My first job out of college as a bright-eyed, wanting-to-take-on-the-world 22-year-old was working as a staff accountant at a public CPA firm. Glamorous, I know, but I had a passion for business, and knew that a career in accounting could be lucrative. Thus, when I walked into work that morning of my first “real world” job, I was excited to start my path to success (and to all that $$$). And it was great…for a while. I was learning new things, being challenged, and thoroughly enjoying the dynamics of the staff I worked with. And then, about two years in, I noticed a shift in myself. I found I didn’t really enjoy 80% of what I was doing, hated the long hours during tax season and the work drought during the summer, and worst of all, dreaded the thought of going back into the office on Monday mornings. It was a great job with great pay working with great people, and yet, I was miserable.
Luckily, I was presented with an opportunity more suited to what I want out of this life. In my four years at my new company, I have yet to have a day where I dreaded going to work the next morning. Could I probably work elsewhere and make more money? Yes. Would I have to sell my soul to do it? Maybe. But I make a pretty good living in this role as it is, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to find more truth in this statement:
The more you work, the more you realize it’s not just about your salary.
That’s the knowledge that comes with age. Yes, I know when you’re young and trying to escape the avalanche of student loan debt that is bearing down on you, salary seems pretty important. And it is. But it shouldn’t be the sole factor in where you choose to spend a majority of your waking hours, because those hours are precious. You shouldn’t be miserable during them.
I’ve compiled a list of the seven factors besides salary that you should consider when deciding on job offers. Some require a bit of soul searching, and others are cut-and-dry, but all are important when figuring out which position is best for you. Trust me, a $5,000 difference in pay doesn’t amount to much after the tax man takes his cut, and if you’re in a position where you can be a little choosy, actually enjoying your job will add more value to your life than that $5,000 ever would. So check them out, and start to think about what you really want out of your job. Happy job-hunting!
1. Retirement Benefits
Being offered a 401(k) or similar plan can be an extremely lucrative bonus to any job offer, and the higher your company’s match percentage (i.e. the amount of extra money they’ll throw at you), the more enticing the deal. Who doesn’t like more free money?
However, a higher match percentage doesn’t automatically mean it’s the better option, especially if the salary offered is lower, and you’re currently living paycheck to paycheck. You don’t want to tie up all of your cash in a retirement fund that will charge you a 10% fee if you run into an emergency and need to pull the money out. Do a bit of math and calculate what the actual difference will amount to when factoring in both salary and retirement benefits. If you need help, you can download a tool to help you do just that here.
2. Health Benefits
Guys, health insurance can cost you a buttload if you have to pay for it yourself, so if a company offers one, jump at the chance. Per this ValuePenguin study, the average annual health insurance rate for a 21 year-old in my state is over $3,300, and that only gets higher as you get older. I’m a very healthy 30 year-old (knock on wood), and it costs my employer almost $400 per month to cover me (along with the $100 I have to fork out of my paycheck). And that’s the lowest cost plan offered by my company.
If you’re young and unattached (i.e. no kiddos), also look to see if any of your competing companies offer an HSA plan. These are high-deductible, low premium plans which greatly benefit those who are young, healthy, and don’t have to visit the doctor often. My boyfriend and I legit had a 15-minute conversation the other day about how great they are. If you want to learn more about them, I wrote a post giving the details here.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for a company’s health plan information prior to deciding on a job, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition (although save it until the offer is actually in hand). The rates can vary drastically based on the company’s provider (or if they are self-insured), and that could be the difference between being able to afford a weekend trip to Miami in the dead of winter or being stuck inside an entire weekend so as not to freeze to death. Again.
3. Paid Leave (Vacation/Sick Time)
I’ve been lucky that I’ve always worked for companies that provide great paid time off (PTO). Currently, I get roughly 20 days per year of paid leave, not including holidays, which more than covers any sick or vacation time I need. However, other people I know have seen the other end of the spectrum. One of my best friends was only offered 5 PTO days for the entire year at her last company, which left her absolutely no time to take any real vacations. And as a single 25 year-old who loved to travel, that just wasn’t enough for her.
You need to have time to be able to pursue your other passions, whether that’s travel or a side project or fixing up your home, and with all the normal, everyday errands that you have to run on Saturdays & Sundays, sometimes the weekends just don’t cut it. That’s why having a decent amount of paid leave is important — it allows you to recharge and increase the value of your life, and even for those of us who love to work, it’s necessary in order to be a great employee.
When looking over offers, make sure you understand the total amount of sick + personal + vacation days offered and whether your days a) roll over from one year to the next, b) can be paid out in cash if not used, or c) are lost if you don’t use them within the calendar year. And if it’s a government job, you need to also consider the additional holidays you get off during the year. (Like Columbus Day. WTF.)
4. Work-Life Balance
Here’s the thing: you can work the 70-hour work weeks and make bank. I mean, bank. But I’ve worked those 70 hour weeks, and in my opinion, they aren’t worth it. I was always left feeling drained at the end of the day, and my job always bled into my weekends, which left even less time to pursue anything else. In the free time I did have, I was doing laundry or going to the grocery store or trying to clean my house. It was not a life I wanted to live.
Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with working that much. If you want to grind it out hard for a majority of your time to make some serious cash, go for it. But before you accept a job, have a heart-to-heart with yourself to see what will truly bring the most value to your life. Will the extra $20,000 be worth having little time to relax or spend with your friends or pursue a passion of yours? Maybe. Maybe not. I knew I wasn’t a 70 hour per week girl, which is why the philosophy of my current employer was so attractive to me when I was interviewing. Just recognize which side of the spectrum you fall in, and factor that into your decision.
5. Bonus Opportunities
Many companies don’t include these in the initial offer, but bonuses are a great factor to use when negotiating. Here are some of the most popular:
Signing Bonus: One-time bonus offered to entice you to join the company.
Performance Bonus: Based on meeting personal performance or company goals. Can be negotiated for one year or multiple years.
Certification Bonus: For successfully passing a specific certification required by the company (i.e. CFP, CPA, bar exam, etc.).
If a company is actively pursuing you and the salary is coming in lower than your other offers, don’t be afraid to ask if they could offer a bonus incentive. Just make sure to have at least a general idea of what you would like in case you need to pitch it to them. If you’re a great candidate, they may agree to throw one into the compensation package in order to entice you to join their firm.
6. Growth Opportunities
As a 20- or even 30-something, you want to be in a position where you can grow within the company, or at least learn valuable skills that will allow you to grow your career elsewhere. One of the best unforeseen aspects of my job has been working for my current boss, who is seriously an all-star at developing talent. I can’t tell you how much my knowledge and skill set has grown because of that individual, and it’s one of those intangibles that you can’t put a price on.
Here are some great questions to ask in your interview to determine whether a company has a great growth mentality:
- How do you see the company developing over the next three to five years? How do you see the department developing over the next three to five years?
- How many additional employees has the company/department hired in the past year?
- Are you currently pursuing any acquisitions or looking to increase your footprint?
- What has your experience been like at <>? What projects have you felt most challenged on?
- Is this a new position, or did someone leave? If someone left, why did they decide to do so?
7. Company Culture
Some companies expect you to be at the office from 8 AM – 5 PM. Some allow you to work flexible hours. Some stick by a dress code policy of business casual, whereas others are cool if you wear leggings and a flannel to the office. I have never had a sip of alcohol while on the job, while some of my friends work for companies that have a keg on tap.
What I’m trying to say is each office has its own structure, philosophy, and culture that is set by the actions of those in charge, and then trickles down throughout the company. You want to make sure you join one that is conducive to your most productive work environment, and in line with your values. Constantly being distracted by an open work concept layout, or having to stay late because “showing face” is how you show you’re working hard, can take its toll rapidly, and you’ll soon realize how important it is to spend 40 hours of your week in a job you find enjoyable.
Deciding which job option to pursue can be a stressful process because no one wants to make the wrong decision; however, have faith in the fact that you did the best with the information you had presented to you, and go from there. I wish you all the luck on your search, and for you veterans, I ask you this: what is one thing you find more important than salary in a job?
Brittney is a CPA in Indianapolis who loves any & all carbs and in her spare time runs the blog Britt & the Benjamins, which is focused on helping people, especially women, achieve financial independence and kill it in their careers.
Image via Unsplash