May 25, 2018

Evaluating An Offer, Part I: Financial Considerations

Posted by AGU Career Center

Receiving a job offer is wonderful. Someone finally wants you!  Receiving an offer means the potential employer has evaluated their options and decided you are the best person to meet their current needs.  It’s tempting to say “yes” immediately, but that’s not always wise.  This article will detail some of the things you should consider before making your decision.

First, make sure you have the offer detailed in writing.  You want to make sure you know exactly what you are agreeing to do—and what you will get in return.  Read it carefully, and make notes of anything that is missing.  Don’t assume that just because you discussed something during the interview it is included.


The first place most people look at is the salary.

Ideally, well before the interview, you did some research to determine the reasonable and acceptable salary range for the position.  The American Geosciences Institute, as well as the Bureau of Labor and Statistics provide useful data, as do many job search sites including,, and  Many sites now post salary data with job openings.  Consult your mentors, and those who work at the organization, to get a sense how their pay scales compare.

If there is a huge mismatch between the offer and what your research suggested as a reasonable range, that can be a red flag.  Either you don’t understand the job, or they don’t understand the market.

Salary may, or may not, be negotiable. For example, if you are being offered a position with the federal government, the salary is defined by the grade and step levels of that job, and is published publicly. The only way to get a higher salary is to get the position re-classified to a higher grade or step, which again may or may not be possible.


While not as prevalent as they used to be, some companies still pay bonuses.  While it’s temping to just add bonus to salary, that’s not accurate.  It may be a one-time signing bonus, or an annual bonus. If it’s annual, what determines the amount each year, or if it is awarded?  Is that something over which you have control?

Remember that future salary increases will be a percentage of your salary, ignoring any bonuses, so if you are given a choice between a higher starting salary and a starting bonus, it’s generally better to get a higher starting salary than a bonus.


You may have read the word “commissions,” and decided that since you are an academic, you can just skip this section. And you may be right. But there’s also the chance that you are looking at a position in the private sector. It might not necessarily be within sales directly and it might not be directly involve the word “commission,” but inevitably, you will have some performance evaluation that is measured and the concept of sales is a good way to illustrate this topic from a job offer evaluation perspective.

For a sales position, part of your compensation may be commissions. In this case, you should have some guaranteed income for at least the first few months, until you establish your customer base and start making sales.  You can ask who sets the sales targets, and how often most sales people meet them, to know what you can expect.


A potential employer may provide a 401K program, into which you can deposit part of your salary. Many companies match the amount you contribute ,up to a limit.  They may offer you company stock, or stock options (the right to buy stock in the company at a discount or fixed price, possibly at a future time).  They may provide profit sharing, in which employees get a certain percentage of the company’s profits annually.  With any of these types of compensation, make sure you understand if they are one-time or on-going, and what determines how often you receive them, and how much you receive.


The company may offer to pay moving expenses (usually up to a certain amount), tuition reimbursement (often only after you show a passing grade), an allowance for childcare expenses, or any number of other things.

For each financial incentive, you want to figure out what it’s worth to you, and the likelihood that you will use it.  For example, a $10,000 education allowance is worth $0 if you never plan to go back to school.

If you are going to ask for changes, the time to do it is after you have the offer, but before you have accepted. You want to appear enthusiastic about the position, but you also want to make sure you are getting everything you need, and at least some of the things you want.

Next time we’ll talk about the non-financial considerations in evaluating a job offer.

Lisa M. Balbes, PhD, has been a freelance technical writer and editor at Balbes Consultants LLC for over 25 years.  She is the author of Nontraditional Careers for Chemists:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers (Oxford University Press).