By Caroline Ceniza-Levine
When you think about what is included in a job offer, do you think just about salary, paid time off and medical benefits? There are many other components to a job offer.
If you already come from an employer that offers generous benefits and perks, do not assume that such a comprehensive package is standard. Instead, check the prospective employer’s rewards plan to see what exactly is included or if you’ll need to negotiate an exception or the cash equivalent for benefits you used to get that you still want. In addition, check the terms of any benefits or perks, as there might be restrictions or waiting periods that decrease the value of the offering.
Here are 10 questions to ask before accepting a job:
1 – How does paid time off (PTO) accrue?
Say, you get 10 days of vacation for your first year. If vacation time accrues per pay period, you won’t have 10 days to use until the end of your first year. If you have a pre-planned weeklong trip within a few months of starting, you won’t have enough vacation days by then. Borrowing vacation time is something you can negotiate, but you have to ask.
Other related PTO questions include whether you can roll over your vacation days or get paid for ones you don’t use. How easy/ hard is it to get time off approved? What holidays are given? How many sick days are given? There is more to PTO than just the number of vacation days.
2 – When does medical coverage start?
I have recruited for companies who start coverage on the day the new hire joins. Others start on the first day of the first full month (i.e., you join on Jan 31 and you get coverage on Feb 1. You join on Jan 2 and you get coverage on Feb 1). I once recruited for a firm that didn’t start medical coverage till three months after the start date. Get the exact date that coverage starts, in case you need to secure coverage for the time between you leave one job and the new coverage kicks in.
Other medical coverage questions include who you can cover, what part of the premiums you need to cover, and what types of plans are available. If you like your providers, check if they’re included in your new plan.
3 – What health benefits are covered?
In addition to medical coverage, some companies offer dental, vision, mental health, alternative wellness, and/ or gym memberships. If you’ve been at another company for a while, you may take your coverage for granted. Not all services are covered so always verify by looking at your new company’s plan.
Think about specific upcoming needs. If your kid needs braces, you’ll need to review the dental specifics. If you’re trying to lose weight, check for nutrition counseling or other weight loss support.
4 – What, if any, transportation costs are covered?
I once had a candidate turn down an offer even though the salary was slightly above a competing offer. Turns out, the location of my client’s office was in an area with very expensive parking. Furthermore, the other offer included a commuting allowance, widening the advantage of the other offer. Transportation costs add up.
In addition to whether or not a transportation benefit is offered, look at the ease and accessibility of the commute. A longer commute, even if it’s the same out-of-pocket cost, has a higher opportunity cost on your free time. A more difficult commute – more transfers, more traffic – demands more on you physically and mentally.
5 – How realistic is that target bonus?
I once had a client who got an offer with a very attractive year-end bonus. He was confident in his abilities to hit the performance targets. However, his role was to oversee a product launch, and it wasn’t clear what, if any, budget, team or other resources he would be provided. He needed to get some assurances about what support he would have in place before counting on that bonus.
In addition to resources that will enable you to hit your bonus, you want to check on the track record of your predecessors and the company overall to pay out bonuses. Maybe they say the annual target is 20% but nobody really gets that. Alternatively, you might get a happy surprise and learn that some people exceed targets and the company pays up happily.
6 – Can the sign-on or relocation bonus be taken back?
Sometimes you get a bonus upfront – to make you whole on compensation you’re walking away from or to help cover moving expenses. Will you have to give this back if you leave within six or 12 months? You may think now that you would never leave a job so early but you can never predict future circumstances. What if your boss changes? What if the role significantly changes? What if your significant other gets the opportunity of a lifetime and it requires a sudden move?
You also want to ask about when the bonus is paid. Ideally you get paid in the first pay period, or your relocation costs are covered as they accrue. But some companies have a waiting period so never assume.
7 – What is the vesting schedule?
If you get options or equity as part of your offer, you probably have to remain at the company for two to five years before that compensation is 100% yours. If you get a retirement match as part of your compensation, this may also be subject to vesting over time. Don’t just ask about dollar amounts; confirm how much vests over time.
If you get 100 options that vest 10% per year for four years and then the rest in year five, that is less valuable than the same number of options vesting equally over five years. Can you predict where you’ll be in five years? Can you predict what this company will be like in five years?
8 – When am I eligible for the retirement plan?
If you have been contributing to your previous employer’s plan, you might forget there can be a waiting period before you are eligible for your new employer’s retirement plan. Even if you can contribute right away, there might be a wait before matching contributions start.
You also want to check what type of retirement plans are offered – e.g., defined contribution like a 401k or defined benefit like a pension. Your options for investing your retirement contributions may also be different so you’ll need to make new selections.
9 – Is [INSERT YOUR PRIORITY PERK] covered?
There are many other benefits and perks that can be offered. (In an earlier post, I brainstormed 100 items to negotiate.) The most important rewards are the ones you will actually use. If you intend to go back to graduate school, tuition reimbursement is a priority. If you expect to have a kid in the near-term, parental leave would be a priority. Casual dress, work-from-home, and Summer Fridays are other perks that you might take for granted but aren’t offered everywhere.
Check HR policy, as well as the workplace culture. Dress code and flexibility may not be written into the official employee manual but may be ingrained in the culture.
10 – Is this job the best next move?
Of course, benefits and perks and even a generous salary may still not compensate for a job that isn’t a good career move or fit with your values and priorities. Assessing the specifics of an offer should be done after or at least in tandem with your due diligence on the industry, company and role.