Careers Spotlight: There’s nothing wrong with asking about benefits packages


In an interview scenario, one should not be ‘typically British’ by feeling shy about discussing salary and holiday entitlement

People are not all identical – which my headhunting activity continues to bear out.

The same opportunity means different things to each person I target and, while my research may lead me to believe that a particular move is something a prospective candidate should consider, discussions on the subject normally unfold. They cover the following areas:

  • Location/commuting/territory coverage
  • Role definition/scope/accountabilities
  • Degree of input into strategy/goals of firm
  • Corporate size/structure/ethos
  • Brand visibility/reputation/ culture, and
  • Financial performance/strength/funding/investment.

Thereafter the discussion reaches the subject of the reward package, where again people have varying priorities.

A benefit that consistently raises debate is holiday entitlement and its disparity between employers. A change from 30 days’ holiday to 22 can have a significant impact on a candidate’s work-life balance and, while one can quantify a day’s holiday entitlement as a monetary value, and see where that is over-compensated for in another part of the offer, that may not be enough to make it a perfect fit.

It is understandable that someone would get accustomed to 30 days’ holiday. Similarly, we can appreciate why a small business would offer a smaller holiday entitlement than that of a larger firm.

It is ironic that, for years, people in the same role have often had different salaries, yet only recently has there been a growth in the option for employees to sell company-funded benefits, as well as ‘buy’ benefits using their own salary, thereby fitting packages to personal circumstances.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular employee options are the selling of annual leave entitlement and the adjustment of insurance products to suit individual circumstances.

As illustrated in a previous piece about bonus incentives, firms vary in their approach to reward packages and the degree of flexibility therein.

There is also a significant variation in employers’ attitudes to work-life balance.

Due diligence

Of course, enquiring in great detail about a benefits package can send the wrong message to a potential employer, but applicants should give proper consideration to what is on offer.

There is no point in accepting a role with the expectation of being able to change the benefits package when in situ; equally, it is pointless to hope that one’s argument for an improved work-life balance would be better received if made after accepting the job.

In an interview scenario, one should not be ‘typically British’ by feeling shy about discussing salary or personal circumstances because these issues make or break many a business relationship.

There is no such thing as an inappropriate question to put to a prospective employer; it is all about the candidate’s presentation and timing of that question.

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work. So, before making a move to a new employer, think about how you can find out if its culture is one of working to live or living to work, and be sure you know which type brings out the best in you.

Try to speak to someone who already works for your prospective employer, or to someone who has recently left.

It is a great way to find out what life on the inside is really like.

Peter Gwilliam is owner of Virtus Search