Money is flat and meant to be piled up. – Scottish Proverb
Both as a recruiter and as a career coach, I have heard women downplay the importance of compensation. Even if you don’t believe this Scottish Proverb should be your life mantra, paying attention to money matters is important. For most people, your compensation and your ability to earn it and increase it over time is your biggest asset. Do you understand all of the elements of your compensation plan in your current job? If you are looking for a job, are you aware of what is out there? Here are some of the most typical components of compensation:
Base salary. This is what you’ll get paid on a regular basis, and you want to check market information to make sure you are paid equitably for what you contribute. In addition to just the salary number, look at growth potential and also timing of increases. Getting a salary increase at the six-month mark rather than year-end is money in your pocket.
Bonus. Bonuses can be paid when you accept a job (sign-on bonus), as part of a merit-based plan (performance bonus) or as part of company-wide plan (profit-sharing bonus). Sometimes, you can get all of these. Salespeople or other commission-based jobs may get bonuses for meeting certain targets. Even if your type of job isn’t normally eligible for a bonus, ask for one when you go above and beyond your current responsibilities. If you are eligible for a bonus, understand the criteria for how it is determined, and make sure your contributions are well-documented and known during the determination period.
Ownership stakes. Some people, typically the highest executives, get outright equity. Some companies give out options that are tied to the value of the company, so it is not ownership in the legal sense of the word, but your financial fate is tied to the company’s. Equity and options are different types of compensation than base and bonus, so don’t necessarily assume you need to trade one for the other.
Benefits and insurance. Medical, dental, life insurance, and disability are just some of the benefits some people get in their compensation package. Pay attention to when you become eligible. Some plans allow you to take your benefits elsewhere (this is portability, and there is a fee but it does provide flexibility). If you aren’t comfortable with all the terms in your company plan, make a friend in HR and have them explain it to you over lunch. They can likely give you some insider tips on how to get the most of what the company offers.
Employee perks. Discounted movie tickets, free admission to cultural venues, discounted cell phone plans, and employee assistance hotlines are some perks that I have seen that many employees overlook. These represent significant savings and therefore real money to you. Don’t just gloss over company newsletters or announcements. There could be a program or discount for you. Research the company policy book or intranet to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
Lifestyle and flexibility. It’s not just about working from home. You might ask for a 4-day schedule or full-time but different start and end times or a sabbatical. Companies often make these arrangements on a case-by-case basis, but many times there is something outlined about the broad policy. Make sure you’re not missing anything.
Even if you have a straightforward compensation plan right now, recognize that there are other ways to earn your salary. Pay attention to opportunities to earn more by going after some items from each of the above categories. When you have your next salary review or go for a new job, remember that there are many elements of compensation available to you for negotiation.