Starting Salaries to Rise Next Year as Talent Gets Harder to Find

Starting salaries for professionals in the U.S. and Canada will be going up next year as the hiring climate for experienced workers becomes more competitive and the time it takes to fill jobs lengthens.

Staffing firm Robert Half International  said the average starting salary for white collar professional and support jobs in the U.S. will rise on average 3.4 percent in 2012. Tech positions will see the biggest increase with an average of 4.5 percent. Lawyers and legal support staff will see the smallest increase of the five areas studied. Starting salaries in the legal field will rise on average 1.9 percent.

For 60 years Robert Half has produced salary guides based on information it gathers from its clients, its placements, and surveys of business executives. The five detailed reports produced this year cover finance and accounting, technology, creative and marketing, which includes Internet-related positions, administrative and office support, and legal.

The reports also include Canada, and offer insights on hiring trends in each professional area. Starting salaries can be adjusted for different metro and geographic areas by using the multipliers included in each guide. The salaries are what a new hire can expect to earn. They don’t include the cost of benefits or perks.

Here’s a summary of what Robert Half said about each area:

Finance and Accounting

With hiring expected to be more aggressive in 2012, the average time to fill staff positions will increase to five weeks next year and filling management accounting and finance jobs will take almost two months. Companies say they are having a difficult time finding professionals who have all the requirements, and in some specialized areas, candidates are receiving multiple offers.

However, with the U.S. recovery still anemic, many employers are turning to staffing firms to meet their immediate needs, while they assess business conditions. There’s also a growing reliance on bringing in specialized talent for specific projects and on temporary support staff to handle work during peak periods.

Most in demand is a CPA accreditation. For senior-level and analyst positions, an MBA is high on the list of requirements. Controller and analyst positions top the list of jobs companies most want to fill. In addition, business systems analysts, tax accountants, auditors, and core accounting professionals are being sought.

In the U.S., says the accounting and finance guide, morale and retention are an issue as employees who shouldered additional work during the lean years without getting a raise or promotion are beginning to see opportunities at other firms.

To help retain employees, Robert Half’s survey of some 1,400 CFOs found more companies are looking to non-financial incentives to supplement modest salary increases. Most popular, said 29 percent of the CFOs, is subsidized training and education. Just under a quarter (24 percent) said they’re offering flexible work hours and telecommuting, and a similar percentage offer mentoring programs.

Download the U.S. guide here.

Download the Canada guide here.


The Robert Half guide calls technology hiring “The Hot List” and says in several tech areas — network administration, security and application development among them — that there are more jobs than candidates.  Two-thirds of the CIOs surveyed about the difficulty of hiring staff reported it was “very” or “somewhat” challenging.

Mid- and senior-level IT positions are among the most difficult of all to fill, particularly for companies who seek skilled tech professionals with an understanding of business strategy. On average, Robert Half found it now takes seven (7) weeks to fill managerial positions.

The guide also highlights five specific jobs now in demand. In addition to the three noted above, the other two are data warehousing and business intelligence professionals and quality assurance business analysts.  Mobile is growing in importance so rapidly that the guide devotes a column to discussing the rise of tablets and mobile devices generally. The demand for experienced mobile professionals will be a major trend next year, says Robert Half, a primary reason starting salaries for mobile applications developers will rise 9.1 percent to range between $85,000 and $122,500.

Least anyone should miss the point, the guide illustrates the section on hiring trends with a flaming red chili pepper.

Canada will see similar, if somewhat smaller, increases, though the demand there is also growing.

In most cases, professionals with specific skills — for example, AJAX, Java, SQL server — can command premiums as high as 12 percent on the base ranges in the guide. And in some areas like Silicon Valley, IT workers can get as much as 35 percent over the average starting salaries.

Download the guide here.

Creative and Marketing

The average increase for this group as a whole is 3.5 percent. However, for the most in-demand jobs in tight markets like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Stamford, Conn, employers can expect to pay significantly more to hire top talent.

Hottest are Internet-related positions in project management, search engine marketing, web analytics, site developer, and user experience designer. Video producers to manage and direct projects are also in short supply as demand for video content — for the web, mobile, training, and other services — grows almost exponentially.

The guide says “Finding top creative talent can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack.” Among the reasons is the burgeoning demand for professionals in a still youthful industry that forces managers to make quicker hiring decisions and extend offers without delay. To get quicker acceptances, offers include hiring bonuses, extra paid time off, and telecommuting options, in addition to generous traditional benefits.

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Hiring managers are relying on referrals and their own networks to identify potential hires, and also on specialized search and staffing firms.

The guide specifically mentions health care as a high demand industry, not only for creative staff to develop and manage niche campaigns for patients, prospects and trade groups, but analytics experts and interactive professionals to develop and monitor online efforts.

Five broad categories covering traditional marketing, interactive, public relations, content development, and design and production are further broken down into specific jobs showing the range of starting salaries.

Canadian salaries are listed for the Toronto market, where much of the advertising and marketing  industry is located.

Download the guide here.

Administrative and Office Support

Replacing downsized staff as business improves is the key driver for the 3.4 percent growth in starting salaries for the 60 or so administrative positions included in the guide. Another driver is the ever-growing health care sector, says Robert Half.

The company says that many of the workers will come from staffing firms as companies exercise caution in hiring permanent staff. However, managers and executives surveyed by Robert Half say productivity has been hurt by not having enough support staff, which requires existing workers to take on multiple tasks.

Most in demand will be executive and administrative assistants, so these positions are seeing increases of between 4 and 4.5 percent in starting salaries. Employees already in these jobs may see their own salaries grow by at least that mush or more, as 63 percent of HR managers polled by Robert Half said they are concerned about retaining their best support staff.

The most sought after technical skills for support staff, says the report, are: knowledge of database management software; project management; nonprofit management software; SAP and other enterprise resource planning software; and social media.

Download the guide here.


Firms are being cautious in their hiring, but demand is rising for experienced professionals, especially at firms that reduced staff during the depth of the recession. Corporations are expanding their internal legal departments to contain costs.

Most in demand, says Robert Half, are lawyers with 4-7 years experience in litigation, employment and labor, real estate, and corporate law. For recent law school grads and new lawyers, the guide calls the hiring environment “challenging.”

The situation in Canada is similar, though more cautious. Compensation is increasing, but doesn’t yet have the attention it does in the U.S.

The guide is available here.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


4 Comments on “Starting Salaries to Rise Next Year as Talent Gets Harder to Find

  1. Did you happen to see today’s WSJ? The cover story of the special leadership section covered this, with the writer stating there really wasn’t a shortage of talented workers. Just a shortage of companies willing to invest in training new hires and current employees.

    1. Kama: I wish it were as cut-and-dried/black-and-white as The Wall Street Journal writer sees it, but this is one of the problems I’m having with the WSJ these days. They seem to have an odd way of looking at things and want to make the complex mind-numbingly simple.

      Of course, there is some truth to what the Journal says. Companies aren’t investing a lot in hiring or training people because they don’t need to. They’ve seen huge productivity gains during the recession and stumbling recovery from workers doing whatever they can to prove they can add more value so they don’t lose their job. Now that those kind of productivity gains are slowing down, many companies are investing in technology that will continue to drive the productivity gains ahead.

      But, there are not enough workers for a lot of critical jobs — engineers and anything needing a strong science/math background, nurses and many other health care fields, accountants and financial professionals, IT, skilled trade workers like carpenters, electricians and plumbers, salespeople, drivers, and skilled administrative personnel. And, the shortages will only grow over time as Baby Boomers slowly move out of the workforce.  

      What I keep hearing is that while there is an oversupply of workers in the grand scheme of things (not counting some of these fields I listed here), there is ALWAYS a shortage of really high quality people in just about every field. The recession has masked a lot of this problem, but there is going to be a growing shortage of top talent everywhere. My guess is that fact is news to The Wall Street Journal.

      1. Well, to be fair to the WSJ, I think that writer isn’t a regular reporter. I believe he was a special contributor, from Wharton.

        I’m sure there are areas where finding skilled workers is difficult (i.e. nursing, where so many nurses burn out and leave the profession). In what I see – which I realize is a narrow view – I can’t can’t help but notice things like many job postings will have a laundry list of computer programs that are “requirements” to be considered for the position, some of which I happen to know aren’t terribly complicated to learn. When I see stuff like that, especially on positions where it seems like the company has been trying to fill the position for awhile, I can’t help but wonder why someone doesn’t come to their senses and say “knowledge of these 4 essential and very complex programs are required. Everything else can be taught to the right person who meets all other criteria.”

      2. @John: I guess we have a serious problem with our university system then if we’re graduating so many unqualified engineers and nurses to take on these so-called hard-to-fill jobs. I agree with the WSJ. There are many college graduates in tech fields without jobs now. Are those college grads all inherently bad? Or are companies just wanting to hire ready-made employees that require little to no training? If that’s the case, then what incentive is there to get a college degree if you’re not even considered qualified for the jobs available? So I guess the solution is just to raise the H1-B visa limit and let the “smart” and “qualified” foreigners get the jobs. This just means that the American school system from K-12 to college is broken if companies don’t even want to invest in the students coming out of those programs. There is no shortage of engineers and other graduates in the US, there is just a shortage of companies willing to give them a chance. 

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