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4 questions to help answer the big one: “Should I take this job?”

Here’s how to consider the potential risks, benefits, and what your gut is telling you.

4 questions to help answer the big one: “Should I take this job?”
[Photo: SeventyFour/iStock]

Searching for a job can be frustrating. You have bills to pay, perhaps including student loan debt, plus other responsibilities in your personal life that limit how much time you can spend filling out applications and networking. Even so, most job searches unfold slowly: There are only so many jobs you can apply for, and interviews happen seemingly at random. So when a job offer finally comes through, it may feel like you’ve got to strike when the iron’s hot and say yes.

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But should you? Here are a few different ways to dig deeper into that question in order to make it a little easier to answer rationally.

1. Does my financial situation absolutely demand it?

It’s often been said, “Don’t take a job just for the money,” and it’s usually good advice. Putting the question in terms of financial necessity–rather than, “Wow, a salary hike that high sure would be nice“–can help you approach this with a level head.

Money aside, take a step back and make sure that you’re accepting a job that will help you to fulfill your goals. Careers are path-dependent things. The next job you take influences the next set of opportunities in front of you. Some of that comes from the career path available to you inside the organization you work for. Some of it comes from the skills you hone in the job you do, and subsequently what other roles you’re seen to be a good candidate for. Only when you look back in retrospect can you really see how all those factors have shaped your career.

Obviously, if you have to bring in a certain paycheck right now in order to fulfill your responsibilities, you might have to take whatever comes along; it’s a luxury to be able to pass on an offer in favor of something better down the road. But if you have that luxury at the moment, make use of it.

2. Do the role and the company both reflect my values?

Everyone has a set of values that guide how they want to live. Some of those values are culturally inspired, others come from our upbringings, and still others from our personal experiences. Knowingly or not, job searches entail reckoning with those sets of values, drawing on them to assess which opportunities feel like good fits. If you value security, for example, then a job that pays you on commission will probably stress you out. If you value autonomy, then working in a large old-line company with a rigid hierarchy may feel constraining. If you value service, then working for a profit-hungry corporation will leave you feeling like a sell-out.

So ask yourself based on everything you’ve learned about the company whether it aligns with your values. Then ask the same question of the role you’d be playing within the organization. Every job description has some mismatches, of course–the stuff that isn’t necessarily tied to some underlying value structure–but are there still a few opportunities in the near-term to make those connections? If not, there’s a chance the job will start to feel soul sucking after a while.

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3. What’s the opportunity cost?

If you’re unhappy in your current role and take this offer, you’ll definitely feel some relief immediately. It’s nice to know that your stressful job search has come to an end. But whenever you commit to one course of action, you are (by definition) potentially cutting off other courses of action. If you have creative pursuits that matter to you, will this job let you engage in them? If you have family responsibilities, will this job give you enough time for them?

Those opportunity costs reflect other goals that are also important to you. In the throes of a job search, your main goal is to get a job, so that seems like the only thing that matters. As soon as you land an offer, though, lots of other goals start to rise to the surface again. And they can become sources of frustration if the new job prevents you from fulfilling them. So think carefully about how this job will fit in to your life. Talk with people who know you well and use them as a sounding board to help you evaluate the trade-offs. And talk with your family members, too, in case they’d need to pick up any tasks you’ll have to forfeit when your professional life changes.

4. What is my gut saying?

Cognitive psychologists have developed a number of “dual-system” theories suggesting that we all have both a deliberative system of thought, for approaching complex problems, and a more intuitive one, which helps us make quick judgments. Both systems jointly guide our decisions and actions.

When making a job decision, you’re likely to focus on the new role’s attributes: the responsibilities, pay, commute, and opportunities for advancement. All of those factors are important. At the same time, you’ll also get a gut feeling about whether you’re comfortable with the interactions you’ve had with the company. You’ll have a sense of whether you’ve been dealt with squarely and can trust what was said. And you need to listen to this, too.

There might be something that’s hard to put into words (at least at first) that has put you off –about the people, the organization, or the job. Look around for information on employment websites or in conversations with current or former employees that might confirm or explain what’s making you feel uncomfortable. You also need to feel good about a job you’re about to take, even if you think it’s a good move.

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