8 Finance Questions to Ask When Considering a Job Offer

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 8, 2012 · 19 comments

in Money & Career

You’ve rocked the job interview and landed an offer. Way to go! Now comes the part that many dread: talking about the pay and benefits package with their potential employer. Some men want a job so bad that they’d much rather skip this discussion and accept whatever the company offers them lest they offend their potential employer and lose the opportunity. But doing so can be a costly mistake.

For many young men starting out in life, the fear of this discussion with a potential employer stems from simply not knowing what questions to ask. Sure, discussing salary is obvious, but what other things should you ask about and possibly negotiate? To find out, we talked to Doug Arms, Senior VP of Accounting Principals. Doug says there are eight basic finance questions you should ask when considering a job offer. These questions will give you the information you need for possible negotiation (something we’ll cover in a later post) or deciding to accept or decline the offer.

When in the Hiring Process Should You Ask Finance Questions?

Before we get to the questions themselves, let’s touch on the issue of timing. Should you save your finance questions for when an employer makes you an offer, or is it okay to ask them in your interview? In general, it’s best to wait until an offer is made (unless the interviewer brings the subject up himself – and he may very well do so). Why?

First, inquiring as to things like pay and benefits during your interview can come off as a little presumptuous — the interviewer is going to be thinking that it’s not something you need to worry about yet, and it may also give the interviewer the impression that you’re only interested in the financial aspect of the job.

Secondly, there isn’t a good response to whatever the interviewer replies with in this scenario. If the salary they quote to you is too small, you’re very unlikely to say, “Well, in that case, I don’t want the job,” and get up and leave — nor can you at that point negotiate since you don’t have the job yet. And even if the salary is enticing, there’s still really no good, non-awkward response. “Oh, okay.” You don’t want to effuse at this point, as you may be able to negotiate the salary up higher still later on. So where does the conversation pivot from there? You’ll also need to know more about what the job will entail and the total benefits package to even be able to judge whether a stated salary is a good deal or not.

All of which is to say, don’t jump the gun on talking about pay and benefits too soon, as it’s basically a moot point until they make you an offer. Wait to ask your finance questions until you know they want you. That’s the time to either walk way, negotiate, or sign on.

8 Finance Questions to Ask When Considering a Job Offer

1. Does the company have a 401(k) plan?

Simply put, a 401(k) plan allows you to put tax-deferred funds (money that is deducted from your paycheck before taxes) into a savings account. The money is then taxed when withdrawn for retirement. While the 401(k) is a popular retirement option, this may not be the plan your company offers. Understanding the benefits of different plans (perhaps stock options, for instance) and what kind of retirement you will be able to have as a result is important for long-term planning. (Don’t know anything about 401(k)s? Read our guide to 401(k)s for young men.)

2. What is the company’s matching policy for retirement?

Depending on the retirement program, a portion of your contribution may be matched by your employer. This is an especially important question to ask today, as some companies have discontinued their matching programs in response to the ailing economy. Understanding the matching policy will allow you to understand how much you need to start saving in the short-term to meet your long-term goals. As this can have a big impact on long-term savings, it can certainly be a deciding factor if choosing between multiple offers.

3. Am I bonus eligible? And if so, is the offer for base compensation only, or does it include bonuses?

Not all companies offer bonuses and not all employees are bonus eligible. So it’s important to understand what your total compensation package entails. For example, if you receive a base offer, you should ask if you are eligible for bonuses and what is required to be considered. Is it based on performance? What kinds of metrics determine that performance? Is it based simply on length of time with the company?

4. Do you offer overtime/who is overtime eligible?

Prior to accepting a job, it’s okay to ask what the core hours you will be required to work are and how you may be compensated for overtime. Many hourly positions offer overtime, so it is important that you ask so you know to file for your overtime compensation.

5. Am I eligible for company-owned work devices (cell phone, laptop, etc.) If not, can I get reimbursed for them?

Mobile devices are a big expense — for example, getting reimbursed for your cell phone bill could save you up to $100 a month, which is $1,200 annually. According to a recent Accounting Principals survey only 17% of graduates can afford necessities like these. Before joining a company, you should determine if you are eligible for company devices, or reimbursement for either devices or a data/cell phone plan, and which portion of the bill you can expect the company to pay.

6. Will the company help me with my moving expenses?

If you are relocating for a new job, moving can become a significant expense, especially if you’re moving long distance or abroad. Costs vary between cities as well, but are often around $150/hour for experienced movers. This does not include the time that you may need to take off from work to pack your belongings. Many companies do have moving policies and packages, so if you’re accepting a job that requires you to move be sure to inquire about this so that you can financially prepare.

7. Can I review the benefits package?

Benefits include everything from retirement and health insurance to stock options and vacation time. Every company has a unique package, so it’s important to understand what is most important to you. For example, is vacation time of higher value to you than a matching retirement plan? In addition, not all benefits start on your first day. You should consider when your benefits start, especially your health insurance coverage, when planning your transition. For example, it may be a month or more before your health insurance policy starts, which may require you to budget for extra COBRA coverage until the policy kicks in.

8. Does your company have a tuition reimbursement program?

If you intend to continue your education this is very important, and if your potential employer has a tuition reimbursement program, you should understand the ins and outs. For example, the amount of reimbursement may be limited or there may be eligibility requirements (e.g., you have to work there for a certain amount of time, pursue a degree within a program related to your field, or maintain a certain GPA). Knowing if you’ll qualify for tuition reimbursement will allow you to financially plan for your future degree.

An additional question to consider if you work at a downtown job is the company’s policy on parking. Some employers offer reimbursement for your travel/parking expenses or a bus pass, and some tech companies in Silicon Valley even provide a company shuttle to take employees from San Francisco to their campus.

What questions do you recommend asking when considering a job offer? Share them with us in the comments!

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Luke Smith November 8, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Employers won’t negotiate vacation after you’re hired, so asking for additional vacation time prior to accepting the job is your best bet. Who wants to work 51 weeks a year for 3 years if you can negotiate up front for 2 or even three weeks of vacation?

2 Ronald Squire November 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm

I literally had this conversation today! Without having read this article I asked my future employer about 5 of these questions. Thanks for the article!

3 John November 8, 2012 at 10:07 pm

A couple of problems with this. First, the offer will often be too late — or rather, the offer should contain most of that information anyway. It’s not that you *can’t* negotiate after the offer is down in paper, but you *should* begin that process earlier, before they have made an offer.

Second, for someone looking at a sales position, or someone looking for a more senior position (granted perhaps not the target audience here), you’re going to have to show a bit more initiative on the finance side than just waiting for the offer.

Interviewing is a form of selling, and just like anywhere else, your job, as the “salesperson”, is to figure out three things: does this potential “client” have a need that you can and want to fill; do they have the right budget to allow you to fill the need for them; and if the answer to both of those is “yes”, then what is the process they are going to use to decide if they are going to apply that budget to your solution (i.e. to you).

Probably the most misunderstood part of that trio is the first. The following is hard to remember in the heat of the interview, but the more you can get your “inner game” straight, the better. And it goes like this: you are *not* trying to convince them to hire you. You are trying to help you both decide if you both make sense for each other.

4 Josh November 9, 2012 at 6:32 am

Which of these questions would be appropriate for a summer internship. I wouldn’t think that retirement or benefits would come into play, but what specifics should I mention?

5 Andy November 9, 2012 at 8:28 am

Interesting I was, i think offered a job once, and the employer told me at the end of the first meeting that he will contact me for another meeting to discuss wages. He never did? Was I suppose to contact him?

6 Chuck November 9, 2012 at 8:48 am

As I learned the hard way, get ALL of the offer in writing. If it isn’t in writing and signed, it didn’t happen.

7 Dan November 9, 2012 at 8:49 am

With the increasing popularity of Health Savings Accounts (HSA), it may be important to ask about funding your account. Recently my wife took a promotion that included moving from PPO to HSA. Her increase in pay was nearly negated by the cost of premiums and HSA contributions. As our system moves from an employer funded to an employee funded health insurance system, we need to change questions we ask in order to avoid those payday surprises that may come with the first check at a new job.

8 Brad Norcross November 9, 2012 at 8:50 am

I’m in the middle of a job search right now–these are great questions to know about and have in mind. The book “What Color is Your Parachute?” by Richard Bolles has an excellent chapter on salary negotiation (it’s an amazing book on nearly every part of a job search, actually).

9 R. J. Hartung Jr. November 9, 2012 at 9:19 am

Whenever I am in the final stages of negotiation for accepting a job, I always look ahead to see if I have any peviously planed personal committments to attend. When it appears as though I have secured the position I ask the interview if it would be ok for me to possibly have some time off, paid or unpaid to attend to my committment. The usual response has been that the foresee not problem with my request. That way you appear to be responsible, more so than bringing up something later, appearing to be inconsiderate of your work schedule.

10 Jonathan S November 9, 2012 at 9:42 am

Also, it’s a fair (and important) question to ask if the company is profitable. That will significantly affect your job security and whether or not you can expect a raise.

And YES, do negotiate your vacation time. Time is money. Pay in my industry is nominal relative to some higher profile jobs, but I never do work outside 8am – 5pm on Mon-Fri, and I get 4 weeks off (soon to be 5 weeks) + all major holidays.

Lastly, ask detailed information about the company’s benefit plan. Health Insurance is not always a given, so make sure they have a plan. Do they contribute to at least 2/3 of the cost? Is there a deductible? Also, what other insurance benefits do they offer? Basic life? Dental? Vision? Short-Term Disability? Long-Term Disability? Supplemental Cancer (a new health insurance supplement)?

Another thing to ask yourself: How long will I have to commute to this job? (Gas is money too :).

As an aside, I would strongly recommend that you not only ask questions about compensation — that shows the employer you are only interested in yourself, and this is probably going to be “just a job” to you. Employers can be choosers in this economy, so why not hold out for a self-motivated, enthusiastic candidate? So ask these detailed financial questions in a second interview, if you get one, or after you get a job offer.

11 Rob November 9, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Since I can’t even imagine myself in a job that interviews like this are required…what does that say about me? This all seems to corporate and greedy for me to consider. I actually think I don’t really care about money. Weird, I know.

12 DeliBoy November 9, 2012 at 10:46 pm

I will never again accept a job offer without seeing how the company handles health insurance. My current employer has rapidly downgraded their insurance over 3 years, and that will be a big factor in searching for a new one.

13 jeff November 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Don’t go through the process until you know what the incentives are. If they aren’t telling you what the pay is, or if they expect you to jump through the hiring process and expect you to wait to the end before asking what it pays, dump them. It is your time they are using up, and you owe them nothing at any point except honesty.

14 David November 12, 2012 at 3:47 pm

This is a great article for those applying for jobs in a better economy. The workplace is an employer’s market right now, so the outcome of negotiating is the employer picking someone else. Forget retirement and vacation time; just find a job you can live off of and hope that it won’t suck away your will to live.

15 Steve November 12, 2012 at 7:08 pm

As Chuck said, it bears repeating, loudly, GET IT IN WRITING.
How?
After an offer is made and the details outlined above have been hammered out, ask that the employer forward a written offer outlining the terms of the agreement. If there is any concern, call and work it out BEFORE you sign. Get it right, in writing, on the firm’s letterhead, signed by an officer or the hiring manager/hr.

16 Jason November 13, 2012 at 10:07 am

Every job I’ve accepted has given me a written offer either in the mail or via email, followed by a benefits email discussing the exact health options.

17 Michael November 13, 2012 at 5:25 pm

What about evaluating cost of living? For example, if you have two offers in two different states, how do you evaluate which offers is better given the differences in cost of living? There are websites out there that try to calculate this but they vary widely in their assessments.

18 Jay January 10, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I’ve had several interviews where the interviewer has brought up the salary with the following questions or ones similar: What are your salary requirements in order to support you and your family? What are your salary expectations? I usually give them a bracket i.e. $55k-$65k. I personally wish the interviewer wouldn’t ask and would wait until the job is offered as discussed in this article. How could one answer wtihout having to give any numerical brackets? Could one just reply by asking the suggested questions listed in the article? Would it be acceptable to say you would be willing to negotiate after the job is offered?

19 Andrew I May 17, 2013 at 10:08 am

Thanks, Brad Norcross for telling me about “What Colour is Your Parachute”. I would never have thought to look there on my bookshelf. That book was a great help! It has a few simple strategies of salary negotiation and explanations of each tip.

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