Jocelyn Sparrow, 27, is a compensation analyst at a professional services firm. After studying history at university and working part time at a major bank, Jocelyn chose to go back to school full time to study human resources (HR) at the postgraduate level. She now holds some unique insight about how compensation and pay works from the employer’s perspective, something that we don’t often get a chance to hear. I met up with Jocelyn to talk about how she got to where she got to, and to get some insight into the world of compensation.
R: Tell me about your professional journey.
J: During university I worked as a customer service representative at a major bank. It was a really convenient job, the branch was near my house, it was part time with fairly flexible hours. I was able to go to school and work without any major inconveniences. When I graduated from university I continued to work at the bank full time as a customer service representative. Overall I enjoyed it there, it was challenging in different ways and I learned a lot about personal finance that I found to be incredibly useful. But I never wanted to go into the sales side of banking which is really the only career path from the branch. I started looking at other areas within the bank that I could move into and I applied to a lot of jobs. I kept finding that I wasn’t qualified for the jobs I was applying to. I started to feel pretty discouraged because my nearly six years of working at the bank suddenly didn’t seem relevant. During the process however I spoke with a lot of internal recruiters and started to get an idea of why I wasn’t getting hired. That kind of got me more interested in the human resources operations of the bank; how decisions are made, why they are made. The bank actually had a great human resources structure which further sparked my interest. I also happened to meet someone in the branch who had studied human resources and she suggested that I look into it.
Ultimately, I decided to go back to school so I enrolled in a one year postgraduate certificate in human resources management. It’s a full time program so I resigned from the bank, opened a line of credit and launched into it. I find all areas of HR to be very interesting, but when it came to the co-op component at the end of my program, I found that my experience at the bank really gave me a leg-up in the compensation and benefits side. I got an internship as a compensation analyst for six months and then networked my way into my current company.
R: How did you use your network to get your current position?
J: Like any networking, you make connections and you hope one of them will pay off. It’s almost like if you make connections intentionally, that’s not the one that’s going to pan out. I made a lot of friends at school and everyone was very supportive of each other. I made a point of making a good impression on people, I worked hard and I think people recognized that. So when my friend was hired as a benefits analyst she found out that the company was recruiting for a human resources analyst position on a three month contract and helped me get an interview. I got the position and after my contract ended I was hired as a full time compensation analyst and that’s where I am today.
R: How much of your post-secondary education have you applied to your career?
J: My undergraduate degree in history gave me the ability to read and understand documents fairly quickly, understand situations from various perspectives, how to write well, and how to think analytically and critically. It also gave me a good idea of geographical differences and trends. As for my postgrad, the compensation course I took went over the fundamentals, but it didn’t go into specifically how to analyze compensation. I learned how to do that during my internship. The co-op part of my postgrad was incredibly important.
R: What does a compensation analyst do?
J: The total rewards department at my company is responsible for the development, management, and administration of base salary, bonus, commission, benefits and rewards and recognition programs. I work on everything but benefits. I look at competitive hires by analyzing market data and internal equity to figure out what we should offer a certain candidate. I also work on larger projects, currently we’re looking at our salary structure after a series of recent mergers and acquisitions. Overall my department is responsible for the compensation plans of the company, which includes monetary and non-monetary programs.
R: Why is it important for young professionals to understand how compensation works?
J: I think it’s important because it’s very easy to focus only on base salary. Of course everyone wants to get paid as much as they possibly can for the work that they do. And everyone, everyone feels underpaid regardless of how much money they make. But keep in mind that if you work for a mid-size to large company in Canada, your company is probably paying six percent of your base salary for vacation and between nine percent and sixteen percent for your benefits. While you should definitely make the base salary the first factor you look at when addressing the compensation question, you also need to look at other factors too. Consider education reimbursement, bonus opportunities, vacation time, flexible work arrangements; your employer will have factored that into your overall cost as an employee.
You can look up compensation and benefits on Wikipedia to educate yourself on it a little bit. This can prepare you to ask the right questions and then better understand your pay. Remember that total rewards is the total value you receive from your company in exchange for the work that you do there.
R: Is there any way young professionals can check if they’re getting compensated adequately?
J: Be careful if you look online. You’ll probably come across self-reported websites with a wide range of salaries. You’ll probably find different answers on different websites, you might find information that’s five years old or from a totally different part of the continent. If you look online you need to try and find recent information from people working at a similar company to yours, in a similar location to yours, with a similar role to yours, which can be very difficult. Keep in mind that you don’t know why the person who reported a salary online is paid what they’re paid. You don’t know about their level of experience or expertise. Also remember that companies don’t only rely on market data to determine compensation, there are many other factors. For example, a competitive job market means that salaries can be lower whereas a market that is trying to attract talent will offer higher salaries. Take everything you read online with a grain of salt. I wouldn’t recommend using the information you find on self-reported sites for salary negotiation. Your manager might be a better resource to discuss any compensation concerns. It’s definitely tough for emerging professionals to understand why they’re paid what they’re paid, but it’s worth asking if you have someone you can trust in your company.
R: Do you recommend other young professionals consider a career in human resources?
J: Definitely. Human resources is an interesting field and there are always jobs. If the economy is doing well, there are HR jobs, if the economy is doing poorly there are HR jobs. There is also a lot of breadth in terms of what you can do with it. If you go into HR you don’t automatically become an HR manager, there are many other options.
If you’re interested in a postgraduate program like the one Jocelyn did, check it out online. An Ontario College Graduate Certificate in human resources is widely offered, relatively affordable, and can launch your career in a whole new direction. Also remember to look beyond your salary when analyzing your own compensation. There are lots of behind-the-scenes benefits to being an employee that you will want to consider.