The U.S. job market is not at its best — with some forecasts pointing toward continuing unemployment levels around 10 percent — but for many with strong skills and leadership experience from military service, it is still possible to attract good job offers.
If this is the case for you, these eight tips will help you assess your opportunities to find the job with the best benefits for you:
- Make a list. Ask prospective employers for complete, itemized lists of salary and benefits that you're eligible for. Then, create a list with a column for each job you are considering. Mark the monthly or annual total for the following categories in each category. Add them up to calculate the best financial offer. You can go through this process even while evaluating potential positions before you receive job offers, too — for basic information, ask your network or do some research at online "water cooler" sites.
- Salary. This one is simple: More is better. Also consider how much stability your finances require. If the job pays on commission, consider your skill set. Some people do very nicely on commission. Others are not born to do sales, or are thrust into markets that are not appropriate for their knowledge base. Before taking a commission-based position, be confident that you will bring in enough income to maintain your financial footing. If profit sharing or bonuses make up part of compensation, remember these are not guaranteed and may require years of service before you qualify. Finally, check the tax picture — if you received military bonuses or other service pay that was tax-exempt, your take-home from a civilian job might be less than you anticipate. Include salary in an "income" or "gross compensation" category.
- Retirement. In the long run, retirement benefits can make a huge difference to financial well-being. Civilian retirement is quite different from military retirement. Today, very few companies offer pension plans, which are most similar to full military retirement. Instead, most companies offer a 401(k) plan or other investment plan. Find out what type of retirement benefits a company offers, what percentage of employee contributions it matches, and how long you must work for the company before those matches are "vested" (meaning you keep 100 percent of the company's contributions). Add the company's contributions to your "income" category. If the company does not offer a retirement plan, will you earn enough to save what you need in an IRA or other account? Request the help of a financial planner, if needed.
- Health care. Does the employer pay employees' health care premiums? If so, add the contributions to your gross compensation column. Also, check into the type of plan offered. Some small employers now pay for employees to purchase individual coverage. For most, this is fine. However, be aware that if you have a covered family member with a pre-existing medical condition, it might be difficult, expensive or impossible to locate new individual coverage.
- Vision and dental insurance. Not all employers offer visual and dental coverage. If your prospective employer does, add up the amount you spend each year in these areas, and subtract out the amount of any coverage you would receive to determine your net out-of-pocket expense. If you anticipate big expenses like a child's braces or dental surgery, call the insurer to ask if those costs are covered.
- Cafeteria plan. Also called a qualified benefit plan, this plan allows employees to save pre-tax money for certain benefits, such as dental and vision insurance, health care, adoption assistance, life and disability insurance and other benefits. By paying with pre-tax dollars, you'll save. Take the amount of money you could set aside for qualified expenses and multiply it by your income tax bracket to make a broad guess at your annual savings. For 2009, you can find your tax bracket at http://taxes.about.com/od/2009taxes/qt/2009_tax_rates.htm.
- Time off. Add up vacation time, personal days and holidays. Divide days off by 260 (the number of working days in an average year) and multiply the figure by annual salary to determine the value of your time off. If you are looking at different positions or multiple job offers, you can then compare for each job.
- Gut check. Don't discount the value of your instinct, and remember that finances alone do not constitute the right position. If the job is a dream job or an amazing stepping-stone to future opportunities, it might be a good move even if it doesn't pay your dream salary.
Once your list is complete, you can make a decision — and be prepared for negotiations. For example, if you can save the employer money by piggybacking on a spouse's insurance benefits, you may request a few extra days off. Whatever you decide, you can be confident about your choice if you know you've considered the full package.