Industries Facing Labor Shortages Are Offering Signing Bonuses to Attract Workers -- but There's a Catch

A woman asking a man questions in a job interview in a casual office setting.

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The coronavirus pandemic has had a lot of side effects, but one many failed to predict was the astonishing migration of workers from a number of important -- but consistently undervalued -- industries.

Reasons abound, in retrospect -- mass layoffs and increased unemployment gave many workers the time (and money) to move to better-paying jobs. Others have been forced to look for other work due to health concerns from COVID-19 and a customer base that is, by many accounts, increasingly aggressive, rude, and at times even violent.

Whatever the reasons, employers are desperately looking for everything from food service and retail workers to teachers and bus drivers. Not only is this positively affecting wages, but many employers are actually offering cash signing bonuses to lure workers.

Bonuses from $200 to $15,000 or more

The type and size of the bonus new employees can score varies a lot by industry. Fast food workers, for example, are likely to find bonuses in the three-figure range, with some McDonald's franchises offering $200 to $400 bonuses to new hourly employees.

Education workers are also in demand. Teachers and school bus drivers willing to brave exposure to maskless children can earn an extra $1,500 to $6,000 or more, depending on location. Meanwhile, home healthcare workers can get $15,000 or more.

Minimum employment terms required

In the same way credit card sign-up bonuses work, there's usually a catch. Credit cards typically require you to spend a certain amount on your new card to earn the bonus. For new hire bonuses, it's time, not money, that you have to commit.

Most companies offering bonuses to new employees require that you keep your job for a set period before you earn the cash (six months is common, especially in hourly roles).

Some companies may have additional restrictions, such as not missing a work day or reaching a specific quota. If you fail to meet the requirements, you forfeit the signing bonus.

Don't forget to negotiate

Signing bonuses and salary boosts are a great thing to see. Wages have been stagnant for many years, with the federal minimum wage unchanged since 2009. More than two dozen states have a minimum wage at or below the federal level (though the federal minimum overrides these laws), so this has impacted millions of workers.

It's rare that employees have this kind of power, so it's worth putting it to work (pun intended). If an employment offer seems low, counter with a more acceptable offer. You can also think beyond the paycheck while negotiating a new job -- maybe you want a better schedule or additional vacation days. You never know what you might get unless you ask.

Make sure to look up your state's minimum wage so you know where to start your salary negotiations. And it's also a good idea to do a little research into what similar jobs pay in your local area -- and how many openings there are. The more in-demand a job, the stronger your negotiating power. Knowing your worth is a big part of success.

One thing to keep in mind is the timing of your request. Don't open an interview with a demand for more money. Most employers bring up pay later on in an interview, especially if they think it's going well. That's the time to discuss expectations -- both the company's and your own.

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