Show Me the Money

With tech companies faltering, some workers are hitting pay dirt in these five unexpected sectors. 

If you wanted big compensation for a few years of work, the answer used to be obvious: head to tech companies. Millions have followed this advice in the years since the pandemic, signing eye-catching equity-share and bonus agreements. But all that has mostly vanished, says Bradford Frank, senior client partner in the Technology practice at Korn Ferry. “The giddy days are over.” 

That is, unless you work in… the oil industry?

As we’ve reported, the tech industry has experienced waves of layoffs and flatlining compensation packages, as well as plummeting stock prices, which have wiped out as much as 30% of the value of many employee stock options. But even in this economy, experts say, greener pastures are emerging for those still seeking strong paydays—they’re just not in the fields workers might expect. Here’s what experts are seeing.

Oil and Gas, Life Sciences & Automotive

The companies that literally power the world continue to be good places to find strong compensation. Oil and gas alone posted record profits in 2022, creating strong cash flows for operations—and employees. The hefty paychecks in all three sectors typically combine salary + bonus + long-term incentives. Each category is fueled by consistent business models that don’t depend on advertising or clickbait, though higher compensation can be found in the data-driven departments and companies that compete with tech firms for talent. “Look for firms from the blue-chip stocks that haven’t taken wild swings,” says Deepali Vyas, global head of the FinTech, Payments, and Crypto practice at Korn Ferry—then dig for those that are offering pensions or great long-term incentives.

Professional Services

Top law, accounting, and consulting firms continue to offer hefty paychecks, typically via lucrative salary and bonus agreements. But stick to public companies, because private partnerships generally don’t share equity below the partner level, says Juan Pablo González, sector leader for professional services at Korn Ferry. Compensation remains high because these companies are competing for talent while withstanding annual turnover of 15% to 18%. “If they cut back for a moment, they’ll go to the back of the line on talent,” says González. 

Supply Chain

Experts in procurement and supplier sourcing are particularly sought after, as the COVID-era strains on global supply chains continue to impact businesses. “It’s like recruiting NBA players,” says David Vied, global sector leader for medical devices and diagnostics at Korn Ferry, who routinely sees cash compensation offers doubled for executives with skill and experience. Pay is high because hiring is a challenge; most people in the field have been trained only in one or two functional disciplines, such as procurement or manufacturing. “It is like putting together puzzle pieces, but somebody hid the box with the finished picture,” says Seth Steinberg, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. Yet the roles are pivotal to the entire business.     

Not-for-Profits and Government

No one thinks of mission-driven or government organizations as high-paying employers, but they can be: corners of the nonprofit world, including philanthropic organizations and foundations, consistently provide hefty salaries. Experts say to pay close attention to the benefits these organizations wield to compete for talent, including lucrative savings programs, such as 401(k) matching, and valuable health care. Benefit packages on job sites, which can easily be overshadowed by salary listings, also can offer unexpected incentives. And then there are pensions. “If you’re disillusioned by tech,” says Vyas, “consider a regulatory role.” Compensation will be lower, she notes, but long-term benefits like pensions can “still be paying you into your nineties.”

Organizations Offering Free Tuition

If you or your children are attending an institution of higher education, then free or subsidized tuition is one of the most valuable benefits around. It’s offered by organizations as varied as Starbucks, Walmart, and universities. “Don’t underestimate it,” says Tom McMullen, senior client partner in the ESG and Inclusive Rewards practice at Korn Ferry. Depending on your family’s requirements, a tuition benefit can effectively double your compensation.