Overcoming Salary Expectation Challenges – Your Guide to Securing Top Talent


In today’s job market, recruiters and employers often find themselves facing a challenging dilemma: they’ve identified the perfect candidate for a job opening, but the candidate’s salary expectations exceed the allocated budget. This situation is increasingly common, given the dynamics of a rapidly changing labor market influenced by factors such as the unemployment rate and the ongoing “war for talent.” In this article, we will explore strategies for addressing this challenge while keeping in mind the latest data from reliable sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Current Job Market Landscape

Before delving into strategies for handling candidates with high salary expectations, it’s important to understand the broader context of the job market. With the implementation of the IIJA (Infrastructure Bill) passed on Nov. 15, 2021. We have started to see a massive upswing in funding for projects in the public sector. This has led to recent record-breaking unfulfilled job openings in the construction sector topping out at over 650,000. Despite some cooling in certain areas of construction, the Dodge Momentum Index indicates that the construction market is still operating at high levels historically resulting in a very high demand for workers and a low unemployment rate. Dodge momentum index

Unemployment Rate:

The unemployment rate is a critical factor in understanding the dynamics of the job market. A lower unemployment rate typically signifies a tighter job market, meaning there are fewer job seekers available to fill vacant positions. As of August 2023, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of around 3.8%, down significantly from the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and closer to reflecting the low unemployment rates that we were seeing pre-pandemic.

Unemployment chart

The “War for Talent”:

The “war for talent” refers to the intense competition among organizations to attract and retain highly skilled employees. In a tight job market, where skilled workers are in high demand, candidates often have more leverage when negotiating salaries and benefits. In a recent poll we asked construction hiring managers; how much of a salary increase is reasonable to get a great candidate? The response was overwhelming, with 372 individuals participating in the survey. Here are the results: A) < 10% = 3% B) 11%-15% = 31% C) 16% – 20% = 33% D) > 20% = 33% 

poll results 5456465464

The results are quite interesting. While a small percentage of respondents believe that a salary increase of less than 10% is reasonable, the majority of hiring managers (67%) are willing to offer a salary increase of at least 11% to attract a great candidate. It is not surprising that more than half of the respondents (66%) are willing to offer a salary increase in the range of 16% – 20%. With the competition for skilled construction professionals on the rise, it makes sense for companies to offer higher salaries to attract top talent. What is surprising, however, is that one-third of hiring managers are willing to offer a salary increase of more than 20%. This indicates that some companies are willing to go to great lengths to secure the best candidates for their team. Perhaps the two biggest factors driving up salaries are; the talent vacuum the industry is facing coupled with inflation and higher interest rates. We are seeing companies capitalize on sponsoring visas for more international (non-US citizens employees) to help fill many of these management gaps. We believe that this trend will continue as the US infrastructure market continues to attract more foreign companies to invest in US Infrastructure construction and forecast it to be a sound investment for the future. With that, we are seeing more and more foreign construction professionals, so much so that for many in construction now this is commonplace.

Strategies for Addressing High Salary Expectations

Given the current job market landscape, recruiters and employers must be prepared to navigate salary negotiations effectively when faced with candidates whose salary expectations exceed the budget. Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Transparent Communication: Open and honest communication is key. Discuss your budget constraints with the candidate early in the hiring process. Explain that while you value their skills and experience, there are limitations on what the organization can offer.
  2. Emphasize Total Compensation: Highlight the comprehensive benefits package your organization provides, which may include health insurance, retirement plans, flexible work arrangements, or professional development opportunities. Sometimes, candidates are willing to compromise on salary if they see substantial non-monetary benefits.
  3. Performance-Based Pay: Consider structuring compensation packages with performance-based incentives. This approach allows candidates to earn higher salaries as they achieve specific goals or milestones, aligning their compensation with their contributions to the company’s success.
  4. Offer Career Advancement: Emphasize the opportunities for career growth and advancement within your organization. Talented candidates may be willing to accept a lower initial salary if they see a clear path to higher-paying positions in the future.
  5. Market Research: Conduct thorough market research to ensure your salary offers are competitive within your industry and geographic location. If you find that your budget constraints are significantly below market rates, you may need to revisit your compensation structure.
  6. Negotiate Creatively: Explore creative ways to meet the candidate’s financial needs, such as signing bonuses, stock options, or additional paid time off. These options can sweeten the deal without significantly impacting your base salary budget.
  7. Flexibility: Be willing to be flexible within reason. Sometimes, a small compromise can bridge the gap between your budget and the candidate’s expectations.


Navigating salary negotiations with candidates whose salary expectations exceed your budget is a common challenge in today’s job market, particularly during periods of low unemployment and the ongoing “war for talent.” By adopting a strategic and transparent approach, emphasizing non-monetary benefits, and considering creative solutions, employers can often secure top talent even when faced with budget constraints. It’s important to continually monitor market conditions, stay competitive, and be adaptable in your compensation strategies to attract and retain the best candidates for your organization’s success. (Note: Be sure to consult the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other reputable sources for the latest information on unemployment rates and labor market trends.)


Taylor Maurer

Taylor Maurer

Taylor is a seasoned professional with a strong background in heavy civil construction and recruiting. He began their career in 2004 at Kimmel & Associates and rose through the ranks to Vice President. Taylor achieved numerous accolades, including a record-breaking retainer agreement, C-level placements, and consistent high billing performance. In 2017, he founded HCRC Inc., offering a range of consulting services beyond recruitment. Taylor is also an avid adventurer and family person, with a passion for long-distance backpacking, motorcycle riding, and outdoor activities.