3 Questions to Ask About Employee Benefits Before You Get Hired

3 Questions to Ask About Employee Benefits Before You Get Hired Getting a new job requires some detective skills, including understanding your total compensation package prior to accepting a job offer. While most of us need our job to provide a regular paycheck to take care of our living expenses, we also need to consider the benefits program offered by a potential employer. Here are a few questions you might consider asking your prospective employer to help you make a better decision in evaluating a job opportunity.

  1. How much of my total compensation will include a benefits package?
    While your salary is important, don’t forget to consider the amount spent on employee benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in March that private industry employee benefit programs accounted for 29.5% of total compensation. This compensation includes paid sick leave, holidays, and vacations, as well as employer contributions to health and life insurance, retirement savings, and into Social Security and Medicare in the U.S. It is appropriate in your job offer process to ask for a clear outline of the benefits program offered. A job opportunity may look more or less attractive based on the benefits, so it’s critical to have the full picture before making your decision.
  2. May I review your health insurance program?
    If you are expecting your employer to provide a health insurance option, make sure you have a firm understanding of the program. You’ll need to consider what you’re currently paying and what you’ll be expected to pay under the program offered by your potential employer. If you’ll need to use that health insurance to provide care for your family or dependents, make sure to uncover the costs with that type of program and their eligibility. When you review the health insurance program look for information on co-pay amounts, pre-existing condition rules, deductible amounts, and prescription drug programs.
  3. What are your most unique employee benefits?
    While you should have uncovered all of the benefits offered in your employee summary, there may be a few employee perks you’ll find important. This is also a good question to uncover a little more about the culture of the company you’re considering. Companies may offer an employee gym, onsite child care, flexible work schedules, or other unique programs that may make a position more attractive, even if the salary is smaller. And don’t forget to find out about smaller benefits that can really add up like paid parking, discount dry cleaning services, or an economical onsite dining option.

Looking for a new job can be stressful, but when you do get a job offer make sure to slow down and evaluate the entire offer before accepting a position. It’s possible to negotiate your salary and benefit options before you’re hired, but it can be much harder to negotiate, or not possible, after you’ve accepted the position.

Don’t Forget the Beach The Value of Vacations

Vacation_feb2012_webWe are vacation deprived. It’s true. According to the 2011 Vacation Deprivation Study by Expedia, Americans earn less and take less than half the vacation time that Europeans do and still leave an average of three unused vacation days every year.

Using vacation time seems to be a lost privilege among North American workers when in fact, it should be seen as a vital part, not only for your well-being, but also for your career. Vacations are essential to help you relax and balance the multiple demands in your life.

Reboot and Recharge

Workers who take regular time off from work are less likely to experience burnout. We all feel the stress and weight of our workload, and a vacation can seem like one of the worst things you could do for your company and co-workers. Most U.S. workers still take work with them on vacation in one form or another.  Never the less, you could be causing more problems in the long run by not taking time off.

A vacation free from work can help you refresh your mind and gain a new perspective on work-related situations. If you make the most and enjoy your vacation, you can be surprised at what you’ll discover about your projects when you step away from the circumstances. You’ll also be able to come back with more vigor and passion when you spend a few days away from it all.

Health and Happiness

Taking vacations can have a big impact on your overall health and well-being. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that after three days of vacation, their subjects’ physical complaints and quality of sleep and mood had improved. The improvements were still present five weeks after they returned from work.

Spending time with loved ones can also help keep relationships strong. Strengthening those bonds will ensure you have help support during stressful times. And having close family and friends will help you enjoy the good times even more.

You may be new to a job, or just be a few years into one, and lack the funds or vacation time to spend. However, you don’t have to spend a lot of money and go out of the country, sunbathe at the beach, ski down the highest mountains, or relax at the fanciest lodges. There are several places you can go and get the same benefits on a tank of gas and a fixed budget.

Become a Mean, Green Working Machine

Vacations are also known to improve job performance. If you experience burnout, you’ll start to slack on your job duties and put more pressure on your co-workers and managers to pick up your slack. A lack of vacation time can be like a lack of sleep. Less sleep can affect your ability to think clearly, act decisively, process information, and react quickly. Having too few personal days can have the same affect at work. The same NCBI study suggest the physical benefits that come from vacation can lead to increased quality of work on the job.

It can be easy to think that since you’re new to a job or have only been with an employer for a few years that you need to keep working to impress your managers and stay on their good side. But the dangers of holding off on vacation time can not only damage yourself, but also your employer. What are some of your best vacation ideas and how did they make you feel?

Playing it Cool: How to Survive the Office Holiday Party

Office holiday party_Dec2011_webIt could be your first job and the big end-of-the-year holiday party is quickly approaching.  Past employers never had holiday celebrations before and you may not know how to properly attend one. You could have a lot of questions about how to hold your drinking cup so you don’t greet people with a cold or wet hand, proper business party attire, or how much to eat or drink.

In order for you to celebrate a successful year and get pumped for the new year, here are some easy ways for you to have fun while following the manners and etiquette of business parties.

Make an Appearance

You may feel like passing on the notion of going to a company party. You see the same people for 40 or more hours every week. But not attending could hold back your potential, especially if you see a long future with your employer. This is your chance to talk to and get to know people you work with that you usually don’t see or hear from. Maybe they work on the floor below you, are from another branch, or are upper executives who don’t get out to your normal work area. Expanding your network within your company can help push your career forward when the opportunity for advancement becomes available.

You don’t have to stay the entire time, but try to find 30 minutes to have some fun and make an appearance. If you do decide to stay, don’t overstay your welcome unless you want to volunteer to help clean up if your employer is hosting the festivities.

Party Like it’s 9-5

Just because it’s a social function, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t conduct yourself professionally. It’s not your chance to tell racy jokes, flirt with coworkers, or blow off steam, so keep proper etiquette and modesty in mind when having fun. You don’t need to go back for thirds and fourths at the buffet line. Going too far will reflect poorly on your character and can hurt your image as an employee.

Staying professional is a matter of being polite and warmly greeting everybody – even those you don't like. Try tracking down the manager or executive who approved and planned the party to thank him or her for the party.

No All-Nighter Attire

Check whether the attire for the party is formal or casual or if it has a theme, like say, a cowboy country Christmas. It’s acceptable to dress in festive attire, but avoid the more revealing or skimpy. You don’t want colleagues and managers talking more about what you didn’t wear than what you had to say. If you’re in doubt, ask a co-worker, manager, or party planer what the appropriate attire is. The party is still a business function, so conservative party clothes are always a good choice.

It’s Not Business as Usual

The point of these get-togethers is to raise morale and have a good time outside of work, so try to avoid bringing work into the party during conversations. Work hours are over and nobody wants to discuss business for fun. While it’s a good idea to introduce yourself to the executive heads and decision makers of your company, stay interested in what they have to say and don’t make it about yourself and what you’ve accomplished. You’re there to socialize, not advertise.

When it comes to proper social etiquette, it’s best to use common sense. No matter where the holiday party is held, it’s still a company event, and you should act accordingly, even if others aren’t. But if you follow our advice on how to survive the work holiday party, you’ll be able to have fun and keep your reputation intact.

Ghastly Tricks to Make the Office Halloween a Treat

Halloweenoffice_oct2011_web Halloween may not be a federal holiday, but it’s still a highly popular and widely celebrated occasion. Americans spend more than $5 billion on Halloween merchandise every year, second only to Christmas in dollars spent, and Halloween celebrations continue to grow in the United States. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, more than one-third of American employers provide some sort of festivity in conjunction with Halloween.

For many, Halloween is what kicks off the holiday season and can greatly boost morale and interaction among co-workers. If you want to join the fun and spirit of this holiday while at the office, here are a few things you can do to make work a little more spooktacular.

Rules and Regulations

Before you turn your workspace into Halloween central, consider checking with your employer’s handbook, supervisors, or HR managers to learn company policies on Halloween celebrations. While there may not be any Halloween-specific guidelines for your company, there may be strict policies on attire and hair color you need to keep in mind when celebrating.

Dress for the Occasion

Be respectful of your managers and colleagues and keep in mind what you should and shouldn’t wear for Halloween. There is plenty of time after work and on weekends to wear your super scary costume, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to don some festive additions while working. Look for ways to put Halloween colors into your work attire. Find fun and easy ways to add a little flavor to your office look for Halloween like wearing an orange and black striped tie or blouse. 

Desk Decor

Decorating your work area can be another great way to show your Halloween spirit. Spread some fake spider webs in a corner of your desk and scatter plastic spiders over it. Place a small Halloween-themed bowl or dish filled with candy next to the web for everyone to enjoy. There are several inexpensive paper Halloween decorations found at retail stores you can tape around your desk. Be mindful of those around you, keep the decorations festive, and shy away from anything too scary or gruesome.

Festive Foods

Many employees love to celebrate, especially when food is involved. There are several treats you can provide your co-workers that are cost effective and can bring you closer to those you work with. Bake a cake, put candy bugs or gummy worms in it, and place it in the office kitchen for everyone to eat. Goody bags full of assorted candies and novelty gifts like fake vampire teeth can also be used as festive Halloween treats. If you or your company is very health conscious, put fresh fruit in a plastic caldron and put it in a high-traffic area.

Despite your opinion of this holiday, respect those who do or don’t want to celebrate Halloween. You could be working with people with an array of different personal preferences, cultures, and beliefs. Starting conflicts over Halloween is missing the point of this occasion.

What interesting or different ideas have you done to celebrate Halloween at work?

Health Care Options For Recently Unemployed

Insuranceforseekers_sept2011_web In a previous article, you read about health insurance considerations for job seekers who’ve recently graduated from college. While it’s important for those starting out in the workforce to know their coverage options, those with years of experience who suddenly face cutbacks and layoffs can be just as overwhelmed. And, things can get even more complicated if there’s a family involved.

If you’ve been laid off from your job and are looking for work, there are several options to make sure your family is protected from life’s emergencies.


The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 provides short term coverage for qualified workers, their spouses, and their dependents after leaving their employer. The duration of coverage is determined by each state. The plan provided closely matches an individual’s or family’s existing coverage, but may be too expensive given the need for the individual to pay insurance premiums in addition of any co-payments.

If you have any questions about COBRA, check with your former employer, or visit the Department of Labor. If COBRA isn’t a feasible option or your benefits are about to end, make sure you start looking for something else two months before the plan expires.

Use a spouse or family member plan.

This option may not be available to the majority of job seekers because most health insurance plans through employers can only add family members once a year during the open enrollment period. Some policies do offer exceptions in situations of marriage, birth, or a change in employment status. Check your family member’s employer insurance policy to see if being added would be a viable option. If it is, this may the preferred choice.

Benefits of trade associations.

Your trade association, or professional associations like the Public Relations Society of America, may offer health insurance. Some of the insurance offered through associations is comprehensive and some is limited, so be cautious in assessing these options. Again, start your research early and see what options are best for you.

Find your own.

If you’re on a budget, consider a plan with a high deductible and lower premiums that will cover you for a major illness or accident. There are several places that can help you choose the best option. Check with your state’s insurance department to see which companies offer local health insurance. Another great place to start is to talk with your doctors or friends about which companies they like best.

Insurance has been a hot topic of debate for the past few years. Finding coverage isn’t easy and can be very confusing and time consuming. But it is vital to your wellbeing and the health of your family to make sure they are covered from life’s unexpected accidents. Take the time to learn the ins and outs so you can stop worrying about health insurance and focus more on the job hunt.


By Jared Cole

Health Care Options For Recent Graduates

Insuranceforgrads_sept2011_web Graduating from college is a commendable achievement, but it can take some time to secure your first professional job. Many times the biggest fear and headache of being an unemployed college graduate isn’t making enough money. It’s health insurance.

The hassle and confusion of finding heath care coverage can be overwhelming, especially when you’re fresh out of college looking for work in a still-struggling economy. But, there are alternatives for those just coming onto the job force.

1.     Stay on your parents’/guardians’ coverage. 

Often the easiest and most popular option is to remain on parental or guardian coverage, especially since the passing of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which allows dependants to remain under their parents' or guardians' insurance until age 26. But, for some that may not be an option.  Restrictions and extensions of coverage vary by state, so make sure to check your state’s rules and regulations.

2.     See what your school has to offer.

Universities know that graduates seeking their first jobs have limited options. So, many have extensions of their student health insurance plans for recent alumni. Contact the university office or the alumni association in charge of the student health care plan to see if they offer any coverage to recent graduates

3.     Find your own coverage.

If you’ve graduated, or are getting ready to in December, and aren’t covered by your school or parents/guardians insurance, this may be your only option until you land a job. The most important step is to do your research. There are sites like Consumer Reports and that will take you through what coverage best fits you. Ask yourself how much freedom you want in being able to choose which doctors to see, if you need dental and vision coverage, and how much you’re willing to spend.

After getting hired, there are often still several insurance issues to consider. Many companies that offer health insurance have a mandatory evaluation period before new employees qualify for benefits. Keep this in mind when planning your coverage even after getting hired. Talk with the HR representative of your new company to find the option that will work best for you.

Finding coverage isn’t always easy, and can be very confusing and time consuming. But, it’s worth it in the long run to take the time to learn the ends and outs so you can spend more time focusing on finding that first job to start your career and less time worrying about your health insurance coverage.


By Jared Cole

Understand “The Numbers” in Your Job: Part 2

Numbers_Performance_August2011_web In part one of “The Numbers” series, we focused on how you become informed about the numbers that matter in your company. The next step in understanding the metrics that impact your career is evaluating your own performance and how it can be measured.

Let the Numbers Add to Your Job Search
When stating your abilities, whether it’s on your résumé or your LinkedIn profile, it’s best to focus on achievements and give qualifying information as often as possible. For your résumé, state how many boxes per hour you can build or how many new clients you brought into the company per month instead of just stating your skills. When you are pursuing a new job, understand that potential employers are comparing your skills against other candidates. Presenting your abilities in a way that demonstrates the value you would add to their team can help you stand out as the best candidate for the job. This type of information will also give you a good point to elaborate on during interviews.

It can also be helpful to measure your performance during a job search. When searching for a job, take a look at what your activity is yielding. Do you schedule one interview for every 10 applications or is it one interview per every 25 applications? Understanding what to expect can help motivate your job search activity.

Tracking Your Productivity 
In a current position, make sure your goals are measurable and that you understand how they are being tracked, who is tracking them, and how often your performance will be reviewed. When you are negotiating a raise or asking for help in managing your workload, you’ll need to be able to clearly demonstrate your job performance.

While taking the time to analyze your job performance can seem counter productive to getting work done, it is time well-invested.  By understanding the number of hours a project took, the number of phone calls it took to make a sale, or rate of return on an investment, you’ll be able to forecast what it will take to meet your goals and where resources should be allocated. Make sure you talk with your manager about areas of concern where your resource investment is not yielding the best results and what measurements are most important to your job.

Now that we’ve covered how to become informed about the metrics that matter and how to measure your own performance, next we’ll cover why tracking your job activity can result in a celebration.