Got the Job Offer? 

Good—now take a look under the hood at the benefits. 
by Cheryl Meyer 
Published May 17, 2016

Many young accountants receive multiple job offers, and then they compare salaries, firm sizes, and company cultures to determine the best fit.

But today’s job seekers also need to look at the benefits packages, which can include health insurance, retirement plans, vacation time, and other not-so-obvious perks such as cellphone subsidies, signing bonuses, continuing professional education—and even the option to bring your dog to work.

“Benefits packages can account for almost 30% of an individual’s total compensation package,” said Bill Brady, director of career services at the School of Accountancy at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Health care insurance accounts for about half of that 30%, he said, and is by far the No. 1 benefit that young CPAs need to consider. Employers, however, also provide myriad other benefits that may not only boost your bank account but can also help you enjoy your job.

How do you compare benefits when there are so many options? How do you know which are the most valuable? Here are some tips for evaluating benefit plans and choosing the best one for you:

Do your research. Shannon Lands, human resources manager at accounting firm Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund in Pensacola, Fla., said that many firms, including hers, do not give details about benefits in offer letters. Her firm will provide more information if a prospective hire asks about it before accepting an offer, though. In addition to asking the hiring manager or another HR representative, future employees also may be able to find benefits information on a company’s website, Facebook page, or YouTube channel. Another option would be to network with current employees via LinkedIn or other sites.

Find an organization with a good health care plan. Health insurance has become more expensive for both employers and employees in recent years. Worker health insurance contributions rose 83% from 2005 to 2015, according to the 2015 Employer Health Benefits Survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Education Trust. However, the base cost-per-month shouldn’t be the only factor to consider when evaluating an insurance plan.

“A decent health plan is one that doesn’t have really high deductibles, and one that doesn’t have high maximum out-of-pocket expenses,” Lands said.

Jill Vales, CPA, founder, owner, and president of HR Experts on Demand in Greenville, S.C., said a $1,500-deductible plan with reasonable copays, and a plan where an employer pays at least 90% of the employee’s (and some portion of his or her family’s) health care costs, would be considered a good package. Employees also need to look at prescription drug coverage.

Also, see what choices potential employers are offering. Accounting firms are increasingly giving their employees various health care plan options—not just one, as in past years. The “best” plan may vary depending on your age, health, budget, and family situation.

Know the differences between standard and premium benefits. Vision and dental insurance should be considered standard coverage for companies, and benefits, such as mental health insurance and contraceptives, also would be included in a good insurance plan, Lands noted. But “extras” such as Lasik surgery or employer contributions to health savings accounts (HSAs) are considered premium benefits and are worth noting.

Don’t overlook short- and long-term disability coverage and matching 401Ks. If you have to be out for a lengthy period of time, disability insurance will cover a percentage of your pay. Also, added Vales, young CPAs may not be worried about retirement but the earlier they start saving, the better. “Does their employer have a 401(k) plan and do they currently make a match?” she said. “It is important to know whether employers offer that currently.”

Determine your deal breakers. Employees need to recognize what is important and what they can live without when it comes to benefits and extra perks. A young father may need family health coverage, but a single person may value other things. Today’s young CPAs in particular value their time, noted 27-year-old David Miller, CPA, of Rhodes, Young, Black & Duncan in Duluth, Ga. “I would want flexibility—that’s important to me, and that’s a common trend among young folks,” he said.

Create a grid to compare various plans. Use your analytical skills and create a rewards statement for yourself, Vales said. Compare any elements of a benefits package that are important to you, including what the firms are offering, what you will need to pay for out-of-pocket, the value of the paid time off, what contributions the company will make, and what you would pay for prescriptions you may require. If a benefit or type of coverage you find non-negotiable isn’t part of the package an employer offers you, it may be time to look at other options.

Finally, don’t expect to negotiate—much. Most standard benefits are non-negotiable. But young CPAs can sometimes discuss perks such as job flexibility or extra vacation time. “You probably can’t negotiate the health or life insurance or 401(k) match,” Vales said. “But you can negotiate other little perks like flexibility or maybe a signing bonus.”

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California.

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