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How to Negotiate Non-Salary Benefits and Job Perks

April 14, 2015
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How to Negotiate Non-Salary Benefits and Job Perks
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When you’re right out of college and have a job offer, it’s best to think about more than just the salary figure. Experts say the total compensation package is what really matters, especially for young hires who are offered entry-level pay.

If an employer can’t meet your salary needs, most are willing to offer alternative benefits to sweeten the deal. Unfortunately, many young people and recent grads are leaving money and potential perks on the table. A survey by CareerBuilder found 45% of workers ages 18 to 34 don’t try to negotiate the first job offer they receive. Of course, some employers won’t budge on salary or non-salary benefits at all, but you’ll never know until you ask.

While you’ve got the job offer in hand, take these steps to negotiate your non-salary benefits.

Step 1: Look at the whole package.

If an employer offers you a salary that’s lower than you were hoping for, think about negotiating some of those non-salary benefits instead of the bottom line. You may be offered any number of perks and benefits in addition to salary, including:

  • Health and dental plans
  • Life insurance
  • 401(k) matching
  • Flexible scheduling or telecommuting
  • Extended vacation time
  • Transportation or parking reimbursement
  • Moving costs
  • Catered lunches
  • Guaranteed severance pay
  • Cell phone reimbursement
  • Gym membership or subsidy
  • Wardrobe allowance
  • Tuition or professional development reimbursement
  • Childcare support

The most common perks you might be able to negotiate have to do with time off or away from the office. In the same survey by CareerBuilder, about 33% of employers surveyed said they would offer a flexible schedule, while 19% said they would give more vacation time and 15% would let the employee telecommute at least once per week.

Step 2: Be grateful, but take your time.

“When a student receives an offer, it’s really important to say thank you,” says Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston. “Before you start to try negotiating anything, you want to thank the employer for the opportunity (and) let them know you’re interested and excited and ask for some time to make a decision.”

During this period, you can weigh the pros and cons of the benefits that are available, as well as the base salary.

Step 3: Prioritize your perks.

To figure out your negotiating strategy, decide which additional perks would mean the most to you.  For instance, if you’re right out of college, you might not need childcare options, but you might want to ask about tuition reimbursement for continuing education. Or, if you know you’re planning to get married or have travel plans coming up, additional vacation time might be more beneficial. You can also consider other perks such as a more impressive title.

Don’t try to nickel and dime every perk or benefit. Remember that when you negotiate, you’re only making requests. If you don’t ask, you won’t get anything, but not every offer needs to be negotiated.

“Unnecessary negotiation can negatively impact your future at the company,” says Jennifer Dillenger, director of career services at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Step 4: Ask.

When you’re meeting with your potential employers, have a clear sense of your priorities and lay them on the table with confidence.

“When you are in the moment, I often advise them to negotiate on behalf of somebody else, not just yourself,” says Cathy Tinsley, a professor of management at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “Especially for women who often undervalue themselves. If you imagine it’s for someone else, you would be polite and professional, but you would be firm.”

Step 5: Get your deal in writing.

Once you’ve come to an agreement, cement the deal. “A new college grad may not realize the importance of getting it in writing,” says Diane Domeyer, executive director of the Creative Group, a creative staffing agency with locations in markets throughout the United States and Canada. “While you’re negotiating terms and they say, ‘yes we can do that,’ sometimes if you don’t get it in writing, memories can be short.”

Step 6: Plan your exit strategy.

Once you start negotiating, the goal is to exit the meeting with an agreement both sides can be comfortable with. So, more than anything, you need to remain tactful in your approach to the situation.

“Do remember this negotiation is part of the first impression — don’t make them regret offering you the job!” says Mary Raymond, director of the Career Development office at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

In the end, you might have to accept that your future employer may not be willing to negotiate. Thirty-eight percent of employers surveyed by CareerBuilder said they would not be able to provide any alternative benefits, even if a candidate’s salary requirements couldn’t be reached.

Before you go into negotiations, decide whether you would still take the job if the employer were unwilling to compromise. If you reject their offer, remain respectful and grateful for the opportunity. Thank them for the offer and their time, then briefly explain why the terms of the job would not work for you at this time. Don’t forget, you never want to burn the bridge behind you.

Anna Helhoski is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter@AnnaHelhoski and on Google+.

Image via iStock.