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Signing Bonuses

August 1, 2011
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When qualified job applicants are scarce, or, when an applicant’s skills and reputation are remarkable, a signing bonus may be offered along with the compensation package. In the tough economic times we’re currently experiencing, signing bonuses are less frequently offered due to tight budgets, but it’s important to know why they’re offered and when you can realistically expect (or hope) one is offered to you. Here are some occasions when a signing bonus may be offered:

  • You have an outstanding reputation and the prospective employer wants to hire the best talent available. The prospective employer might know that things are good for you where you’re currently working and thus may entice you to change jobs by offering you a signing bonus.

  • You would consider a job change but feel compelled to wait until, say, the end of April before moving. Why? Because your corporate bonus is paid out at the end of April. The prospective employer wants you to start sooner than that, so the signing bonus is offered to offset the loss of your annual bonus.

  • You have two offers, and there’s a meaningful difference between the compensation packages offered by the two companies. A signing bonus can sweeten the deal in favour of one of the companies.

  • You have one offer but you’re holding out for slightly more than the new employer is offering. A signing bonus can bridge that gap, at least in the short-term.

  • You get stock options in your present company that aren’t vested yet, so if you leave prematurely, you lose those options. This doesn’t happen frequently for speech-language pathologists given where SLPs are usually employed, but for those holding business roles in publicly-traded companies, it could be a consideration. A signing bonus can take the sting off the loss of those options if you leave your job before the options are vested.

As with all interactions regarding employment, whether the interactions are with the prospective employer or through a recruiter, it’s important to remember not to make your job change ‘all about the money’, or at least don’t give the recruiter or employer any reason to believe that money is your primary reason for changing jobs. You can lose an offer altogether if you demand a signing bonus, or if you ask the prospective employer for a bonus because you want to pay off your student loans or go on a big vacation first. Remember that employers are not obliged to offer you a signing bonus even if they’ve offered other recently-hired candidates a signing bonus. Remember to consider all aspects of a compensation package and carefully weigh offers against one another. Only after doing this will you know if a signing bonus will make a difference in your job selection. As they say, do the math.