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The Three Buckets of Compensation

There are three buckets of compensation for every job.

Posted on 2020 July 31

An illustration of the three buckets of compensation. The bucket of financial compensation is a nice wooden bucket with a sack of money and precious gems inside. The bucket of experience is a metal bucket containing rolled up blueprints, pencils, a brush, a wrench, and a paintbrush. The bucket of networking is a popcorn bag containing a cell phone, a glass of beer, and happy comedy masks.

Every job pays in more than just money, I find that every job has three buckets of compensation.

It doesn’t matter if it’s skilled labor or just a part-time job to cover the bills, the buckets are always present.

Breaking compensation into the buckets helps to compartmentalize and guide thinking when self-analyzing. Sorting experience at work into these buckets helps to determine what is going right and what is going wrong.

In addition to the overall theme, each bucket has sub-sections and specific things that fall into it.

When thinking about fair compensation, always consider the three buckets of compensation.

  • Bucket of Financial Compensation - “What do I get?”
  • Bucket of Experience - “What do I know?”
  • Bucket of Networking - “Who do I know?”

As a side note, this is a speech I give pretty often as a fun thought experiment.

Bucket of Financial Compensation

“In exchange for my time and effort, what do I get?”

πŸ’ΈπŸ’Έ This one is money! πŸ’ΈπŸ’Έ

The first bucket is the Bucket of Financial Compensation and in many ways, it is the single most important bucket.

This bucket is how we handle our upkeep. Everyone must find a source of this, or they can’t afford food or a place to live.

This bucket evokes competition because of its proximity to survival.

This bucket is not just money, and is made up of many different things:

  • Money - All of us need this, it’s how we buy things
  • Time Off - Remember: We work to live, not live to work
  • Perks - Free lunch, free transportation, discounts on company products
  • Relocation Assistance - Visa sponsorship and home moving assistance
  • Tuition Assistance and Training - This is closely tied to the 2nd bucket, but when it costs money, it is still a part of financial compensation

On Money

Everyone needs to eat. Money is often the single most important factor on a job.

This is true to the point that everything else in this bucket can be ignored. Honestly even the other two buckets can be ignored if someone’s economic prospects are especially bad.

For example, I didn’t have any offer of paid vacation time when I worked my part-time job back in high school, but I wanted the money and the schedule worked for me.

Bucket of Experience

“Which talents and specialties do I have?”


The second bucket is the entirely internal Bucket of Experience. It is the sum of all skills, specialties, and expertise developed directly as a result of working.

For learning, work-study, and internship positions, this bucket is the primary focus.

This bucket can easily be maxed out in a position with little variety. This is usually the bucket that people have to seek to fill on their own through self-education or returning to school part-time.

It comes in many flavors: Fulfillment, Hard Skills, and Soft Skills.


“Is this what I was put on the Earth to do?”

This bucket is the measure of how worthwhile the work feels. Does it allow us to feel creatively and emotionally fulfilled, as if we are living up to our potential and finally doing the right thing with our lives?

Hard Skills

“What valuable things can I do?”

Hard Skills are technical knowledge that build the core competency in our work. This is anything from knowing how to tie knots to the correct way to install parts on cars.

This is the sum of skilled and unique knowledge that only comes with an individual position.

It can be further sorted into transferable and non-transferable.


“Will my knowledge be useful everywhere?”

The Transferable subset consists of the skills that build your core knowledge and capability. These skills are independently valuable and can be used as the foundation for your success, and even the success of an entire business.

  • How to program a website
  • How to write blueprints or designs
  • How to balance a budget
  • How to install electrical wire or water pipes
  • How to paint

This bucket also includes trade secrets, such as tricks that produce a lot of quality for a small amount of effort, or the best places to buy materials for a project.


“What tricks and guidelines have I learned to make my current position as easy and productive as possible?”

The Non-Transferable subset consists of the skills that are helpful for success in your current position, but will not directly transfer to an equivalent spot somewhere else.

These can be things that everyone will need to do at some point or another, like applying for sick leave, but represent the fine details of how something is done in the current position. These can change pretty often as well, as companies apply new policies or change systems like time reporting.

Emphasis on “current”.

  • How do I find and create work tickets?
  • How can I communicate with my teammates? - ex: email, slack, sms
  • Where does a tool go in a specific area?
  • What is the process for reporting time off?

Soft Skills

“How do I conduct myself to maximize myself as a contributor or a leader?”

This subset is the sum of how you conduct yourself and influence the people around you. These are skills that form core professional competencies that can be applied to any line of work.

  • How do I prioritize my work?
  • Which habits make people in my role especially effective?
  • How do professional people in my trade talk? How do they describe problems or solutions?
  • What is the lingo of my trade? / How do I “talk shop”?
  • How do I make a compelling argument?
  • How do I make a compelling argument using data?
  • How do I make an engaging presentation?

Bucket of Networking

“Who do I know that will endorse me and my skillset as a good teammate or expert of my craft?”


The third and final bucket is the Bucket of Networking. It represents the value of the ever expanding and contracting web of interpersonal connections. This bucket is the passing confirmation from a former teammate or customer of the quality of your work. It represents the reputation between you and your coworkers and customers.

This bucket is present in every kind of job, as we will always have a customer or boss that we will need to communicate with.

This bucket will open many doors that may have otherwise been hard or impossible to open.

Also keep in mind that some aspects of the second bucket will affect this one. If you’re competent in your field, that reputation will proceed you, and it will work here to create new opportunities that may have otherwise been unavailable.

In most of my role searches and changes, this bucket alone has been responsible for getting me considered for a position.

The Bucket of Networking comes in a lot of different flavors:

  • Friendship - People who you love and want to spend more time with
  • Mentorship - People who you learn valuable skills from by observing or working directly with them, and/or exemplify values that you want to see in yourself
  • Professional - People who will help you advance in your career and find new projects, opportunities, and jobs

This bucket also includes exposure, since it can get your work and expertise in front of potential clients.

Other Questions to Consider

  • Which bucket is most important to me?
  • How much time do I get to spend outside of work, where I am not engaging or thinking about work (work-life balance)?
  • How often does menial, hard, or generally stupid shit become my responsibility?
  • Is my job easy or hard?
  • Do I feel adequately productive?
  • Do I get compensated fairly for my work?
  • Do people at my level of experience get compensated more in some way?
  • Do people who get paid more than me know more than me or work harder than me?
  • Can I chase better compensation?
  • Am I willing to move?

Closing Thoughts

  1. Always keep your “plan” in mind.
    • Where do you see yourself in 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years?
  2. If you take on more responsibility, also get more compensation in at least one of these buckets.
    • Otherwise DON"T DO IT.
  3. Never under-value yourself, always fight for what you deserve.

It’s not always possible to fill all three buckets. Compromise and managing expectations are a big part of success and satisfaction. Don’t let jealousy or “should have” thoughts affect your happiness. Never stop improving yourself.

Take care, see ya!


Thank you for reading!

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