Great! You have a job offer! This is typically when the real negotiations begin.
Be VERY careful to learn as much as possible about the job BEFORE you accept this offer!
Speaking from painful personal experience, accepting a job offer without knowing most of the details in the list below can be a very big mistake.
The result of not asking these questions? Dissatisfaction with the job and another job search too soon.
As the wise old saying goes, “Look before you leap!”
Read this whole list of questions, below, to know some of the issues you may encounter and want to negotiate. The smartest strategy is to know the answers to most of the questions below before you accept this job offer.
Do NOT quit your job, if you are currently employed, — or move to a new location for the job — until the details of the new job have been agreed upon, the employer has sent you an official offer via email or snail mail, and you have formally accepted the terms in that offer.
Take Good Notes, Document the Details, and Follow Up!
Before you accept a job offer, you must know exactly what is being offered by the employer.
Take very careful notes when the questions below are answered, being careful to be correct and to specify the name and job title of the person who provided the answer.
Ask for their standard employee documentation, like a list of the employee benefits (healthcare plan options, for example) and the other options for benefits.
Before you officially accept the offer, send a summary of your notes in an email to the HR representative.
In your message, document:
- The salary being offered
- The job title
- The start date
- Anything/everything else you negotiated
Request an emailed response confirming your understanding of these important details in your message.
Your message to them — and their emailed confirmation in response — confirms the important details about the job, providing you with some “proof” should a disagreement occur later.
Questions to Ask to Understand This Job Offer
When you ask many of the questions below, you are learning about the possibility of negotiating some (or many) of the details about this job. Some aspects may be “non-negotiable” for you or for the employer.
Don’t be afraid to express your concern or request a modification if the answers don’t work for you. This is the time for you to learn as much as you can about the job, and negotiate changes when necessary to make sure the job is a good fit for you.
The initial job offer is usually verbal. When you have received that job offer, you are able to ask the important details about the job before the offer is finalized.
Salary is only one aspect of a job offer. Don’t immediately say “YES!” because you like the salary without understanding the other details about the job and the total compensation being offered.
This discussion will probably be between you and the Human Resources manager, with or without the presence of the hiring manager.
Know the Details About THIS Specific Job
First, ask for the details about the job being offered:
- What will be my official job title and department?
- Is this officially a full-time or a part-time job? What are the hours of work and days of the week work is needed?
- Is working from home “remotely” allowed or requred? How many days of the week? Permanently or temporarily?
- When do you want me to start?
You may need to negotiate a start date that is different from what the new employer expects. If you are currently employed, you probably have an obligation to your current employer to give them a couple of weeks of notice before you leave. And, you may want a few days “off” between jobs.
Know your current employer’s requirements for “notice” before you leave when you ask this question (typically, two weeks), and do NOT ignore your commitments to your current employer.
Leaving without sufficient notice to your current employer may come back to bite you later in your career. Avoid burning bridges!
- What is the salary being offered and benefits provided? (More on these below.)
- Where and how will I work?
Will you be working at their location? Or, will you be required — or able — to work remotely from your home?
- Is this an exempt or a nonexempt job?
Understand that in the USA, jobs fall into one of two categories that impact your income, defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA):
Jobs that are not covered by the FLSA are typically called “exempt” jobs because they are exempt from the requirements of FLSA. This means your employer is not required to increase the size of your paycheck even if you work 80 hours a week, unless your employer is smart.
Usually the job offer for an exempt jobs specifies a monthly or annual salary.
These jobs are covered by the FLSA requirements. You are likely expected to check in and check out of work so the employer knows exactly how many hours you have worked.
When you work “over-time” (more than 40 hours a week), your hourly rate increases by 50% per hour for each hour over 40. So, if your hourly rate is $10, you should be paid $15 per hour when you work more than 40 hours in a week.
When the job offer specifies a dollars-per-hour salary, it is a “nonexempt” job (not exempt from the requirements of the FLSA rules).
Verify the Manager and the Work Day Details
It can be very discouraging to learn that your manager isn’t the person you thought it would be on your first day of work. Or the job isn’t what you expected. So, nail down those details as much as possible now.
Verify what you learned during the interview about who your boss will be and other relevant details. Organizations re-organize and people move on to other employers and other jobs.
You need to confirm the details about management and the work.
- Who will be my manager (and supervisor, if any)?
- Where is my boss located?
- Do I report to anyone else?
- What are the hours of work per day or per week (e.g., 9 to 5, 5 days a week; 8 to 6, 4 days a week; 12 to 4, 3 days a week; 30 hours a week from your home and 10 hours in the office on Mondays, etc.)?
- Where is this job located? If working at the employer’s location, get the street address and, if an office job, location of desk or office.
- Is there an official time for lunch?
Nonexempt jobs usually have a specified time and length for lunch plus other short breaks for a full-day job
- How often will I receive a performance review?
- Who writes my performance review?
- Who contributes to my performance review?
- Will there be any “on-boarding” training to introduce me to how the organization operates? When? Where?
- (If this is a training or entry-level job) when can I expect to be promoted to the next level, assuming my performance meets your expectations?
- Are employees able to/required to work from home? If yes, then –
- How many days (or hours) a week do employees work from home?
- Will you (the employer) provide the equipment, software, and other necessary connections required for me to work from home?
OR, will you be using your own computer, internet connection, online service monthly fees, etc.?
If you are providing all the equipment, connections, and online memberships required, does the employer reimburse you for your added expenses? When and how often?
- What technology is used to stay in touch, e.g. Slack? Zoom? Or???
Don’t assume that anything will be consistent with your other jobs. I once accepted a job, expecting to work from 9 to 5 as I had in my previous jobs, only to discover — on the first day — that we were expected to work from 8:15 to 4:30 instead. So, I was late for my first day of work. Yikes!
Understand the Total Compensation Being Offered
Jobs have a salary (the paycheck), but most employers also offer other benefits, like vacation time, medical insurance, etc. The complete package combining salary and benefits paid by the employer is called “total compensation.”
Be prepared to negotiate the salary by researching the salaries paid for this job by this employer and other employers using PayScale.com, Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, and other resources. Also, be prepared to negotiate some of the benefits.
First, learn the details about the salary being offered:
- What is the base salary you are offering?
- Is there a signing bonus?
This is typically for a more senior job or when employers are competing for candidates to fill this kind of job. If there is a signing bonus, ask for the details:
- How much will it be? It may be 5% to 10% of the base salary.
- When will it be paid? Often they are paid after you have been in the job for a few months.
- If the bonus is paid when you start the job, you may be expected to return all or some of the bonus if you leave the job too soon, typically before the end of your first year of employment.
- Will I be eligible to receive any other bonuses?
If the answer is “yes,” ask these follow-on questions:
- How is the bonus determined?
- When would I qualify for a bonus?
- When would I receive the bonus if I qualified?
- How are commissions determined — what is the basis of the commission (amount of sales made, number of new clients, etc.) during a specific timeframe (week, month, quarter, year, or ??) and the percentage of commission (2%, 5%, 20%, or ??)?
- How and when are commissions paid?
Important: Learn How Compensation Works for This Employer
The starting salary is only the beginning. Don’t assume that raises happen every six months or even every year.
Also, learn what you can about how the employer pays their employees and where this job fits. Most employers have “salary ranges” for each job, paying some jobs more than other jobs because of local competition for people with those skills or a limited number of people who are qualified.
Salary ranges have a minimum, midpoint, and maximum.
- Most employees are paid at or below the midpoint, assuming that as they gain more experience, they move on to the next higher-level job where they are at the bottom of the salary range again, but in a higher salary range.
- New workers are typically paid near the minimum of the salary range for that job unless they are considered “senior” for the job — highly trained and experienced.
Ask these follow-on questions to understand more about where this job fits and the kind of salary increases you can expect in the future:
- How often is the salary paid? (weekly, monthly, every Friday, or ??)
- How is the salary paid? (check handed or mailed to you, or a direct deposit in your bank account?)
- When would I be eligible for a raise?
- How often do good performers receive salary increases? Other performers?
- What is an average salary increase for someone in this job?
- What is the salary grade for this job and the salary range for this grade?
In an attempt to pay employees fairly, most employers have developed salary grades for their jobs. The more senior jobs usually have a higher salary grade than the less senior jobs.
Each salary grade has a salary range — the amount of salary that can be paid — from a minimum to a maximum with a “midpoint.”
The salaries for employees within a salary grade usually vary based on the amount of experience the employee has, fitting with the requirements of the job. Typically, most employees are at or below the midpoint for their range.
- Where does this salary fit into the salary range? (Top of the range, midpoint, or bottom?)
- Will I be paid for overtime work? (Applies only to “nonexempt” jobs)
- Is there an employee stock purchase plan? Are stock options available/given to employees? (Typically, available only for large corporations with publicly-traded stock.)
Ideally, this information is provided in a document for new employees that is handed to you, emailed to you, or available on the employer’s internal network providing you with the details for your records. It is not usually included in the offer letter.
If you are relocating for this job and have received assurances that the expenses (and time) associated with the relocation will be covered, confirming those details now is a very good idea. Read Very Important Elements of Your Compensation Negotiation to understand some tricky details about the cost of relocation.
Learn About Other Benefits Available to Employees
The details on some of these benefits may be negotiable, and others may not. Choose the most important issues to you.
Look for answers to these questions:
- How much vacation time is earned per year? How is vacation accrued (1 vacation day earned each month or?)
- If I don’t use my vacation time, will it be carried forward to the next period?
- What is the maximum vacation accrual limit?
- When will I be eligible to take some vacation time?
- How many/any “personal days” per year? When will I be eligible?
- How many sick days per year? When will I be eligible?
- Is health/medical insurance available/provided? Ask for their standard documentation.
- When does it start? (There may be a “waiting period” of up to 90 days before coverage begins.)
- How much will it cost me per month?
- Does it cover families? If there is an extra cost to me for family coverage, what is that cost?
- Does it cover prescriptions? Cost to employees?
- Do I have an option to “opt out” of the medical insurance? Will my pay increase if I opt out?
- Do employees qualify for added vacation time after weeks, months, or years of employment?
- When would I be eligible for a promotion?
You may also want to ask about internal promotions — what the process is and when you would be considered for a promotion. Caution: Some employers may expect you to stay in this new job for at least a year before looking for another new job inside the organization, so this might be a question better asked at a later date.
Some employers may automatically promote you from a junior job to a more senior one as you gain experience and receive good performance reviews. Others will not.
The Bottom Line:
Keep good notes in all of your discussions, particularly noting agreements on aspects of the job that are not standard for the employer. Hopefully, you won’t receive any unpleasant surprises after you begin working in your new job. The best way to avoid unpleasant surprises is to ask your questions and know the answers before accepting their job offer.
More About Successful Salary Negotiation
- Guide to Salary and Compensation
- What to Expect in a Job Offer
- Winning Negotiation Strategies for Your New Job (free ebook)
- Salary Negotiation Strategies for Stay-at-Home and Working Moms
- Answer This Interview Question: What Is Your Current Salary?
- Answer This Interview Question: What Are Your Salary Expectations?
About the author…
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.
More about this author…