You've made it to the final stages of the hiring process and received a job offer. Congratulations! Still, there are several important questions to ask before signing on. Salary is just one component of a compensation package, and now is the time to ask questions about the benefits and perks that provide extra incentive to accept a job offer. They also deserve thorough examination.
What does a compensation package include?
It varies greatly depending on the employer and position, but here are the most common components of compensation:
- Salary, plus any bonuses or commissions
- Paid holiday, vacation and sick days
- Medical, dental and vision insurance
- 401(k) or another retirement savings plan
In addition, as employers strive to remain competitive and attract top talent, nontraditional perks such as these are becoming more common:
- Telecommuting or flexible work hours
- Subsidized training or education
- Onsite child care
- Concierge services
Why benefits matter
Benefits, loosely defined as items outside of base salary and bonuses, are important to consider for several reasons. First, they can help offset the costs of necessary services, such as medical insurance, that you might otherwise have to pay for out of pocket or even be unable to afford. Employees frequently get a better rate by joining the company health insurance plan than they would if they purchased policies independently.
Second, employment benefits help you maintain a healthy work-life balance. Companies are concerned that employees often feel stressed from juggling their jobs and everyday life, so many offer benefits that offset demanding work responsibilities. Telecommuting, for instance, allows employees to avoid a hectic, lengthy drive to the office. Another example is paid time off for volunteer activities. These and similar benefits help to improve employee morale and mental health.
Third, benefits can help you prepare for the future. Whether it's subsidized training that could lead to a promotion and higher salary or a 401(k) plan that helps you get ready for eventual retirement, benefits are set up to reward you for your time with the company by making your future better and more secure.
How to evaluate a compensation package
When you have an offer in hand, it's time to consider the entire package. If the proposed salary is not what you expected, evaluate the paycheck with the perks. A top-notch package may make a lower salary more palatable. Or, if the perks aren't what you were expecting, you may be able to negotiate certain items. Here are some questions to consider when evaluating a potential employer's proposal:
1. What's most important to you?
Values, goals and lifestyle vary from person to person, so there's no one-size-fits-all perfect compensation package. For some, health insurance and a 401(k) plan might be the only must-haves. For others, the ability to telecommute might be very important, or perks such as an onsite gym or tuition reimbursement could seal the deal.
The point is that you must know during the job hunt which aspects of the compensation and benefits package are most important to you. If all of these elements are present when you get an offer, you're in good shape. If not, now's the time to talk to the potential employer about what's missing and why a particular perk is a deal breaker for you.
2. What details do you need to know?
Once you've identified your must-haves and have a job offer in hand, get all the compensation details from your potential employer. Take health insurance: We all know that offerings can vary greatly from one company to the next; just because the firm provides health coverage doesn't mean you're good to go.
Ask for a summary of key programs so you understand the finer details and costs of each, or even request policy documents so you can read them in full. You don't want to be caught off guard after you've started your new job.
3. What are the eligibility requirements?
Bear in mind that you may not be eligible for all job benefits and perks the employer offers immediately. Some programs are open only to employees who have reached a certain tenure with the company. Others, such as tuition reimbursement, may be dependent on your manager's approval.
The good news is that you may be able to negotiate in this area. If you're currently working toward a certification or advanced degree, for instance, one condition of employment may be that the company pays for the rest of your education. Ask how much flexibility there is with the eligibility criteria.
4. What’s your benchmark?
It's difficult to evaluate a compensation package without some kind of standard of comparison. To get a reliable benchmark for your starting salary, check out Robert Half's annual Salary Guides, which you can download free of charge. Our Salary Guides provide up-to-date compensation data for hundreds of positions in a wide range of fields.
To compare benefits, look up relevant benefits data in government and association reports — many of which are available online for free — and in reports based on surveys of your industry.
Questions to ask
Depending on your circumstances, you may also want to consider questions like these:
- What are the out-of-pocket costs for benefits such as health insurance?
- If you're in a same-sex or domestic partnership, is your partner eligible?
- At what intervals will your performance and salary be reviewed?
- What career development programs will you have access to?
You can't be overinformed when it comes to the compensation package from a prospective employer. Keep in mind, though, that, job satisfaction depends on more than the perks you'll receive. If a company's business ethics and corporate culture align well with your values, you're off to a good working relationship.