6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Settle for Your First Job Offer After Graduation

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The real world is scary—you don’t need us to remind you. So if you get a job offer, accepting it right off the bat might feel like the only solution. Well, collegiettes, it’s not! There are some situations where you absolutely should not take the first job offer that comes your way. We talked to an expert about the times when it’s better to politely decline.

Signs you shouldn’t take the job

1. The employer is rude, sexist or inappropriate

The money might be great, the work might be good enough and the company might be reputed, but if your interviewer or anyone else you interacted with made you feel uncomfortable, taking the job is a bad idea. “If the employer is rude, sexist or inappropriate during an interview, imagine what they’ll be like when you’re a full-time employee!” says Vicki Salemi, a career expert for Monster. “Job seekers may not realize this, so I’m saying it now: You do not have to settle. You deserve better—a world-class employer that does not demonstrate these horrid traits.”

Alaina Leary, a first-year graduate student at Emerson College, didn’t fall into the trap: “I turned down an offer because the interviewers were sexist and demeaning during my interview process,” Alaina says. “The two people interviewing me actually snickered and laughed at some of my answers, assuming I didn't understand the business and technology aspects of the job. I felt I wasn't treated with respect during the entire interview process, and I assumed I wouldn't be treated with respect on the job, so I politely declined.”

Declining a job offer like Alaina did is anything but easy, but it is necessary if the environment you’ll be working in will keep you from thriving.

Related: I Turned Down a Job Offer After a Sexist Interview

2. The company doesn’t align with your values

Even if your interviewer was perfectly nice, the company still might not be the right fit for you. “Explore your potential employer’s values during the interview process so you find out what they stand for sooner rather than later,” Salemi says. “Examine their social media feeds and peruse their website to get a sense of their values as compared to yours. It’s perfectly reasonable to not accept a job offer if the company’s values are not in sync with your own.”

For instance, feminism and social justice play a growing role in many collegiettes’ lives. If the company doesn’t seem like it offers equal opportunities to all employees regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation, this is a big red flag. But beyond big-picture values like these, there are a lot of other signs that a workplace isn’t right for you. Ask yourself how important the work-life balance is to you, and how important it is in the office, for one thing. Take the time to figure out what you don’t want in an office culture, and avoid that as much as humanly possible.

3. The offer is only attractive because of the money

Of course, your primary concern when looking for a job is to be able to pay for things like food and rent. Otherwise, chances are you would veg out in bed watching Netflix and eating Cheetos from 9 to 5 every day instead. (JK of course, but you get the point.) But if you accept a job solely because of the paycheck, it will be really difficult for you to stay happy and healthy. “Yes, it’s exciting to get a job offer that’s lucrative, but the money won’t be enough to keep up your motivation and morale when you’re working past midnight on a regular basis, you feel like you’re overworked and are getting sick,” Salemi says.

That said, if you need the money right now, there are a few things for you to keep in mind. “Everyone’s financial situation is different, so if you do accept a job offer because of the money, realize that that motivating factor may fade fast,” Salemi adds. “If you have copious student loans to pay off, a high salary may indeed be an attractive reason for you to accept. Sometimes as women we don’t emphasize money enough! The offer itself should be attractive because it has more to offer than just the money, so don’t overlook other factors.” You should also be looking at how bad the commute is, company policies, etc.—this goes for any job offer!

4. You could make more money somewhere else

It’s been drilled into our heads that there are no jobs for millennials (which is not true), so your first instinct when you score a job offer might be to accept blindly. Remember: you do not need to settle! “When you interview with a potential employer, you must remember that they’re not the only company in the world,” Salemi says. “You have a lot to offer an employer and many of them—not just one—would likely be pleased to interview you, let alone work together! And yes, as you begin to interview more, you’ll realize that other employers may offer higher salaries.”

Kaitlin*, a recent graduate of the University of Southern California, was thrilled when she received an offer after months of job searching, but “something didn't feel right; there were a bunch of red flags,” she says. “The offered salary was much less than I was making at my current job. It was also entry-level, but I was already in an entry-level job, so I wanted to move up!”

Basically, you need to find the right balance between making enough money to live relatively comfortably and taking a job you will enjoy. But salary isn’t the only thing you should be looking at: make sure to consider the entire benefit package before accepting any job offer.

5. The job has nothing to do with what you want to pursue

In this case too, you might feel like you should just take any offer that comes your way, but Salemi warns against it. “When it’s in a completely different field than what you’re interested in pursuing, just say ‘no,’” Salemi says. “I’ve seen job seekers accept a job that has nothing to do with what they want to pursue because they were tired of job seeking and just wanted a job already. Years later they wondered how they ended up on their career path and had to take significant steps to redirect themselves from that long detour.” Unless you have a plan for what your next career step might be, just don’t take the job.

Leanne*, a recent graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, almost accepted a job for a unique reason, which she later realized wasn’t enough to justify taking the offer. “I think it didn't feel right because I got offered the job in this beautiful location,” Leanne says. “I was going solely for the fact that it was an exotic location, even though it wasn't the particular job I wanted and that I would've been accepting it out of fear of not finding anything else right when I got out of college.” Leanne denied the offer and now has the job of her dreams! It really comes down to believing you can accomplish anything—cheesy, but true.

6. Employees seem unhappy

If you accept this offer, you’ll be spending most of your time in that office with the same people every day. So, what if these people look unhappy? “Look around—if the office is still filled with everyone busy at their desks [at 7 p.m.], there’s a definite lack of work-life balance,” Salemi says. “Next, look at their faces—do they look miserable or happy? Probably the former.”

Alaina has had her fair share of doomed interview experiences. “I also interviewed in a place where people seemed unhappy, and I really think people need to look out for that,” she says. “The employees were VERY quiet—the office was dead silent at all times, throughout a large space, and everyone seemed stressed and hyper-focused, as if they had no choice.” Alaina took a temp job at the company, which only confirmed her suspicions. The moral of the story? Trust your instincts!

If employees look stressed, overworked and unhappy, there’s a good chance that they are not being treated fairly and/or don’t enjoy their work. This is not an environment you want to spend most of your time in for the next months, or even years.

When you should take the job

For Salemi, deciding whether or not to accept the offer comes down to instinct. “You’ll know when a job is right for you because it feels like a fit,” she says. “Before interviewing, I suggest writing down your priorities in order of importance. Define what’s most important to you and rank items in terms based on that. Is it salary? Room for growth? Corporate values? Ability to get along with co-workers? The commute? Jot down everything that comes to mind—even if you value getting free lunch every day.”

Once you’ve established what you’re looking for in a company, you’ll have a strong foundation down. “As you’re interviewing and assessing the employer, figure out how they match up to your list of priorities,” Salemi says.

But what if your instinct was wrong? “If you do end up accepting a job offer that you later regret, just know that nothing is permanent,” the expert reminds us. “Revise your resume with your new experiences and start interviewing again. Remember, the right job is out there waiting for you!”

The bottom line? You should (almost) never take a job out of fear that nothing else will come along, because something will! And you deserve only the best, in your career and in life.

*Names have been changed.

About The Author

Iris was the associate editor at Her Campus. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in communications and gender studies, but was born and raised in France with an English mother. She enjoys country music, the color pink and pretending she has her life together. Iris was the style editor and LGBTQ+ editor for HC as an undergrad, and has interned for Cosmopolitan.com and goop. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @irisgoldsztajn, or check out her writing portfolio here.