When you’re offered a job, you usually receive a “job offer letter” which spells out the job, the compensation and any benefits. This is a courtesy from the hiring company so that you can make an informed decision.
Veterans often take a military attitude toward civilian job offers, accepting the first one without question because in the military, you take your orders and execute. Besides, the salary and benefits are pretty much the same in the military, no matter what the duty station. In the civilian world, compensation can vary widely, so consider these elements of the offer letter well, because they’ll have a big impact on your civilian life.
Salary, bonuses and other forms of compensation. If you’re like most applicants, the first thing you look for in an offer letter is the salary. How much money will you make? However, be prepared to see a lower salary than you’re expecting (in some cases). Many companies make bonuses part of their compensation package as a way to ensure full effort from their employees. Or, they expect you to work a certain amount of overtime, which “makes up” what you were expecting. Some companies provide stocks as part of compensation, usually reserved for you and transferred to your name on a schedule (so you have to remain with the company for a certain period of time to get their full benefit).
In any case, before you get upset or crack the champagne, make sure you understand the entirety of the offer. Then you have to consider if you’re still interested.
Time investment. Military veterans very often fail to consider the work hour expectation of a civilian job, usually because they have worked long hours during deployments, training exercises and busy periods in their military service. There’s also a general perception that military sacrifices are much worse than anything in the civilian world. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. And recruiters often target veterans for jobs that are military-like in terms of time sacrifices and field work.
Some jobs require being on call and traveling a lot. Others require (or expect) a great deal of overtime. The military actually offers a fairly generous holiday package (days off on every federal holiday? Absolutely unheard-of in the civilian world, outside grade schools) and four weeks of vacation a year, which lessen the sting of long hours, overnights and time away from home. Civilian jobs offer nowhere near the benefits, and without the esprit de corps of a military unit, those sacrifices may seem like a huge burden and make you very unhappy.
Don’t accept a job without figuring how much of your own time you’ll have to invest. And augment the expectations spelled out in the job description and offer letter with a bit of research on sites like Glass Door, which posts reviews of jobs from current and former employees. The commitment may be worth the money, of course, but you’ll want to make that decision yourself before saying yes.
Health Care. The recently passed Affordable Care Act mandates that you have health insurance. The offer letter should tell you whether your company provides it, and if so, what your options are. Generally you’ll have to pick between a high-premium, low-deductible option and a low-premium, high-deductible option (if not others as well). The decision on which one you’ll use depends on how often you think you’ll need health care: usually, you’ll pay out-of-pocket all costs up to your deductible limit with certain exceptions (like checkups). So if you will be going to the doctor’s office often, choose a low deductible and suck up the high premium.
Also, keep in mind that you may have access to TriCare Reserve Select if you remain in the reserves. Often that’s a better plan and less expensive than what a company can offer.
Relocation expenses. If you’re going to have to move to take this job, will the company help out? How much will you pay out-of-pocket? You can use your final PCS for a relocation, but only if you have the job lined up several weeks before you EAS. It’s a good reason to get started early on that transition.
Considered less often is the commute implications of the job offer. Many veterans are so excited to get a job they sign on immediately, thinking nothing of an hour’s commute. But all that time in the car can come at a cost to health and family life. If the offer is more than an hour away from your current house, considering asking for a relocation package from the company. Or, consider whether you need to invest in newer, or more fuel-efficient, transportation.
Vacation and personal days. Trendy tech companies like to provide creative benefits like “personal days” and generous vacation packages. Old-school companies often make you “earn” your benefits by working for a year. But if you’ve got plans over the summer, or an annual trip that you take with you family, or you just want to have time to hunt in the fall, you should consider whether your new job will allow it, and under what conditions. It may or may not be a deal-breaker, but don’t allow yourself to be unpleasantly surprised after you take the job.
Retirement. Military veterans often have a lot to learn about retirement. Of course, by exiting the military, veterans no longer have access to the 20-year fixed-benefit retirement. And many veterans, exiting the military young, think they have time to “figure it out.” But because most civilian retirement plans rely on investment, it’s vital to start putting in money immediately.
The “gold standard” of retirement plans is a company-matching 401(k). The identifier “401(k)” refers to the paragraph and subparagraph of the federal law that establishes such accounts and authorizes the tax structure. Visit this article to learn more about these accounts and how they match up with the TSP. Your offer letter should specify exactly how much the company will contribute to your retirement account, if at all, and you should consider that when figuring if you intend to use their plan, or find something else.
Now it’s time to decide. Realistically, you may not be in a position to simply refuse a job if you don’t like the salary structure, benefits or work schedule. The job market can be tough. But knowing what to expect, and planning for it, can make the difference between a good life and a miserable one. What job you take may influence where you live, what your spouse does or at least how you plan your finances. So pay attention to the offer letter and accept it — or refuse it — with open eyes.