Understanding Your Total Compensation Package

While interviewing, potential candidates should be empowered to evaluate whether a company is a good fit for their financial and cultural needs, as well as vice versa. Here are some factors you should consider when making your decision.

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The Job Search. Whether you’ve been through it or not, you’re probably aware of how long and arduous a process it can be. Looking for the right positions, networking, and interviewing encompass only the first part of the search; determining whether the company is a fit for you and your career is the second (perhaps even more important) part.

But once you get past the final round of an interview, the anticipation leading up to a job offer sets in. As the job market becomes more saturated and companies try to distinguish themselves from their competitors, candidates have more benefits to weigh than in the past.

Instead of giving the brand and prestige of the company more weight in deciding to accept a job offer, potential employees are now thinking “what’s the opportunity, and how can that set me up for success?”

As such, understanding your compensation package becomes paramount.

Join us as we interview Kate Smith, Senior Director of HR and Recruiting at Betterment, on explaining the different benefits companies may offer candidates and how we should weigh individual needs with our career aspirations.

How have employers seen compensation packages traditionally, and how has that changed over time?

Traditionally, offer packages have been seen as a base salary with potential for a discretionary bonus. Equity and bonus guarantees were typically reserved for more senior-level hires.

This may still be the case for larger, more corporate organizations, but we’ve seen a shift, particularly in the tech industry. Equity isn’t just reserved for senior-level hires, but available and offered to new hires from entry level and up.

We’ve also seen a shift in what is included in the offer letter: more companies are highlighting their non-monetary benefits (like the vacation policy, free food, and learning and development opportunities).

In a competitive market for talent, companies need to find ways outside of just cash and equity to differentiate themselves. As they also become more tech savvy and flexibility is encouraged, these become big selling points for candidates from a cultural and work/life balance standpoint.

How would you describe the different parts of a compensation package? How do you think most employees tend to think of their compensation? Is there a difference?

Here are some of the more typical cash components of a compensation package:

Salary, Bonuses, And Commissions


Cash compensation is typically positioned as an annual salary. It’s important to understand the pay schedule: will you be paid weekly, bi-weekly, or every two weeks? And yes, there is in fact a difference between those last two.

It would also be prudent to ask about the company’s raise philosophy. When would you be eligible for a raise? Are they performance based, or standardized? What could your salary growth look like over time, and what impacts that?


These can be in the form of a “sign-on” bonus (most commonly disclosed at the time of offer and then paid out once you start at a company), or an annual bonus—and in some cases, both.

For sign-ons, it’s important to understand what the terms of the bonus are: when will it be paid out? Is there a “clawback” and what is the timeframe for it? For example, in some workplaces if you leave the company within a year, you must pay back the full amount.

For discretionary bonuses, it’s important to understand the timing of payout, what the bonus amount is based on (personal performance, company performance, or a combination of the two), and if the bonus is paid for the portion of time served for that first year.


Many sales roles may include a commission component, which is additional cash compensation based on pre-set sales goals.

Most commission packages include a base salary which may not be much, so make sure to ask what your “Total Target Compensation” would be, and what the variable compensation (commissions) is based on.

If your company has a discretionary bonus, it’s probably worth asking if you would be eligible for that bonus as well—this may not be the case in all places.

Paid Time Off, Sick Days, And Parental Leave


Get a list of the company holidays. If there are religious holidays you celebrate that are not accounted for on that list, you may want to discuss any needs you have upfront.


Are there a set number of days you get, or are they unlimited? If set, what is the number and when are you able to increase the amount of vacation days you receive? What’s the accrual schedule for vacation days?

Most companies with a set number of vacation days allow you to accrue those days over the course of the year. Additionally, you may want to ask what their rollover policy is. For example, will they allow you to rollover unused vacation days to the next year, and if so, what is the limit?

If the company provides unlimited vacation days, it couldn’t hurt to ask: “On average, how many vacation days do people take per year?” The answer can be telling as to how truly flexible the company may be.

Sick Days

Similar to vacation days, it would be helpful to understand if sick days are allocated or if they're unlimited. Do unused days carry over as well?

Parental Leave

This is formerly known as “maternity leave” (and still may be at some companies). We’re seeing more companies change their policies to account for bonding time for non-birthing parents, inclusive of adoptions.

Whether you’re thinking about starting a family now or in the future, it’s important to ask about the parental leave policy.

A few things you should aim to understand:

  1. Who’s eligible for leave (birthing mothers, non-birthing parents, adoptive parents)?
  2. When are they eligible? Should you be at the company for a certain amount of time before you can take leave?
  3. Is it paid leave or unpaid leave? If paid, is it salary continuance, or will you receive checks directly from your insurance carrier?
  4. Will your job be guaranteed for that time? If you wanted to take unpaid leave, is that possible, and would your job be held?

Medical, Dental And Vision Insurance

If you’re offered these benefits, what does the company contribute compared to the premium you’re paying? Do any of the policies cover fertility treatment, and who is eligible for that?

Retirement Savings Plan

When it comes to saving for retirement, many Americans fail to adequately prepare for their own futures. Make sure to take this portion of your compensation package seriously, and keep these questions in mind:

  • Does the company provide a plan to allow you to contribute to a 401(k) or other retirement accounts?
  • If so, does the company offer a percentage match on your contributions?
  • If yes, when do they start matching, what is the amount, and how often?

Some personal advice that I received as a new grad: contribute to your 401(k) from the start. It’s money you won’t miss and you’ll learn to live off of what’s being deposited into your account.

You’ll be amazed at how those savings can grow over time (especially if you receive an employer match).

Should I only be considering monetary factors in my decision?

Absolutely not! Many companies today are offering perks that don’t amount to direct monetary compensation, but can drastically affect your quality of life. Here are just a few non-traditional perks that are worth weighing into your decision:

  • Flexible work hours and work from home (WFH) policies
  • Learning and development stipends
  • Gym reimbursements
  • Childcare reimbursement or on-site childcare
  • Laundry stipend
  • Travel stipend

Why do non-traditional benefits matter?

First and foremost, it’s important to think about how you personally value the non-monetary benefits. Do they make your life easier? Do they help alleviate stress? Does it help you save money?

These are all things to consider that are related to the cultural environment of the company you’ll be working for.

Also, it says something about their values and what they stand for—are they supportive of working hard, yet rewarding their employees during stressful times or when good work has been done?

What are some tips for encouraging our readers to have those difficult conversations about negotiations with their prospective companies?

Three important factors come to mind:

  1. Reiterate how interested you are in the position and how committed you are to the company.
  2. Determine for yourself what’s a “must have” versus what’s a “nice to have” benefit.
  3. Some things may not be negotiable—for you, or for the company—and sometimes it’s ok to walk away if those “must haves” are not aligned.


Whether you’re interviewing for your first job or are switching roles after being in the workforce for many years, it’s important to think about how your individual needs matter. Thinking critically about what’s important to you and your family will help you determine where you should take your next step professionally.

By deciding the amount of compensation you need and deserve, while also thinking about what benefits you value, you’ll be able to set your personal benchmarks and come to the table ready to discuss your needs with your potential—or even current—employer.

And, if your interests are guiding you towards the fintech space for your next role, check out our Betterment careers page! We’re always looking for passionate candidates to join our company.