Erin Lowry of Broke Millennial breaks down important criteria to consider when looking at a job offer.
No matter how long I’ve been in the workforce, I still find it stressful to evaluate a job offer. Unlike those terms and conditions forms I click and “accept” to use anything on the Internet these days, I actually have to read the offer all the way through and understand what it means. After three different jobs post-college, I’ve created a list of the items I find most important to evaluate before signing on the dotted line.
Is the Salary Accurate?
Salary is a no-brainer and probably the first thing anyone looks at on a job offer. Like many Millennials before me, I failed to negotiate on my first big-girl salaried job and blindly accepted the first number dangled in front of me: a whopping $37,500 a year—which seemed like a lot of money at the time, even in New York City. I saw the same number on the page when I signed my contract and felt good to go. However, it’s not unheard of to get a verbal offer and receive an entirely different number on the actual contract (generally with promises of a bonus or quick promotion and raise). It may be paranoia, but I do always double-check the verbal offer against a written contract to ensure I’m getting the previously agreed-upon amount.
How Do I Get Paid?
The first job I scored out of college paid weekly, with an actual paper check. Oddly enough, this caused me quite a bit of angst the first payday because I was an early adopter to the Internet-only banking world in 2011. I had USAA, and there were no physical bank branches anywhere in the vast city of New York. I began to panic about how I would be able to deposit my money into a bank account when a coworker pulled out his iPhone and snapped a picture of his check. “Umm, what are you doing?” I asked. “Depositing my check,” he said. “I know it’s weird, but I have USAA and can’t go deposit this at a bank. But I have a mobile app that works.”
Trust me, I know how convenient this story sounds, but that’s actually what happened. My next job moved me into the simple world of biweekly direct deposits. It was smooth sailing for two years until I job-hopped again. (Such a Millennial.) Midway through the month, I noticed I hadn’t gotten paid yet. I casually asked my boss when I could expect a paycheck and he told me at the end of the month. We worked on a monthly pay period. Fortunately, I had a hefty stash of savings—this could have been disastrous to find out had I been living paycheck-to-paycheck and needed those biweekly funds to cover a cell phone bill, credit card payment, or rent.
What Are My Benefits?
Decoding employee benefits may be the toughest part of a job offer. Frankly, I had no understanding of what a decent health care plan looked like, what vesting meant, or whether to check if vacation time was paid or not (and how it was accrued). The top things I now know to look for are:
Is there an employer match and how much do I need to contribute to max it out?
When do the employer contributions vest (e.g., how long do I need to be with the company until I can leave and take the employer match with me)? My jobs have always vested immediately, so I could walk after one paycheck and take the employer match. But some employers are graded, so you get more if their contributions the longer you stay or cliff, meaning you get 0 percent until a certain time when you get 100 percent.
How much do I have to pay out of pocket per paycheck?
How high are deductibles?
Is there a health-savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) and does the employer contribute?
Do I get a pre-tax transit card to which I can contribute money pre-tax and use it to pay for my monthly metrocard?
If yes, does my employer contribute, too?
How does it accrue (amount per pay period or immediately available)?
Will I get paid for vacation days?
Do unused vacation days roll over to the next year?
Do I get reimbursed for unused vacation days when I leave?
Are Personal Projects My Own?
The assignment contract is a tricky bit of legalese companies love to throw in contracts (often unbeknownst to employees). There may be a variation on the name, but basically signing this would mean the company for which I work owns any idea I come up with while under their employ—even if it’s a personal passion project I work on at home. I was particularly careful when signing with a new company after creating my site Broke Millennial because I didn’t dare let them have any intellectual property rights over the work I developed on my own. The existence of such a clause probably also means there are rules against freelance work.
Can I Have a Side Hustle?
During my stint in public relations, I went through an interview process with a big-name agency. The final call came in with the job offer, but it required I shut down my blog and cease my personal finance freelance writing. The job only offered $7,000 more than my existing gig—which was less than what I made freelancing. It made the choice simple: No. Since then, I always double-check that I can have a side hustle in addition to my work with a company.
Is There a Non-Compete Clause?
The last vetting I do is to check for a non-compete clause. I admit to signing freelance contracts with non-compete clauses for the duration of a project (such as working with one major credit card company and, therefore, also promising not to work with a competitor for a month or two). I won’t sign contracts with long-term non-compete clauses as this could drastically impact my ability to earn a living and ice me out of job opportunities.
Erin Lowry is a Millennial personal finance expert, speaker, and author of the book BROKE MILLENNIAL: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together. Based on the successful blog, the book is a choose-your-own-adventure guide to personal finance that uses wry humor and real-life examples to demystify the basics of money for Millennials. Lowry lives in New York City with her spunky rescue dog Mosby.
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