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Welcome to our Gen Y money blog, where a recent grad chronicles her real-life journey to becoming a financially independent adult.

If there was one thing I was not actively searching for during my job hunt, it was good employee benefits.

As someone who is just gaining a foothold in the workplace, I was focused on finding a permanent job that would offer a steady paycheque. That alone seemed like a dream come true.

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But I've come to realize that it's in the best interest of my career, my finances and my personal well-being to get informed about the wide range of workplace benefits that are out there.

What I used to know about benefits was a hodgepodge of information I'd collected from friends, family and the Internet. A good company would offer what I considered to be the basics: good medical, vision and dental coverage, for me and any of my dependents.

Everything I'd read advised me not to ask potential employers about benefits during the interview stage. I didn't want them to see me as being more interested in their dental coverage than the job itself, so I was reluctant to raise the topic.

Even when I was presented with job offers, I didn't inquire much beyond the basic information provided to me about the company's benefits program.

Having held a couple of full-time positions now, I've realized that it's incredibly important to get a clear picture of a company's benefits program before accepting any job offer.

"Benefits can represent a significant portion of an employee's total compensation package. Therefore, it is important to understand the full picture before you make a decision," says Jason Kolysher, a partner at HR consulting firm Morneau Shepell in Calgary.

Although benefit packages can vary according to industry, size of company and level of experience, he says "the most common benefits provided to an employee are life insurance, health and dental benefits, disability coverage, and some form of retirement plan."

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Beyond common benefit packages, there are also a number of other types of benefits to keep on your radar, such as ones related to healthy living. Examples Mr. Kolysher provided were health spending accounts and enhanced family assistance plans (which could include health coaching or nutritionists). Flex plans, in which an employee can pick-and-choose which benefits they'd like to opt-in to, are also becoming more common.

If not covered during the job interview, a clear description of a company's benefit package should be included in your job offer. Mr. Kolysher recommends gathering the following information:

· The life insurance, health and dental, disability coverage and retirement plan: Understand the quality and extent of your potential benefits coverage. Retirement might be far off, but that's all the more reason to consider how a company covers RRSP or pension contributions.

· When coverage starts: There might be a standard waiting period before benefits kick-in (often three months). Understanding when you qualify is an important detail as it could affect your personal finances if coverage is needed at an earlier time.

· If you're required to contribute to (or pay for) anything in the plan: Don't assume that all companies provide full coverage. "For example, two organizations might give you the same plan worth $3,000 per year but one might require you pay 50 per cent of the annual cost, or $1,500," says Mr. Kolysher.

Had I put more weight on the importance of benefits as part of my compensation as an employee, I could have potentially saved myself a few dollars in the form of new glasses or trips to the dentist.

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Once a job offer is on the table, ask the questions you need to make an informed decision. Take the time to find out whether or not the company can help to provide the coverage you need.

And don't forget to ask about your salary, too.

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