You’re reading an excerpt of Ask Me This Instead: Flip the Interview to Land Your Dream Job, a book by Kendra Haberkorn. This powerful work is written by a veteran recruiter for job-seekers who want to find their dream job—not just the next job. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, worksheets and a question database, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.
The components and value of the offer package—the salary, benefits, bonus program, stock options, vacation time, volunteer opportunities, and more—are parts of the work experience that most people can’t ignore. These are the factors that help us determine whether a particular job will enable us to live our lives. What you focus on within the offer package is highly dependent on your needs and desires.
Within the key aspects of an offer package, you might prioritize with the following in mind:
Are you responsible for financially supporting yourself and/or others?
Are focused on specific financial goals or obligations?
Are health and wellbeing priorities for you, or for those you support?
Do you want to balance the short vs. long-term rewards?
Do you prefer stability and consistency or can you tolerate variability and risk?
Is it important to you that the company provide volunteer days, donation matching, or other ways to support causes you believe in?
An entire book can be written about the offer and negotiation process. This is not one of those books, but highlighting this component of the employment experience as an important aspect of what you need to reflect upon to codify your personal priorities and address during the hiring process is worthwhile. There are a few areas I want to emphasize as you prepare to interview and ask focused questions.
In recent years, the conversation has shifted and new laws have emerged to address pay inequity. As someone who has talked to thousands of people about salary and seen offers and payroll files, I am glad there are great minds, brave voices, and admirable organizations working to address these gaps—because there is a lot of work left to do. Each of us can contribute to a more equitable future if we take steps to ask informed questions and gather inputs from credible sources that will help us advocate confidently to earn what our work is worth. And, by taking these steps for yourself, you pave the way for others like you. Some companies have taken bold steps to address the issues, adjust pay, and even publish the salaries of all their employees in an abundance of transparency, but most have not.
State and national laws, guidelines, and regulations vary about when, if, and how employers can ask about or share information regarding pay, benefits, and other elements of an offer. These may be dependent on the level of a role. For example, executives may have access to different types of compensation or contracts outlining what they are entitled to throughout and at the conclusion of their employment. In other cases, there may be a union that negotiates on behalf of everyone. Pay is an important (OK, absolutely critical) aspect of employment for most people, and it’s also very personal. What defines a satisfactory salary or hourly rate will depend on the person, their experience, the role and location, as well as their perception of the value of the contributions they make and the personal responsibilities they have to manage.
How can you take steps to get the rewards you deserve? First, start with publicly available information on various websites (including Salary.com, PayScale and Glassdoor) that highlight salary information for roles and by geography or other criteria. Consider this information directional. The inputs used to generate the average ranges are often anonymous, which means they may be accurate (after all, there isn’t a motivation to misrepresent) but they are absent of meaningful context used to determine pay rates. For example, it can be hard to decipher the size of an organization, the breadth of the pay band (is that salary at the top end or bottom for that company and role), whether or not that person is a top performer or barely scraping by, if they’ve had raises and progression tied to market or individual results, and if their offer was determined or influenced by their past salaries, experience, or other factors. Take these numbers and start to formulate your floor, the base level of a yearly salary or hourly wage that you’d be able (and ideally excited) to accept. Do your best to make that floor a realistic, achievable one for the roles you’re targeting.
Once you have your target number or range—one that will cover your bills, enable you to save and enjoy life, and that will motivate you—I recommend you check it with a neutral and informed person (yes, a human being, not a website). Ask a recruiter or HR colleague from a former employer, or a former manager, peer, or executive who has visibility into recruiting and or internal pay bands in the field or function. You’ll need to describe the role and responsibilities and the company size and stage to help them frame their response. Share an open range and ask them if they believe it’s on point. This information and framing enables them to give you a more targeted and honest answer. They may adjust the range up or down or share other considerations that will help you feel more confident or lead you to do more research.
important A lot of people won’t take the steps to vet their compensation expectations. They’ll make the determination on their own or with a close friend, partner, or spouse, because it can be awkward to talk about compensation. That’s why it’s so important. The more we talk about it, the better prepared and informed we’ll all be. We won’t have to wonder where we stand or if we could have asked for more. The more we talk about it, the less awkward it becomes, the more comfortable you’ll be in conversations with hiring managers or recruiters about the salary of a job you want.
It’s important to remember that base pay is not the only factor that matters in the offer. There are also benefit programs, paid time off or vacation time, parental leave, bonuses, stock awards, and other components that some companies will be able to offer their employees. The collective aspects of an offer, often called “compensation” or ”total rewards,” matter, and individual pieces will rank in a different order for different people. For example, if you have planned or ongoing health care needs, or if you are providing health care for a spouse or dependent, you will want to look at your current health insurance offering. What does it cost you each pay period or month; how much do you spend toward prescriptions, office visits, or other healthcare obligations; do you like the way the plan and access to providers is structured? If you plan to start a family in the next few years, you’ll want to get an idea of what parental leave, childcare, and flexible schedule options are available.
As you kick off your job search, research what companies you’re interested in offer across their different benefit programs—many have highlights listed on their careers page. Google unfamiliar terms or reach back out to the recruiter or HR professional in your network to get more information about anticipated costs and how these programs are implemented. Then, if you receive an offer, take the time to read up about their programs and policies and look into the associated eligibility and costs. If you have questions, or want more information, ask for it! An informed decision is in your best interest and, while you may or may not be able to negotiate for everything you want, you will be able to put the advantages and tradeoffs of an offer into perspective.
Work, whether we want it to or not, often crosses over and impacts the rest of our life. Understanding how a prospective opportunity complements or disrupts your personal priorities and interests is necessary. The language and conversation around “work-life balance” is evolving. Depending on the path you pursue and your personal preferences, how work plays into the rest of your life—and vise versa—varies significantly. It’s also likely that what “balance” means to you will change throughout your career. At its core, work-life balance is about whether or not this particular role provides the space and flexibility for you to enjoy your life outside the office or bring parts of yourself into the office, for example, establishing friendships, celebrating holidays and heritage months, or sharing more about your weekends than commentary about the weather. Because I touch on relationships, community, and inclusion in the people, employee experience, and inclusion belonging sections, I’ll hone in on schedules, boundaries, and how to evaluate the time commitment you’re willing to give to a role.
What signals in your personal life might indicate that you’d want to focus on work-life balance in your next opportunity?
You have personal or family obligations.
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