Think Beyond the Raise: How to Request Benefits From Your Boss

One day during office hours at Harvard Business School, a student presented Francesca Gino with a predicament.


He told the business administration professor that he'd recently accepted a job offer to join a firm at the end of his MBA program. But he hadn't asked for a signing bonus. Now, he told Gino, he regretted that career mistake, especially since a bonus could help defray the cost of the loan he had taken out to pay for his business degree.


The professor urged the student to go back to the firm and request the benefit, which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. For example, among the 411 graduates of Harvard Business School who reported receiving a signing bonus in 2016, the average amount was $29,134, according to U.S. News Best Graduate Schools data. He was reluctant at first, but after Gino coached him, he did as she advised.


To his surprise, the company didn't just offer him a bonus – it gave one big enough to cover his entire loan.


It's wise to think beyond salary when you're evaluating a new job offer or looking to improve your compensation at your current position, experts say. After all, benefits can have significant financial value, boost your quality of life and make your career more satisfying.


They're also sometimes easier to secure than an outright raise. If you suspect the budget is tight, you may be able to get a few more vacation days, a better title or a technology upgrade in lieu of a pay increase.


Use the strategies below, offered by negotiation coaches and human resources professionals, to bolster your benefits.


Request a Total Package


Negotiations for better benefits can feel like water torture: a continuous drip, drip, drip of demands that drives hiring managers and bosses crazy.


They don't have to be painful and protracted, though. In fact, experts say, it's a mistake to ask one at a time for perks like permission to work remotely, a company car or a corner office. The best way to get the benefits you want is to think holistically about your compensation package from the very beginning and make all your requests at once.


"When you have multiple moving parts, it gives you leverage and things to trade with during your negotiation," says Lisa Gates, co-founder of She Negotiates, a consulting firm that trains women.


Job seekers often hesitate to ask for too much upfront. Yet companies only rescind offers in cases when a candidate agrees to a proposal, but then tries to negotiate repeatedly for additional benefits afterward, says Katie Donovan, founder of Equal Pay Negotiations, a consulting firm.


"What they're hearing is that they're never going to keep you happy," she says.


Be Strategic About Timing


The best time to negotiate for benefits is during the hiring process.


"You have more leverage when you're being interviewed and someone falls in love with you as a candidate," says Jamie Latiano Jacobs, the founder of the consulting firm Catalyst Strategy Solutions and former senior vice president of people and culture at Renovate America.


If you're already on the job, you can still ask for better benefits. Current employees should request upgrades six months before of annual reviews so managers have time to make adjustments to next year's budget.


"Whenever something is on your mind, you should bring it up with the understanding that they may not be able to resolve it immediately," Latiano Jacobs says.


And if you notice you've taken on increased responsibilities without receiving a new job title that reflects your work, speak up right away, Gates says: "Just because it's obvious doesn't mean they're going to give you a title without you asking for it."


Calculate the Value of Your Benefits


Because you might not get everything you request, "know the value of what you're giving up so you can ask for something credible in return," Gates says.


For example, if you're offered an annual salary of $75,000, every week of your time is worth about $1,442. If you ask for an extra week of vacation, and the request is rejected, you may choose to ask for an additional $1,442 annually to compensate.


Similarly, when evaluating a job offer, calculate the financial value of the company's health care package, 401(k) matching contributions and transportation stipend so you can use those figures to negotiate, too.


Always Ask for More Money, Too


There are innumerable possible perks that may make your work-life more enjoyable, but at the end of the day, "nothing replaces money," Donovan says. If you're not being offered what you're worth, she advises to always ask for a pay increase in addition to other benefits, no matter how strained the boss says the budget is.


"Until you confirm that it's true, please do not believe it," Donovan says. Managers are trained "to get the best employees for the least amount of money. They're playing a game of poker, and they're bluffing."


To learn the truth about a company's financial situation, check its public filings; nonprofits must fill out tax Form 990, while public companies file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission. And to figure out the market value of your skills and experience, talk to peers at other workplaces and use online tools like and


If the company won't budge on your base salary, "be creative about how you get paid," Donovan recommends. That might mean asking for a benefit like a bonus structure that will help you earn more in accordance with your performance. This could be similar to the commissions some sales workers make when they attract big clients, which may either be flat fees or a percentage of the profit amount.


Prove That Benefits Work Both Ways


Managers are unlikely to give extra perks unless you make a compelling case for how they also serve company interests.


"If you can map your request to the goals and needs of the organization, they're going to see the benefit of your request," Gates says.


For example, to get more vacation days, explain that you plan to work very hard on high-priority projects and would like to balance that effort with more time to recharge with your family, suggests Latiano Jacobs.


Or, to improve your title, explain to your boss that a more authoritative job description will ensure customers, business partners and colleagues take you more seriously, making you more effective in carrying out your responsibilities, says Jennifer Lake, president of the National Human Resources Association.


"Unless they're talking to someone who has a 'manager' or 'director' title," clients and partners often "will infer that someone isn't capable of solving their problems or isn't empowered," she says.


Be prepared because you may need to offer a sacrifice in return for a benefit.


"In negotiations, we are often focused on what we want. But we should be thinking equally carefully about what we can give: things that the other side cares about and that we may feel indifferent on," Gino says.


That's how her student ultimately snagged his bonus. Realizing the firm would appreciate his being available to join company phone calls before his official start date, he offered to do so during the same conversation he proposed the bonus he wanted. It worked.


Balancing the benefits you want with those the company wants, Gino says, is "where lots of value can be created in the negotiation."