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Example: after five years in her current job she now earns 2 weeks of sick leave plus ~3.5 weeks of traditional paid leave. In another 5 years (10 total years of service) she would have 4 weeks of paid leave and still 2 weeks of sick leave. You check references and the candidate has a great work ethic and attitude. So the vacation issue is not a red flag.
If the hiring manager really wanted this candidate, but you're not a small company where anything potentially goes, what might the options be? Executives might be able to negotiate more PTO. But what about mid-career software and civil engineers?
For a highly desired candidate for which PTO is the only issue preventing her from coming on board, what other things would you offer her? The PTO offered is a half week less than what she already earns. And in five years will 1 week less. If the candidate is typical, she might use one up to one week of sick leave per year. This means she'd in practice have only 2 weeks of paid vacation per year under the PTO system.
Are there any free semi-recent (last 5 years) leave benefits surveys that track the software and civil engineering professions? If not, how much would I need to spend to get access to that data? Free is better. But more accurate and current data is better than free.
Maybe the 15 days of PTO with no escalation isn't competitive. Although that doesn't solve the immediate issue. Even with the poor economy, some candidates can afford to be choosy. And many opt for greater work/life balance over salary.