The Right Time To Ask About Job Benefits

Policies Can Make a Big Difference in Job Satisfaction

Sep 12, 2018
Management

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – You don’t want to start a new job to find out on Day 1 that you are allowed only five vacation days and there’s no employer match for your 401(k).

An organization’s benefits package is an essential piece you need to understand before accepting a job offer, says Rachel Loock, a career and leadership coach at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. But when is the right time to ask about the company benefits package?

The green light is on as soon as you know the company wants you, Loock says.

Employers typically should share details about the company’s benefits offerings when extending a job offer, outlining policies around paid time off, sick leave, retirement plans, tuition remission, flexible work policies and more. If they don’t share the specifics about a benefits matter that’s important to you, ask for more information, Loock says.

And if you don’t get the answers you want to hear? Negotiate for what you want, she says. Don’t walk away from a great opportunity just because the vacation days allotted in the initial offer is skimpy.

“You have some leverage before you accept the offer,” Loock says. “You really want to focus on the interview process. It’s better to raise those things prior to officially accepting a position. Then you can decide.” It's harder – but not impossible – to negotiate for better benefits after you’ve started a new job.

Loock says there is a right way to approach the subject of benefits. Keep these things in mind:

Decide what’s important. You have to decide what’s a dealbreaker for you, Loock says. Is a work-from-home policy most important to you? “If they say they don’t have one, then you have a decision to make,” she says. Try negotiating, but if the company doesn’t have wiggle room to grant you a work-from-home option, you might consider other options. There will be some jobs where teleworking is not an option – for example, many customer-facing positions require a physical presence.

Focus on timing. You don’t want to be the person asking, “When can I take vacation?” or “When can I work from home?” before you even start, Loock says. “Immediately, it’s like, ‘This person is going to be a pain.’” Before you ask specifics on the benefits, be sure the organization wants you. Never ask at the beginning of the interview process. “These are questions reserved for the point in the process where you are sure the company wants to hire you,” says Loock. Wait until they extend an offer.

Frame the message. You want to come across as having the organization’s needs and requirements in mind first. It can’t be all about you, Loock says. Phrase it as: “What is your policy on telework or working remotely?” Not: “When can I work from home?” 

Negotiate. You’ll never know if something is negotiable unless you ask, Loock says. Many companies are becoming more flexible to attract and retain talent, and the currently hot job market favors the job-seeker. “But you still want to come to the table with the goal of meeting your needs as an employee and the needs of the organization,” she says. “It sounds like a cliche, but look for that ‘win-win’ of a shared benefit between the two parties.” For example, working from home saves commute time for you and resources for the company when you’re not in the office.

Seek informal arrangements. In many companies, work-arrangement benefits, such as flex hours, are informal and not part of an official policy, Loock says. In fact, different units of the same organization often have very different cultures. If you really want to take a particular job, but you’re disappointed by the work-arrangement policies outlined by the human resources department, have a talk with your potential boss. It’s possible that he or she will agree to a flexible schedule, as long as the needs of the organization are met, even when the HR representative is unable to point to a specific company policy.

Better late than never. Already working in an organization but now wish you had better benefits? You may not be totally out of luck, especially if newer employees now have better benefits. Once you’ve proven your worth, you may be able to push for the benefits you want, Loock says. 

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Robert H. Smith School of Business
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University of Maryland
Robert H. Smith School of Business
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