Future Consideration in the Job Market

by Mr. Cheap

Apparently it’s quite rare for actors to get paid in the Toronto theatre scene. Every production basically says “work for us for free, you’ll get exposure, then you’ll be able to get good pay from the next production that hires you”. When the next production starts, they say the same things, and actors go through this until they demand to be paid (at which point another actor steps in and works for free).

I’ve had similar experiences in the tech field. Because technology is constantly changing, it’s very common to come across job postings that require technology you haven’t been exposed to. This used to intimidate me a bit, until I realized that employers are posting their “dream list” of experience and none of the applicants are coming in with the full background they ask for.

I had the experience where employers would say “start working for us cheap, learn the technology, then when you get up to speed we’ll pay you full rate”. This made sense to me, and I actually fell for it a few times, but inevitably what would happen is I would feel like I was up-to-speed and they would still want to keep paying me the original salary at which point I’d leave.

Once I stopped accepting lower paid positions, I was surprised that they’d then offer me the job at a competitive salary. The whole idea of “low pay while you learn” was just a negotiation technique, not anything they actually meant. ONE TIME a guy said to me “well, I’m not going to pay for you to learn on my dime”. His position was still posted 2 months later (and he e-mailed asking if I knew anyone job hunting with the required skills).

A friend of mine will be leaving a position soon where she went WAY beyond what she was hired to do. At the end of the year she asked for her salary to reflect what she was actually doing, instead of the subset of her work she’d been officially hired to do. After dicking her around, the company eventually refused to give her any significant increase in pay. They’re freaking out as she’s wrapping up the position, but they lost her rather than consider a large pay increase.

At many positions I’ve worked at, at some point the idea was thrown out that I’d eventually be moving to a higher ranking position in the company. Again, this was a free carrot for the company, as they didn’t have to deliver on any set timetable, but their hope would be that it’d be enough to keep me around as I thought I’d be working my way up the corporate ladder.

Sadly these days, the only way to get a significant raise or promotion seems to be to move to a new position in a different company. Loyalty in the workplace is dead.

I’m not sure why, but my experience has definitely been that once a company has a person in a set position at a set salary, they don’t want that to change. Even if the person is doing vital work for the company, keeping things the way they are seem to be more important that keeping that person. My only theory is that the companies don’t want to feel that they’re being strong armed by key personnel and would rather let those people leave the organization than give them the power to put the company over a barrel. Amusingly, while they refuse to give significant salary increases, they love to promise them at some indeterminate future time.

Some relatives of mine own a company, and every time business improves they have one key employee who then demands a raise. They’ve gotten quite sick of it (although he is vital, so they always give in) and recently have hired a junior person for the same position. Their plan is to say no the next time he wants more money (and they hope having the junior person will help them weather the storm if the senior guy quits). I definitely understand the issue from their perspective as the employer and how they don’t want to feel dependent on any one employee.

Craigslist is full of wanna-be entrepreneurs who will happily throw equity at anyone who can turn on a computer. They promise executive positions and lavish salaries once they’ve become “the next Google”. Sadly, every one of these people I’ve ever talked to is totally clueless, and doubtfully will even become the next Pets.com.

Future considerations have some value, but unfortunately it’s usually FAR, FAR less then what people want us to value it as. In any business agreement, I’d basically view future considerations as “sweeteners” and not enter the agreement unless it’s worth doing without those considerations.

Have you ever been promised future consideration in the workplace? How often do you receive it? Have you ever managed to come into a workplace in a position then get a dramatic raise or promotion on-the-job? How did you do it?

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