Ah, corporate life.
August 31, 2007 7:16 PM   Subscribe

I've got a research and thesis-based M.S. in engineering and a bachelor's degree from a very well-regarded school. What level on the corporate ladder should I be hired at?

I took a job as a contractor with a large engineering company several months ago (>100K employees nationwide), with the understanding that I would be hired on as a full-time, regular employee if I performed well. That time has come, but the job title to which I am being funneled into is at the lowest rung on the ladder, which came as a surprise to me - my employer had indicated that my education level would be taken into account at this time (and indeed, perhaps it has).

My peers in smaller engineering firms widely condemn this as inappropriate, but theirs being smaller companies, I'm not quite sure that it is. I spoke to HR about it, who stated that "I may have a case" for being classified up one rung on the ladder. Although I enjoy working for this company, I find that my enthusiasm is considerably dampened by this development. Speaking with another employee who was hired on the same way, I found that he was placed through a similar situation and accepted a salary and title much lower than his market rate, and conceded that he had no bargaining power at the time after he was laid off at his last job. When I first started, another pair of coworkers volunteered to me after hours that they were being paid less than their market value (one nearly left before additional career development opportunities were offered to him). I take all this information with a grain of salt.

I plan on speaking with my manager and informal team leader, who are aware of the placement; when seeking feedback from them over the past few months, I have been told that I performed very well on the projects I've been assigned (in hindsight, I should have gotten this in writing). While I understand that what I've done before this position doesn't count nearly as much as what I do now within it, and if shut down by the powers that be, will likely ask for a plan/points of improvement towards rapid promotion to the title I want, what actions could/should I take here?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The best way to get a higher job title is to go interview at other firms and get a couple offers. Go back to your firm and point out that they are below market on title and $$$. If they don't improve their offer, leave.
posted by zia at 7:33 PM on August 31, 2007

Zia offers good advice, at least in terms of trying to get this company to give you a second look.

You don't say if you worked at other companies between stints at school and your current job. If you don't have a proven track record, that's a great excuse for them to not pay you as much.

If you really are excited to work for this company, do you know how the promotion process works in general? Does it happen every 6 months, or every year, or is it more complicated? Are you familiar enough with the work that your colleagues do to be certain you are capable of handling that and more? That would make me think I could get promoted pretty quickly.

My point is, are you sure you should be slotted higher than full-time engineers who are already at the company? If you are, great, fight HR for all it's worth. And if you're not, or you still decide to take their offer, does the company have a reasonable performance review and promotion process? If it does, then you'll certainly rise to the level you think you should be at. Otherwise I would seriously look elsewhere.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:07 PM on August 31, 2007

Just my two cents, and not suggesting this is your situation but as a hiring manager I often found recent college graduates to be of the attitude that they were better than they really were. I've hired people at the low end of the spectrum with a masters and people without any college at the higher end just based on their experience. You could have a PhD but a lack of work experience will normally dictate that you start on the lower end of the spectrum.

True work experience, references, and your results to date will factor more than your education for most major companies.
posted by Octoparrot at 8:39 PM on August 31, 2007

Ask these questions:

How much direct people management do you have?
How much practical day to day experience do you have?
How many professional projects have you seen from start to finish?

Unless you have lots of this stuff, you will find yourself on the bottom rung, because you lack the experience to be higher. Cream rises to the top and you can quickly find you way up, but expecting that collegiate success directly translates to corporate advancement is going to be disappointing.
posted by Argyle at 9:14 PM on August 31, 2007

I have been in engineering (computer hardware/semiconductors) for 12+ years and hold both a BS & MS in EE. When I graduated from school, BS & MS employees came in at the same level or possibly one level apart (if the company had a lot of overlap), with the MS employees making slightly more. However, both started at the same level of responsibility and same title -- at the bottom rung.

While I don't supervise, I've been a technical lead, and been involved with hiring and mentoring New College Grads(NCGs). Notice, I use the generic term, not BS or MS degreed employees. Because, really, while the MS tells me that they are typically capable of a little bit more independent thought, I still need to baby-sit them and spend about the same amount of time getting them to the point where they can do independent, productive work.

Big companies are often very process-driven - there is typically no room for moving outside the norm. They have set rules for advancement and placement and it can be difficult, if not impossible, to move outside of them. Someone with less than 2 years experience, in my field at least, is still considered an NCG or "freshout". In their minds, you're perfectly replaceable with someone straight from school or with a year or so more experience.

If you're wanting to move ahead quickly and gain a lot of varied experience, go join your friends in the smaller companies. But there are risks - the company may fold, or your boss may not like you and may treat you poorly with little recourse, or you may absolutely love it.

If you're unhappy with your current job situation, you should always at least look and see what options are open to you. But it may prove difficult for someone with just a few months' experience to be viewed in a more senior light. Sometimes it's better to stick with people who already think/know you're talented rather than having to prove yourself all over again.

(ps - HR is not your friend! They are only there to ensure the company does not get sued.)
posted by j at 10:48 PM on August 31, 2007

Standard practice is that a MS in engineering gets you hired 1 rung up. A PhD 2 rungs up. There are exceptions either way. I'm an EE, I didn't quite finish my thesis based MS but I got hired two rungs up but I'd already been doing real engineering work in my field (I ran the lab I studied in, did consulting work on the side etc).

In general there's a lot of real world polishing that goes into building an engineer whether they have a bachelors, masters or doctorate.

There are a couple of shortcuts up the ladder: Work at a small company, especially at a startup. Switch jobs.

Of the two rapid advancement options the small company option seems to get you into more advanced work quicker. Switching jobs to a similar sized company will get you the rank and corresponding pay but you'll be doing essentially the same level of work.
posted by substrate at 6:43 AM on September 1, 2007

I worked at a certain gigantic, well known engineering company over the summer, and have found that masters degrees don't get you much at such a company. Generally, a person with a masters degree would get a smallish pay raise (I think it was like $2-5k per year), and might start out 1 level higher. I would think that given your experience as a contractor, you might be able to get a little extra pay, and a little more seniority, but sadly that masters degree probably isn't going to bring you as much as you might have thought.
posted by !Jim at 7:22 PM on September 1, 2007

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