82% of applicants prefer a job with a 401(k) over student loan assistance: Here's how to assess benefits

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Key Points
  • A recent study found that 81.7% people would rather have access to a 401(k) as part of a job than student loan assistance.
  • You can't always negotiate benefits as part of a job package, but there are ways to move closer to the package you want, even if you don't immediately get it.
  • Start by making a list of your priorities within a job offer and seeing what's typical in your industry.

A strong majority of people, 81.7%, would rather have access to a 401(k) than student loan assistance as part of their benefits package at work, according to a recent survey of 1,035 Americans by workplace management platform Deputy. Almost three quarters, 71.4%, also said they would prefer a higher salary to unlimited PTO.

It's important to consider those benefits when you're assessing an offer: Some may be negotiable, especially as employers compete for talent.

"If nothing exists in place for the company today, that's obviously a much harder sell," says Amanda Augustine, career expert at TopResume. A company is unlikely to add an entirely new program or benefit to please one prospective hire.

But asking to change the parameters for a benefit already in place, say for additional paid time off, "that's something that is much easier to negotiate," she says.

Ultimately, there are several ways to go about building a package that works for you both right now, and somewhere down the line.

'Rank or rate' your preferred benefits

To help improve the chances that any job offer you receive includes the benefits that matter to you, factor them in as you start your job search. Ask yourself, is flexibility important? Do you want generous paid leave policies for vacations, sick time, or parental leave? Is help paying off your student debt your No. 1 priority right now?

"I'd make a list and rank or rate each one," says Augustine. "Number one: What are the must haves, it's a deal breaker if they don't have some variation of this. What is, 'I'd really like it, but if I had to negotiate and let that one go, I'd be okay with that.' And number three, what are the things that you don't care about right now."

Once you've ranked your priorities, start doing some research on jobs in your field and at your level. Do a search for those jobs on sites like Monster, LinkedIn, and Indeed, and see what benefits and perks companies mention in those listings. That can give you a sense of what a competitive offer might look like in that field.

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Ask about company culture

If you find the jobs in your field offer enough of your preferred benefits, once you're in the interview process, wait until the final steps to talk with a recruiter or hiring manager about what company benefits look like.

"The way I would go at it is the angle of the company culture," says Augustine, "because it doesn't sound like you're just flat out, 'Tell me what I'm going to get out of this.'"

She suggests asking questions like, What are this organization's values that I haven't found online? In your words, how would you describe this culture? These can lead into the specifics of what the company offers.

'Research your other options'

You can try to negotiate many components of your offer, including salary, amount of PTO, and flexibility. Say your last company offered four weeks off and this one only offers three: You could bring that up and ask for more. If you're used to working remote five days a week and this company only allows for two, you can ask for more of that flexibility.

You might also be able to negotiate for extra cash, through a signing bonus or a higher salary, to help offset any losses from less generous benefits.

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But if the final offer doesn't include all the benefits you're hoping for, it's up to you to weigh your options and decide if you'd like to move ahead.  

"If you love what you do, you're passionate about what you do, or this is really the path that you would like to pursue" in your career, says Augustine, she suggests you "research your other options" for what those benefits could look like.

Say a retirement plan is very important to you but this company or your industry doesn't currently offer it. Look into the different ways to save for retirement even outside of your job. Talk to a financial advisor "to have a better sense of, what are your options," she says.

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