What’s the salary?

Is the most obvious job seeker question the hardest to answer and does this represent an opportunity for you when you change jobs?

People move jobs for numerous reasons but common to all is the need to earn a salary and progress that as their career develops. In making the decision whether to job seek or apply to a position, one question we are asked as recruiters by almost every applicant is what the salary on offer is.

If salary is such a fundamental issue to people, why do recruiters and their clients, the employer often struggle to give a direct answer? In this blog I will explore that and look at how the subject of salary should be thought about and communicated on by job seekers, employers and recruiters alike. I recruit into accountancy practice firms and have done for over 16 years. This is an industry where salary guides are arguably as broad and unspecific as any market, which seems surprising given what a precise and measured profession accountancy is seen to be. This article is focused on that industry but is arguably relevant to a lot of the professional services community including law etc.

Not so long ago, employers would advertise their job with a list of what they required and the salary on offer which was usually one, precise figure. This approach failed to include a pitch to you as the job seeker on why you would want to work for that business, but rather assumed that relevant and technically proficient people would be so abundant in number, the employer would not need to tailor their offering to secure the right employee. Some employers still advertise like this, but clearly it seems outdated given the crisis of talent many industries are experiencing.

Today, the public sector will generally offer a salary guide or banding as some commercial businesses do too, but often professional services firms like accountants and the recruiters who hire into accountants do not specify an exact salary and use terms like “competitive” or “salary dependent on experience”.

Why is this and how do you as a job seeker know which of these jobs are worth applying to?

The move towards open ended recruitment both in terms of level of hire and salary is undeniable and seems only set to become more common, particularly in talent short industries like accountancy. Even the most desirable employers, including those who have put significant thought into their employment offering and communicate that most clearly, can’t be confident of hiring their “plan A”.

If an accountancy firm in Derby wants a Senior Accountant, there may not even be a Senior Accountant available. The firm has work building up, a spot to be filled and a fight with other firms to secure a sought after job applicant.

Professional services firms have numerous people doing similar jobs but at slightly different levels of responsibility, with differing levels of qualification and on commensurate salaries. Therefore, if “plan A” was an Accounts Senior but that proves difficult to recruit or the competing firms in that market beat them to their chosen candidate, the firm may well choose to move the work around internally amongst existing staff and create a different type of job, one at a more junior or senior level where applicants are actually available and accessible. Many firms regularly abandon any attempt to define the job initially and prioritise securing the right character with relevant but not perfect technical ability. The right person in the right firm should be a long term fit and even if they are not what the firm envisaged recruiting, the right person is always better than the wrong person at the right level.

This all sounds sensible and commercial but how do you go about job seeking or deciding on what jobs to apply to when there is effectively no job description, no person specification and no salary guide?

You need more information on the business to know whether to apply. That is not going to come from a broad and general job advert and it’s even unlikely to come from the firm’s website. Information from people who know the business, most commonly a HR representative or a good recruitment consultant is what will get you to move from sceptical to assured this application is not a waste of time.

During this process, you need to accept that the job you may end up accepting has not yet been fully decided on by the employer. They are meeting you because they are interested in what is on your CV and what they know about you so far. However, in a market where the employer has to be flexible, so do you in accepting that they do not know enough about you to confirm what salary and benefits they would offer you before they have even met you. This is an opportunity for you as the job seeker to meet an open minded employer who may be able to create a job tailored to your strengths and ambitions rather than write a generic specification with commensurate salary and expect you to fit into it.

A good recruiter will have provided you with anecdotes on previous hires they have made into that firm, how the process went, what happened with those people a few years down the line, where this firm have crafted a job to suit people previously and why they may be able to do that for you. For the right employers, that will be enough for you to “throw your hat into the ring” and decide that meeting them is a good idea.

Starting with open minds, the interview is when information is exchanged and both sides can work out if what the job seeker wants and the employer needs can be matched. It won’t always work and no-one can guarantee this, but connecting with a good employer is never a bad idea and could lead to you reconnecting with them in the future for the right job.

Good employers will not try to get you cheap. They will consider the evidence presented in interview of your capability and if positive, make a relevant and sensible job offer for you to consider. A good recruiter will be communicating throughout with you and the employer to ensure expectations are sensible and understood ahead of the meeting and any consequent negotiation on a job offer is handled well.

As a job seeker, employers are now more willing and capable of creating a bespoke and personalised job and career for you than ever before.

It’s not wise to try and define what job you think you want before you start to engage the market and that includes salary. Of course you and the recruiter working with you wants to maximise salary on a move, but if you meet a firm that wants you and they are your preferred choice, a fair offer should follow. You can always turn an offer down if it does not give you enough reasons to leave your current job.

The recruitment market is a pure example of supply and demand and most employers appreciate this. If you can understand that and see it from the employers’ point of view, that gives you a great advantage when undertaking your search for a new role. When job seeker and employer both start with an open mind, communicate and ultimately discuss an offer at the end of the process, the chance of getting the right fit on both sides is much higher.

For now, it seems job specifications and salary guides in accountancy and other service industries will remain broad. To get enough information to decide what is worth investigation for you, engage the right intermediary (recruiter, HR or contact who knows the employer well) and move things forward.

Greg Emmerson

Greg specialises in recruitment for accountancy firms across the East Midlands and East of England, working as part of Blusource, a recruitment business specialising in accountancy, finance, law and HR positions across the UK. [email protected] / 07901 640045

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