Google job offers don't include fast financial windfall

Instead of stock options, new hires get 'Google Stock Units'

Taking a job at search engine vendor Google is no longer seen as a quick path to wealth for most new employees.

Prize hires are still granted high salaries and large grants of restricted stock known as Google Stock Units (GSU). But most applicants get salary offers that are below the prevailing market levels, said David Goodenough, a Seattle-based executive coach.

The high cost of living in Silicon Valley, where the vast majority of Google's job openings are located, also reduces the company's attractiveness, especially to out-of-state workers.

GSUs do have an advantage over more traditional stock options, which can become worthless if a company's stock falls. But their value is still pegged to Google's stock price, which has been moribund so far this year. It closed on Friday at $420.50, a hair under its price at the beginning of 2006, after doubling in 2005.

"Although Google options may continue to climb, candidates may prefer betting on another young start-up that is pre-IPO," said Rayna Brown, a Silicon Valley human resources consultant. Google's initial public offering occurred two years ago.

Grants of GSUs have also been reduced. For instance, earlier this year, new college graduates were only being given 25 GSUs vesting over a four-year period, according to a former Google recruiter. That is essentially six shares of Google stock per year. "When I first heard that, I thought there was a zero missing," she said. "It was nothing compared to what they were giving away a year before."

Google spokeswoman Sunny Gettinger didn't dispute the GSU figure. But she disagreed with the overall implication that Google pays workers less than other companies. "In all markets, we offer a competitive compensation package in line with the industry," Gettinger said.

"As far as I can tell, the people who are leaving Microsoft for Google are those who have wanted a change for quite some time," said an engineer at Microsoft Corp.'s office in Mountain View, Calif., who has seen a number of his co-workers jump to Mountain View-based Google.

"Google seems like a great alternative," he added, "but nobody goes there expecting to get rich anymore."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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