As HR professionals, we’re tasked with finding the best candidates to fill positions in our companies. One of our many roles is to research, find, and recruit the people who will add their skills and experience to our organization’s workforce. Knowing where to find the candidates we need is important, but we also need to know what they are looking for in a job. And of course, one of the key factors candidates look for in a job is compensation.

Competitive Compensation

Most job seekers begin their search by looking for openings that fit their professional experience and aspirations. The next consideration for most is how much the job pays. Salary is a driving factor in the job search process, so it’s important to understand the role of competitive salaries in the labor market and recruiting process. It’s easier than ever to find out what a competitive salary is for a given profession or position, using the resources available from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, job websites like, or just by entering the job title, industry, and locality on Google.

High to Low

Salary and income for certain professions are higher than others, and as the income brackets are divided, the professions in each change. According to a U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, the 99th income percentile is made up mostly of physicians, followed by managers, chief executives, and lawyers. The fact that doctors and lawyers are two professions that are only found in the top two income brackets is also worth noting.

So, if you’re hiring for positions requiring a medical or law degree, the expected salary is in the 90th income percentile and above. Job openings that don’t meet this salary requirement are likely to go unanswered since the people who have those degrees are expecting higher pay. This applies to your entire recruiting strategy, since no matter the position, your company has to be competitive to attract the best candidates.

The survey also breaks down the professions that make up the lower-income percentiles. The lowest or 10th percentile is evenly composed of nursing aides, cashiers, cooks, housekeepers, and retail sales clerks. These low-skill jobs are easier to fill since the percentage of the population that falls into these income brackets is greater, which means the competition to attract good candidates is lower.

Middle Incomes

Looking at the middle class, the largest segment of the population, the professions that are most represented include secretaries, teachers, truck drivers, nurses, accountants, and customer service representatives. This is a diverse group whose professions span a wide array of industries and where salaries vary greatly. It’s where the majority of hires come from. For HR managers and recruiters, it means there’s a wide pool of candidates for certain jobs that have different salary expectations. This gives employers more flexibility in their recruiting strategies.

Managerial positions also encompass a wide range of incomes. In fact, being a manager is the most common job for the upper-middle to higher class (70th to 99th percentile). This is not surprising since the title of manager can apply to vary degrees of responsibility, experience, and salary in different industries. For example, two managers can be on opposite sides of the salary spectrum if one is a restaurant manager while the other is a client accounts manager.

Sales supervisors are also represented across all income brackets. This job title is so broad that there are sales supervisors who make as little as $12,000 or as much as six figures a year. As you can see, job titles and descriptions have a huge impact on candidate expectations. Income inequality is also something to consider and be aware of. In the last 40 years, income grew by only 9 percent for households in the 60th percentile, while growing a significant 36 percent for those in the 95th percentile.

Putting it into Practice

What does this all mean to HR professionals? The salary-to-profession ratio is important to keep in mind so that you can offer competitive salaries that fit within expectations for given profession or level of education and experience. And knowing where the job you’re trying to fill fits within the labor market can help you better develop your job titles and descriptions, as well as compensation.

What other considerations do you think are important for HR managers and recruiters to keep in mind when looking at income breakdowns in the labor market?

Adina Miron


  • Avatar Susan Devers says:

    I really liked the idea that you outlined in this article. Knowing where a specific job fits within the labor market is the first consideration when creating both job descriptions and compensation strategy. Maybe not all employees are driven by financial compensation, but in the long term, no other benefit can compete with that type of motivation.

  • Avatar Jack Cleary says:

    The demographic composition of the labor market is changing continuously, and the motivation and expectations of job candidates are evolving too. It is essential for HR professionals to understand what motivates workers. Do they want compensation, prestige, or autonomy at work? Sometimes financial compensation is not the stronger reason for wanting a particular job, so HR professionals should adapt their strategies in order to motivate workers that are not just driven by money.

  • Avatar Alan Fill says:

    A competitor that offers better pay or benefits can affect the way your company recruits. Sometimes you can keep up with the financial compensation that your competitor offers, but you should also consider your company’s strengths, such as a friendly work environment, job satisfaction, job security, opportunities for promotion, or a flexible schedule. When you do this, you’ll notice that some potential candidates appreciate their quality of life more than the biggest salary.

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