How to Negotiate Benefits When It's Your First Job

When you transition from a string of hourly jobs to the real world, you may think you don’t have a say in your benefits. As an entry-level professional, you have to take what you’re given, right?

Well as you might have heard, closed mouths don’t get fed. Your job benefits aren’t always set in stone. Your employer is likely to offer you the minimum, but there’s room for better benefits if you speak up. “Thirty percent of your total compensation are actually your benefits,” explains Sarah Bettington, a career coach at Two Roads Atlanta. "Your salary is not the only thing you should be worried about."

“Is this negotiable?” should be a phrase you become very comfortable asking aloud (or typing) when you get your first job offer.

If there’s some wiggle room, you’ll need to prepare the reasons behind why you’re asking. Why will granting you a certain benefit help the company, and your performance, in the long run? Provide clear-cut examples that are less about you and what makes your life more convenient, but rather what would help the longevity and productivity of your work overall.

Here’s your guide to understanding and negotiating your job benefits. 

  1. 1. Health insurance

    The out-of-pocket cost for going to the doctor can be astronomical. As important as health insurance is, negotiating your healthcare can be a little tricky. Healthcare is one of those job perks that remains non-negotiable is most cases. Therefore, if you’re comparing two or more potential job packages, make health insurance a deciding factor.  

    You've likely heard the terms "premiums," "copays" and "deductibles" thrown around — especially during the height of election season. Your premium is the monthly bill that's paid to an insurer, regardless of if you get any type of medical treatment that month. Most insurance companies require employers to cover at least half of that bill, but that doesn't mean that they won't cover more. Compare the percentage your employer would be covering between plans.

    Nobody wants all their hard-earned bucks going towards coverage when they could be saved for vacation time. 

    A deductible is the amount you'll pay out of pocket for services until your insurance plan kicks in. The deductible amount will vary by employers. Some employers offer no deductibles while others will offer $500 and upwards. On average, the deductible for single employees is $1,500. As scary as these numbers may seem, know that your preventative care costs are covered by insurance! 

    Lastly, copays shouldn't be the bulk of your worries. After you've met your deductible, they're the small price you'll pay for services. And they can be as low as $10. 

    However, before you go crazy going to all your docs because now you're insured, make sure to ask your employer if there's a waiting period before coverage kicks in. 

  2. 2. Flexible scheduling

    The definitive days of working 9-5 may be over. You can explore the idea of working longer days for a shorter overall week, like coming in early to leave early and coming in later to stay later, among other options.

    Johanna Vazquez, a graduate of St. John’s University, began her career working as a paralegal. “I was too shy coming into my job to negotiate anything,” she says. “During my first evaluation, I finally had the courage to speak up and negotiate my work hours. Now there’s no more sitting in 8 a.m. traffic.”

    Vazquez encourages young women in the workforce to speak up when they feel compelled. “There’s will never be an ideal time to ask, so if it’s something important to you, speak up from the beginning.”

    When you first mention to your boss the possibility of a flexible schedule, create a written proposal. Initially, your boss might fear how the office will operate during your absence. However, give them something to look back on. List the things you can accomplish at home while not in the office, and how your adjusted schedule will enhance your ability to get the job done. 

    Do your research and offer up some statistics of companies that have flourished when flexible scheduling is an option for employees. Suggest a trial period to see how working from home, or early or late departure work. Millennials are changing the game when it comes to a working schedule, so your employer shouldn't find your request all that radical depending on the field!

  3. 3. Vacation days 

    Your employer knows how crucial the balance between work and play is. During the negotiation process, remind them of the importance of that balance for you. If you want more vacation days, know that you probably aren't the first one to ask such a thing, so you shouldn't feel hesitant. 

    If this is your first "real" job coming out of college, research similar companies and positions to you. Find out what they offer in comparison to what you're being offered. Companies are naturally in competition with each other, and they don't want their employees fishing around for a new position if they can match the same benefits. 

    The benefits of vacation reach far beyond not having to wake up at the crack of dawn each day. Studies from the American Psychological Association state many benefits for Americans who take more time off including that "the brain can think positively, productivity improves by 31 percent, sales increase by 37 percent, and creativity and revenues can triple." If your employer is the right fit and cares about your wellbeing, present such statistics to show how a little extra time can improve your overall work. 

    Another option is to think about offering to work remotely in exchange for more vacation days. Chances are the office won’t fall apart without you, and sipping margaritas on a beach is the reset we all need. 

  4. 4. Relocation costs

    Staring over in a new city? Know the numbers associated with the big move, especially if relocation costs aren’t covered in your initial offer. Think about the cost of transportation to scout out some places, temporary housing, moving trucks and hiring movers. Present your figure, along with a breakdown of how you reached that sum.

    Eliza Greene, a graduate of the University of Alabama, made the big move from ‘Bama to New York. Although her company offered her an original relocation lump-sum, she got that figure bumped up.

    “The most important part is to highlight how a relocation package that fits your needs will benefit the company,” she says.

Now that you know what benefits to be on the lookout for, you can tailor your approach when asking. Here are some additional things to remember when starting to broach this topic with your boss.

Things might not go your way.

Just because you ask doesn’t mean your company is required to meet your desires. They can easily say no, and that’s okay!

Know yourself, know your worth. 

You’re an accomplished woman, and now is the time to show this off. Be prepared to discuss what accomplishments, leadership positions and skill sets you have that make it worth a company to offer you more than the minimum. Yes, you’re already a queen, but this is all about the Benjamin’s, baby. Businesses might not initially offer you every dollar you’re worth without a little prompting.

Adulting can seem like an overwhelming journey, but take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone in anything you’re experiencing. Whether it's your first job or your third, it never hurts to speak up for yourself!