If you’ve ever had to take on an extended job search, you know firsthand that the process can be as exhausting as any athletic feat. Take, for example, the NCAA basketball tournament. Also affectionately referred to as “March Madness” this annual sports extravaganza, which begins with over 60 talented teams, ends by pitting the last remaining squads against each other in “The Final Four.”

Just like March Madness, there’s a whole lot of practice and preparation involved in finding a job; after all, running through your responses to interview questions, rewriting your resume and crafting cover letters takes time! However, while your bracket of potential employers can fill up fast, opportunities are crossed off the list just as quickly. When you’re in the thick of it and experiencing let down after let down, it can feel like your championship moment will never come….until suddenly it does.

What happens when the interviews end and jobs offers start? If you’re not prepared for your job search end game, your Cinderella story could end in buzzer beater heartbreak. Get your game plan ready with our guide to the Final Four steps of finding a job:

  1. The Final Interview

By the time an employer is nearing a hiring decision, you may have already gone through multiple interviews –in-person, over the phone or otherwise. If you’re asked back for another interview before a final decision is made, be prepared with new questions to bring to the table. Now’s the time to confirm that this company will be the right fit for your career. Most importantly, clearly communicate to the employer that you are interested in the position and excited to start working to impact their business.

  1. Thank You Note

If you’ve made it this far, odds are that you’ve been following up diligently with the employees you’ve been in touch with along the way. Following any interview, it’s extremely important to close the loop by sending each of the participants a brief, hand-written thank you note. It’s the courteous thing to do, and even if you don’t end up landing the job, you’ll be remembered positively. Who knows when another opportunity might pop up, right?

  1. Job Offer

When you finally receive a job offer, it can be a strange mix of excitement, confusion and nerves. First and foremost, give yourself a moment to celebrate. This is what you’ve been working for! After a brief happy dance, you’ll want to take some time to evaluate the offer. Most employers will offer a deadline for when a decision is needed, so be sure to respect it. As you think through the offer, be sure to consider the full extent of your compensation, not just salary. Now is the time to factor in benefits, work hours, commute, corporate culture, work environment and any potential perks.

When reviewing your job offer, it can be helpful to develop a pros and cons list. Not only is it a great way to evaluate what the employer has brought to the table, it can help you to determine when to propose a counter offer. What if the salary looks solid, but you really value healthcare benefits? What if the advancement opportunities look promising, but you’d like to tweak your working hours?

  1. Negotiation

Did you know that according to a recent CareerBuilder survey 56 percent of workers do not negotiate for better pay when they are offered a job? What’s more shocking is that the same survey found that 53 percent of employers say they are willing to negotiate! That means that a lot of money is being left on the table without candidates even giving it a second thought.

Before you blindly accept an employer’s first offer, refer back to your job offer evaluation process and determine what’s most important to you. It doesn’t hurt to talk through the offer with an employer and come to a solution that will benefit both parties – especially if it’ll make you’re a more motivated employees and improve your performance in the long run. However, be sure to approach the negotiation process in a reasonable, respectful and thoughtful way. If you try to play hard ball early in your professional relationship with the organization, it could set the wrong tone right away (or squash the opportunity before it even begins!)

After a long season of shooting hoops, getting through the entire bracket of March Madness is daunting for even the most talented players. Even if you’re a super star candidate, achieving victory at the end of a job search can be a challenge. Make sure you’re ready to sink your final shot when the time comes to shake hands, say thank you and accept a job offer!

What are your tips for closing out a successful job hunt? We’d love to hear your tips for putting an end to job search madness below!

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