How to Decide Between Two Job Offers

Posted by: Francesca Di Meglio on July 7, 2009

With the economy in turmoil, many MBA graduates are finding the job search tough going. To give readers some insight into the strategies they’re pursuing and the difficulties they face, BusinessWeek has recruited four out-of-work MBAs to write about their experiences for a new feature called “The Hunt” that will appear periodically on the Getting In blog. Comments, as always, are welcome.

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By Bryan Glover
In an interesting turn of events, I was offered two different jobs this past week. Both of these offers came with tight deadlines for accepting or declining, which added a bit of stress — the good kind, fortunately — to my weekend. In trying to decide which of the two positions to accept, I realized that this situation might come up for other job seekers and so it would be good to cover as a topic for a blog. I don’t pretend to have all the answers or to be able to predict the future, but I believe I made a good decision based on the various factors that are important to me. Of course, I did a pro/con list, used a decision tree, and even went as far as doing an NPV analysis to weigh the financial benefits of both jobs before making my decision. Ultimately, the deciding factor had nothing to do with any of my analysis; I made my decision based on the limited information I had about the differences in cultures between the two organizations.

The first position I was offered requires a secret security clearance, which takes one to three months to process. For that reason, this job doesn’t start until August 17. It is a job within the D.O.D. and comes with a full line of benefits, etc. I have had a few different interactions with the man who will be my boss, and he has proved exceedingly, for lack of a better word, cool. This job pays less than the other position I was offered, but it is here in San Diego and that is typically what we refer to here as the “sun tax”. It makes up for the lower pay with a better education reimbursement package and a more formal OJT regimen. In addition, the people involved with the background check have been very nice in answering questions and helping me try to make a decision.

The second position I was offered requires only a very limited background check and so the job was to start in one month. It is also a federal job, but with a purely civilian agency. It pays more than the D.O.D. job and also comes with all the typical federal benefits. However, accepting this position would have required that I move back to the Bay Area within the next four weeks. This, in and of itself, wasn't too great of an issue because it would put me closer to the vast majority of my support network, which is in northern California. However, this agency was not going to assist me in making the move and the offer was a conditional one until they completed the background check they were going to do. That meant I would likely have two weeks or less to pack, move, unpack and get even remotely settled before beginning work, not a pleasant thought. In addition, the HR person I was working with gave me two days to make my decision and was not very friendly when I had questions.

At the end of the day two major issues came into play in making my decision: 1) the cultures of the organizations to which I had applied; and 2) being nervous about the D.O.D. security clearance process. The jobs weighed out relatively evenly using the various analytical tools, so the decision would end up being about where I wanted to work and how big of a chance I was willing to take more than any other factors. Now, I know that I have a pretty clean background (I have held top-secret clearances previously), but going through the process is always nerve-wracking because sometimes information that gets reported from courts or in credit reports, etc. is inaccurate and because the people performing the background checks are humans who have their own pet peeves and things they get hung up on. To help overcome this area of stress I decided to e-mail the man conducting my background check and his response to me was that he didn't see anything in my clearance paperwork that should be an issue, so as long as I told the truth (which I did) and fully disclosed everything (which I did), I should be fine. This meant that the decision would come down to culture.

Those who have read my previous blogs know that I am a big believer in "fit". It is very difficult to measure how well you will fit in with an organization as an outsider. You can do shadowing, ask questions during the interview, etc. But at the end of the day, your information will be too limited to truly make an accurate decision based on "fit". Luckily, I do have experience with the D.O.D. (I was a U.S. Marine) and so I know, in general, how the culture of that organization will be and I know that I like that culture and achieved great success in that culture. I can't say for sure that there will be a great "fit" with this particular group of D.O.D. employees, but I do believe the odds are greater knowing what I know about the culture in general. I also have some insight to the civilian agency because of my previous federal civilian experience. I worked at an agency similar to the one mentioned in number two, and it wasn't a good "fit" for me. My personality and that of the typical agency employee/manager were too different in too many ways for the situation to work out. In addition, my dealings with the various HR people at each agency said a lot about the cultures of their organizations.

Today I turned down position number two, and I am going to work on the business plan for the company I mentioned starting in my last blog, while awaiting the results of my security clearance investigation. I know that my worst case is getting turned down for my security clearance and having to start the job search all over from scratch, so I am continuing to work on my plan just in case. I would love to hear tips any of you have to help in situations like this. How do you go about deciding between two (or more) different offers?

Reader Comments

Jimmy

July 15, 2009 9:50 AM

You will do fine... Keep the faith and there you go.. Good Luck and God Bless.

Flo (finance/strategy) from Canada

July 16, 2009 12:08 AM

To be honest, neither job sounds that good. But I know the feeling of being offered not one but TWO jobs! Hurray! I'm not an MBA but like you I've got big picture corporate strategy experience but am now out of the regular salaried world getting by on very little money, but loving being away from the whole corporate game-playing and double-speak with a bunch of bureaucrats and game-players. Of course it's important to decide on a 'life' not just a career and I think you're wise to get on with that business plan of yours regardless of your new job. I'd say, get someone else you trust to write that business plan for you as you articulate it --they will give it the proper objective treatment like you did with your corporate strategy when you were in that field pre-MBA. Am I making any sense? It's your own business plan and you know it best, but you're biased and protective precisely because it's your "baby", so get someone outside who isn't emotionally attached and biased to ask you the proper questions and can write the stuff down in a rigorous, credible, logical fashion...

Anyway, I couldn't be happier for someone/anyone who's landed a job, has the kind of honesty you've displayed in your writings...all the best!

waeed

August 13, 2009 1:05 PM

when you get a government job in the university where the pay is not as much as what you have right now but there is the feeling of insecurity in your current job which is the reasons for applying in the first instance, the new offer is also in another state where you have to travel and only come to be with your family over the weekend.
what is best to consider is it the job security or family bond that is at stake?

Francesca Di Meglio

August 13, 2009 1:16 PM

Waeed, the response will be different for everyone. Of course, both job security and family obligations/bonds/needs/wants are important. But you'll have to weigh each against the other and determine which is most important for your family and you. What are you leaning toward?

Jack

April 2, 2010 11:06 AM

I have the same situation, which brought me to this website. I was offered a position that has excellent potential in the Energy Sector. I was set to take the position and actually accepted. At which point I tendered my resignation and was offered a significant counter from my current employer. Bottom line is more money to do what I can already do in my sleep, plus even more money guarenteed starting next year. I know very little about the energy industry however the other position is with on of the fastest growing energy companies in the US. My fear is I take the energy position and feel regret that it wasnt what I thought, and I am going through the "devil that you know.." argument. Both positions are working from my home office. One of the major hesitancies (besides the guaranteed money with my existing employer) is that my wife and I just had a baby 3 weeks ago and I have to take that into consideration. Do I stay with what I know and good at, for more money (that only came when I threatened to leave) or do I roll the dice and enter a new career in an industry I do not know, in hopes of climbing the ladder faster and surpassing my current earnings 5 years from now? Or do I stay where I am and definitely make more money in the first 5 years, and then hit the job market when my daughter is older? I am bored in my current role but I am good at my job, I know how to make money there, and I have freedom to do whatever I like? I am in a conundrum!!

Jason

April 30, 2010 8:45 AM

I think it depends on what is important to you. For some people, family, security and money will take precedence. For others, it will be learning potential and degree of challenge that is more valuable. Personally, the latter is more important to me at this point in my life, but it's only because I am young and ambitious, and I'm not tied down to any major commitments. I am trying to decide between two offers currently as well. I plan to make a weighted pros and cons list and hopefully come up with a concrete decision. I think it will be at least helpful to get all your thoughts on paper and quantify them, so you can assess it objectively and then re-evaluate. Of course even if you took all factors into account, it would still be difficult to decide. Talking to people about it can also be valuable, but in the end it's up to you. Some people will give you the wrong advice based on their own bias (and lack of knowledge about your situation), so you can't always trust them. But it just helps to give you more perspective on the situation from another person's standpoint. But either job you choose, you should know that it won't define you for the rest of your life. If you are unhappy with the job, you can always move on at some point with more experience than you had before, even if it seems like a poor experience.

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