When I was a kid, I remember hearing grown-ups say that it’s not polite to discuss sex, politics, religion and your salary in polite company. Later on, throughout my two decades of recruiting, it was always an awkward dance around talking about compensation.
How much you’re earning and what you’d like to receive in a job offer is one of the most important parts of the job search process. The people may be nice and it’s a good company, but if the pay is substandard, it may not be worth entertaining the offer.
It used to be that a recruiter or human resources professional could directly ask or demand to know how much money you are earning, along with the salary history for the last three or so years. An offer would be built around this data. This one-sided way of doing business placed the job hunter at a disadvantage.
The person could have started at her firm 10 years ago, received a modest increase and her pay is substantially lower than a person who has been switching jobs every couple of years—making a 10% to 20% increase with each move. Unfortunately, she would receive a lower salary offer because the numbers were primarily based on her current compensation.
Many US states recognized this as a problem and instituted laws prohibiting companies from inquiring how much a person makes. Businesses in the states that don’t have this law tend to go along with it, as the policy is more fair to people.
In a hot job market, marked by both millions of positions available and millions of workers quitting each month, has caught the attention of everyone, inducing politicians. A new law passed by the New York City Council—which will go into effect in April, if not vetoed by January 14—mandates that employers in New York City will have to include the minimum and maximum starting salary for any “advertised job, promotion or transfer opportunity.”
This will be a complete game changer and bode well for both people searching for a new job and current employees. The piece of legislation pulls back the curtain on salaries, which has often been viewed as a deep, dark, hidden secret by corporate executives.
It’s now also becoming more common to discuss salary, bonuses, stock options and other forms of remuneration, as the job market is now one of the major topics of conversation. Sites, such as Blind, an anonymous, but verified member-posting career site for white-collar professionals, openly discuss total compensation, along with topics, such as weighing accepting an offer with Apple over Amazon and other career-related matters.
In an “ask-me-anything” session on the Blind platform, a director of engineering at Google, with 16 years of experience at Amazon, Apple and PayPal, said they earned $1.5 million in total compensation. The Googler shared how they were recruited and offered first-hand career advice, including how they manage 150 engineers. The career guidance offered by the software engineer applies to people in other jobs and non-tech roles too.
Here are some of the highlights:
In traditional interviews, candidates are subjected to questions, like “tell me about yourself” and “why do you want to work here?” Then, they are asked the dreaded “what are your strengths and weaknesses?” For techies, it’s different, as “many technology companies ask engineers to complete one or more problems on a virtual or in-person whiteboard or take-home assignment during the interview.
The goal is to gauge a candidate’s understanding of fundamental algorithms and data structures.” However, at higher levels, the questions start changing, as “directors may not have to complete a coding challenge at Google.” It’s more about adding “value by setting strategy and roadmaps.”
Networking is one of the best ways to land a new job and upgrade your position internally. This is true in both the tech and non-tech sectors. The key is to cultivate a large self-helping tribe of people who can offer introductions and leads for hidden jobs and insider information about upcoming internal openings at a company. “Either your network recommends you or a recruiter comes across your LinkedIn,” the engineer said. They added, “Keep your LinkedIn up to date and relevant with high-level details only.”
No matter how talented you are, and even though it’s a hot, tight job market, the interview process is still slow and plods along. “It’s drawn out over months, as you’re meeting several [vice presidents] and directors,” said the verified Google professional.
In addition to being great at what you do, you need to play the game and treat colleagues, subordinates and the boss with the same respect and courtesy. A “brilliant jerk” is still a jerk, the Googleer says, no matter their skill set. As you rise within an organization, personal, social and communication skills become critically important to succeed and scale the corporate hierarchy.
Demonstrating value to the team, manager and company by being empathetic, communicating effectively and being proactive is critical to advancing professionally. “A good engineer is not the smartest, but the one who uplifts the team, understands what managers want and is a great peer and report to work with,” advised the leader at Google.
A counterintuitive piece of advice offered. “Try to make yourself redundant.” The $1-million-total-compensation engineer said leaders are responsible for their teams, but the best leaders are great delegators and people-empowerers.
“I used to be proud of the fact that my team cannot function well without me. It was the wrong approach.”
Now, the Google leader said they try to make themself redundant by getting their teams to the point of being “self-reliant.”
By empowering the staff and providing them with challenging work, they’ll remain motivated and more likely to stick around knowing that they are valued. With the extra time, the engineer can focus more intently “on coaching, creating repeatable processes and mechanisms and identifying additional scope in responsibility. These processes drive scale across organizations and are generally more valuable than tactical work.”
It’s not necessary to put in long hours. Instead, you need to “work smarter than work harder.” Your productivity and output is more important than face time. Engineering and technical leadership do not necessarily work the longest hours. Instead, it is more important to work quality hours that drive the most impact, such as making key decisions.
The big money is in stock and options. Directors of engineers at Google, sometimes called “principal” engineers at the “L8” job level, can earn base salaries of $300,000 or more, but the verified Google professional reports a total compensation package of $1.5 million—split between a base salary of approximately $400,000, a bonus and stock-based compensation. The annual cash bonus is 30% or $120,000, which means directors of engineering can receive about $1 million in restricted stock units each year.
For most people, the annual compensation is enormous. It seems within the tech sector that over $1 million is just okay and on “the low end of externally hired directors at FANG,” the acronym for leading tech companies Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google. The director said leaders at Amazon tend to earn less compared to the other top technology companies.
The takeaway from this great advice is find a hot, growing company that offers future growth. Salary is important, but total compensation is king. You want to receive stock and options that could potentially change your life. In addition to possessing the requisite experience, you need to have strong interpersonal and communication skills to advance your career. It is also mission critical to build a mutually supportive network to continually help you find new opportunities.