Last week we published the largest Compliance Jobs Report ever, with two dozen compliance professionals moving into new companies or new roles across a range of industries and geographic locations. That was great news, but also surreal — falling on the same day that we saw unemployment jump to 14.7 percent in the United States, with 20.8 million jobs disappearing in April. 

Without question, at least some compliance professionals were among that 20.8 million. First, Covid-19 has caused an economic crisis among retail, hospitality, and other sectors. Second, the crash in oil prices has hammered the energy sector, which has been a mainstay of compliance employment for years. So that’s a double whammy hitting the profession at once. 

Still, at least some compliance officers are getting new jobs, because the Compliance Jobs Report keeps coming out week after week. Two months ago I truly believed I might need to scale back the report to something monthly or even less — but that’s not happening; at least, not yet. 

Part of the Radical Compliance mission is to help compliance professionals with career development as much as a newsletter can. So given the confusing signals here, I called up Steve Harrison, a partner at Conselium Compliance Search, who places compliance officers. My question: what’s up with the job market these days? 

You can hear a podcast of our full conversation (17 minutes) at the top of this post. Meanwhile, some of our main points are below.

Job Market Frozen, Not Wrecked

The good news is that the compliance job market hasn’t disintegrated. Rather, many companies have paused their recruiting of compliance professionals for the next few months while they find their economic bearings. 

The hope, Harrison says, is that a thaw will come in the second half of the year as business models stabilize, and compliance hiring might even accelerate by the end of the year if the covid threat recedes. 

That’s not much comfort to unemployed compliance professionals right now, I know. This field has enjoyed brisk employment demand for a decade (“bulletproof” was the word Harrison used), so even a pause can feel jolting and tumultuous. And assuming that compliance hiring does accelerate again as we go into 2021 — a big if — we’ll be starting from a low level. 

Regardless, that’s not the same as companies abolishing compliance functions outright, with all compliance staff relocated to the curb. 

Some Hiring Is Still Happening 

Harrison says he still sees relatively steady recruitment for compliance jobs in the healthcare, pharma, and life sciences sectors. That’s not surprising, given that healthcare and pharma are so highly regulated, and life sciences firms are already used to operating for years without seeing any revenue. It also jibes with what I see anecdotally in the Compliance Jobs Report every week.

Harrison also says “priority searches” are still happening, where a company must have a chief compliance officer on the job — usually as the result of regulatory pressure. 

For example, if a company is chest-deep in settlement talks with regulators for misconduct of some kind, and its chief compliance officer departs; that vacancy is going to get filled. Or at least, it becomes much harder for the company to argue that it has an effective compliance program and is ready for that non-prosecution agreement without someone in that role.  

Another possible path to employment, or at least steady income: consulting firms. Granted, not every consulting firm is hiring. (Many are cutting jobs too, I’m sure.) But there are a lot of small compliance consulting firms, and as corporations cut full-time jobs in favor of cheaper substitutes, those consulting firms will try to pick up the business. 

You do need a certain constitution to work as a consultant, potentially with more travel or working on a fixed contract — but hey, a job is a job. 

One last area of potential activity: lower-level roles, from manager down to staffer. Harrison speculates that’s because those hires can be made “under the radar,” because they’re cheaper. Also, low-level hires can actually get through a complicated, challenging interview process these days. (More on that momentarily.)

Salaries Are All Over the Place

This is one fact of compliance life that drives me nuts: compensation is all over the map. Even within one industry or among similar geographic locations, numbers vary wildly. 

For example, Salary.com says the average chief compliance officer salary in the United States these days is $235,100, with most jobs falling into a range from $192,800 to $284,900. That sounds about right to me, based on the conversations I have with compliance officers. 

But Glassdoor.com quotes an average salary of $148,450, LinkedIn tells me the median base salary is $153,000 (which is $2,000 lower than last time I checked in early May), and Payscale.com says the average salary is a piddling $119,800, plus about $25,000 in bonus and other goodies. 

My favorite example of salary strangeness, however, comes from Indeed.com. Indeed quoted the average chief compliance officer salary at $128,220 — and on the same page, also displayed a few more junior positions with higher salaries. See Figure 1, below, and tell me if I’m missing something.

CCO salaries

Source: Indeed.com

As Harrison diplomatically put it, “Any online poll or survey you see, take it with a very large grain of salt.” 

I agree. My preferred source is the Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics salary survey, which six months ago pegged the average total compensation for CCOs at $185,500, up 4.5 percent from 2017. 

But more than that headline average number, the SCCE survey includes tons of compensation data sorted by years of experience, size of company, industry sector, professional certification, and much more. It seems to be the best tool out there to benchmark your own compensation against peers most similar to you. 

Get Used to Virtual Interviews

Recruiters have done job interviews via videoconference for years now, so the idea is not new in general. But given Covid-19 and travel restrictions, we’re all likely to encounter this approach to hiring more often. 

What does that mean in practice? Harrison says candidates might now need to interview with more people across the company that’s hiring, to make up for what we lose by not meeting a candidate in person. The more people who can chat up the candidate, even only via videoconference, the more likely the company is to still arrive at the right decision. 

That also means the hiring cycle could take longer, as we schedule all those Zoom calls; and candidates might encounter more of those psychometric tests like logical games or analysis of a written text. I suppose that’s better than someone asking you to open a window they have secretly nailed shut, but still— disorienting. If any of you have encountered these tests already, drop me a line at [email protected] and let me know!

Finally, if a company already knows it wants a specific individual to fill a compliance job, the company is more likely to wait a few months and see whether in-person visits become feasible, rather than hire a second choice. So again — job market frozen, not dying. 

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