had to wait a few more months to land a full-time job. I was fortunate to have a part-time job to tide me over—a luxury not many new grads have.
I have also been on the flip side when I accepted a job offer I probably shouldn’t have. I was making good money in what turned out to be a dysfunctional organization, and I only lasted ten months after massive burn-out. I had been unemployed for six months when I took the job, but I should have held out a little longer knowing it wasn’t a great organization, even though the money was good.
Please note: I am not suggesting you turn down all job offers until you land the perfect one, especially if you are a recent grad with little experience. What I am suggesting is for you to use your keen social work skills to sniff out an unhealthy position or organization. This will help you avoid having to make a quick exit from a bad situation and have future employers wondering why you were job hopping.
Here are a few tips to follow when you are deciding whether to accept a job offer, followed by how to accept or decline with professionalism.
Considering the Offer
You’ve done all your research, and you think you know the position and the organization well. Accepting or declining a job offer is a life-changing decision. Only you know what will be the right fit for you professionally. Here are some points to consider when making a decision.
- People. I can tell you without a doubt that who you will be working with on a daily basis is one of the most important things to consider. Your boss and co-workers who will surround you 40+ hours a week are crucial for your happiness and success at a job. Sometimes it is hard to get to know the people at the organization after a couple of interviews, but take into consideration the way they treated you throughout the process. I was once made fun of for one of my answers during an interview (I was stunned!) and found out later that the place had a toxic work culture (duh!). No amount of money is worth the dread of going to work every day.
- Environment. Weigh the pros and cons of working for a nonprofit, a large hospital or university, or a for-profit corporation. I have worked in all three environments, and they are all very different and require certain personality types. Do you prefer a relaxed, casual work environment or a more business/professional atmosphere? Do you prefer autonomy or need to work in a collaborative setting? Location and commute time are also something to consider. It may be a great job with great pay, but if you have a significant commute and never see your family, that is definitely something to consider.
- Roadmap. Is this the right step in your career path? Is there room for growth at this organization? How long do employees typically hold the same position? Is there stability at this organization? If the position is soul-crushing but provides you the clinical experience and supervision you need, is it worth it? These are all questions to consider when taking any position. If this position is a dead end, not a detour, and will hurt your professional reputation, you may want to hold off a little longer.
- Benefits. As I discussed in my salary negotiation article in the Spring 2015 issue, having a great benefits package is an important part of a job offer. If an organization offers its employees health, dental, retirement, and flexible spending plans, it can mean they are doing well financially and appreciate and take care of their employees. If a place doesn’t offer a benefits package, it might be because they’re small, or it could mean they are struggling.
- Salary. When considering a job offer, or comparing two, you should go for more money, right? Not necessarily. Social workers are worth their weight in gold, but salary is only a small part of happiness at work. As I mentioned, I once took a job with great pay but a horrible work culture. It is worth a pay cut, to me, to be in a job I love and work on a team I can count on and respect.
- Your gut (or your keen social work skills, if you prefer). Sometimes you just know. If you have a good (or bad) feeling about the organization or the position, go with it. If your gut is telling you the people who interviewed you are desperate for a warm body, run away as fast as you can. If you are concerned that you don’t know how to do everything in this position but feel as if you can learn quickly, go for it! The hiring managers chose you because they felt you were the best candidate for the job.
You’ve weighed your options and made your decision. You are going for it...or not. Here are crucial steps to accepting or declining the offer.
Accepting the Offer
Hurrah! The job offer you have been waiting for! You have successfully negotiated your terms of employment. Here are a few steps you must take before simply saying, “Yes, I’ll take it!”
- Get the offer in writing. Do not accept anything until you have the terms of your employment and everything that you negotiated down on paper. This should include your basic job information, salary and benefits, a start date, number of hours, supervision, continuing education, or whatever else was discussed during your negotiation. If something is missing, DO NOT sign the letter until you have received the most up-to-date version.
- Accept the offer both verbally and on paper. First, call your main point of contact and let him or her know how thrilled you are to accept the offer and that you will mail in the signed offer letter. Make sure you actually speak to this person. Don’t accept the offer over voicemail. If the person you need to speak to is not there, leave a simple “Please call me back” message.
- Send a thank-you to everyone who was involved in your hire. Really? Yes, at least a thank-you e-mail. This will help start your new job off on the right foot by informing them of your hire, letting them know how excited you are to be working with them, and thanking them for their help during the hiring process.
- Withdraw from other opportunities. After you have accepted the offer and have everything in writing, you need to withdraw from other considerations. If you are a candidate or have submitted your résumé for other positions, make sure you withdraw your name from consideration. Failing to do so is disrespectful and will leave the employer without the information needed to make an informed decision during the hiring process.
Declining the Offer
Saying no to a job offer can be difficult. You most likely spent a considerable amount of time applying for and interviewing for this position. I guarantee you that the organization has spent twice as much time writing the job description, interviewing multiple candidates, and choosing you. You shouldn’t feel guilty for turning down what is not right for you, but it is important to make the organization or employer feel that the time was well spent in considering you for the position.
- Don’t string them along. Once you have made your decision not to take the offer, give the employer the courtesy of knowing right away that you are passing or have accepted another offer. This may be an uncomfortable conversation, but making them wait is inconsiderate and unprofessional.
- Decline over the phone. A phone call, not just an e-mail, is the best way to inform the employer that you are declining. You always want to maintain your relationship with this employer and do not want to burn any bridges. You have both spent a tremendous amount of time on this process, and it shows integrity when you let them know you appreciate their selection but will pass on their offer. Again, don’t tell them the bad news in a voicemail.
- Be prepared to give a reason why or feedback. The employer may ask you why you are declining. Never imply that the job or the salary was to blame. Instead, focus on what’s not a good fit. Social work is a small world, and you never know when you may end up working with this employer or organization in the future.
- Thank them. They chose YOU out of their pool of candidates. Even though this is not the right job for you, it is still important to thank them for the opportunity and to stay connected with them. Remember that everyone you met in the interview process is now a potential contact in your network.
Valerie Arendt, MSW, MPP, is the Associate Executive Director for the National Association of Social Workers, North Carolina Chapter (NASW-NC). She received her dual degree in social work and public policy from the University of Minnesota and currently provides membership support, including résumé review, to the members of NASW-NC.