When to turn down a job offer

It’s awesome to know you’re wanted. But you don’t have to take the first thing that comes along.

When to turn down a job offer

It can be hard to say no to a job offer. There’s this little voice inside you that gets excited and screams: “I’m the best! They picked me above everyone else! They want to give me money!” And it can be very difficult to hush that voice while you think about whether accepting the offer is really a good idea.

That step is essential, though. If you accept a job that turns out to be a bad fit, both you and the employer lose. Plus, with the labor market tipped in favor of workers, you may be able to afford being a bit choosier today than you would have a few years ago.

These are five situations in which you may want to just say no.

The financials don’t look good

Just because a company is hiring doesn’t mean it’s financially stable.

Bad news about the company’s financials, such as declining sales, should at least give you serious pause. Take what happened to one of my friends who recently took a job that did not end well.

During her research, my pal saw that the company’s sales were less than stellar and that it had violated some corporate integrity agreements. She asked about this during her interview and was told the company was on track to turn everything around, hence the round of hiring.

She had reservations, but took the job anyway. Six months later she realized the company was in a huge state of disarray—its new products had all flopped and entire divisions, including hers, were getting the boot.

My friend ignored her misgivings and now regrets it. “I had never stayed with a company less than five years. Now at the very top of my resume, I have a company where I worked for less than a year and am looking for work again.”

The job description is unclear

If the employer doesn’t have a clear idea of what you would do if hired, how will you know what to do—and how will either of you know if you’re successful?

Another friend, a human resources generalist, says she once took a job where the job description and the title were unclear.

This should have been a red flag that the company was in chaos, and indeed that was that was the case. She ended up looking for a new job after only a year.

The pay is too low—or too high

If you take a job knowing the pay is less than market rate, “it can be very detrimental to your long-term earning potential,” says Julie Hochheiser Ilkovich, the career expert on SiriusXM's “Wake Up! With Taylor” and managing partner of Masthead Media Company. “Earning less now could make it harder for you to catch up to what your peers are making as you advance in your career.”

Raises and bonuses are often given as percentages of base pay, and future jobs may inquire about past wages, so settling is a decision that can affect your earnings for years.

An unusually high salary, meanwhile, can also be a sign of trouble. “Beware of employers offering you obscene amounts of money,” Assaf says. “Overpaying for a position may be an indication of high turnover, which is a sign that something fishy is going on.”

The work-life balance is off

This is something you can find out through the interview process, and by pestering people who know who work there already.

Some people love working 9 to 5, others thrive on long hours and still others want more flexibility. Whatever you prefer, it’s best to say no to a job offer that’s too far off your ideal.

If your current work-life balance is manageable, it may not be worth it to move on, says Hochheiser Ilkovich. “Ask a lot of questions about the balance at a potential new job and follow your gut if it seems like your life balance might be worse when you get there.”

You don’t fit in with the culture

Lynda Spiegel, founder of Rising Star Resumes in Forest Hills, New York, recalls that at one point in her career she’d been considering moving to a well-known investment banking firm. She was offered a job with a salary that was considerably more than she was making, but turned it down when she thought about the company’s culture. “When I looked around the office, people weren’t talking among themselves; no one seemed happy.”

It was the right move, she says, because a few months later, the head of the department was let go and most of the staff he hired went with him.

Spiegel recommends looking for signs of the company culture during the interview process, such as whether the break spaces encourage collaboration or isolate employees. Do people seem stressed or preoccupied during the interview? That could mean they’re overworked or understaffed.

Ask about social events the company hosts for employees. And try scheduling an interview close to closing time — do people seem like they’ve accomplished something and getting ready to leave, or are they settling in for the long haul? “If everyone is still pinned to their desks, working at full steam, that reveals a lot about the culture,” Spiegel says.

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