When You Can’t Close the Salary Gap on a New Hire

I recently found myself needing to hire (obligatory plug: we have a spot for a remote work position with Ruby / Rails / Elixir as the skill set; U.S. only, alas) and we’ve been unable to close the salary gap between what we want to pay and he wants to get. This is particularly distressing because the individual in question:

  • Used to work for me on this exact code base
  • Is the only one of 2 individuals, besides myself, on the planet who knows how to actively work on this very large code base (and no the other one is not even remotely an option; hell would freeze over faster)
  • Would have zero training costs; he’d hit the ground running eliminating that initial 90 to 120 days period where you’re blowing money on non productive or semi productive training
  • Is a guaranteed culture fit
  • Is someone I trust enough that I’d leave my kids with him. Root? Hell he still has root just in case. Now that’s trust.

So I’m in a bit of a pickle as you can see. But the difference between bid (us) and ask (him) is high because he’s good and he took the experience he got working with me once up on a time and got a much better job — which is exactly what he should have done. I’m actually quite proud of him. He now makes more than I do and that’s what should happen if you are good.

Here are a few of the techniques that I’m recommending to the founders for closing this gap — without substantially increasing our bid:

  • Start with a six month review period after which his salary is eligible for bump
  • Increase vacation. U.S. employment has absurd vacation policies.
  • Guarantee to not start a particularly interesting project until he joins (if it is a reasonable time period)
  • Boost stock options — and I know this is the weakest one here; options are almost impossible for engineers to evaluate and most of us lose money on them every time
  • 4 10 hour days versus 5 8 hour days — Personally I’d take this in a heart beat since a guaranteed 3 day weekend on a regular basis is life changing. Particularly if you have small kids and are a good dad. Both are true here.
  • Keep the relationship alive with consulting or “Maybe the horse will learn to sing

That last one, Maybe the horse will learn to sing, needs some clarification. I’ve been in high tech closing on 30 years now and I still write code pretty much very single day. One of the few things I’ve learned is just how long lived things are. People that you work with today you might work with again in 5 years. You never know.

For all I know the person we’re trying to hire might lose his job tomorrow. If we keep the relationship alive with a lightweight consulting arrangement then we’ll be there as his logical next landing place once he moves on. Plus there’s the benefit of the consulting for both parties.

And everyone, always, moves on. Always play the long game people.

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