Sophie Vershbow graduated from Hamilton College in May with a BA in World Politics. While in school she held internships at St. Martin’s Press, Harper’s Bazaar, and Marie Claire.

After months of designer resumes, grueling cover letters, and cutthroat interviews, the moment you’ve been waiting for is finally here: an official job offer. With one little phone call from the HR department, you’re happier than you were at 18 when you got into your dream school. So celebrate, call your friends; but once this is over you must sit down, read the fine print, and start considering the following points before accepting the position:

1. Salary: You’re bound to have an initial reaction to the number you’re offered. If your first thought is “WOW I CAN GET A BIGGER APARTMENT NOW,” congratulations! The rest of this article might not apply as strongly to you. Unfortunately for most people in this economy, “How am I going to get by” or “I suppose I can manage with that” are more common responses, so here’s how to deal when the initial salary offer is less than ideal:

-Have educated expectations. Websites such as and give great baseline figures for dozens of industries. Looking at these from the start can ensure that you have a $4,000-let-down, not a $14,000-let down. At the end of the day, the best way to get information is to ask around! When asked politely, friends, family, and acquaintances are more than happy to share what an average employee in your position should make. Try to gather as much information as possible so you know what to expect going in.

-Haggle if possible. Many employers will offer a lower salary figure in hopes that you won’t ask for more and they can then save money–and women are most at fault when helping them to get away with this. A New York Times article from this spring reported that “research shows that even when economic conditions are good, women tend to be more reluctant than men to negotiate for a salary higher than the one initially offered” (“Talk About Pay Today, or Suffer Tomorrow”by Phyllis Korkki- NYT May 21, 2011). While negotiating money can often feel awkward, more times than not your employer expects you to ask for a higher salary. Out of the hundreds of people who likely applied for this position they picked you, and they’re not going to retract their offer just because you’re smart enough to haggle your salary.

-Evaluate the industry. A starting salary is just that: a taking-off point. So don’t just look at the number, ask yourself: How often will I qualify for a raise? Is this industry one that I can advance quickly in? How much does my immediate superior make and how long will it take me to reach her level?

2. Benefits: Despite the economic hardships we’re facing, most full-time, non-hourly wage jobs will come with some sort of benefits. In fact, most recent college grads I spoke with said that they fully assumed any job they applied for would automatically offer something beyond an annual salary. The big ones to consider are health care, dental, vision, and a 401K. Here are some things to keep in mind:

-Most healthcare plans now allow dependents to stay on their parent’s plan until they’re 26! That means that many lucky post-grads now have a solid 4 years after college to concentrate on other aspects of a job offer. Of course for many people out there, a company’s health benefits are still a top priority, but be sure to look into this important fact if you think that you might qualify.

-Yes a 401K matters for your first job out of college. Yes… really. Make sure that you read the fine print, ask those with more experience to evaluate the policy and assess how your company is helping you with your future.

-Make sure to note any additional perks that your job gets you: meals, birthdays off of work, cars home during overtime, etc. One girl that I spoke with gets lunch on Mondays and breakfast on Fridays from her office. While this might seem insignificant when considering a job offer, it can save her upwards of $15 dollars a every week on food. That’s $780 a year, clearly not something to balk at!

3. Happiness and Sanity. Yes this is likely the most important thing to consider, even in a recession. First, step back and ask yourself: how much is my happiness worth to me? Am I willing to give my entire life over to a large paycheck at the expense of my personal relationships and sleep?

Since happiness isn’t exactly quantifiable, here are some things to consider:

-How many hours are you actually working a week? Of course making more than $40,000 right out of college is appealing, but is that worth working 15 hours a day?

9am-5pm = 9 hours

9am-11pm= 15 hours

The 9-5 job might pay $32,000 while the 9-11 pays $40,000. If the extra 8K a year is vital for you to get by, then of course you want to take the higher paying job. But if you’re able to manage on the lower salary, strongly consider how much free time, friends, and a boyfriend are worth to you. They might just make you happier than some extra pocket money.