Benefits 101: Where to Begin


There is a LOT to consider in a full-time job offer. While using our salary data, salary calculators, and cost of living data can help you determine fair base pay, there are many factors beyond salary that contribute to your total compensation. If benefits packages seem like a foreign language to you, you aren’t alone! Let’s talk about some of the basics of benefits.


The three main types of bonuses include signing, performance, and holiday. A signing bonus is granted one time upon initial hiring (and may also accompany internal promotions) while performance bonuses are given for impressive work outcomes and productivity. It is important to understand the criteria expected by your employer to receive performance bonuses, the frequency which they are given, and whether they are individual or team based. If offered, holiday bonuses may occur at the end of the year. For each type of bonus, the amount is largely dependent on your salary and the company’s performance. Whether or not you are offered any of these bonuses depends on industry, role, and employer.


Another important part of your benefits package may be relocation assistance. The amount and details of relocation benefits can vary, but it is most often a fixed amount to help with travel and moving expenses.

Time Off

The most common types of Paid Time Off (PTO) include vacation, sick, and parental/family leave. However, your employer may offer PTO for holidays, personal reasons, jury duty, and even voting. Vacation, sick, and parental/family leave are respectively used for travel, illness, and taking care of a child or other dependent family member. It is important to communicate with your recruiter to understand what categories your PTO is broken into, how much you have of each, how it is accumulated, whether it expires, and if you have the option to cash out on unused time.


One of the primary benefits associated with full-time jobs is access to health insurance. Three common health insurance plans are Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans, Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans, and Point of Service (POS) plans. These all come with different pros/cons, and depending on what your employer offers you’ll want to determine which plan is best for your medical needs. Some companies offer additional accounts such as Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Health Savings Accounts (HSA), and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA) to help with cost-savings for your healthcare. Dental and vision care are not included in your health insurance, but should be included in your benefits package as separate plans. Be sure to read your benefits thoroughly to understand options and costs associated with these separate plans.


Retirement contributions and plans are an important form of financial compensation that does not get reflected in your salary. The two main employer-sponsored retirement plans are defined benefit plans (e.g., pensions) and defined contribution plans (e.g., 401(k)s). 401(k), 403(b), and 457 are common employer-sponsored retirement plans. You should understand your employer’s plan and what percentage of your contributions they are willing to match as well as your vesting period. Pensions are not as common as they used to be and are primarily offered to employees of public government agencies.

If you have questions about your benefits package, consult with your prospective employer's representative. Prior to accepting, it is important to review your full offer to understand total compensation and ask for clarity if details are unclear.

“Part of being successful is about asking questions and listening to the answers.” – Anne Burrell