Don’t be distracted by the dollar signs on your new job offer.
Just because your employer-to-be offers a nice round number when you talk salary doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a second look at the benefits the company’s offering alongside that paycheck.
Employee benefits aren’t just a small side bonus that a company is throwing out to you—they’re a key part of your total compensation. Benefits add up to just over 30 percent of a typical compensation package, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
From retirement plans to sick days to telecommuting, savvy job seekers know they can negotiate far more when talking to potential employers. And don’t forget to take advantage of any perks the company may offer.
Before you go out and negotiate your benefits package, make sure to follow these tips.
Time your negotiation right
Generally, the best time to negotiate your offer is after you’ve received the offer but before you have accepted the position. Once you’ve agreed to a salary and benefits package, it’s poor form to negotiate, but once they’ve made you an offer, the ball is in your court. But be sure not to be too off-the-wall with your requests. If you ask for something truly outlandish, the company may decide you’re not the best fit for the position after all.
Do your homework
Research the company to make sure what you’re asking for is reasonable. If your position involves handling hard copies of confidential information, telecommuting may not be a reasonable request.
Likewise, if a company is having widely known financial trouble, asking for non-monetary compensation (such as unpaid vacation days) may be an easier sell than asking for a huge bonus twice a year.
Ask for benefits that benefit the company
If you’re asking for software upgrades or for the company to foot the bill for you to attend a professional event, be sure to highlight the benefits to the company instead of what you gain from the deal.
Saying “I’ve always wanted to go to the conference in Portland! My sister lives there!” makes you look a bit silly, but when you mention that you have special insight to offer on a speaker’s panel and the networking from the conference may bring in business, that’s a much better sell.
Get it in writing
Make sure anything you negotiate is clearly explained in writing and is part of your offer letter or contract. It’s easy for things to slip through the cracks or for a verbal agreement to be forgotten or “mis-remembered” after the fact.
What can You negotiate?
With the basics above in mind, what types of benefits are up for negotiation? Just about all of them, depending on the company.
While some companies may have set-in-stone rules for certain benefits (such as retirement contributions, or a paid time off structure based on years of service), at other organizations, anything and everything is up for negotiation.
So, how do you know what to ask for? Do your research on the company, ask contacts who work there, and do your best to find out what is reasonable at that particular location before you ask. Below are a few common benefits you can use as negotiation tools to get yourself the best offer possible.
While a company may offer a choice of a few different retirement plans, you may be able to negotiate a higher matching percentage on your 401(k) or an additional annual contribution from your company. While many firms have a company-wide policy for retirement plans, it never hurts to ask.
Vacation and sick days
Everyone loves paid time off, so why not ask for more? Whether you long for a lengthy beachside retreat when the gloom of February sets in, or have kids who catch every bug going around school and you may need extra sick days to stay home with them, you may want to ask for more paid time off.
If the company has a rigid policy about PTO, or they simply don’t want to pay you for any more time off, consider asking for unpaid time off — but only the time is worth more to you than the money. Some companies may agree to this, but they may also impose certain restrictions on this unpaid time off, like stipulating that you must take it during the industry’s slow season.
Another PTO benefit you can negotiate is how long you have to wait to take advantage of your time off. If the norm is a year before any time off, see if you can persuade them to let you take some time after six months. Be sure to only ask for things you really want, though. You don’t want a reputation for being difficult, so strategize and choose the things that matter most and ask for those.
If skipping the commute, brewing a pot of coffee at home, and hopping on your laptop in your pajamas sounds like a heavenly day of work to you, consider asking for telecommuting privileges.
Working remotely is becoming more common, though some fields are more receptive to this idea than others. Consider asking to telecommute one day a week or one day every other week to start. Once you prove that you’re a productive and engaged employee no matter where you are, you may find yourself in a position to incorporate more telecommute time into your schedule.
Of course, this is tricky if you’re very early on in your career, without an established reputation. It’s also important to have enough face time at a new company, so be sure to consider the best options for your situation.
While not every employer is eager to add telecommuting into the mix, flex time may be another scheduling option to consider asking for. Working 10 four-hour days per week is a very common flex time arrangement, though different companies offer different options (including taking a day off every other week).
Or, see if you can have an off-peak schedule to come into work. Say, come in at 9:30 a.m. or 10:00 a.m. to skip a notoriously difficult rush hour, or show up each day at 7:00 a.m. and leave in time to pick the kids up at 3:30 p.m. or train for your triathlon after work.
Focus on what would work best for you and be sure to frame this in a way that emphasizes benefits to the company, such as being available for early and late meetings on a 10-hour work day or doing an important task that must be done daily at 7:00 a.m. when you’re in an office of night owls.
If you have benefits from a spouse or some other form of medical coverage, consider whether or not it makes sense to take advantage of the company health plan.
If it doesn’t, see if you can receive a higher salary (or a higher 401(k) contribution, etc.) in exchange for turning down this benefit. Small businesses who pay high premiums for employee health coverage may be especially willing to take you up on this offer.
Conferences, continuing education, and professional development
If you’d like to finish your Master’s degree or obtain an advanced certification, see if your company is willing to contribute. Or, see if your company may be willing to pay for your attendance at conferences, classes, and workshops, as well as any professional memberships that may be useful in your field.
With all these things, be sure to emphasize how all of these investments help the employer and not just you as one employee.
Timing of salary review
If your company normally reviews salaries at, say, six or 12 month intervals, consider asking for an earlier review as a term of employment. If an annual review is the norm at your company, see if a nine-month review may be possible.
If you’re satisfied with your salary offer, don’t ask for this. This is only a useful tool if you are unsatisfied with your starting salary.
Equipment and software
If a laptop or tablet would help you do your job better (by, say, being able to bring it to client meetings and conferences), or a new version of software would help you do your job, this is a good time to ask. Also, if you think you’ll need to field frequent after-hours calls, you may want to see if a company phone would be available.