My sister Martha is looking for a job. She is reinventing her career. I am very proud that she is taking on this challenge with her chin up. She created a Personal Marketing Plan and has a good idea of what she wants and is working towards her goals.
She has had some health issues in the past and is currently without health insurance, perhaps like many of you. Good benefits, especially health care benefits, rank high on her list of requirements in her next position.
Martha’s situation raises a good question. How and when should she ask about benefits?
The old school answer was, “wait till the end”. In fact, I advised Martha to wait until the end to inquire about benefits when she changed jobs in the past. But I am not convinced that is the best advice now. I did a little research and discovered other job search experts agree with me. The world is a different place now so different guidelines apply.
Salary.com advises to ask about benefits at the end of the first interview if you have a chance to speak with an HR person. Your goal is to gather information, not to share information.
You have a right to find a job that meets your needs. If benefits are important to you, as they are with my sister, then the lack of benefits or poor benefits may be a knock out factor. It is just as important for you to find a place that meets your needs as it is for the company to find a new employee that meets their needs. It is a two way street.
CareerBuilder says both parties in the interview relationship should be on the same page. Both parties need information to know whether to proceed. That means it is ok for candidates to have info about benefits during the process instead of waiting until the end.
It is unlikely that Martha could take a position that does not have benefits. It is easier to negotiate extra perks like more vacation days or a hiring bonus than it is to negotiate changes to group insurance plans. So asking about benefits early in the process gives you important information you need to make decisions about the viability of a particular company.
Protect yourself by not revealing too much personal information. You want to balance obtaining information with revealing your reasons for asking. You do not want to reveal your personal health information with any company during the job search. Actually I don’t think you should share that information at all. It is none of anyone’s business but your own.
Keep the information you share directly related to your skills, abilities, and interests. You don’t want a potential employer to make judgments about you based on personal information you share. People make judgments. Sometimes it is inadvertent. Sometimes it is purposeful.
I have worked with hiring managers who refuse to hire a perfectly qualified candidate based on personal information the candidate revealed about their health or based on the hiring manager’s inference about their personal situation. It is unfair but it happens.
This behavior makes sense to a hiring manager. Sometimes they don’t want to absorb potential health claims, real or perceived. Sometimes they don’t want to take a chance that the new employee might be absent to address health situations. Sometimes they think a candidate is more interested in the benefits than in the challenging position itself. You lose either way. So keep your personal information private.
How to ask the question. While not revealing your reasons for asking, you want to casually ask about the benefits offered. You want as many details as possible such as waiting periods, vesting, and types of plans available. I would ask casually at the end of an early interview when it is your chance to ask questions. Do not ask people out of HR because they would likely not know.
Here is how I would phrase the question:
- What kinds of benefit programs does this company offer?
- Is there a waiting period for the health care plan?
- What is the premium contribution percentage for single/family health care coverage?
- Is there a pension or a defined contribution 401k?
- What is the vesting period for the 401k?
- Is there a waiting period for the 401k?
Bottom line: Ask questions about the benefits earlier than you might have in the past. Define in advance what is important to you so you can compare your needs to what the company offers. Keep your personal information to yourself to control the information the hiring manager uses to make decisions.