Job jump

“At least I have a job.” Bet you’ve heard that refrain plenty since the economy took a tumble. But as the employment picture improves, it’s a less convincing reason to drag yourself to work. Help wanted ads and networking happy hours will start calling your name. And with a lot of skill and a little bit of luck, you’ll be offered a new job.

But your work’s not through.

If you are thinking about landing a new job, here are five must-dos as you consider the transition from one position to another.

1. Remember/ It’s not just about money. 

For a job with benefits, wages make up approximately 70 percent of an employee’s total compensation. Don’t overlook that valuable benefits package when making a job decision. A small raise can be quickly eaten by out-of-pocket benefits costs. Make sure you’re getting the time off you think you are. Many companies are transitioning from sick and vacation time to a pool of paid time off. Other companies require you to use vacation days for nationally celebrated holidays. Finally, find out if the company in question offers a tax-deferred retirement plan such as a 401(k) plan, if it pays out matching money, and whether there’s a vesting period for those funds.

2. What’s the juggle?

It’s important to be able to pay the bills. But it’s also important to find a job that fits your life. Some jobs require set shifts and long commutes while others may offer flexible options such as working from home or finishing projects at odd hours. 

Be sure you’re considering positions that won’t ask you to compromise your values around this subject, which is a sensitive one for parents of both sexes. 

3. Consider your career future.

When making a career move, it’s natural to think about the future path you’re entering. To get an idea of whether a particular field has a good chance of existing 10 years from now, glance at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job projections (bls.gov/emp). The bureau’s Occupational Handbook has detailed info on salary and job prospects for a whopping 536 occupations.

Also, think about your future plans for family. Does your prospective employer offer any paid parental leave or adoption benefits? Does it even meet the criteria for having to comply with the Family Medical Leave Act? And how much will having a baby cost under your medical plan? 

4. Don’t leave money on the table.

If you decide it’s time to make the move, thoroughly examine your soon-to-be-former employer’s policies. If you wait to give notice until the next quarter begins, you might receive a greater vacation payout or a bonus. If you’ve already hit your health care deductible, maybe it’s finally time to schedule that voluntary medical procedure. And the most overlooked perk? The total value of your flexible spending account for medical expenses is available to you at the beginning of the year, even though you fund it gradually with each paycheck. Time to get those prescription sunglasses on your employer’s dime. And if you’ve been paying for a legal plan but never got around to writing that will, now is the time.

5. Plan for your life after work.

It took me six years to finally roll my 401(k) plan from a previous job into a Rollover IRA. It’s not uncommon for companies to allow former employers to keep their existing accounts. If the investment choices are strong and the fees low, then it’s okay not to rush the rollover. But keep in mind that it’s one of those items on the to-do list that can take years to come back to.

What can’t wait is for you to sign up for your new employer’s retirement plan, especially if the company offers matching money that will help you meet your retirement needs. More and more companies are automatically enrolling workers in 401(k) plans, but usually at a level so low that you’ll never retire without bulking up your contribution.

Studies also show that workers all too often keep their money in the pre-selected default investment, which may be all wrong for your risk tolerance and time horizon. Yes, investment decisions are tedious for most workers and few companies do a good job making it fast or easy. But your future is on the line, so make the time. 


Kara McGuire is a personal finance writer and a St. Paul mother 
of three. Send comments, questions and story ideas to 
kmcguire@mnparent.com.