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Being offered a graduate job is one of those great moments in life: you feel wanted and the future has more certainty. But how do you deal with accepting or declining an offer, and what happens if you get more than one?

Accepting a job has got to be the easiest thing in the world. You just say 'Yes', right? Not so fast. Even if you are overjoyed with what's being offered there is a formal process to follow. You need to make sure you are aware of the etiquette. It's also important to know what to do if things aren't quite so straightforward.

How offers are made

Job offers, conditional or unconditional, should be made in writing. Even if you are told verbally that you have been offered the job, you should also expect to receive the offer in writing. The offer letter will normally include a copy of the terms and conditions of employment – the formal employment contract – although this may follow after the initial letter.

Before you sign on the dotted line, do proper checks to make sure you are happy and that everything is as you expect. Check:

  • the job title
  • salary and benefits
  • the notice period (what you have to give them, and what they have to give to you)
  • hours of work
  • holiday and sick pay entitlements
  • the start date

Be aware that your acceptance of a job offer is binding, so it is important not to accept an offer until you are sure it's right for you. If there is something in the letter or on the contract that you don't understand, contact the employer to get clarification as soon as possible.

If everything is OK and you are sure you want the job, put your acceptance in writing. It’s easy to find template acceptance letters online and your university careers service may also be able to advise you on the best wording for your letter.

What happens when things aren't clear cut?

If something doesn't seem right, eg the salary is less than you expected, there is uncertainty over the location of the job, or the terms are different from what you understood, make sure you contact the employer immediately to clear up any misunderstandings. The employer should send a revised offer in writing if any changes are agreed.

The job offer for a position on a graduate programme or scheme may well be conditional on gaining a specific degree classification. While some employers are very strict about this, others may be less so. If you have another offer that is not conditional, you have to weigh up the risks and your likelihood of getting the degree the employer wants before making your acceptance.

If you miss the degree level requested, contact the employer immediately to see if there is still leeway for them to employ you. Based on your interview performance, they may still take you on if you were an impressive candidate.

What to do if you get a job offer when you've just started job-hunting

If you have been hot off the blocks and job-hunting in the autumn term you may well get an offer early in the year, eg before or just after Christmas. Most big graduate recruiters understand that you will still have other interviews to attend and will not necessarily expect an early acceptance. However, do not defer your responsibility to contact them.

Write to the employer to acknowledge the job offer and indicate when you will get back to them with your decision. Keep your correspondence professional and be tactful (ie don't say you're hoping something better might come along!). Keep in touch with the recruiter so that they know that you are still interested in them.

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