When evaluating a new job offer, some people make the mistake of focusing all their attention on the bottom line—the job's salary. But savvy job-searchers know that other benefits such as health care insurance, a retirement plan, and paid time off can be just as important, along with intangibles such as career satisfaction and scope for advancement.
Non-salary benefits typically comprise about one-third of an employee's total compensation. Before accepting a job offer, make sure you understand what sorts of benefits the company offers. Is there a retirement plan? If so, will the employer match any of your contributions? Does the employer allow nontraditional working arrangements, such as flexible hours or occasional work from home? How many paid holidays does the employer offer, if any?
Here are the top five benefits you should look for in any salaried job:
1. Health insurance. Most large employers are required to offer health care insurance to their employees. Make sure the plan isn't just a catastrophic coverage program with a massive annual deductible, like $5,000 or more. Also, don't be surprised if you'll have to chip in toward the monthly premium. It's a chunk out of your paycheck, but it's still usually cheaper than buying a policy on your own.
2. Vacation time and holidays. As a general rule, you'll get two weeks of paid vacation time as soon as you start the job. However, you may earn or "accrue" vacation days over the course of the year, like a certain number of days per quarter, for example. So, you may end up owing the company money if you use all your vacation time and leave the job before the end of the year.
Ask for details on how vacation time works, and be sure to mention any scheduled plans, like a family vacation or wedding, to avoid issues. In case you earned more vacation time in your current job, don't forget to factor that in when negotiating a new job offer.
Most companies offer at least six paid holidays per year to salaried employees, though many provide ten or more. Smaller companies often observe minor holidays if many employees take those days off anyway.
3. Flexible work. Employers are increasingly offering employees flexible working arrangements, from four-day-weeks to work-from-home Fridays to completely remote work. These options can be great for employees with young children or for those who simply want to avoid the daily grind of the commute.
4. Pension or 401(k) plans. Whether it's a pension plan, a 401(k), or some other plan, you need something saved for your retirement years. After all, most employees aren't independently wealthy, so saving money now is crucial. Employer-sponsored plans offer great value because employers usually make matching contributions to your account—it's free money! On top of that, you get tax benefits, too.
5. Short- and long-term disability insurance. An employer-provided disability plan can be an economic lifesaver if you have an unexpected illness or injury that's not work-related (otherwise workers' compensation kicks in). Your employer may pay all the premiums for the insurance or may charge you a small premium. In many cases, you can buy more coverage for an additional charge, but again that premium usually is very low.
Should you turn down a job offer if one of these benefits isn't offered, or the program doesn't have optimal features or coverage? Not necessarily. Knowing the range of major benefits offered can help you compare job offers from different employers, and gives you something to compare against your current benefits, too. It all comes down to making the right career choice for you.