5 crucial benefits other than salary to consider when taking a job

Karen English, Contributor
Bartek Szewczyk | Getty Images

There's a lot to consider when evaluating a job offer, but many candidates fail to think about too much beyond the suggested salary and whether to negotiate.

It's understandable, particularly for recent college graduates who may be focused on getting the highest-paying jobs to pay off student loans quickly. But to overlook the significant role that employee benefits play in total compensation is a mistake — particularly as according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 30 percent of compensation is often bundled in benefits packages.

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Suzy Welch: Here's the best answer to 'What's your current salary?'

While employee benefits packages can vary by employer size, geographic location and type of industry, these are the top five items you should focus on when selecting a job, whether you're a new graduate or a seasoned professional:

1. Medical Benefits

When assessing your employer's plan, there are a series of questions you should ask to determine what your financial contribution looks like and what your employer covers:

  • Does your employer offer an HMO, a PPO or a high deductible health plan? If it's the latter, what's your deductible and does the company contribute to it?
  • What about supplemental coverage? You might think healthcare coverage is plenty, so it's important to understand if your company also offers accident insurance, critical illness or hospital indemnity. Even if you have to pay for these yourself, they can help you meet your deductible – the amount you have to pay out of pocket – should something unforeseen occur.

Many plans offer health savings accounts (HSA). Employers will often contribute to an HSA. As an employee, you can contribute, too. Money set aside in these accounts will grow tax-free if used for medical expenses and often justify taking a lower cost plan with higher deductibles.

2. Disability and Life Benefits

At 22 most of us feel invincible – even at 48 I still feel that way – but unfortunately things happen and it's important to be prepared and covered for them.

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Suzy Welch: This is the biggest mistake people make when negotiating salary

In the event you're injured on the job, many companies will replace 60 percent of your income for the short-term (26 weeks) or long-term (until you're 65). Some will also provide at least $50,000 of life insurance. Regardless of your current health, it's critical to ask about these benefits.

3. Retirement

"It's never too early to start saving for retirement," is what I always tell my children (they are 12 and 9 years old.) Even when you're fresh out of college, it's important to get a jump on planning for retirement. Just a small amount saved now can grow to a comfortable nest egg for the future.

Ask the following questions of your future employer:

  • What investment vehicle do they offer – such as a 401(k) or IRA – and when and how much can you start contributing to the plan?
  • Does your employer offer to match any of your contributions, and if so how much? For example, for every dollar contributed, your employer may contribute a dollar allowing your retirement plan to build quickly.

4. Paid Time-Off

Time off is not a luxury; it's a necessity. It mitigates the risk of burnout and ensures a more productive workforce when employees are present. That said, not every employer offers this benefit.

While some cities have enacted paid sick leave laws (and you should find out if you'll be working in one), vacation and sick days are not always offered by employers. Some employers offer a certain number of days for each, while others offer what is called PTO (paid time-off) days that you can take at your leisure.

Some companies even offer unlimited time off so long as it does not interfere with your work. While this might seem like an incredible benefit, it only is if you take advantage of it — often individuals provided this benefit do not.

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Suzy Welch: Here's the secret to answering "Do you have any questions?"

Whatever the structure, ask how many days you're entitled to each year, when the time is earned and what happens if you don't use it by the end of the year.

5. Voluntary Benefits

One of the latest trends is to offer employees an array of coverage that helps balance health, work and lifestyle. These benefits include items like pet insurance, student loan repayment plans, financial planning services, identity theft protection and auto insurance.

While your employer may not contribute to this coverage, they often provide access so that you don't have to arrange for it on your own. Sometimes voluntary benefits will be less expensive when organized through your employer than if you were to purchase them independently.

These are just a few of the things job seekers need to take into account when assessing their real compensation with a new employer. Remember, salary isn't the only form of compensation and a good benefits package should be a critical part of your consideration when taking a new job.

Karen English is a founding partner at Spring Consulting Group and an expert in the field of employee benefit, health and productivity.

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Retirement in America is changing rapidly
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