At best, the wrong benefits package can eat away at your paycheck. At worst, it can put a strain on your life, relationships, goals, and well-being.
Advocating for yourself in your position is the single most effective remedy against this. Remember: no one is watching out for you but yourself.
Your salary can always be negotiated, but it’s best to do it before the start of the position, or at least early on.
Why? Because the foundation for future raises is usually your starting salary.
The second best way of advocating for yourself (besides negotiation) is recognizing the things companies like to offer in lieu of payment.
Here are five things companies like to offer in lieu of payment, and how to spot them:
1. “Opportunity for growth”
Ah. The “opportunity for growth” promise. The truth about this phrase is that anyone can use it and that it doesn’t even need to be true.
In fact, it’s often used as a manipulation tactic to make it look like you’ll make more money (or receive a promotion) “someday.”
The reality is that “opportunity for growth” is not a good substitute for payment so when you hear this phrase, be sure to ask specific questions like “when is the promotion expected to happen?” and “how much money can I expect from that promotion on that date?”
This will help you determine if there really is an “opportunity for growth” or if it’s just a buzzword being thrown around.
This also applies to “bonuses.”
Bonuses are another popular buzzword many employers “offer” in lieu of payment.
“Don’t just take the company at their word when they say they offer bonuses and opportunity for growth. By asking for more details, you can then use this information to compare bonuses and pay structures between different job offers,” according to GoodCall.
3. Flexible schedule/work from home/time off
Oftentimes, companies offer flexibility (i.e. holidays, vacation days, sick/personal days, family leave, flexible schedule, work from home opportunities, etc.) at the expense of a lower salary.
These are all great perks, but they are not the same thing as having a good salary.
The solution? Weigh how much these things are worth to you. For example, being able to telecommute two days a week saves you $X a month on gas and $X on eating out. I can’t stress the importance of doing the math.
4. Stock options
Many companies, especially start-ups, frequently offer employees stock, or ownership in the company, in lieu of a more stable salary.
Today, it is common for companies to use stock options to compensate their employees. Again, this is not the same thing as payment, especially if the company isn’t particularly stable.
To that end, find out as much as you can about the company’s financial health.
And remember: the associated risk depreciates the value of what you’re being offered.
5. Insurance and retirement benefits
Many companies offer their employees’ health insurance, life insurance, or help with their future retirement in lieu of a higher salary.
While these are very valuable, it is important to understand that this too is not the same as payment.
Remember, the best job benefits are those that help you live a better and more fulfilling life.
If it doesn’t help you, it’s not that great of a perk – and may just be something your employer is offering instead of properly paying you.