How to negotiate better pay and benefits

"If you're single and just out of college, your benefit needs might be different than if you've got a young family or you're midcareer," says Stich. "If you have a family, for example, ask them what kind of group life insurance they offer."

The toughest part of analyzing a compensation package is determining the value of insurance benefits such as disability and health care.

Ask the human resources person if they have a document called an annual benefit statement for you to see.

This document allows you to assess the value of your compensation package by spelling out the dollar value of each benefit, including salary.

"Sometimes they call it a total compensation statement," Stich says.

Not every company provides annual benefit statements to their employees.

Ask for enough time to evaluate the offer

Depending on your situation, you may still have a couple of interviews in your pipeline by the time you get a job offer.

The temptation to rush and say "yes" to the first job offer could be costly, though.

Realistically, you need enough time to evaluate positions at other companies, but you want to avoid making the company that's already offered you a job question your interest level if you take too long to evaluate its offer.

So what should you do?

"In those situations, I tell job seekers to call the other company and see if they can move that other interview up, but use a little leverage by being polite about it," Hansen says.

"If you ask for a week and they give it to you in this environment, you can't tell them you need another week."

Try to buy more time than you need so you don't have to rush and make a quick decision, Hansen says. The company will better appreciate an early decision than a late one, he says.

Once you've made the decision to accept a job, make sure you contact the hiring manager as soon as possible.

Send a response in writing, but at the very least, call the hiring manager or send an email so that the company stops considering other candidates.

Get your offer in writing

Finally, you should insist on getting the meat and potatoes of the deal in writing.

It's a smart way to protect yourself against misunderstandings. Most organizations have no problem doing that because they view it as a way to protect themselves, as well.

Important details beyond salary and benefits should be included in your offer letter.

Many offer letters will spell out whether you're an at-will employee; salaried or hourly; your work hours; and other such details.

The offer letter also protects you in the event personnel shake-ups compromise agreements you made with the hiring manager.

"Everything should be in writing," Zwell says. "There are so many cases where a manager promises something and then the manager leaves and all you have is a verbal agreement, which doesn't hold a lot of water."


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