Comp 101 (#2) – Paying your Dues

Thanks everyone for your emails and messages on my first comp post! I’ve been getting a lot of questions on other topics that I will attempt to build into the blog posts. It’s been great hearing your thoughts.

This post is on a topic that actually got me started on this whole compensation blog thing. I didn’t touch on it in the previous post, because I needed to explain the market data definitions first.

Post- College / University life is tough. You graduate as an idealistic, ready-to-change-the-world adult, sometimes not knowing what to do with your life. Do I go to grad school? Do I work a little first? Where do I start when I have no idea what I want to do eventually?? I wasn’t one of the people who knew I wanted to be a doctor, teacher, pastor, engineer, accountant…anything. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but wasn’t 100% certain. I worked in a law firm for a while and got so frustrated in my job. It didn’t hold my interest, it was an office job. I learned some good things and key skills when it came to writing business-y emails and interacting on a team, but it was incredibly frustrating. When I would express my frustration, I always heard “you’re paying your dues…you have to pay your dues”. For some reason, that explanation always annoyed me more. “Why do I need to pay my dues?!?! Does paying my dues mean being stuck in a job that feels like it doesn’t challenge me?”

I worked on a project in my current role, benchmarking every person in the company. This involved speaking to over 100 mangers and putting all 1500 employees into a benchmark job code (which would then correlate back to a salary range). This is when I had my lightbulb moment.

In the survey levelling structure, it talks about the typical years of experience required for certain roles. There are other categories such as Executive, Management and Support but I want to focus on the Professional roles. In the Professional realm (roles that usually require a bachelors/university education) there are 6 levels. There are other descriptors, but for the purposes of my illustration, I’m using years of experience:
P1 is a fresh grad, no experience or less than 2-3 years.
P2 roles need 2-3+ years of experience
P3 is Career Level. This is a fully fledged role, and this is the type of job that someone could stay in for their entire career. This is 5+ years of experience
P4 roles usually require 8+ years of experience, senior individual contributor and informal team lead. This role would normally act as mentor to more junior team members
P5 roles require at least 12+ years of experience. Internal guru technically.
P6 roles are the experts not just within the company, but also influencing the external industry

What stood out to me is that it takes 5 years of experience to be in a role that is considered fully fledged. Independent. Don’t need much direction etc. 5 YEARS. This means that by the time you graduate College/University and add on 5 years, that’s when you could be considered “career” level. Whilst that might be a depressing thought, it actually helped me rationalise my experience. For the first few years, working in jobs that felt meaningless, I wasn’t just “paying my dues”, I was building up a foundation of work experience so that as I built up more and more, I would be considered for roles that require that level of experience. As your experience increases, so does your ability to handle larger projects, to work on things that have more variety and to interact with leaders at a higher level. My issue with being told I was “paying my dues” was that it felt very demeaning – “you’re the junior one and you have to do junior work until we’ve decided you’ve paid your dues”, and I had no idea when I’d finish “paying my dues”. But knowing how the levelling structure works, actually gives me a frame of reference!

Now for some caveats. Not all companies use the same surveys, (as mentioned before) and different surveys use different levelling methodologies. What I WILL say though, is that there are similarities, and they do correlate to each other, so it’s likely that other surveys have the P3 Career level. There will also be people who are considered “fast tracked” and get put into roles that are more senior than their actual years of experience. This happens. There are high potential employees that managers and leaders want to give more opportunity to because they’ve been earmarked as the future leaders. There are also some people who will be in that P3 role for their entire career. There will always be some exceptions. This also doesn’t mean that you won’t get a variety of work, or be trusted by your manager to work independently, but it’s generalisation.

The last thing I wanted to caveat here is that it is again about the ROLE and not the person. Benchmarking is supposed to be an objective exercise. Where in the range an employee sits, is more of a subjective exercise. I’ll get into company pay philosophies later 🙂 The key here is that even if someone has 12+ years of experience under their belt, they’re not going to get paid like a P5 if the role isn’t the type of role that calls for that much experience. The chances are that if you’re a 12+ years of experience person in a job that requires 5 years of experience, you’re probably bored and feel like your talents are being wasted. The same is true for the Managers out there. Don’t convince your recruiter to let you pay someone with 20 years of experience more money to fill a job that requires 5-7 years. If you don’t set up the role to be at a level where someone with that much experience can operate, they will leave after 3 months because they’re bored and frustrated. If there’s someone that great that you want to bring in, re-write the job so that there’s justification to a) pay them more money; and b) set them up for success.

I feel like if I’d known this when I first started out, I wouldn’t have had so much frustration. Some applications for this – Get clear guidelines and goals, from your manager, about how to get to the next level. What is the next step, and how will you get there? Some companies are great at giving their employees progression plans. I find that the engineering functions and finance functions are better at having a cut and dried progression model. Consultancies tend to be quite good at this too. The government GS levels are also a very clear model. If your company doesn’t have a progression plan, and tell you so, ask for one. You’re their employee and you have every right to know how to progress your career. I realised that when I was junior and “paying my dues”, I didn’t think that I had much of a voice to ask for things. I wish I’d spoken up more, and I wish I’d been more assertive with how I thought my career would go. Do your research, have a plan and know where you want to go, because not all managers will know, or care enough to help you with your development plan. Yes, responsibility lies with your manager to coach you and develop you, but in my experience, I’ve had to figure it out for myself and tell my manager what I want because of their lack of interest in my professional development.


One thought on “Comp 101 (#2) – Paying your Dues

  1. bravo! glad you had your lightbulb moment! reading this and looking back at my professional career, it’s very clear (in my head) when I hit particular benchmark milestones and the doors it suddenly opened up. I’m lucky that (most) of all my roles had leeway for me to always be able to excel and grow, so even if the bulk of my role was paying dues, i still could grow in a small area. But I definitely remember the first job out of college with hours of customer service to (ridiculous people, for lack of a better term) that wanted me to shoot myself in the head. I was also one of those people who you wrote a caveat about – placed a role that was probably more advanced than my years required, which was as scary as much as it was seemingly exciting. But again in hindsight, it’s interesting that once i did hit the 5+ years mark, doors just seemed to fling open – from applying to jobs, interviews, and the job(s) i got. It just seemed “easier” (such a subjective term) than at least pre 5 year mark. Thanks for the insight! It’s something that this new generation and every new college grad really needs to understand and get into their head nowadays.

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