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 Be Sure to Evaluate the Benefits

By Joe Stein

Finding a new job can be a stressful and challenging process. It may seem like almost a miracle when there is mutual interest between a Job Seeker and a prospective employer. This can be especially true when the position and salary meet your needs. So, it does make some sense that one of the most important parts of a job, the benefits package, is often overlooked until the offer and even then the information that is provided is often sparse in details.
Benefits packages are like snowflakes…no two are alike. The key is to not assume you know what benefits will be offered by what you have had in the past or what others have told you that they enjoy. Try not to just rely on what you have been orally told. A Hiring Manager may only have a cursory knowledge of the benefits plan (most likely just in the areas he or she actually uses), so you may be receiving only very basic information
It is also important to consider which benefits are most important to you. This is critical when deciding whether to leave your current position or when evaluating multiple opportunities. This prioritization of benefits also usually adjusts over time as a person’s life cycle brings a change. For example, when you are starting your career, areas such as the amount of paid time off, or even non-monetary benefits such as having a flexible schedule can be highly desired. In contrast, as you get older medical benefits and the 401k match usually become critical aspects of the job. It can be beneficial to consider not only what is important to you now, but what you may need a few years from now. For example, if you plan in a few years to start a family, the quality of the medical coverage and the availability of supplemental short-term disability (beyond what NY State provides) will become very important soon.
If you are a recent graduate, you still may be reading this article and thinking that you are healthy and years from starting a family, so benefits can’t be very important. There are some relatively new benefit offerings, however, that are designed for this younger audience and are starting to gain momentum in popularity. One example would be the availability of tuition reimbursement. If you are thinking of going/finishing, or advancing to the next level of your education, then any employer money for this purpose can prove very valuable. The second example is student loan repayment, which may come in the offering of a company payment on the balance or simply having a preferred vendor with special rate options.
Great News! This is a good time to place a company’s benefits package into the mix when deciding whether to accept a position. With the low unemployment climate, as well as the generally tight labor market, many employers are using benefit enhancements to their benefit plans to give them a competitive advantage. Often these positive changes are in non-medical type of options, such as supplemental insurance (ex. Short and Long-Term Disability) or work from home/flexible scheduling.
There is a myth, shared by some, that a candidate should not inquire about benefits until after the offer because it gives the Hiring Manager a signal that they are not interested enough in the position. As a HR Professional, I feel that it is more than OK to ask questions about what benefits are provided during the Q&A portion of the interview. You then should expect (and request it if it is not automatically provided) more detailed information at offer.
You should not accept a position without clearly understanding what benefits are offered and what will be the premium for you for the coverage. I made the mistake once in my career of accepting a position without clearly understanding the cost share ratio of the medical coverage that was offered. In my situation, although the coverage was exceptional, so was the cost and it reached the point where it was unaffordable.
We all work for a variety of reasons, with the primary driver for almost all being compensation (we all have expenses to pay for!). We also hope to work in a position that is fulfilling, with a Manager who can be respected and co-workers that are enjoyable to be around. An often underrated reason we work, however, are the benefits offered to employees. Don’t make the mistake that others have by being sure to secure as much information as possible on the benefits package, so that you can make an educated decision if they and, therefore, the position will meet your needs.