You’ve received a job offer. Congratulations! If only the struggle were over.
You’ve gone through all the work and stress of convincing this company of your Obvious Awesomeness, and you don’t want to screw it up by accepting an offer that isn’t right for you. And you certainly don’t want to make unpleasant discoveries after you’ve been on the job for a few months.
This is not a “good offer versus bad offer” piece. For better or for worse, much of a job offer’s goodness depends on your specifics. Hopefully this piece will help you better evaluate the job offer in the context of your needs.
Oh, and one more limitation on my piece here: there are all sorts of intangibles in a job, having largely to do with culture fit, that I’m not going to touch on here.
The Money, Please
The most obvious financial considerations in a job offer are:
- Equity (stock options, Restricted Stock Units, Employee Stock Purchase Plans, restricted stock, Employee Stock Ownership Plans)
- Commission (if you’re in a sales position)
Risk vs. Reward
Salary is low risk, low reward (and I use “low reward” loosely in the tech industry). Your salary is fixed. You receive it every week in your paycheck, and you know how much you’re getting (at least until your next negotiation, which is an ongoing process you put a lot of love and attention into, RIGHT?). In the tech industry, this could be a nice path to wealth, but it’s not going to make you rich overnight.
Equity is high risk, high reward. You don’t know what your company stock is going to be worth in the future. Possibly nothing. But possibly the ever-desirable F-U money.
Bonuses and commissions are somewhere in between, probably towards the salary end of things. Most bonuses I’ve seen depend on both your individual performance and company performance. You don’t have much control over the latter. As for commissions, you have more control over your sales successes than you do over the stock market, but it’s not entirely within your control.
So, which should you take? A higher salary or more equity? Depends. (You didn’t think you were coming here for answers, did you?)
- Depends on your attitude towards risk. I’m a slow but steady kind of gal; I like a higher salary. What are you? Tortoise or hare?
- Depends on the safety and stability of the rest of your finances. Are your expenses low? Is there another source of income in the house (a spouse, side jobs, rental property)? Do you already have the money you need for your most important goals? Are you willing to delay your goals if equity doesn’t work out? Then you can afford to take a lower salary in the hopes that your equity will be worth a lot of money some day.
If you do receive company equity, ask about getting “refreshers.” That is, will the company regularly give you more equity (in the form of options or RSUs)? Typically I’ve seen this happen on an annual basis.
Several employee benefits are as good as money in your pocket.
Employer Retirement Plan (Your 401(k))
For most of you, an employer retirement plan is a 401(k)). But if you’re working at a startup, your company might not offer a 401(k), or a retirement plan at all, and the onus will be 100% on you to save for retirement.
If you do have an employer retirement plan, is there a match? That’s as good as a higher salary (because you’re going to save enough to the plan to get the full match…RIGHT?) I’d say you always want to understand what the investment options and plan fees are…but that might seem a bit too nuanced at this point in the job. Although if you can find that stuff out, great!
If you work for a startup, your potential employer might not offer a retirement plan. This sucks. This makes it harder to save for retirement for several reasons:
- Administratively: You might not be able to set up retirement savings automatically from your paycheck.
- Behaviorally: If you have to set up your own IRA (which is what you’ll have to use for a retirement plan if your employer doesn’t provide one), set up your own paycheck direct deposits, and choose from the entire universe of investments available at your custodian (Vanguard, Fidelity, etc.), let’s face it, it’s less likely to happen.
- IRS-ly: You can contribute a maximum of $5500/year (under age 50) to IRAs. You can contribute much more to 401(k)s ($18,000) or another employer-plan possibility, a SIMPLE IRA ($12,500).
If your job offer doesn’t involve a retirement plan, that is a significant financial mark against it. It had better pay a lot or be a seriously awesome job to overlook this.
Employers can offer you better health-insurance plans at lower cost than you could get on your own. If your company doesn’t offer health insurance (we’re talking tiny startups here), then that’s worth anywhere from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars every month you’ll have to pay out of pocket to get the insurance yourself. Take that amount off the offered salary to make it apples to apples if you’re comparing to another job/job offer that does offer health insurance.
Until you’re pretty darn close to retirement, you should be protecting your income. Which is to say, you should have disability insurance. The younger you are, the more important it is, because the more years of earning you have ahead of you.
Individual disability insurance coverage that you buy for yourself can be really expensive, so employer-provided coverage (even if you have to pay a premium) is usually way cheaper, because they’re benefiting from group pricing.
I wouldn’t make a decision about a job just based on disability insurance coverage, but it is a valuable benefit.
I’ve seen a wide array of benefits from tech companies—tax-free transit passes, reduced-price gym membership, access to free legal services—especially the large ones like Google. And while those can be nice to have, I don’t think I’ve seen one yet that even approaches the financial impact of the benefits already discussed.
Quality of Life
Quality of life issues are so important that it’s worth trading them for less money sometimes. Of course, depending on your specific circumstances. I want to highlight a few.
If you’re thinking of having kids, or think you might have to take care of an ailing parent, especially as a woman, please please find out how this company treats its employees when they take time off for caregiving. How many weeks of paid benefits? How many weeks of unpaid? How long do new parents usually stay away before returning to work?
Obvious, 3 weeks is better than 2 weeks. But what about the trendy “unlimited” vacation policy? Ask the company how much vacation people take on average, because what’s the good of theoretically unlimited vacation if it’s the kind of company where people don’t ever take it. More considerations here.
Flexible Work Time and Remote Work
The recent news of IBM moving all its remote workers back to a physical office makes this particularly topical.
Can you work from home some of the time? Can you take an afternoon off and make it up some other time? I know that as a parent of young children, this is very important to me. Aside from the cool factor, is it actually important to you? Or are you fine with the clear boundaries of the 9-to-5?
I hate driving with something approaching irrationality. But hey, that’s me. However, studies have shown that commutes make everyone unhappy, and reducing a commute is worth quite a lot of money to people. The book Happy Money cites a study that quantifies this: people required a ⅓ higher income to compensate them for going from no commute to a 22-minute commute.
Especially in sprawling metropolitan areas like Seattle and the Bay Area, it’s easy to switch jobs and find your round trip commute has increased by 2 hours. Each day! Can you negotiate to work from home frequently, or from a satellite office…or for a Much Larger Paycheck?
Each job is not only an end in itself, but also a means to a greater end: an even better job next time. And with every better job, ideally, comes more opportunities for strengthening your finances.
Here are some things I’ve picked up from career coaches and some women in tech:
- What are opportunities for growth in this job? Will you have a chance to work with people who can help improve your career? Does the company have processes or policies to help you develop your skills?
- Is there an explicit career path? At a giant like Google, probably so. At a 10-person startup, probably not. Do you need a structured career path, or are you a self-starter with vision and discipline? In my 20s, for example, I don’t think I was particularly self-directed. Now in my (early, dammit!) 40s, I am.
- What’s the performance review process? Is it codified (every year or every quarter) or loosey-goosey? You need something to not only keep your career progressing, but also as an opportunity to prove yourself worthy or raises, promotions, and equity refreshers.
- [EDIT TO ADD 6/9/2017] Will your company pay for further education, up to and including a degree, like an MBA? This can be worth a lot of money.
You know your career better than I do. What skills, relationships, and experiences do you need to make you more successful in your career? Find out if you will get you get those at this job.
Make a Plan
If you do end up taking this job, you need to make a plan for all these new financial considerations. You’ll have a new retirement plan, new take-home income, new benefits to choose, and so on.
I cover this at length in the free guide available on my website, if you sign up for my monthly newsletter. Do avail yourself!
Are you considering changing jobs soon? Do you have a job offer staring you in the face Right Now and you don’t know how to evaluate it? Reach out to me at or schedule a free consultation.
Sign up for Flow’s Monthly Newsletter to stay on top of my blog posts (and the occasional video), and also receive my guide How to Start a New Job (and Impress Yourself and Everyone Else) for free!
Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.