How To Choose One Job Offer Over Another

July 2004


Randall Scasny

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that hiring is up. National employment rose by 248,000 in May with an increase of 346,000 in April and 353,000 in March. This is good news!

Experiences from my own network of friends, acquaintances and contacts supports the government data. In fact, one man I worked with was considering three job offers. Another already was offered a job but was still continuing to look for something better.

As difficult as it is to find a job, when you have more than one job offer to consider, the task of deciding who to accept or turn down can seem as difficult.

So, how should you choose one company over another? Should it be dictated by money, location, or the type of work you prefer? Are there other factors you should consider when making your hiring decision?

I've observed a life cycle of decision-making processes most people use when choosing to accept an employer's job offer. They are:

New Job Hunters (1st, 2nd job hunts)

  • Compensation Package
  • Location
  • Type of Work

Experienced Job Hunters (3rd, 4th job hunts etc.)

  • Business Travel
  • Corporate Culture
  • The People
  • Business Intelligence

Compensation Package
Compared to private industry salaries, most service members have earned below the norm. Therefore, it's natural that salary issues are at the top of the list of factors by which veterans choose one job over the other. It's hard to pass up an offer that pays thousands of dollars more per year. That is, unless the entire compensation package is considered.

Benefits such as healthcare, 401k's, paid vacations, life insurance and overtime pay, etc. are all factors that should be considered as part of one's total compensation. There may be cases where it is prudent to accept a job offer that pays a lower salary simply because it offers better benefits.

Most veterans will see an immediate rise in their take home pay when they accept their first professional, post-military position. In my first post-Navy job, my salary immediately doubled. Two years later, I was earning an additional 25 percent.

However, a question is in order here. Should the compensation package be the sole determining factor when choosing to accept one job offer over another? Is it the optimum way of making an important career transition decision?

The answer to this question is personal and variable. It depends on your personal situation and, for the most part, your family responsibilities.

When I have been in this situation, I stepped back and reviewed my family budget. I determined, down to the smallest detail, what I needed to live comfortably and fulfill all my commitments. Then, I added a 25-percent "contingency coefficient" to that total.

By using this process, I objectified my baseline salary. This allowed me to look at other factors for my final decision. This is also useful in eliminating job offers that are not competitive.

If a company offers you a job that does not meet your baseline salary, you will just be creating a "cash crunch" problem down the road if you accept the offer. If you really want to work for that company, go back to them and say just that: "I want to work for you but I need (baseline) salary to accept." If they are serious, they will negotiate with you.

I have corresponded with many veterans. And the location factor is primary for many of them. Family obligations or simply wanting to "go back home" is the reason they give for looking at a city or state first and then seeing what kind of work is available there.

For many job hunts, this is not really a problem. If anything, it gives some focus to the job hunt by placing a structure on it that would otherwise be missing when someone is open to living anywhere.

(And I have found that the vast majority of people are NOT open to living anywhere. Rather, the "open" factor is really their belief or misconception that if they are flexible they will have more hiring appeal. Generally, I think people are "open" to anything if they have no other options. Don't put yourself in that situation.)

The location factor becomes a problem when a veteran decides on an area where his or her job skills are not widely in demand.

This was the case for a man I worked with who wanted to live in northern Michigan, which has a large tourist industry; he had significant electronic troubleshooting skills. There weren't a lot of companies in the area who needed his skills.

Despite all the talk about global economies and virtual companies, if you break down private industry into its sub-categories and correlate those industries to geographical areas, you'll find that industries by and far are regionalized. (e.g. Industrial--Midwest; Computer--East and West; Advertising--East; Government--East, etc.)

I find the location factor is the most limiting factor of all unless one makes some compromises and does one's homework.

Prior to making relocation plans, you should research the area you want to live. You can find regional economic information at the Bureau of Labor Statistics website (Go to Regional Economies At A Glance). Don't worry, the BLS does a great job of breaking down the data in layperson's terms.

If you find there are not a lot of people employed in your occupation, you have a couple of choices to make:

  • Widen the area you want to live to increase your opportunities.
  • Consider several different occupational sub-groups to broaden your employment opportunities.

An advanced technique you can use is this: Discover the important companies in the industry of your occupation, and contact these companies. Ask them if they are considering opening a regional office in your area. If they are, tell them you are interested.

Good companies always have expansion plans. Many times they lack the right person to open a new branch. You could very well be that person!

Type of Work
Of the three factors new job hunters use to make a hiring decision, the type of work is by far the wisest in my opinion.

Workers spend a lot of time at their jobs. Employment in any field can be consuming, stressful (at times) and always challenging. If you are going to invest the time in an occupation you want excel in, it is best choosing one that you enjoy doing and in an organization you are excited to be a part of.

This again requires you to do your homework and ask questions during job interviews. Learn the details of the position. Ask to meet one of your future colleagues so he or she can tell you about a typical day on the job. Become educated about the organization and its business.

When people are confronted with a choice between two similar alternatives, employment satisfaction should play an important role.

. . .

The above factors are most commonly used by new job hunters. But after you have become experienced in your field and industry, that is, have made the career transition and you have contacts within an industry, new factors reveal themselves when considering an employment offer.

Business Travel
I discussed this factor at lunch with an executive friend of mine last week. He felt this factor is considered by new job hunters not only experienced ones. After some thought, I elected to place this factor in the experienced job hunter category. I think it better fits in with veterans' decision making. Let me explain.

When an employer tells a job candidate the position requires 80 percent travel, this value may be a lot for a civilian who has not traveled much but for most veterans, a high travel position is their standard of reference. So, vets who are new to job hunting, I believe, place the business travel factor in the backseat, so to speak.

However, something happens to service members when they become civilians again. They have more control over their lives and new priorities are revealed that makes business travel an issue in their lives and a factor worth addressing prior to accepting a position.

I recall interviewing for a position at a global automation company. I was being considered for a technical instructor position. During the interview, I was told the position would have 80 percent travel for 2 years then would taper down to 25 percent. This seemed fairly standard for field technical positions.

I then asked the interviewer, what's my service region? He told me, "Canada, the U.S., Mexico and we have customers in Argentina."

I thought, So, he wants me to travel the whole Western Hemisphere! I was well aware of flight delays and customer problems that happen all the time. I figured the "real time" travel might be 90 percent. This would have been an issue for my lady friend ... and so it would have been an issue for me.

The business travel factor made me look closer at the job and the company. Did I really want this job? Was this the right career decision for myself? Would I be taking the job because I needed a job or because I saw an opportunity that fit me?

I chose to turn down the job offer and pursued other opportunities that better fit my goals.

Corporate Culture
While most people (including myself) consider this factor very important, I find it isn't at the top of the list of decision-making factors for most veterans.

I think this is because the military has a wonderful (though at times uncomfortable) mechanism to instill a single organizational culture across all its service branches--basic training.

I cannot express how valuable I think a boot camp would be to many organizations. It places everyone on the "same page" and it objectifies behavior and performance standards. Having one culture makes organizations more efficient and, I believe, its employees more productive because they're happier. Why? A single culture eliminates uncertainties.

Unfortunately, in private industry, there are as many corporate cultures as there are companies. In some corporate cultures, the processes are spelled out clearly; in others, they must be discovered through trial and error by the employee.

Those employees who do not adapt to a given culture do not always stay. This is unfortunate; company turnover usually affects the entire organization.

For the employee who is hired and then departs as a result of a mismatched corporate culture, it essentially means starting the job-hunting process all over again. Avoid the problem; consider corporate culture in your job acceptance equation.

How can you use the corporate culture factor to your advantage?

Determine what kind of culture you best work in. Are you a team player or an independent type? Do you like a small work group or do you excel in a large, diversified organization? Do you need to have face-to-face contact with your boss or colleagues? Or, can you function in a virtual organization when the only contact is through instant messaging software?

Knowing what kind of culture you shine in can help you eliminate companies that you will not synch with.

What do I mean by "synching with?"

Many years ago, I interviewed at two Japanese automation companies. They had similar product lines. And my experience in electronics and inverter technologies (thanks to the U.S. Navy) selected me out of a 2-inch pile of resumes that lay on the interviewing room's table.

In the first company, during the interview, I quickly came to realize how corporate culture came into play. After the personal introductions at the beginning of the interview, the interviewer stopped the interview and got serious. He went into a monologue about "pride."

He repeated the word "pride" many times. I quickly understood that this monologue was more than an expression of his pride in his company's business success, but really was a statement about his corporate culture.

I had been out of the military for about 5 years by then. I found that I worked best in collegial, informal work situations. For me, the authoritarian aura of this company was a turn off. I chose to bow out.

In the second company, for the interview, I was escorted to a conference room with a very long table and was asked to sit down. A moment later, nine men marched in (6 Japanese and 3 American) and sat down.

After the inital introductions, one American "interviewed" me. Actually, it was not really an interview per se. It was a business strategy meeting. He described their business problem and asked me only one question: How would I solve it?

I told them they needed more than another technical-support engineer, rather, they needed to create a new department with such and such responsibilities. I saw a lot of smiles by all my interviewers.

One week later, I had no offer so I called them. I was told that they created a new department and chose to promote from within.

For me, this story illustrates several things. Their corporate culture was a social contract between American and Japanese employees. It also illustrated what they wanted from their employees: an ability to solve problems. Finally, theirs was a culture that was open to ideas from a stranger, but they preferred someone already on their team to implement the ideas.

While the first company's culture focused on pride, the latter company's culture was all about trust.

I think it would have been a good fit for me. However, I was not a good fit for them due to their culture.

The People
Despite all the new trends in technology that assist in business management, and beyond the importance of corporate culture, I have found that having a great employment experience depends on the people who already work there.

The existing work team is the embodiment of a company's culture. Their attitudes, work performance and business-to-personal interactions are essential to the financial success of the organization and the happiness of all employees.

Thus, knowing an employee or any of the people on your future work team is extremely valuable when making a job offer decision. If an employee gives you the "lay of the land" and you feel it is a good match, this information can help your transition.

How can you get to know the people? Networking, personal contacts and the like. Most people still are hired through informal channels and there is a primary reason why they are: to build successful work teams you need not only skilled people but also people you can work with.

Business Intelligence
Business intelligence never comes into play in the hiring decisions of new job hunters. Primarily for two reasons:

1. New job hunters generally seek positions in established hierarchies. Experienced job hunters are often consultants with specialized skills and find employment outside of established hierarchies; they operate in the hidden job market, which emphasizes business contacts.

2. New job hunters are part of the expected job cycle. Experienced job hunters have returned to the job cycle unexpectedly as a result of corporate restructuring, mass layoffs, bankruptcies, etc. Thus, they require more complex information to guide their hiring decisions.

What are experienced job hunters attempting to learn by examining business intelligence?

I think their areas of concern are first hidden opportunities and then employment stability.

If through their research they learn a company is restructuring or has closed a new business deal, they may very well have some ideas on how to improve the business. Thus, business intelligence helps them learn how best they can serve the organization.

Secondly, they are seeking to learn about the organization's health, which they correlate with employment stability.

Let's examine a few factors of business intelligence:

Profitability: Is the company earning a profit? In a capitalist system, that's the first gauge of a healthy organization.

Management: Are the managers experts in their industry? Have they been with the organization a long time? Or, are they plug-and-play replacements?

New Business Deals: A healthy organization is scoring new business deals or being awarded new contracts.

The Competition: Knowing the company's competition and standing in their industry (market share) can give some indication of stability, future growth and what factors are at play in its business.

For publicly held companies, this business information can be easily obtained via business information websites. For privately held companies, you will need to go to the local business press and search for stories on the companies.

. . .

Choosing or not a particular job offer is perhaps the most important decision in your career transition. This article overviewed briefly most of the processes people make when considering a decision.

For most vets, the basic factors for new job hunters are all you need. But for vets with highly advanced skills or who are on their 2nd or 3rd job hunts, it is useful to consider other factors to make a sound, rounded and rational decision.

Good Luck In Your Job Search!

Internet Resource
For those veterans seeking employment with the U.S. Federal government, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) publishes two useful guides to aid vets in the Fed employment process:

VetsInfo: "provides general information about how the system works and how veteran's preference and the special appointing authorities for veterans operate within the system (OPM website)."

VetGuide: "gives detailed information about the special rights and privileges that veterans enjoy in Federal civil service employment. The guide conveniently summarizes in one place material from many laws and regulations that affect the employment of veterans (OPM website)."

Both guides can be downloaded for viewing by going to


Note: These references are links to articles or websites mentioned in this article.

All opinions, advice, statements or other information expressed in this article are solely the author's and do not necessarily express the opinions of or the publisher.