How can you determine whether a job offer is right for you? In this article, you’ll learn to quantify your needs to find a job that satisfies you.
If you’re nearing the finish line of a job search, you’re approaching a big life decision. Where you work will have a huge impact on your quality of life, both now and in the future. So how do you decide which offer to choose and whether you will be happy in the new role you’ve been offered? In this article, you’ll learn how to identify what’s important to you, then use those values to evaluate job offers and decide which one is the right choice for you.
What You’ll Learn
- How to refine your feelings and goals around work into a quantifiable list of job criteria.
- Practical ways of evaluating job offers to determine whether an opportunity aligns with your criteria.
Outlining What’s Important to You
In this section, you’ll work on an exercise to assess what’s most important to you and distill the result into a handful of criteria. By the end, you’ll have a written list of concrete guidelines for weighing job offers. (Feel free to skip this section if you already have a list.)
You might have a pretty good idea about what’s important to you in a job. You probably have a mental list of things you hated and loved about past jobs. But while you have a general sense of what makes a good job, you might not be able to quantify and weigh everything that fed that sense.
When faced with job offers, your emotions can drown out a logical analysis of the options. You may get caught up in the money or excitement about the product, for example, without realizing that what really makes you happy in a job is the people you work with or the flexibility to innovate. While you’re still thinking analytically, take some time to actively explore what’s important to you.
Start by creating a list of factors that feed into your job satisfaction. Try asking yourself: What…
- …did you like about your past jobs? What did you dislike?
- …do you need from your job?
- …makes you happy?
- …will help you continue your desired career path?
Cover things that impact how much you enjoy your work and how your job helps you achieve your life goals. Be sure to explore the nice-to-haves as well as things you absolutely want to avoid. At this stage, nothing is too big or small to include.
Spend time reflecting on what you’ve written. The list will likely continue to grow as you let it process. Take the time you need to feel confident you’ve covered everything that’s most important to you.
Once you have a list you feel good about, roll the items up into a few high-level criteria. These criteria represent the major influences on your job satisfaction, and you’ll learn to use them when weighing a job opportunity.
Here’s a high-level criteria example (“Innovation”) with the list of enjoyable things that fed into it:
- I love architecting new apps from scratch.
- I have the most fun implementing features with new APIs after WWDC.
- My favorite project in the past year was building a prototype to explore an emerging technology.
- I don’t like the constraints of working on apps that support back more than two major iOS releases.
The next section will cover some common job satisfaction factors that might give you more ideas for your list.
Now, you’ll tap directly into the brain of a software developer trying to get to sleep the night before resigning from their current job. If you relate to the worries their mind is coming up with, add them to your list! You’ll continue exploring these criteria in future sections, planning your way to a worry-free sleep.
“What if the company isn’t ready for a recession, and I end up laid off in a few months?”
Change can be stressful. A 2022 study by the American Psychological Association showed job stability as one of the top ten stressors for adults. In a time of economic turmoil, with layoffs heavily impacting tech companies, many consider stability a top criterion for their job search.
Lack of stability can also present as constantly shifting priorities, changing technology decisions and reorganizations. All of these result in uncertainty, which can be frustrating if you’re not in the right mindset for it.
If this is important, it will likely impact the type of companies you apply to. A decades-old finance company is going to offer more stability than a tech startup. A permanent placement is going to offer more consistency than a contract position.
“What if I get stuck in this role for a few years, and my career path stagnates?”
Every job presents a different set of opportunities and limitations for growth. Finding the best environment to grow depends on the stage of your career and your desired path. If you’re early in your career and want strong mentors to help you grow technically, a larger team with senior coworkers could be great. If you’re midway into your career and looking to break into management, a more junior team might present the best opportunities for you to demonstrate your leadership abilities.
A new job offer might include a promotion, or it might feel like a reset after having spent a few years in the same role. You might be anxious about proving yourself all over again to new leadership or uncertain about how the career paths work in practice at a new company.
The work itself has a huge impact on your personal growth. Stepping outside of your comfort zone with a new tech stack or a different role can stretch your skills and accelerate your career journey. On the flip side, if you felt stuck in your prior position, getting a similar role in a similar organization might not be helpful in getting you unstuck.
“What if everybody is weird, or I’m stuck in meetings most of the day?”
This is one of those categories that blurs the lines a bit; most aspects of job satisfaction impact your enjoyment in some way. But the company culture and your interest in the day-to-day work often have the biggest impact on your enjoyment in the role.
You no doubt heard a pitch about the company’s culture that spoke to you on some level. Hopefully, you got the sense that the team you’re joining aligned with a culture you enjoy as well. Ideally, you gelled well with future coworkers during interviews.
However, this is one of the harder items to pin down before accepting a job because it’s hard to assess how well you’ll get along with the team from the relatively short interactions you have during interviews.
The work itself is also a huge factor here. Even at a company you love, if you’re working with technologies or products you don’t really like, the daily work can be a grind. Developer life varies greatly depending on the role and company, so you’ll want a very clear picture before accepting a new job.
Another big factor that impacts your job enjoyment is your commute. You’ve likely read about studies that show how detrimental longer commutes are to your quality of life.
Therefore, considering the impact of a long commute is important to your future job enjoyment. You might want to prioritize remote-friendly (or remote-only!) positions or concentrate on locations you can reach easily from your home.
“Will I be making a positive impact on the world or just grinding away for a paycheck until I retire?”
You spend the majority of your waking hours during the prime of your life working. If you feel like you’re just going through the motions at work, you might start to question if you would be better off doing something more meaningful or exciting. This is a luxury many don’t get to consider, but moving between industries and products is relatively easy for a developer.
If you’re at a point in life where other criteria take a back seat, there is room to explore your passions. For some, working on a product with a meaningful mission is energizing. For others, getting to build new projects from the ground up, or working with the latest frameworks, is what gets them up in the morning. Think about what feeds your passion for development before you accept a new role.
As a bonus, the roles that check this box usually come with coworkers with similar passions. This can make your work even more enjoyable and rewarding.
“Should I have held out for more money or found a job with better benefits?”
When considering compensation packages, the most important component is finding a job that fulfills your needs. If you have a mortgage to pay and a family to feed, you need to know where the minimum bar sits.
Once you’ve cleared that bar, you can consider whether you’re being offered a fair market value. Even if it meets your needs, the opportunity cost of taking a job with below-market compensation is hard. A lowball offer might mean the company doesn’t value you or that they’re stretching to afford someone with your skillset. Being underpaid might lead to resentment and an early departure.
If the company can’t really afford you, you’re also more exposed to layoffs and less likely to get sufficient cost of living raises.
A job can impact your earning potential in less direct ways than the salary and benefits. Some might have rules that prevent you from pursuing your side hustle or from building your brand via public speaking or writing. Others might take you off your career path, reducing your future earnings potential.
Aside from your salary, you should also factor in equity, bonuses and benefits. If you are risk-averse, you might prefer a higher salary with lower bonuses and equity. Or you might place a higher emphasis on a generous leave policy or quality health insurance.
Whatever your priorities, be sure to evaluate the whole compensation package, not just the salary.
Creating a Decision Matrix
Now that you’ve identified your criteria, how do you objectively verify how well a job offer matches your preferences? In this section, you’ll explore building a decision matrix to quantify your findings.
A basic decision matrix is a spreadsheet with rows representing different decisions and columns for items that factor into the decision. Typically, you use weights to represent the relative importance of different factors. In this case, the high-level criteria you created in the previous section are your factors. Here’s an example:
The top row represents decision criteria, like those you identified in the prior section. The second row contains weights indicating how important the above items are to your decision. Each criterion gets a 1–10 score representing how well that job matches. The weighted score in this case shows that Dream Job LLC definitely has an edge based on the data. Perfect naming!
To create your own decision matrix, sort your criteria by importance, then translate the result into relative weights. The example uses a 0–1 scale, with a granularity of 0.1, but use what makes sense to you. It’s perfectly fine to have multiple criteria with the same ranking.
Once you’ve settled your list, open your favorite spreadsheet app and enter your criteria and weights.
Use a spreadsheet formula to calculate the weighted score of entered options, multiplying the criteria for each row by the weight. To use the matrix, you then enter a ranking for each job and category combo.
Start by inserting your current or prior job, plus a dream job, to validate and refine your weights using real data. Once you have the criteria and weights ironed out, this spreadsheet will be ready to provide unbiased advice when you have job offers to consider.
It’s important to keep in mind that the matrix is just one way of measuring job fit. You’ll want to take it as one data point, as well as a reminder of your goals and values while you reflect on an offer.
Doing Your Research
Now that you’ve thought about and written down your criteria, your next step is to gather data to feed your decision. The amount of public info available will probably vary depending on the size and type of company you’re considering. In this section, you’ll explore ways to get the answers you need.
Research shouldn’t happen in isolation, but before and throughout your interview process. Having a good understanding of the company before interviewing is important, and that understanding should get more detailed as the process progresses. In the next section, you’ll get some higher-level guidance on preparing questions to ask during interviews.
You’re probably familiar with sites like Glassdoor and Blind that allow employees to review employers. They’re a good source of information, but keep in mind that, like any anonymous review sites, they have a strong potential for biased or manipulated data. Take them with a grain of salt.
The best way to utilize them is to look for patterns in the reviews that are worth exploring via other sources. For example, if a lot of recent reviews reference a dysfunctional relationship between engineering and product, that’s your cue to ask your interviewers how their relationship is with the product team.
Note: Employers will really emphasize them, but “Best Places to Work” awards aren’t typically very meaningful. In most cases, companies have to pass certain screening criteria to be included, which does weed out a lot of the “worst places to work”. At the same time, inclusion in these lists is somewhat of a game; in some cases, inclusion can literally be bought. Likewise, the factors that the judges use to rank their winners might not represent what you consider important. An award is a positive signal but not an ultimate stamp of approval.
Voluntary attrition is the rate at which employees leave the company on their own accord. A low voluntary attrition rate compared to similar companies is a strong indicator of overall employee satisfaction. You won’t have direct access to this data, but it’s a great thing to ask about during interviews and when you talk with any current or former employees.
If you’re applying to a big company, or if you’ve been referred by someone, you may be lucky enough to know people familiar with the area you’re considering joining. Knowing someone ‘on the inside’ is an awesome way to get real info on what it’s like to work at a company.
If you don’t know anyone who works there, searching LinkedIn for first- or second-degree connections at the company is a good option. If you have a lead, try sending a polite message explaining you’re interested in learning more about the company. Often, you’ll find people willing to exchange a few messages or even hop on a call to share their insight.
Now, you’ll explore more specific methods for getting information through the lens of the job satisfaction factors covered earlier. You’ll also see examples of questions to ask employers based on your research.
Large established companies generally provide more stability than smaller and younger counterparts. If stability is a concern, you’re probably looking at companies that are public and easier to research.
For public companies, reading their latest earnings report is the best way to understand their overall health. These can tell you if the company is making money, how much cash they have on hand and what near-term risks they face. While you can never guarantee the future of a company, doing your due diligence here can prevent nasty surprises.
Next, read current news about the company. This can surface warning signs like recent layoffs and give you an idea of the challenges and opportunities your prospective employer faces. As with all your research, if you notice anything concerning, it’s a great topic to bring up in an interview.
Private or smaller companies can be harder to research, but you do have options. For startups, funding history is often public and easy to find in press releases or via sites like Crunchbase. You should also ask startups about their runway, which represents how many months they can operate with current funding.
For a private company without funding, you’ll likely find a few articles, but you won’t be able to get much additional data at this phase.
Beyond the health of the company, frequent changes in leadership and strategy are a stability concern. You can best determine these by questioning the interview team questions — and, ideally, a contact ‘on the inside’. Be sure to ask about voluntary attrition in those discussions, too, as it’s a great indicator of stability.
- “How much of the team that built the app is still with the company?”
- “I read an article that mentioned you were facing an issue with (something you’ve read). Are you concerned about this?”
- “What’s your current runway, and do you have an exit plan?”
Researching Career Growth Potential
Career growth might mean climbing a predefined ladder, adding new skills to your toolbox or getting into an industry or technology that interests you.
An important part of evaluating your job offer is to determine if your job title is appropriate to the position and a step forward in your career.
The first challenge is understanding where you fit on the career ladder. The same title can mean vastly different things at different companies. levels.fyi is a great starting point for comparing job titles across companies.
The required experience in the posting is another data point, which is especially helpful if you find postings for adjacent job titles. You should note the titles and backgrounds of interviewers, and look up employees with your offered title on LinkedIn. While these don’t give you solid direction on the current path, they provide some real-world context about what titles mean at your target company.
Typically, you’ll have a call with the hiring manager at the end of the process where you can resolve these questions; if not, it’s wise to ask for a call post-offer.
Start by asking what the career ladder looks like for your role. If progressing to the next level is important to you, ask them what that looks like at their company and on their team. Come prepared to ask follow-up questions to ensure you’ll be positioned to accomplish what you need to do to get to that next step.
Beyond the title, think about how this role gets you closer to your goals. Does it help you break into an industry you’ve wanted to be in? Does it provide opportunities to lead or to train up on new technology? Will it catch the eye of hiring managers at the company you want to work for in five years? If you’re unsure, it’s always wise to ask the opinion of someone in the role you’re building towards.
- “What is the career ladder for this role, and what would my road to promotion look like?”
- “What opportunities do you see for me to take ownership of a process or feature?”
- “What is the seniority level of the team, and where do you need the most help?”
Programming languages, minimum supported OSs and time spent in meetings are big items for many developers that are easy to pin down early in the process.
Keep in mind, however, that the company and team culture are just as important — and it’s hard to determine the right fit with just a few questions. You largely have to lean on your impressions of interviewers; asking questions that reveal the personality of the team helps. Interviewers are often stretched thin talking to a lot of candidates between their ‘real’ work, and that may alter the signals you get, especially for remote interviews.
One useful technique is to ask for a post-offer chat with a teammate to get a better understanding of how the team operates. If the recruiter is open to this, it’s a great opportunity to feel out the culture in a more casual atmosphere. This is also your best time to confirm how many foosball tables the office has. :]
During the interview process, you’ll speak to the hiring manager at least once. Be sure to ask questions that give you a good read on whether your working styles mesh. While they’re unlikely to be your manager forever, they’re your best representation of leadership within the company.
If you have a contact that currently or recently worked for the company, they are your best resource for an honest assessment of the culture.
- “Are you empowered to take risks in your work? What’s the response if you fail?”
- “What do you like best about working for this company? What’s something you wish would change?”
- “How is your work-life balance?”
Your passion might be building beautiful apps, working on a product you’ve always loved or advancing a mission you believe in. It could be all of these or any number of other things. Regardless of what it is, there are a few things to keep in mind when assessing a job.
The bad news: While it can seem like it might, passion for your work can’t erase other deficits. Your dream project might have a toxic team and a schedule that burns you out. You might also find that working on your favorite app looks a lot like working on your least favorite one when you zoom into the day-to-day work. Don’t let your excitement blind you, and be sure to stay true to the rest of your search criteria.
The good news is that people with similar passions are often drawn to the same work. It’s energizing and enjoyable to work towards a shared goal with passionate coworkers. You’ll discover this quickly when you chat with interviewers. True passion for the work will shine through the facade of interview tedium.
Do your research to understand what the company does and what they stand for. This is your best route to having meaningful conversations during interview Q&As that will help you separate the real culture from branding.
- “Is the company’s mission evident in your day-to-day work?”
- “What excites you about your work?”
Researching Compensation Packages
Regardless of where this falls on your list, or how you feel about negotiating, it’s important to understand your value. Some good places to start your research:
Knowing what you’re worth is half the battle. Entire books are written on negotiation, and it takes some skill. In a sentence, realize offers (in the US and many other areas) always assume negotiation and spend whatever time you feel is worthwhile to maximize the offer. It’s important to the longevity of your job that you’re comfortable with how your offer compares to the market rate.
Use your total compensation — including salary, bonuses and any equity — when comparing offers. Our survey data is a good starting point. Just remember that bonus and equity amounts are not guaranteed.
To avoid that sleepless night, understand your market value, negotiate to the best of your abilities and ensure the compensation covers your needs.
Preparing Interview Questions
Interviews are a two-way street — and they offer your best shot to gain insight into the opportunity. While convincing the employer you’re the right person for the job is top of mind, this is also your chance to assess the employer and role.
As you start the process with each company, write down questions that help clarify how the role meets the criteria you’ve defined. Think about those last-minute doubts keeping you up at night. This is the time to snuff them out! Before each interview, grab a subsection of questions most pertinent to the interview stage you’re going through.
For example, an interview with a fellow developer is a great time to get input on the work-life balance you can expect and insight into the architectures and toolsets you’ll use.
When talking to a technical leader, you might focus more on big-picture things, like the technical roadmap and the strength of relationships between product and technical teams.
Both of these interviews would be a good time to feel out what the path to promotion looks like from different vantage points.
Consider the best time to ask certain questions. It’s best to get into the details about benefits or compensation after you’ve received an offer. If you have an early screening interview with a manager, you’re best off asking about the product and technologies rather than digging too deeply into how flexible work hours are. Use your priorities, mixed with some common sense, to decide when to ask specific questions.
All-day on-site interviews can make this difficult, but be sure to take good notes during or directly after each interview to capture the data you’ve gathered. Time permitting, use these notes to adjust questions for future interviews to ensure you have all the info you need.
It’s perfectly reasonable to ask for additional meetings after you receive an offer. If you feel you don’t have a great grasp on the team culture, ask if you can chat with a potential coworker to discuss how the team operates. If career growth is high on your priority list, ask if you can meet with the hiring manager once more to discuss the company’s career ladder. This is the best time to focus more candidly on your needs, without worrying so much about how it positions you as a candidate.
The company recruiter or HR rep that presents the offer is there to answer your questions. Take advantage of the opportunity! They’ll be able to answer detailed questions about benefits, address questions about the offer and set up discussions to address any other concerns. Be polite, but don’t feel shy about asking lots of questions — determining that the role is a good match is in everyone’s best interest.
Making a Decision
At this point, you’ve done your research and asked a lot of great questions. Having gone into your interviews with a clear understanding of your priorities has helped you better assess the fit. But you don’t have to go with your gut — you have a spreadsheet!
Next is the simple matter of turning your feelings into numbers. Maybe this isn’t strictly scientific! But it’s not an impossible task to ask yourself if Job A felt more stable than Job B based on the research you’ve done. You even have some solid data to refer to, like financial reports and average employee tenure.
Quantifying these items is a process, but if you’ve done your work, it helps you consider matches more analytically. If you’re lucky enough to have a few offers, lean into weighing them against each other to come up with scores. If you’re leaving a job, add your experiences there to the list for comparison.
Job searches have a way of bringing your priorities to the front of your mind. It’s alright to tweak your criteria weights a little if you realize they seem off. But don’t take them lightly either; remember that you created them after a lot of reflection, before emotion was in the picture.
Once your stoic spreadsheet gives you advice, you still have to make a decision. Talk it over with your inner circle, reflect on your interview impressions or flip a coin (note: do not flip a coin). Whatever your decision process is, you’ll sleep more soundly knowing you reflected on your motivations and did your research.
- It’s important to consider your job search criteria early in the process and commit them to writing.
- Do your research before and throughout an interview process to fully understand the opportunity.
- Interviews are a two-way street, so be sure to come prepared with questions that will help you determine if the job is really right for you. It’s reasonable to ask for more meetings post-offer.
- Take good notes during or after interviews, so you don’t forget the answers to your great questions.
Have you recently searched for a job? Join the forum below to discuss your search criteria and favorite employer research tips.
About the Author
Jeff Rames went through multiple job searches in the past year — and spent a lot of sleepless nights second-guessing his decisions. He’s happily helping people afford and manage their healthcare as a Senior Software Engineer at GoodRx, checking off his number one search criteria: Passion.
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