Salary expectations in tech with defined job levels
April 23, 2020 10:38 AM   Subscribe

I am currently interviewing with a tech company (one of the big ones) for a position characterized as ‘Senior Level Individual Contributor.’ They’ve asked me for salary expectations, and for my own clarity, I’d like to figure out what industry level outside of tech this would be equivalent to.

I’ve spent the past decade in biotech, where job titles are pretty similar across industry, roughly like - manager, senior manager, associate director, director, before entering executive leadership. These positions can be individual contributor or manager tracks.

I was recruited by a tech company, and the title of the job posting is principal associate, with an experience requirement of 10+ years. In biotech, someone with 10+ years of the required experience is at least at an associate director level, more likely director level. A principal associate has about 2+ years of the same experience. I’ve asked HR at the tech company for clarification, and they told me to assume the role is a “Senior Level Individual Contributor.” I don’t know what this means.

I do know what an individual contributor is. This company is pretty flat, doesn’t have titles, and apparently no published levels (although one interviewer let me know that they have Individual Contributor levels IC1 through IC6. HR wouldn’t corroborate - just said they don’t have published levels.) I know what I’d ask for salary-wise in my own industry as my experience correlates to a well-defined level. The information I can find online typically applies to software engineers and project managers, but even that unhelpfully shows salary scales from 50k to 200k+. I’m neither a software engineer nor a project manager.

Outside of tech, what title(s) would a Senior level individual contributor be equivalent to? This role is a typically biotech role which this tech company now requires. I get that there may not be direct equivalence, but it’s important to me that this position values my experience.
posted by Everydayville to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As an R&D engineer, I find this question to be a little confusing. In my experience in R&D, managers, directors, or VPs are on a completely different track from individual contributors. IC track is usually something like junior x, senior x, principal x, staff x, then maybe institute x or something along those lines for the real greybeards. Where X is your role (engineer, scientist, programmer, analyst, etc). Principal X requiring 10 years of experience sounds roughly right.

So maybe look for salaries for a principal analyst or principal scientist.
posted by muddgirl at 10:52 AM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite] might help.
posted by likedoomsday at 10:55 AM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

In the Los Angeles area, I’d peg this at ~$135000/year.
posted by Pacrand at 11:08 AM on April 23, 2020

I just checked a large non-"tech" company (Johnson & Johnson) and they structure their jobs this way, at least in R&D.
posted by muddgirl at 11:18 AM on April 23, 2020

Where is the job? In silicon valley I'd be expecting somewhere in the ballpark of $200k. In Cleveland, somewhere around $120k. It also depends on what their stock plan/signing on bonus structure is. Some of the big names don't pay a whole lot but give large sign-on bonuses with slow vesting schedules.

Would you be moving for this position?
posted by Candleman at 11:23 AM on April 23, 2020

Response by poster: The position is located in the Bay Area, and my family and I would be relocating.
posted by Everydayville at 11:25 AM on April 23, 2020

In the Bay Area, 185 to 225 wouldn't be outlandish, depending on the company. I'd also heavily negotiate for relocation too, keeping in mind that it's now (since 2017) taxed at around 50% like other bonuses. If you're coming from outside of this market it's pretty easy to undersell yourself, and living here is expensive so go towards the higher end of what you're thinking. It gives you negotiating room and they may ask you to take a somewhat lower base and compensate with equity and/or a signing bonus.
posted by mikesch at 11:54 AM on April 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

If it's Facebook, IC6 had (in 2018; I am not sure how it's changed since then) a base of 180-210K, with more negotiating room on the equity side (60-120K, more or less iirc). Approximately the same at Google at L6 (SWE, not sure about other ladders), not sure about Apple but they broadly pay less across the board.

One thing I will say is be wary of any statement about how fast you might rise up; recruiters often say you'll be promoted rapidly in order to get you to take a lower starting pay. Nobody is promoted rapidly, so you'll be setting your pay lower than necessary -- this trap is VERY commonly used on women (who tend to negotiate less, by and large, and who also are more typically underpaid prior to arriving in tech).

Also, competing offers are practically GOLD in terms of setting the negotiating framework; a good friend of mine got three years worth of extra equity (vesting over 4 years) because she had that much being offered by a finance company in Chicago that you've probably heard of. Mind, I've also seen tech companies decline to compete if they don't think you're actually worth it and the big ones are not shy about deciding that, for example, Random Startup was overpaying people (much to the chagrin of an acquaintance of mine who found their equity cut in half, but then again Google equity is actually worth something and their startup equity wasn't).

Lastly, since you were in biotech, if you're talking about an Alphabet company be aware that compensation is different within the X groups, and I have no idea what they do over there (except that when they "de-spun" Chronicle, a bunch of people who'd come over to Chronicle from Google found themselves losing on equity since the Chronicle equity was now worthless, and they had to restart the clock on Google equity [which, by moving to Chronicle, they had walked away from], thus losing quite a lot of money).
posted by aramaic at 11:55 AM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also, in California, you can request pay scale information after the initial interview. The recruiters you're dealing with are going to be completely different than your hiring manager so I wouldn't feel nervous about negotiating. It won't reflect badly on you unless there's a lot of unreasonable back and forth. I've only ever heard about negotiating tactics of candidates when they were just being kind of awful about everything and then I had to make the choice of whether to proceed or not.
posted by mikesch at 12:03 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would expect a non-software-engineer to make less money at a tech company without paygrades in the Bay Area. Maybe even up to $50k less, but obviously don't start your negotiation there.

Definitely have them gross up your relocation package.
posted by muddgirl at 1:16 PM on April 23, 2020

I don't know the equivalent. Senior Manager? Folks I know at this level in SF/SV are making $200-250K in product/design. I have no idea in engineering.
posted by amaire at 1:18 PM on April 23, 2020

Response by poster: Aramaic, I had to chuckle out loud at your response. That is exactly what the HR coordinator told me about being promoted rapidly and from within. The team I’d be joining has seven men on it and I’d be the sole woman. My primary reason for asking this question is to try to ensure that I’m not selling myself short. I’ve let that happen before and would like to negotiate my next role such that it doesn’t happen again.
posted by Everydayville at 1:56 PM on April 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

My experience with large Bay Area tech companies is that a “Senior” job title will typically correspond to ~$170k - $230k, with an additional ~$60-100k/year of equity.

The equity for an initial offer is usually offered in a block like “$X over 4 years”, where 25% of the stock vests after 1 year of employment, and the remainder vests monthly or quarterly. Most such companies will offer “refresher grants” on a yearly update, to try to ensure you continue to get a consistent amount of equity year-over-year with no sudden drop-off.

So a reasonable offer might be structured along the lines of: “$195k/year with a grant of $240k stock over 4 years, and a $25k signing bonus”. The actual numbers will vary depending which company you’re talking about, but they’re all competing with each other for employees so they don’t get too far out of whack from each other.

(Huge caveat: Note that my experience is almost entirely for software roles, and I’m unsure what this sort of company offers biotech roles. There may be a discount applied, but the structure of the offer is likely similar.)

Good questions to ask at the late interview or offer stage include:
  • At what job title and internal level will I be hired?
  • What is the pay scale for that title or level?
  • Is equity typically offered for new hires in this role? What does a typical offer look like?
  • Are refresher grants typically offered for performance? And on what schedule?
  • Does the company have a defined rate for raises based on performance? E.g., 5% raise for “meets expectations”, 10% for “exceeds”. (Some have this, some don’t.)
  • What relocation benefits will be offered? Will they be grossed up? (Incidentally, the biggest of these companies can have very nice relo benefits: I saw one offer to pay closing costs if I were buying a home to move! Sadly I was renting at the time...
  • If receiving a signing bonus: will any portion of the bonus be required to be refunded if I leave before 1 year at the company?
In general, don’t be afraid to ask tons of money questions, especially if offered the job! While I wouldn’t introduce this level of questions at an early interview stage, few recruiters or hiring managers would bat an eye at any of the questions above. While all these companies like to talk about changing the world, the money is a big reason to work there and they know it.

Also: I’ve been through this a few times. :) Please
feel free to MeMail me and I’m happy to share salary history and the offers I’ve received over time.
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 5:55 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Tech companies usually have an "individual contributor track" and a "management track". In my experience in tech, "director" means a manager several steps up in the hierarchy, and not an individual contributor.

"Senior level individual contributor" would mean you're somewhere in the bottom half of the chart, although there is some title inflation from startups giving out "senior" labels like candy to people who have only a few years of experience.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:59 PM on April 23, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks, all.

I’m familiar with relo packages and equity in the form of RSUs vesting over four years. Both biotechs and techs seem to use the extra equity to sweeten a negotiation, but the last time I let that happen, I regretted not negotiating a higher base pay. And that’s really what I was trying to clarify here - I’ve always had manager/senior manager/ associate director titles despite never having had direct reports, but the fact that this company was using a tech title that seems to mean the opposite of what it does at a biotech was confusing. HR not being very helpful also put me on edge a little bit.

Some of these salary ranges are helpful, although now I’m thinking that since this isn’t a software role, the base might be lower than a software role at the same level. I usually work with recruiters who negotiate on my behalf, but in this particular case, the company recruited me, so I’m having to do the negotiating myself. Appreciate all the help.
posted by Everydayville at 10:01 PM on April 23, 2020

You probably already know this, but just in case: I believe that in California, a potential employer is legally barred from asking you about your salary history (which they're getting around by asking about your expectations instead) and legally required to disclose the salary range of your potential position if asked.
posted by Vibrissa at 7:37 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

To expand on the above, in tech in a non-software role (project management), a senior project manager salary range in San Francisco is between $130,000 and $175,000. The titles for project managers are a much smaller set: associate, project manager, senior project manager, and lead/enterprise. One thing I haven't seen mentioned is that tech companies tend to have a lot of benefits that are considered standard to try and compete with each other that are uncommon outside of tech: free onsite food service, gym memberships, wellness benefits, commuter offsets etc. While the food isn't fantastic it definitely makes a difference to your bottom line if you aren't paying for those meals.

As a general rule, if you use something like glassdoor (the go-to in tech for salary lookups and snooping about your potential employer) assume the highest 10% of the range as the bottom end of your starting salary. I'm also open to be MeMailed if you want a 'in tech but not a software engineer' answer.
posted by ladyriffraff at 9:41 PM on April 24, 2020

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