Once reserved strictly for the upper echelon of corporate management, the hiring bonus is appearing increasingly often on lower rungs of the corporate ladder. Faced with an enduring and historically low unemployment rate that shows no sign of rising in the near future, companies are beginning to use the signing bonus to entice scarce qualified electrical and electronics workers.

According to the latest hiring survey by Management Recruiters International, Inc. (MRI), Cleveland, Ohio, the world's largest search and recruitment organization and subsidiary of staffing and outsourcing giant CDI Corp., Philadelphia, Pa., three out of five companies now use this approach to attract employees. Of more than 3,800 hiring executives surveyed, 58.7% said their companies use sign-on bonuses to lure mid-management and professional candidates to their companies, and nearly 94% predicted that this practice will continue or increase in the next six months.

Hiring of executive, managerial and professional people has been at record high levels since the last half of 1997, and projections for the first half of 1999 show almost no signs of weakening, according to the MRI survey. Allen Salikof, president and chief executive officer at MRI, says that a signing bonus, along with profit sharing, stock options and performance bonuses, are not only important recruiting tools, they also represent a way for companies to hold down wages.