"Karen Chopra knows all about the dangers of "first-offer-itis." It's a condition in which job seekers itch to take the first position they are offered, said the Washington, D.C.-based career counselor. And in this time of high unemployment, more people are inclined to do just that. But rather than letting her clients succumb, Chopra will discuss a position's pros and cons with them to figure out how much they like the job versus how much they just want to stop searching. "Most people hate the job search," she said. "It's an anxiety-producing time. But there are real dangers to taking a job that is not a good fit." If you're in a job you dislike, for instance, you may not perform well. And if you leave the job after a few months, there will be a short stint to explain on your résumé.
While there can be a tremendous amount of pressure to rejoin the ranks of the gainfully employed, experts recommend that seekers try to curb desperation. "You are planning your career as opposed to just getting another job," said Randy Miller, founder and chief executive of ReadyMinds, a Lyndhurst, N.J., provider of online career counseling and coaching. "Take a step back, be clear on what you want to do. Otherwise, you will be in the same position six months later."
Of course, you must calculate whether you can afford to pass on an offer. Job seekers without any savings may not be in a position to say "no." For those who can afford to be pickier, here are five tips on what type of offers to take a pass on and what warning signs to watch out for:
1. A big step down: With more than six million jobs lost since the recession began, many job seekers have less leverage when it comes to salary. Nonetheless, a real low-ball offer is a red flag, Chopra said. It can be tough for workers to figure out how low is too low, Miller said, adding that job seekers should stay strong as long as they know they are worth more than a company's low offer. "In today's times, the employee is asked to do a lot more," he said. "If you are not making the money you are supposed to, you will probably be miserable."
Job seekers also should be wary of taking a title that's too far below their most recent position, said Allison O'Kelly, chief executive of Mom Corps, an Atlanta-based staffing firm specializing in flexible employment. At least temporarily, a salary can be less important than a title, O'Kelly said, because "it will be hard to get back into the higher role." She added that "people looking at your résumé will wonder why you were willing to take such a low-level position. They will think you should be more resourceful and able to find other jobs. I would prefer seeing that you are earning a little less, but that your title remains at a higher level. You will be better off."
2. Too-quick offers: Jobs that are offered very quickly may be worth passing on, said Walter Akana, a career strategist in Decatur, Ga. "It could be a sign that the company has lots of turnover and [is] desperate on some level as well," he said. While it can be unnerving, waiting awhile for an offer isn't necessarily a bad thing, Akana added. "The company is under pressure to fill the position in the best way possible," he said, "so sometimes the process can take time."
3. No written offer: Companies that don't provide a written offer may be worth avoiding, said Miller. And that's particularly important during times when many firms are struggling. Verbal offers "mean you really have nothing to stand on because the employer can renege," he said. "If it's a legitimate job offer, everything should be in writing." A contract with a specific description of the job could protect you from having your position radically altered. "The more you have in the document, the more it could protect you, it's minimizing your risk," Miller said. "You still run the risk of getting laid off. But it's better to have the piece of paper than nothing at all."
4. Too few answers: A potential employer's reluctance to answer questions should give you pause, said Chopra. Employers who are worried that a position may not be attractive to a particular candidate may try to conceal or avoid certain specifics, she said. Another giveaway: when employers won't allow job candidates to speak with a prospective supervisor. "You can work for a great company, but have a miserable supervisor, and that determines how you feel about the company," Chopra said. "The supervisor determines your day-to-day happiness."
5. Unpleasantness: If company insiders are difficult during negotiations, you may want to take a pass on a job, Chopra said. "Generally speaking, your treatment is not going to improve once you are hired," she said.
- Ruth Mantell is a "MarketWatch" reporter based in Washington.