Help wanted: Salaries are rising, especially in Montreal – and so are the perks

Candidates now often “buy for jobs” and call the shots.

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Technology headhunter Chris Nanni has seen firsthand the impact of Quebec’s ongoing labor shortage on wages in his chosen field.

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“Salaries have exploded in recent years, especially in Montreal,” said Nanni, a 10-year veteran who works as a practice manager for recruitment firm GuruLink in Quebec’s largest city, in an interview. “The jump was pretty crazy. Three years ago, a good senior engineer was making $130,000 to $150,000 in base salary. If you talk to someone now, they expect a base salary of at least $170,000 just to consider a move.”

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Nanni cites the case of a senior software engineer at Lightspeed Commerce in Montreal, “who made about $150,000 in base salary plus package. I got him an interview at another company, who offered him $180,000, more than he bargained for. Within days he turned back and got another offer elsewhere for $200,000. The other company couldn’t keep up, so we lost him. It all took two weeks, which is pretty normal these days.”

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It’s a good time to start job hunting in Quebec, where the number of vacancies is outstripping the number of unemployed, according to the latest data from the province’s Department of Labor.

A record 254,475 jobs remained vacant in the province in the second quarter of 2022, Statistics Canada’s seasonally adjusted data shows. Compared to the second quarter of last year, job vacancies in Quebec are up 31 percent.

Quebec’s vacancy rate also hit a new high in the second quarter, rising to 6.4 percent on an unadjusted basis from 5.8 percent three months earlier, according to Statistics Canada. Quebec payroll job growth is the fastest in Canada, the province’s Department of Labor said ahead of the campaign.

Demographics are the biggest factor driving Quebec’s sizzling job market, according to headhunting industry veteran Normand Lebeau.

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“There aren’t enough candidates for the number of positions that will be available,” Lebeau, who heads the Montreal office of executive search firm Mandrake, said in an interview. “Until about five years ago, economic growth dictated what kind of business we would get. Now it’s all about the labor pool.”

This demographic imbalance is driving recruiters – and employers – crazy.

“Today’s market is unpredictable, totally unpredictable,” said Elisabeth Starenkyj, co-president of La Tête Chercheuse, a Montreal-based talent search firm. “The applicants know that they are very popular. You can pick and choose.”

Julie Laurin, Head of Consumer Goods Recruitment at agency St-Amour, adds: “Candidates are often looking for jobs. You go through several job processes at the same time and receive several offers. You are not loyal to a process, you are loyal to the outcome.”

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Laurin says she knows at least four people who have recently accepted job offers in the supply chain and logistics industry – only to change their minds before the planned launch because they have since found another job elsewhere.

Xavier Freeman, CEO of Montreal-based insurance software startup YouSet, recalls a candidate who recently applied online – and dropped out of the hiring process just two days later because he had already found a job elsewhere.

Another potential recruit who applied for a position as a software engineer told YouSet that he’s going through the same process with “10 to 20 other companies,” Freeman said.

“The fact that someone is able to do that says a lot about current market conditions,” said Freeman, whose company is recruiting for engineering, marketing and insurance positions.

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As a result, employees “have no reluctance to ask for whatever they want,” Starenkyj said. “There is no filter anymore. Employers can be asked anything. If they want to be successful at hiring, they need to meet those requirements.”

It’s not just wages that are going up. The perks are getting bigger too, starting with extra paid vacation time and the right to choose when you come into the office.

“Teleworking is a constant requirement from candidates,” said David Dion, founding partner of Montreal-based recruiter Groupe RP. “People want to go to the office when they feel like it. Employees like having access to an office but don’t want to be forced into it every day.”

Headhunter Ambre-Océane Lavesque recalls the case of a computer developer who was recently hired by an unidentified Canadian telecom company. Although the employee, who lived a 90-minute drive from the office, signed an agreement that he would work remotely all the time, he was subsequently asked to come into the office once a month.

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“It was a deal-breaker,” said Lavesque, head of talent recruitment and retention at Anywr, a Paris-based recruitment agency specializing in immigration and expatriate relocation. “Three weeks later, the person had left the company.”

In addition to telework, the benefits now regularly include things like gym membership cards, money for working from home or sick pay, say recruiters such as Laurin, Nanni and Starenkyj. Some companies also offer unlimited vacation time and the opportunity to work abroad for a few weeks a year.

“Now more than ever, candidates are asking for more things,” says Laurin. “People are encouraged. They know they have the bigger end of the stick.”

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Funny Nanni: “If you’ve been with the same company for three years, you’re now underpaid. The best way to get a raise today is to change jobs.”

Winner in Cancellation/Swap Game

A Montreal data analyst with 18 months of experience specializing in business intelligence accepted an offer to work elsewhere and informed his manager. The employer responded with a counteroffer that increased the employee’s salary from $60,000 to $90,000. The employee stopped.

A Montreal-based executive was recruited by another company for a managerial position. His new employer even announced the hiring in an internal email to company employees. Barely two weeks before the manager was due to start his new role, he contacted the company and said he was turning down the position because he had found a new job opportunity elsewhere.

A candidate for an executive position went through the entire interview process with a company that made him a job offer that gave him everything he wanted. Instead of signing with the company, the candidate informed his potential employer that he had decided to change careers completely and become an entrepreneur.

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