How to Weigh Two Less-than-Perfect Job Offers

Last Updated Aug 24, 2011 11:59 AM EDT

In a bad economy, it's actually pretty common to have multiple job offers. I'm not saying multiple dream job offers - that's a party-like-it's-1999 thing. But still, competent job hunters can get multiple offers, and when jobs are imperfect, the decision-making process is, too.

People usually consider the obvious: pay, commute, and work responsibilities. But there a whole host of factors that could seriously impact how much you'd like the job. For the most part, people tend to consider things that will have very little effect on them, personally. For example, you could weigh whether the prospective employer is on one of the "best places to work" survey, but there are so many variables in that survey, that the information is not likely to be pertinent to your particular experience at that company.

In most cases, work is personal. And one experience at a company could be very different from another person's experience at that company. When you make a decision about what job to take, weigh the factors that you know will impact you personally, each day. Here are some examples:

But in general, these are the five most important areas to consider when deciding between two jobs:

1. Look at what your future boss is wearing. Do you like it? Is it an outfit you would choose yourself? People work best with people who are like them. This is not good for office diversity, for sure, but on a day-to-day basis, work is easier and more friction-free when you're surrounded by people like you. (This, of course, is why there's a boys' club in the first place.)

So you could dedicate your life to increasing diversity by seeking out people you are likely to clash with and taking jobs from them. But really, you'll get the best mentoring and the most focused attention from someone who sees themselves in you are cares about you on a deeper level because of that, according to Faye Crosby, professor of psychology at University of California at Santa Cruz.

2. Use a mental stopwatch when you talk about salary to your prospective employer. When the topic comes up, time how long the person talks about salary vs. how long he or she talks about other aspects of the job. You can tell how important someone thinks something is by how long they tell you about it. And you do not want to work somewhere where salary is everything.

This is because the jobs with the highest salaries are paying you to miss out on something. For example, PayScale reports that Google pays some of the highest salaries in Silicon Valley. Google pays these sky-high salaries because it needs to attract people who would be great at running their own start-ups. Investment banks also pay very high salaries but in exchange you give up your free time. All of it.

You should not sell your life to a company. You should be selling your ideas, your energy, your creativity. But a company hiring you should feel like they are offering you so many opportunities that matter to you, that money is not top on the list. (Wondering what should be at the top of the list? Training is the new workplace currency.)

3. Look around the office to see if any thermostats are in view. Before you start scoffing, consider this: A bad job is really only a bad job if you do not feel in control of your life. So, for example, adding even ten minutes onto your commute will negatively impact your life - mostly because it makes people nuts to not be able to predict traffic patterns on a reliable basis. Likewise, if you cannot control the temperature in your office, it has the same effect as lousy traffic: you feel out of control and your environment is unpredictable.
Yes, many large offices don't allow employees to control the thermostat, and you can't be sure people are happy at work if the thermostats are in clear view. But if they're hidden, people are likely going nuts.

4. Survey your prospective boss' desk. Obviously, if you've been interviewed in the conference room, you won't be able to consider this factor. But for the rest of you: Make sure your would-be boss' desk is clean. The messy-desk people get upset about this statement. But the truth is that people judge you by your desk. And if you have a messy desk, people think you're incompetent. It's not fair, maybe. It's like people judge you by how fat you are. (We could debate fairness, but it's not relevant because you can't change the world. With your fat butt or your messy desk. So just fix them both.) So, anyway, people who are conscientious of the image they project at work, and people who have a grip on their workload are the types of people who have clean desks. You want to work with those people.

So take special note of your prospective boss's desk. If there are papers everywhere, you put yourself at the risk of being the employee who is lost underneath them.
5. Stalk your future boss online. Check out Linked In, Brazen Careerist and other career-oriented social media outlets. You want your future boss to help steer your career to the next best place for you. A career is a process, not an endgame, and you want a boss who wants to be part of your process. So check out your boss on social media outlets to see if he or she participates. Does he join conversations? Does she share good ideas? People who care about being connected and building a strong network are people who will help you to do the same when you work for them. And that's worth way more than a big salary.

image courtesy of flickr user, Mr.Thomas