In the February 15, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says he’s way underpaid:
I recently started a new job, and there is one other person here who does what I do. He was hired about six months before me. While he was helping me get settled, he showed me his annual benefits enrollment form as an example. It had his salary pasted all over it, and I was dismayed to find out that he makes 30% more than I do. We have the same job, the same responsibilities, and my initial assessment is that my skills and background are stronger than his. (He did have a contracting relationship with the company for some time before he was hired.)
It’s been very demoralizing to learn this so soon after starting this job, which is otherwise a good situation for me. Is there any way to handle this, besides going out and finding another job? It’s hard to be happy and effective at work knowing someone else who does the same things you do earns so much more. Thanks!
Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)
There’s an important parable in the Bible. Two guys hoeing in a field stop for a break. Abe mutters, “I can’t believe I work this hard for $5 an hour.” Isaac is stunned. “$5 an hour? I get only $3 an hour!”
Later, Isaac goes to the boss. “How come you pay Abe more than you pay me?” The boss cocks his head at Isaac: “What did I offer you to do this job?” Isaac says, “$3 an hour.” The boss leans toward him a little closer. “And what do I pay you to do this job?” Isaac shrugs his shoulders, “$3 an hour.”
“So, I’m a man of my word,” says the boss.
You have no idea why the boss pays the other guy more than he pays you. But there may be many reasons. For example, your co-worker may have been hired on a career track you’re not aware of, and he may have skills you don’t have that the boss will need later.
Your buddy may have been better at negotiating his deal than you were. Or, it may be easier to find workers today than it was six months ago. Maybe the company can’t afford to pay more now. The list of possibilities goes on.
The point is, you accepted a certain deal, and your boss is honoring it. Don’t leap to a conclusion about this. Instead, when the time comes for your first performance and salary review, I suggest you apply some of the ideas in this article: How to Perform in a Performance Review. It will help you justify your value to your boss.
In the meantime, consider how presumptuous it would be to ask your boss to pay you more, right after you accepted the deal you did. I’m not going to get into the ethics of hiring the exact same kinds of people for the exact same kinds of jobs at different rates of pay, because I have no idea whether everything is equal. Do you?
(My apologies to the Bible for mangling a good parable.)
Untangling the factors behind someone’s salary is not always as simple as it seems. Fair pay is a good thing. But jumping to conclusions is not. Have you ever found yourself earning less than the next guy doing a job similar to yours? What did you do, and what was the outcome?