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Resumes, cover letters, and looing professional – these are the essential ingredients for your next job interview. You’ve got a list in your head of everything you’ll do: Smile, sit up straight, highlight your strengths, and… ask about salary and benefits? Because benefits can comprise up to 30 percent of your compensation, and because your salary is also extremely important (nobody wants to work for free), it might seem pertinent in your first interview with a prospective employer to ask about health care benefits and salary. But is it really?
Don’t jump the gun
Bringing up salary and/or health care benefits (or benefits of any kind) during a primary interview is like going for a good night kiss at the beginning of a first date; most people generally aren’t receptive to it. “The biggest blunder made by job applicants is the tendency to jump to the issue of compensation too quickly,” says Deb Koen, vice president of a nonprofit group called Career Development Services. So keep those questions to yourself for the time being—you don’t want to look like you’re interested in only one thing.
For your first and second interview, chances are that you’re going to hear the stock phrases “full benefits,” or “competitive benefits and salary.” Don’t waste your time trying to break those down into concrete absolutes. After the prospective employer makes an offer with you, then you are in a position to talk about the specifics of your compensation.
Weigh your options
Some companies are going to offer better benefits than others. Make sure that you are fully aware of what your prospective employer is offering and whether or not it fits into your life. Find out if your spouse or partner will be covered, and be sure to ask about pre-existing conditions, as some plans require a waiting period before it will begin to cover them, and some won’t cover them at all. If lack of coverage in a certain area is a deal-breaker for you, remember that you don’t have to accept an offer just because it’s on the table.
Negotiate if possible
The keywords here are “if possible.” If you’re relatively green in the job market and this is your first full-time job, you may not have as much negotiating power as, say, a seasoned vet with a performance-proven track record. Still, it can never hurt to try to bargain for things that you need. For example, if you or somebody in your family has a specific medical condition, your prospective employer may be open to finding you the right coverage for it. There are also companies out there that offer “cafeteria plans,” where you get to choose types of coverage from a list so that you and your family get benefits that are as form-fitted as possible.
Not all companies will offer benefits
It’s the last thing to remember and it’s as simple as it sounds, some companies simply will not offer compensation other than salary. However, if you know what you’re worth and you know what you require, you will eventually find an employer that offers the benefits that are right for you.