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JobStats - Frequently Asked Questions

Table Of Contents

1. General

Q 1.1 - Where do you get the information

I get the information from the text of adverts published on internet job sites.

Q 1.2 - How do you get the statistics from the adverts

I parse the text using a perl script. The adverts are usually partially categorised by skill, location, rate, etc. but, inevitably, there's a fair bit of work needed to get meaningful information out of the text of adverts. I have a long list of words that I ignore (such as the, it and if), the idea is that these can't be valid skills. I ignore any words that don't appear more than a certain number of times and I apply (programmed) intelligence to recognize synonyms and phrases.

Q 1.3 - How often does the site get updated

The site is refreshed once a week, early on Sunday morning. You shouldn't notice any downtime even if you are surfing then. The expiry date on the pages is set to be a week after they are created so that you should get the latest page when you point your browser at it but try reloading if it doesn't look right.

Q 1.4 - Where can I find a job

There are many sites on the web specialising in job adverts, I have links to them from the job listings page.

2. Links

Q 2.1 - Can I link to your site

Yes, though I'd rather you didn't link to the graphs directly but to the pages. If you let me know your site I'll add a link back to your site (see below).

Q 2.2 - Could you put a link to my site on JobStats

Yes, if you send me the URL and a brief description I'll add the URL to the appropriate page. I can't guarantee that your site will be added but I'm keen to have a useful set of links so it should be added fairly promptly. I don't promise to use your description verbatim but I will make reasonable adjustments to the text if you send me an email explaining what's wrong.

3. Services

Q 3.1 - Can I use your figures on my site

Yes, please quote the source of the data and give a link back, otherwise feel free to use the data how you like.

Q 3.2 - Can I have a regular feed of the data from JobStats

Yes, if you send me the email address that you would like the information sent to then I will add you to the list of recipients. The data will come in the form of a fragment of HTML that you can embed in your web page. It will be produced regularly, once a week, and emailed to you.

Things you can do with the summary page

  • You can embed this HTML fragment in your site with your logo etc at the top and bottom.
  • You can change the fonts and colours and you can add a background image to the page.
The general idea is that you can make the page fit in with the general style of your site.

Things you cannot do with the summary page

  • Do not remove the link to the JobStats site or the message stating where the information has come from.
  • Do not change the numbers.
The general idea is that JobStats gets the credit (and hopefully some extra hits) and that any errors in the data are my fault.

A sample page

You can see an example of how the page might look here

The good news

This is a free service.

4. Agents

Q 4.1 - What is the normal way of stating an agency's margin

There is no definitive answer to this. If the contract is paying 40 pounds per hour and an agent is receiving 50 pounds per hour then the agent is taking 10 pounds but is this 10 out of 50 or 20% or is it 10 on top of 40 or 25%. The answer depends on what spin you want to put on it, the agency will want to quote the smaller figure and the contractor will want to quote the larger figure. Each party has a different perspective on the number - the agent wants to present it as a modest compensation for the work done to find the contract and the contractor wants to present it as an extortionate levy on his or her labour. Pick your own point of view. In this FAQ I use the proportion of the total contract value not the proportion of the contractor's share.

Q 4.2 - What margin do agencies usually charge

Unfortunately I can only offer anecdotal evidence on this topic. Some bigger clients have a policy of limiting an agent's margin to 15%. I have heard of agents taking as much as 20% and I have been offered as low as 11.5% by an agent during a contract renegotiation. There is some figure below which the agent genuinely cannot go - they have costs too.

People have suggested that first-time contractors are likely to get the worst margins (where the agent gets a large proportion of the fee). In one particularly outrageous case the agent was taking 40% with 20% being suggested as a more usual figure. I would suggest that these relatively high fees are being charged because the first-time contractors are not yet experienced enough to negotiate a better figure.

Another area where a high proportion of the contract value will go to the agent is if there is more than one agency between you and the end client. If there are two agencies and each wants a 15% margin then the total share of the contract that will go to agents is 32% (1.15 x 1.15 = 1.32).

The best margins (where the agent gets a small proportion of the fee) are likely to be obtained for extensions to existing contracts. Here the agent has already done the hard work of finding the job and matching the two parties and the justification for a large margin is harder to find. Also you will have direct contact with the end client and so you'll have better information about what the agent is really charging. I have been told of agents only taking 4% on long-term contracts but I think that this is the exception rather that the rule.

If you have any thoughts on this (or if you would like to tell me the margin on your current contract so I can improve this answer) please contact me at the feedback address below.

Q 4.3 - What can a contractor do to keep the agency margin 'reasonable'

The best way to keep the number low is to ask how big it is. Try to find out the price the customer is paying. If you are negotiating over a new contract you might find it difficult to do this as you won't be able to discuss it with your new project manager over a beer after work yet. Once you've been in-post for a few months though you might find that they will tell you what they are paying the agent.

The key points to remember when you are negotiating are:

  • The client wants to pay as little as possible
  • The contractor and the agent both want the client to pay as much as possible
  • The agent cares more about an extra 1% than the contractor does. If the agent is taking 11% rather than 10% then they are getting 10% more money.
  • The person who is most desparate will come off worst. If you really, really need the job try not to let the other parties be aware of it. You should never lie but you don't have to tell everybody every detail of your circumstances.
  • The contractor is strongest when changing from one job to another. You've already got a job so you only lose the difference between the old and new job; the agent loses the whole of the fee.
  • Don't forget that the agent has done a job of work in arranging the deal and bringing the parties together. This work needs paying for. I think of agents as a distributed sales force for my company and the agency fee as the cost of sales.
  • Also be aware that the agent has costs (invoice factoring, offices, staff, phone bills). This means that there is a limit on how little they can take before they are making a loss on the contract.

5. Rates

Q 5.1 - How should I interpret the rate information

The information on rates given here should be interpreted cautiously. Firstly most adverts don't quote rates and so the figures are based on a necessarily small sample - especially so when you look at the rates for each skill. Secondly there is a slight bias towards the lower end of rates because public sector and academic jobs almost always quote rates whereas commercial jobs don't always - this affects the annual rates. There is a counteracting bias in that the adverts are placed by agents who are trying to get you to respond; they will generally quote a figure at the high end of what can be achieved.

The most important point is that the only way that you can find out what you're worth is to go into the market and see what someone will offer you. These pages may suggest that your skills are worth 100 pounds per hour but if the job offers that you receive are only offering 20 pounds then, sorry, but that is what your skills are really worth.

The rate information is extracted from that small proportion of adverts which quote rates and so for seldom-requested skills rate information is based on a small subset of an already small sample. For these skills the figures shown will be volatile and not as reliable as for the more popular skills. Also note that the hourly rate information applies pretty much solely to contract jobs and there are currently about three times as many permanent jobs advertised as contracts so, again, the hourly rates are based on a smaller sample than the annual rates.

To some extent the market for computing skills is a commodity market in that people with common skill sets are largely interchangeable at the time they are being interviewed. But two C++ programmers, for instance, are not identical and the client can distinguish between them by giving a test of their knowledge of the language and then hiring the one with the highest score. This partially explains the spread of rates. Another part of the explanation is that the rates given in adverts are not purely for a single skill but are for a basket of skills in a range of locations.

Q 5.2 - Why do the rates for foreign locations seem too high / low

The majority of adverts which quote rates do not specify the currency in which the rate is quoted. Since the bulk of adverts are in the UK this does not skew the data too much. However if the job advertised is in a foreign country sometimes the rate is quoted in pounds and sometimes in the foreign currency. This obviously skews the figures (typically upwards since most foreign currencies exchange at several to the pound). You can sometimes spot that this is happening by looking at the histogram showing the distribution of rates being paid: if there is a double peak or if the high end of rates just keeps on going without a visible tailing off.

Q 5.3 - How can I use the rates information to judge if I'm getting paid enough

The figures shown for most rates have a wide range. I would advise you not to try to decide whether you should be in the top 25 percent or the top 10 percent but simply to find where you fell the last time you got a pay rise and see how the rates at that level have moved since then. This has the added advantage of distancing you from any bias in the rates and allowing you to focus on the change in levels which is subject to much less bias. To decide whether you should be paid at the top 10 percent level you should either compare yourself to candidates that you see for positions in your current organisation or, better, see if you can get some other employer/client to offer you a job at that level. Remember that adverts almost never ask for a single skill, they usually ask for a basket of skills and the rate quoted is for the whole basket not just C++ or Java on their own.

Q 5.4 - How can I use the rates information when I'm negotiating my pay

When you are negotiating your next pay rise you need to construct a story to show that you deserve more money. You can use the information on these pages to show how the market for your skills has moved since your last pay rise. Of course you can be selective - you don't have to talk about those skills that you have for which rates have gone down. Remember too that current average pay levels are only appropriate if you were on average pay the last time your pay went up; if you were at the top end of the pay scale last time you should look at what has happened to rates at that level. The most convincing argument remains another job offer - it also means that you can be more forceful when you are negotiating because you can always accept the other offer if your current employer/client doesn't make you a suitable offer.

Q 5.5 - How should I compare hourly rates with annual rates

As a rule of thumb you can convert hourly rates to annual by multiplying by 2000. There are roughly 2000 working hours in a year (assuming you take 4 weeks holiday plus two weeks of bank holidays and work a 44 hour week you get (52 - 4 - 2) x 44 = 2024). So, for instance a 35 pound per hour rate is equivalent to an annual salary of 70,000 pounds per year. The Office of National Statistics reports that most people worked a 38 hour week last year (2000); if you feel you usually do fewer hours than 44, it's probably still easier to multiply by 2000 and then subtract 10 or 15 percent.

Q 5.6 - How should I compare a permanent job with a contract

When comparing permanent and contract jobs you must also consider the benefits you get from a permanent job. These might include

  • death-in-service benefits
  • sick pay
  • a pension
  • a car
  • health insurance
  • bonus
  • shares/options
  • paid holiday (though this is accounted for above by using a 46 week year)
  • training (though contractors sometimes get sent on training courses too)
If you are trying to decide between contracting and a permanent post take the time to work out the value of these benefits. A financial adviser can tell you how much it would cost you per year to buy them.

You also need to consider the costs of running a limited company. These will include

  • employer's liability insurance
  • accountancy fees
  • the cost of your time to run the company
  • employer's national insurance (if you are covered by IR35)

There are some intangible benefits from each way of working. You might enjoy the sense of independence and greater freedom that comes from a contract role. In a permanent job you might feel that your job is more secure than in a contract. My personal feeling is that job security comes mostly from having skills that are needed and from doing good work. It is certainly easier to get rid of a contractor though. A recent (as of 8th October 2001) court ruling found that contractors aren't entitled to employment rights even if they are treated as employees for tax purposes.

6. Graphs

Q 6.1 - What do the rolling average graphs mean

The rolling average graphs show the level of demand in the market. They are graphs of the index number which is derived from the number of adverts seen on each day. Each day's advert count is scaled by a constant factor to produce the index. This allows new sources of adverts to be added without getting jumps in the index. The graphs don't show the number of job adverts but they move up and down as the number of adverts move.

The figures used are the averages taken over a number of days. (see below). This is to smooth out the day-to-day variation and to make any longer-term trends visible. The maximum and minimum levels over the averaging period are also shown.

Q 6.1 - What do the proportion graphs mean

The proportion graphs show one figure as a proportion of another (usually the total count of jobs on the corresponding day). This allows you to see the changes in demand without the trends being obscured by seasonal factors (Christmas is always a quiet time) or by wider movements in the market as a whole which are caused by wider economic factors (such as recessions or dot-com booms).

The proportions of rare skills (for instance) will be more volatile than those of more popular ones. This is simply because we are comparing a small number with a large one and so any change will make a big difference in the proportion. So for instance if there are typically 50 adverts per day for Darjeeling (a new language to replace Java ;-) programmers and one day there are 55 adverts it might look as though there is a ten percent growth in demand when actually all that happened was that a client asked 5 agents to find a Tea programmer and they all advertised. The normal variation in the number of adverts will result in bigger changes in the proportion of adverts. The same effect causes the swings in demand when the total number of adverts is reduced (such as at Christmas).

Q 6.3 - What do the rate trend graphs mean

The rate trend graphs show the changes in the rates quoted in job adverts. Each day a histogram of rates is built (see below) and the median, upper and lower quartiles and the upper decile values are calculated. The changes in these values are then plotted.

Q 6.4 - What do the rate histograms mean

The rate histograms show the distribution of rates quoted in job adverts. Each day every advert which quotes a rate is analysed and the rate is assigned to a bucket (eg 25-30 pounds per hour, or 30-35). This gives the number of adverts offering a rate in each bucket.

Because there is not much data available about rates (see above) the daily histograms are consolidated to give a single histogram for the preceding few days (see below). The median value quoted (for instance) is therefore not the median rate for that day but is the median rate for the preceding period.

A. Parameters

A.1. what is the averaging period for the figures

The figures are averaged over a 20 day window.


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