Deluded salary demands pricing many out of new jobs

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Do you know how much you’re worth on the job market? It’s great if you suddenly discover that switching roles could result in a 30% salary uplift, but increasingly candidates are bidding themselves out of the market with unrealistic pay expectations.

Financial professionals in supposedly ‘hot’ job areas are holding out for unrealistically high salaries brought about by popular perceptions that they should be earning far more than employers are willing to pay. And, according to one recruiter, recruitment firms must take some of the blame.

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Actuaries, the maths whizzes who have supposedly been in high demand for years now, are particularly culpable when it comes to buying into their own hype, believes Dr Geraldine Kaye, managing director of actuarial recruitment consultancy GAAPS Actuarial.

“We now see candidates reject actual job offers with extremely realistic and generous salary packages because they have been seduced by recruitment consultants who tell them an alternative job will pay even more, only to find those expectations prove to be fantasy and end up with no job at all,” she said.

In Europe, the Solvency II regulation helped drive contractor rates for specialist actuaries as high as £2k a day, and insurance firms attempted to lock them into full-time roles by bumping up salary packages. That ship has now sailed, and these sort of bubbles are not restricted to insurance – investment banks and hedge funds are vying over compliance staff, which has helped drive salaries higher, while change management professionals – helping to shake up banks’ internal processes – have been hot property for over two years now.

“Some investment banks have been willing to offer 50% pay rises to compliance staff in order to persuade them to move, because there is such a shortage of relevant skills,” said Andrew Breach, director and head of global banking and asset management recruitment at Page Executive. “However, this is for the very best people – there are a lot of people not up to the calibre that the banks demand who still expect big pay rises for switching jobs.”

However, it would be unfair to pin the blame entirely on recruiters. A lot of people are coming on to the job market for the first time in years, and have a dated view of what they should be earning, believes Ben Cowan, director of recruiters Astbury Marsden.

“We’d make an effort to manage expectations – supply and demand go in cycles and very often someone can come to market demanding salaries that are entirely out of line with the market,” he said. “However, some recruiters – particularly smaller ones without a deep client base and candidate network – will advertise jobs at the highest end of the market to attract candidates, which can skew their view of what they should be paid.”

Some people also convince themselves of their own worth, believes Breach: “We managed to secure a candidate, who was earning £50k, a pay rise to £65k for switching from a large bank into a boutique player, but their mentor then convinced them they should be earning £80k, which was never going to happen. It’s in the interest of a recruiter to try and secure a bigger salary, but not to the point where we undermine our client relationships.”

“There are a lot of people out of touch with reality – credit derivatives professionals, people with expertise around FACTA and senior change professionals, all whom believe they should be earning salaries banks haven’t been willing to pay for years,” added Cowan.

Kaye, however, believes that recruiters have a lot to answer for, particularly when finding work for people from outside the City. One actuary came to London with a job offer, only to be told by recruiters that she wasn’t earning market rate, she said: “So she declined the original offer, to find that other job offers never materialised. I find this irresponsible on behalf of my industry and a big dose of realism is required otherwise both employers and potential future employees will lose out more and more.”