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What's the Best Way to Compare Job Offers?

Key Points
  • When evaluating more than one job offer, it's important to look beyond the annual salary.

  • The details of the benefits package—as well as intangibles like corporate culture—can make a real difference in whether a job is the best one for you.

  • After doing a thorough comparison, decide what's most important to you and don’t hesitate to negotiate for a mutually rewarding solution.

Dear Carrie,

My daughter just graduated from college and has the good fortune to have two job offers. How can she make sure she takes the best one?

—A Reader 

Dear Reader,

Congratulations to your daughter—and to you. For a new graduate, getting one job offer is reason enough to celebrate. Getting two tells me your daughter not only has the qualifications but also strong personal skills.

Now with the offers in hand, it's wise of you to advise her to step back and look carefully at which job would be the best fit. Because, while it's always tempting to go for the highest salary, anyone who has been in the workforce knows there's more to job satisfaction than how much money you make. Here are some things to consider.

Dig into the details

Salary, of course, is a starting point. Even if you're comfortable with the salary being offered, you might do a little research on websites like and to get a sense of the going rate for similar jobs.

Then go beyond the salary and make sure you understand the benefits offered by each position. A lot of new hires don't fully understand the importance—and monetary value—of a good benefits package, which can easily account for about 30 percent of your total compensation package. For instance:

  • Does the company offer health insurance? If so, look closely at details of cost and coverage. For example, what are the monthly premiums, deductibles, co-insurance levels and co-payments? Other important questions include whether there's a waiting period before you're eligible and if there are restrictions on your choice of doctors and other health care providers. High out-of-pocket health costs or inadequate coverage can effectively reduce the attractiveness of what seems like a low premium. A Health Savings Account (HSA) may help you set aside and invest fundswhile lowering your taxeswith certain types of health care plans.  
  • Can you participate in a 401(k)? Is there a choice between a traditional or Roth 401(k)? Look into whether there's an employer match, what the percentage is, how it's paid and the vesting schedule. Over time, it can make a huge difference if your employer has a profit sharing plan, offers equity ownership, or makes retirement contributions on your behalf.
  • Do the companies offer life and disability insurance, and if so, at what cost? Are there other optional benefits such as pet or legal insurance?
  • Do the companies have a wellness program, and if so, what are the details?  Some programs offer rewards that can help to offset the expense of activities that keep you healthy.
  • How about paid leave? Get the details on vacation time, sick days, personal days, family leave, etc. Find out how these accrue and if there's a time period before you qualify.

All of these benefits have a real dollar value. A high salary can effectively be reduced by a poor benefits package because you'll be stuck paying more out-of-pocket. Conversely, a good benefits package can compensate for a lower salary.

Don't underestimate the importance of the intangibles

Happiness in a job is dependent on a lot more than dollars earned. The work environment itself—both the physical set-up and the emotional energy—can affect your performance and your contentment. For example, will you have an office or work in a shared space? Is teamwork encouraged? How do management and staff interact? What kind of leadership will you be exposed to?

Beyond the day-to-day experience, are there opportunities for mentorship and career growth? A company that's willing to pay for additional training and perhaps even offers a promotional path could be a huge plus.

Then there's the overall corporate culture. This may not be something a new employee thinks about at first, but it's very important and demonstrates the values of the company from the top down. When you interview, can you get a sense of whether other employees are happy? Does the environment seem respectful and welcome diversity?  Is there a corporate mission statement that resonates with your own values?

In addition, wellness programs or scheduling flexibility demonstrate concern for employee well-being. A charitable match shows that the company cares about the community. All of this adds up to a corporate culture that will either encourage you to do your best or end up being an obstacle to your success.

Do a side-by-side comparison

Don't be content with a vague comparison. Go back to the details and line up everything from annual compensation to pay raise schedule to 401(k) match terms to health-insurance costs. Get even more granular and compare things like work hours, flexibility, how much vacation you'll get, even how you'll commute and how long the commute will be. Then put it all on paper so you can clearly see the differences.

Make negotiations a win/win

Once you've convinced the employer that you're the best person for the job and have a firm offer in writing, you'll be in a strong position if you want to negotiate. This isn't about making demands, but about finding a solution that's mutually beneficial.

According to one of my colleagues in the Schwab Human Resources Department, negotiations should always be seen as a collaboration between you and a potential employer to create a win/win situation. For instance, if a salary is lower than you'd like, would a signing bonus or the potential for a bonus compensate? Or would the possibility of flextime or telecommuting make the offer more appealing? As long as your suggestions fall within the company's policies and procedures, if they want you, they may be willing to compromise.  

Salary is one thing I'd definitely encourage anyone to discuss frankly. Women, especially, are known for hesitating to negotiate in this area. But as long as it's done respectfully—and realistically—it's worth doing if you’re not completely satisfied. And remember, it shouldn't be about what a person earned in the past, but rather the pay range for the current position. In fact, some states and cities have laws that prohibit a prospective employer from asking for your salary history. For someone just starting out, that may be a moot point. But it's good to know for future reference.

Think about what's important to you

Finally, it comes down to what matters most to you. For some people, it's the money. For others, it's the work environment, colleagues or the chance for growth. The key question to ask is: Which job will make you happy about going to work every day and give you the feeling that your life is going in the right direction? That may be the ultimate deciding factor.

It's great that your daughter can discuss all this with you. You can help her clarify her thinking and even practice her negotiating skills. Once she chooses a job—hopefully one with a good 401(k)—encourage her to begin contributing to it right away. Sounds like she's off to a good start!


Have a personal finance question? Email us at Carrie cannot respond to questions directly, but your topic may be considered for a future article. For Schwab account questions and general inquiries,  contact Schwab.

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