Are you close to a job offer with a potential employer or do you have an offer in hand? Perhaps you are one of the many who are gainfully employed but keeping an eye open for a better opportunity.

This article is intended to help you avoid costly mistakes in your career moves.

First, realize that the evaluation of an offer begins well before the interview stage. Before you have a single telephone conversation or meet with another employer for an interview, you should have a list of your own priorities. Here are some examples.

  • Is there a maximum commute that you are willing to tolerate?
  • Are you able to relocate for the right opportunity?
  • Would you accept a lateral title if it involved more money or better growth potential?
  • Are there certain companies that you would or would not want to work for? Think about reputation, size, industry specialty, stability and culture.
  • What is your bottom line on compensation? Don’t forget to factor in benefits such as health care, 401K and pension.

During the interview stage you want to be polite and allow the interviewer to guide the process. You also want to make sure that you get all of your own questions answered. I encourage you to ask these types of questions.

  • What are the challenges in your organization?
  • What is the current and desired culture in the organization?
  • Where does the company see its avenues for growth?
  • If I were to join the company, what would you want me to accomplish in the 1st year in order to be successful?
  • Are there any immediate issues you would want me to work on?

The above questions show that you are thinking strategically about the company’s needs and what you can do for the company, not what the company can do for you.

Barring some very unusual circumstances like having another offer in hand that you need to make an immediate decision about, you should never be the first to ask about compensation. During the interview process you want to ascertain whether the company could be a good fit for you, and vice versa. Only after there is mutual interest should there be any hint of a compensation negotiation.

When the offer does come you should match it against your list of deal-breakers. But remember that this is an important negotiation. Rather than making a quick judgment about an offer you can probably improve your chances of getting what you want by showing professionalism and strong negotiating skills.

One important element of a negotiation is knowledge. You should have a good idea about what other employers are paying for similar talent. Keep in mind factors such as education and years of experience.

If a relocation is involved it takes a moment to check a site such as and compare salaries and cost of living for your present and new location. Be clear about what relocation would cost and how much the new company is paying for.

Always think about the big picture. Let’s say you are earning $72,000, your boss is the owner’s son, and your company does not have great prospects for growth. If you are interviewing with a good company, a new boss that you like and a position with growth potential, these are good motivators that would attract you to the new company. If they offered you a lateral $72,000 you probably have some negotiating room. If they offer you $75,000, even though you may be looking for $80,000, your long term prospects are probably far better with the new company. Don’t draw a line in the sand. Feel free to probe around what the best offer could be but keep your end goal in mind.

Flexibility and creativity are important. Using the above example, perhaps the new company couldn’t offer you any more than $74,000 because it would create an internal equity problem, bumping you up against more senior employees. Then perhaps you should try for a signing bonus, 6-month salary review or some form of performance-based bonus compensation.

If for any reason you do not get an offer or you turn down an offer, do not burn your bridges. Always move on with grace and professionalism. You’d be surprised how many times another chance arises at a later date with the same company. Here are just a few circumstances that unite the parties again: another candidate gets hired but doesn’t work out; the company expands and needs even more staff; or the company has a different role that you may be a perfect fit for.

At any point that you have doubts, call on a trusted friend or mentor. A former boss can be a great sounding board because they know you and may have experienced the type of situation you are in. Ultimately you have to put all the facts together and make your own decisions.

A career move can affect the rest of your life by providing new experiences and opening up doors of opportunity. If you have done your homework, negotiated in good faith and acted professionally, you should feel confident in your decision and look forward to continued success.