The Scenario

“No…. this job level is clearly a P5. Re-read the job description! We will not be successful unless we bring in someone that is high caliber!” exclaimed the manager. You re-read the job description and everything about the job suggests a P3 level. Now you have to explain why the job isn’t a P5, to the manager.

The Problem

Does this scenario sound familiar? When evaluating a job with a business partner, how many times have you had a discussion with a manager to agree on the appropriate job level? How often are you able to clearly (and quickly) negotiate the level without downplaying the manager’s perceived importance of the role?

For the seasoned compensation professional, determining a job level is usually a fairly straightforward process. But for the manager, job levels are less clear and leveling guidelines that talk about rope may obfuscate the task at hand: agreeing on the correct job level. This is a teaching opportunity, but it is dependent on finding a way to clearly articulate what job levels are, in the market and how they translate to your internal levels.

The Solution

As a practitioner, I found one very simple method that was more successful than every other approach, and the answer is in the salary surveys you already own!

Most salary surveys are organized in job families and include a number of levels within each job family. The table, below provides an example of an Accounting job family, for individual contributors.

Job TitleOrgsIncs25th50th75th
Accountant I32160$39,88443,744$48,544
Accountant II35212$42,441$49,547$55,444
Accountant III29291$54,998$58,157$68,114
Accountant IV34194$63,412$69,154$73,478
Accountant V2474$70,100$77,540$81,450

According to this fictitious salary survey, there are 931 individual contributor incumbents in the Accounting function, irrespective of level. This number represents the full sample of accountants. With this information, we can now calculate the prevalence of Accountants, by job level, using the number of incumbents within each level, against the total sample set. To take it a step further, we can even incorporate a graphic, such as this:

Incorporating a tangible metric (such as percent of a population) along with the descriptions of job complexity and scope will enhance your conversations around job levels and allow you to ask questions differently.

Knowing how many incumbents exist within each level, we can plainly ask the manager: “Are we certain that 92% of Accountants would be unable to complete this job successfully?” or we can ask “Do we absolutely need the top 8% of Accountants to complete this job successfully?”

Asking these questions will encourage the manager to think critically about the level of talent that they need for the role, allowing them to decide in a more informed manner with data that everyone understands.


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