What to do when your first job offer isn’t your first choice

These tips can help you decide whether to take it or walk away.

What to do when your first job offer isn’t your first choice

Start by knowing your motivation for getting a new job.

Jumping at the first job offer you get—even if it isn't quite what you want—can be tempting, especially if you’re unemployed, unhappy at your job, or eager to change careers. But before you say “yes,” it’s important to take a close look at whether accepting the new job would be a smart career move.

“All too often people rush to take a job offer, just to have one,” says Lori Scherwin, founder of New York–based career-coaching firm Strategize That. Bad move. “Not fully evaluating an offer, settling, and fear all get in the way.”

Another reason you don’t have to pounce on your first offer: The unemployment rate is only 3.7%, according to the most recent labor report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that means job seekers have the upper hand in today’s labor market.

Still, how do you evaluate the strength of your first job offer? Should you wait for another one? Are there any instances where you just take the plunge and accept? Let’s find out.

Set your priorities

Before accepting an offer, you have to know your motivation for getting a new job, as well as what it is you’re looking for, says Scherwin. What do you want your career to look like? What don’t you want your career to look like?

“Making a list of ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves’ is one way to make sure you are fully evaluating an offer in its entirety,” Scherwin says. Once you’ve zeroed in on your criteria—including factors like job title, salary, work-life balance—you’ll have the clarity you need to determine whether a job meets those requirements.

Assess the company itself

A company may be a great fit for one person but a bad fit for another. Cultural fit is crucial, and it’s up to you to determine whether a particular employer is aligned with your core values and beliefs, says Donna Schilder, executive and career coach in Long Beach, California.

If you feel uncomfortable where you work, you may come to hate your job and be right back in job-search mode before you know it. Ask yourself: Does the company seem like a solid organization? Will it offer you opportunities for advancement? Will you do a good job in this particular position? If the company doesn’t look like a good fit, holding out for another offer may be the smartest move.

Look at the whole compensation package

Money is obviously going to be top of mind when you’re debating whether or not to take the job offer. Use Monster’s salary guide to help you determine a good range for base pay. But remember, salary isn’t the only variable to factor in. If there’s no room in the budget for a higher paycheck, you may still be able to negotiate other job perks and benefits. For example, 76% of employers have sign-on bonus programs, a WorldatWork survey found. Other factors to consider include employer-sponsored retirement plans, profit sharing or stock options, relocation assistance, vacation days, telecommuting options, and paid training opportunities.

Weigh the offer

If the company doesn’t provide it, ask for a job offer in writing so you can clearly compare it against your requirements. Are you under financial pressure to be employed as soon as possible? Are your requirements reasonable, or are you expecting too much given your level of skills and experience? Never lose perspective when considering whether or not to accept.

Should you accept?

The questions above can help you assess your situation, but there’s no secret equation that will help you come to a definitive decision. However, there are some instances where you can get a good idea of where you’re at.

Consider accepting the job offer when:

  • Your financial situation requires it, and there aren’t many other options
  • The experience you’d amass at the company would pay off down the line and get you closer to your career goals
  • You’re confident you would knock this job right out of the park, and the opportunity is in a strong, growing new field or company, or surrounds you with well-connected people

Consider turning down the offer when:

  • Money isn’t a major concern and you can hold out a bit longer
  • You’re confident in your job search strategy and can genuinely believe your target job will soon materialize
  • You sense a bad fit with the job, the team, or your values, and could potentially take a toll on you emotionally, physically or financially 

 Find your second, third, and fourth job offer

Passing on your first job offer may feel like a big risk, but accepting on the fly and without much consideration is just as risky. It’s best to continue your job search, but you don’t have to go it alone. Could you use some help getting more job offers? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox so you can apply as soon the right job catches your eye.