Career Corner: May-June 2007

I've been told that before I accept a job, I should look at the total compensation package. What does that mean?

Compensation consists of salary and benefits. If you're young and healthy, it's natural to focus on the money. But you may expose yourself to unnecessary risk and also leave money on the table.

The benefit most often overlooked is the employer's contribution to your retirement--usually through a 403(b) or 401(k) plan. Essentially, the employer is giving you a salary increase that is invested and grows (with taxes deferred)--along with your own contribution--until you take it out for retirement or another legitimate reason. Small amounts invested when you're young can result in a much greater nest egg than larger amounts later on. However long you stay with your employer, the money you personally invest will always be yours.

Pay special attention to your employer's health plan. Health premium plans and costs vary significantly from employer to employer. Sometimes your employer pays most of the costs; sometimes you do. Health insurance is a must. All it takes is cutting your hand on broken glass or twisting your ankle in a pickup basketball game to discover that even simple medical procedures cost hundreds of dollars.

If you're at a different stage of life--perhaps with young children or elderly parents--you'll want to investigate the organization's life, long-term care, and disability insurance. These are particularly important when others depend on you and can provide peace of mind. Other benefits such as access to subsidized daycare or gym memberships--not to mention tuition assistance--can save you thousands of dollars.

Every Duke graduate will evaluate compensation packages through a different lens. Look at your personal needs and lifestyle, and before you jump for salary, calculate the value of the benefits, too.

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