02/08/2013 01:30 pm ET Updated Apr 10, 2013

Total Compensation: Understanding Benefits Packages in Your Job Search

When faced with the prospect of unemployment, any job that pays the bills quickly seems more appealing than it did before. But at the end of the day, hopping from bad job to bad job will put you in an endless rut. I get it though -- we're all busy and have bills on our brain. However, understanding job benefits packages and what you and your family need from these packages is important in making informed decisions during your job search.

Did you know that less than 19 percent of employers think their employees have a very good understanding of their benefits? While that number is very low, I believe it. Unemployed job seekers are forgetting to evaluate their true job needs and requirements in their job hunt.

Employee benefits packages include a few typical items. As you read through this list, consider what benefits are essential to keeping your family afloat and what benefits would be considered perks in your life?

General benefits often offered by employers:

1. Health insurance

This benefit is so common that the caveats to having employer-provided health insurance are plenty. To help you out, take a look at some questions you should consider before accepting a job's offered benefits package:

  • What is the premium and how is this deducted from your paycheck? Ask the same question in regards to adding spouses and children to your insurance plan.
  • What does this coverage include (i.e., dental, eye, any specialized doctors)?
  • What is the typical deductible and on-site payment options? Do certain pharmacies not take this insurance provider?
  • How are preexisting conditions handled?

2. 401(k) plans or similar retirement options

Retirement options are an essential part of planning and preparing for your future. This often involves taking a tax-deferred percentage of your salary and putting it into an investment account. 401(k)'s can be tricky too, so here's what you should be asking:

  • Does the employer offer a matching program where your employer matches your contributions to your 401(k) up to a certain percent?
  • What are your options for stocks, bonds, and other investment venues?

3. Sick leave and vacation time

This aspect of a benefits package is often overlooked. But if your health insurance plan is lacking, this benefit can serve you well down the road.

  • How do you accrue sick days?
  • Do vacation or sick days expire or build up?
  • If you leave your position, will the employer pay you for your unused time?
  • Do doctors visits or sick children count as a sick day?

4. Stock options or profit sharing

Another way to judge the true worth of your position is to include any profit sharing or stock options available from your employer. If the company is profitable, you can add your earnings to your total salary.

  • What percentage of earned profits do you receive? Is there a maximum that you can earn?
  • Is there a discount to making a stock purchase from the company? What if I want to sell?

This only touches lightly on the breadth of options a benefits package can offer. Other plans may include life insurance, disability insurance, pension plans, or smaller perks like paid phone bills or commuting expenses. Make sure you're informed about them all before making any final decisions.

What do you find most confusing about benefits packages? How can these packages be less confusing to employees?

Sudy Bharadwaj is a co-founder and the CEO of Jackalope Jobs, a platform that helps job seekers find a job via their social networks. Learn how Sudy and Jackalope Jobs obsess over job seekers by connecting with them on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.