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?


  1. This is very timely for me since I have recently gone through the same scenario. After 3 years I finally received a pay increase to bring me to second in pay for the job I do. The reason? The boss was waiting for me to create a track record of profitability using the talents he believed I had when he hired me. I did.

  2. Wow, Nick! My first reaction as a woman would be to see if discrimination were at work here. Not knowing the gender or color of these two employees, it may be wrong to assume that unfairness. But here are the questions I want to ask: are both employees the same gender and color?

  3. Nick is right–you can’t assume anything other than that the boss is paying the employee what he said he would pay, albeit a salary at 30% less than another employee who does the same job but who had a contractual relationship with the employer for 6 months.

    It is possible that the boss is waiting to see if the employee “delivers”, i.e., can actually perform the job, before offering a raise. The other employee already has a track record, perhaps didn’t need as much training, etc., and thus in the boss’ mind, that justified the higher salary. It could also be economics–it is a buyer’s market these days, and employers can and do offer less in terms of salary and can still get quality workers due to the number of good workers who are unemployed.

    However, I also agree with with Addie–it could very well be discrimination, be it racial or gender or it might even be the good old fashioned buddy system–if the other employee is a relative or friend (is connected in someway to someone powerful in the company), that may “justify” the higher salary.

    The writer didn’t tell us enough. I think Nick’s response is good, and if the writer comes back with more information, then it would be interesting to hear if Nick would change his answer.

    And no, it isn’t fair, on its face, to have two people doing the same job (is it exactly the same job, or does employee #1/higher salaried employee have duties that employee #2 doesn’t have?) yet have such a disparity in salary.

  4. Of course, the filled-in portions of the form may not be true. The older co-worker may have disguised his earnings by inflating them on the form. Some folks have a driving need to be superior to others, and seeming to earn more money is one way to do that.

    You are likely to never know what the truth is, but you know what is true about yourself: you agreed to a salary you thought was appropriate. Don’t let jealousy over something that may or may not be real cloud your relationship with the coworker or the company.

    This experience is a good thing to put into the distracting memories box and get on with your new job. Think about it again when you are negotiating pay for a new job.

  5. What jumped out at me was the notation that the other person worked for a considerable period of time on contract before they were hired/went perm.
    I think a strong reason the other person received the starting pay they did is simply because the hiring manager was dealing with a known ability to deliver a value-add. And apparently that known ability had specific value.

    No matter how well you think you’re recruiting process is, a new hire is always a risk because they bring a lot of unknowns to the table. Just as the person writing did. Likely the 30% difference simply represents the difference between known ability and unfulfilled potential.

    The person said they knew what the other person was paid, but didn’t say what they were paid contractually. Plus all the other things the person didn’t know that lay beneath the surface of pay differences, the hiring manager’s pay philosophy.

    As Nick advised, meet your commitment and prepare yourself for your appraisal. All unknowns aren’t negative. It’s not unlikely the other person has set the benchmark for pay for performance & the writer would get a kicker to bring him/her into line.

    And I doubt there’s discrimination at play. If it were, & they were involved with people who think like that, the writer wouldn’t be having this conversation. They wouldn’t have been hired in the 1st place.

  6. Whether racial or sexual discrimination is at play is undetermined. But this example, in my opinion, brings up two key issues: Value-added and sales ability.

    Don noted that the other person likely provided proof of their value in their contractor role. That person might have been a better salesperson. In terms of asking for x amount of salary above the market rate based on what he/she already demonstrated as a contractor.

    Or, the other person could have had a better year. As Babe Ruth, the famous American baseball player responded when asked why he earned more than the President of the U.S.A., he said, “Because I had a better year.”

  7. Nick, I think your answer was a good one. However, I must concur with Addie – are they both of the same: gender, age, race, background?

    If the answer is no to the first three, then maybe there’s more than meets the eye here.

  8. Nick’s advice was spot on. Assuming that there was no gender, age or racial discrimination, it is perfectly legitimate for an employer to pay whatever the employee has negotiated—after all, this is a free-market system and you pay, or get paid, whatever deal you made.

    I used to work for a large organization that was obsessed with pay equity and it was almost always a bad way to manage salary scales. First of all, despite all the homages to pay equity, there were exceptions that were negotiated by various managers, which gave lie to the fairness justification. Second, it made it very difficult to take into account such factors as geography, supply and demand for certain types of skill sets, an individual’s non-quantifiable qualities (such as life experiences and future potential), etc.

    I found the system—based on the salary equity systems in use in most government agencies (that ought to tell you something right away!)—inflexible and antithetical to hiring the best people. I hated it.

  9. “Demoralizing”? I think it’s time for some cognitive reframing, why let this ruin your honeymoon? If it were me, I would see this as good news. It means that there is room to move up in salary and that you are partnered with a colleague that can teach you some things.

    I’ve been on both sides of this fence. I took a position in the finance office of a manufacturing company after spending 10 years on the shop floor. I was the only one without a college degree so I started at a lower salary than my colleagues; my employer was completely transparent about that. But my lower wage also meant that it was easier to earn merit raises.

    After a few years two of my senior colleagues quit within a few days of each other and my boss and I had to do their jobs while he searched for replacements. It took him several weeks because he was very resentful and had trouble accepting that we needed to retool. I continued to pick up the slack while the new hires trained – after one year I was spending 25 percent of my time on tasks we were supposed to share. But things were beginning to settle until our payroll clerk abruptly quit and one of the new hires took on the task – just like I had done when my colleagues quit, although…let’s just say she was less gracious about taking on the extra work. She subsequently found out what I was paid and that I did not have a degree and she made sure everyone in our department knew about it. I found myself in a hostile work environment and decided it was time to leave. Good times.

  10. While Nick has hit on some likely possibilities, not even discussing the possibility of gender, racial, or age discrimination is unrealistic. Discrimination is an enduring and well-documented phenomenon in our society. Most people do not believe that they hold stereotyped views of women and minorities, but these beliefs are normally formed and acted upon at a subconscious level. I am not saying that discrimination IS the reason, only that the possibility should not be fluffed off.

    I do not agree that discriminatory beliefs result in NO minorities or women being hired. Most employers know they need to hire a few, especially if they ARE discriminators, so as not to APPEAR discriminatory. Plus, the lower wages women and racial minorities are hired at can “make up for” the fact that they are not young, white males.

    Yes, the salary might have been tampered with before it was displayed, and therefore not even real. It may be due to superior experience, hiring a “known quantity” or the current ease in finding employees. It is probably due to superior negotiating skills, at least in part— here I completely agree with Nick.

    Yes, if even real, the salary discrepancy can be seen in a positive light as room for growth within the company. I am leaving a job because 4 yrs of loyalty to the company with superior performance is NOT being recognized or rewarded. Also, they keep hiring less-experienced (than me) men for all the better paying jobs (than mine). Yes, I know for a fact that they are less experienced, and have no additional qualifications, as I have 12 yrs in the field and a MS degree and the men are 22-25 yrs old. I am in my late 30s, so not “old.” The pay is lousy for most there, not just me, but white men do get more generally. No racial minorities work there now, though there was once a Chinese woman. This is in the Chicago area where minorities are not rare. The managers praise my performance and give me great reviews, but NEVER a raise, just 2-3% cost-of-living increases, which are insufficient with the actual inflation level. I never expected to make “a lot” at this job. But, I do expect to make a living wage. No one is at the “high” end of their theoretical range there and few are in the “middle.” Even one employee who was recognized as “XYZ of the Year” by our state government, with 36 yrs of experience is low-medium in his range. How do I even know all this? It is a public institution where all the information is published. I see the writing on the wall and am not willing to hold out for vague promises about the future when I deserve more NOW!

    But enough about me! What should this new employee do? Withhold judgment for now and work there long enough to see if the braggart projecting his salary is full of crap, the new employee shall work his or her butt off, document his or her performance, and ask for a raise if his or her performance warrants it 6 mo to 1 yr down the road. The answer he or she receives and his or her feelings about the employer at that time, along with his or her ability to get something better, shall determine what the next move shall be. If you are really good at what you do, never be afraid to leave a lousy employer. Every year wasted with a bad one is a year not spent with someone better. If you are not good at what you do, do something else or address your deficits.

  11. What if the person who wrote found out his co-worker earned 30% LESS than him? Would he have written? Maybe – out of concern that he had chosen the wrong company. But I suspect he would have beamed that his salary was much higher than his co-worker’s. Might even mention it to his spouse and friends. If someone complained that he was gloating, would the response be one of humility?

    I’m not attempting to disparage the writer. I’m sure they are a solid professional who excels at what they do. I’m suggesting that human nature is what it is. Maybe this person wouldn’t be okay with their co-worker making 30% less, but I suspect that it wouldn’t keep them awake at night with worry.

    Just trying to provide a different perspective, not a lesson in morality or ethics.

  12. Good discussion. I selected this week’s Q&A because salary, money, compensation – whatever we choose to call it – is not a simple thing. Many factors affect it. Walking into a job interview and telling the employer, “You should pay me X because that’s what I’m worth,” would be akin to going on a date and saying, “You should marry me tomorrow because I’m worth marrying, and you should look no further.”

    It really is a good analogy. You’d never dream of doing the latter, but people routinely make salary demands before they are tested and judged “compatible,” and before they unequivocally demonstrate their value to that employer.

    Likewise, employers make job offers without ever really assessing the value of the cadidate to the company. The offer is based on what the last employer paid, as if it has anything to do with the matter. Every employer’s needs are different, and the value produced in the job varies.

    There can be no determination of value without a candid dialogue that focuses on the nature of the work to be done, the desired outcome, and the value to be added. From there, it’s a negotiation.

    I love all the factors that have been brought up – far more than I could think of. The next question is, how do you factor all this into your next hire or job interview?

  13. @Addie: “But here are the questions I want to ask: are both employees the same gender and color?”

    Is gender, color or any other non-skill-related characteristic more important than ability to do the job well?

    (My use of the masculine pronoun in the Q&A is irrelevant, because I try to balance gender pronouns in my writing, across articles and postings. I hate using “he or she” and “his or hers.” And my use of “guys” is gender-free. I refer to men and women affectionately as guys.)

  14. From Nick: Is gender, color or any other non-skill-related characteristic more important than ability to do the job well?
    Of course not. But gender, color and some other non-skill-related characteristics often put people at a negotiating disadvantage. We don’t need reminders that gender and race discrimination are illegal, but we do need to know that, happily, our legal system recognizes the need for remedy when non-skill-related characteristics limit fair negotiations:

    Corning Glass Works v. Brennan (1974), U.S. Supreme Court
    •Ruled that employers cannot justify paying women lower wages because that is what they traditionally received under the “going market rate.” A wage differential occurring “simply because men would not work at the low rates paid women” was unacceptable.

    Read more: The Wage Gap: A History of Pay Inequity and the Equal Pay Act —

  15. The gender/race/age discrimination issue is always valid, and important to deal with as an individual, as well as institutionally.

    I would like to offer some insight from an excellent book called Priceless by William Poundstone. In the section on negotiation, he explains a classic social science experiment called “The Ultimatum Game.” There are various versions of the game, and here is one:

    One person is given a sum of money and asked to share a portion with another person. The second person can either agree or disagree to the amount they would receive. If they agree, then both people can keep their agreed-to portions. If the second person disagrees, then the total sum is forfeit. (Yes, it’s similar to “The Prisoner’s Dilemma.”)

    Poundstone explains some of the trends that were catalogued by researchers in conducting the experiment with various groups:

    1. Men offer a near equal portion to other men, who accept.
    2. Men are more likely to forfeit the entire amount than accept a smaller portion.
    3. Women are more likely to accept a smaller portion than men. One subject is quoted as saying, “It’s better that we both get something than that neither of us gets anything.”
    4. Men are more likely to offer a smaller portion to women than to other men.
    5. Women are more likely to offer a smaller portion to other women than to men.

    These are generalized trends that show up in the interpretations of the data after all other factors are accounted for.

    What does this mean for women’s ability to be offered and to accept compensation equal to that of men in the same career and with the same qualifications?

  16. The oldest trick in the book: Let the eager new recruit think you are more “valued” so they “know their place.” While the recruit is all wound up about their “lack of perceived value” (or insert your disadvantage here), someone else is doing the job, demonstrating value, and earning a promotion.

    Are you really going to fall for that one? Or are you going to do the job better and move to the head of the pack and/or find a better gig?

    Don’t let bush league office tactics get in the way of demonstrating value every day. If you are worth 30% more, show them or sell it somewhere else.

  17. I’ve been on both sides of this story…once when a person was leaving our group they had a few too many and let spill how much the average in another group made, and they all had skills in less demand, but more savvy managers as far as budget matters went. Morale plummeted, and I myself used/cashed out all my benefits soon thereafter, which coincided with my son being born and a relative out of state becoming terminally ill, so moving back there was completely plausible without making a stink about pay.

    The other side of the coin is the position I’m leaving today (getting off of the no-benefit contracting treadmill at high-per hour rate to a perm salaried position). A co-worker right after I gave noticed played “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours” to see how much wiggle room they had at looming contract renegotiation. They weren’t terribly shocked to find out they made 25% less, as I had skills that the project needed that noone else on it had.

    But another factor was that I (accidentally) went through the entire hiring process without an in-person interview. That removed from play any influence that the fact that he and I were both disabled might have had. One other time I was hired by a company that deliberately did the entire hiring process remotely even for local candidates to rule out as much exposure to claims of discrimination as they could. In both cases it worked to my advantage as factors that could have worked against me in person were simply not possibly an issue.

  18. Great posts Addie and Michael Enquist.

    Of course one must be competent in their job— no matter what.

    But job and negotiating skills are not the only determination of “worth.” Discrimination DOES exist. Even childless women with “male”-patterned university and work histories are simply not paid the same as men, nor promoted the same, nor mentored the same.

    Employers do not normally negotiate with a women to the same degree that they usually do with a man. This is even when a woman’s negotiating skills are equal. She is told to take or leave a much smaller amount. If she insists on something larger, they will typically say “no dice,” move on to the next candidate.

    Do you think that employers are unaware of the fact that some groups are historically disadvantaged compared to others, when it comes to salary? Do you think they exploit that as much as they can, or do you think they behave altruistically, for the good of humanity?

    The outcome and analysis of the “Ultimatum Game” does not surprise me at all.

    Nick, I am curious, did you grow up in the United States? If you are new here, I extend my warmest welcome to America! There are many good things about this country. I can explain more about America’s history, including the fact that women could not work in certain professions, nor get a mortgage or credit line without a male co-signor— within my lifetime— and I am only in my late 30s. When my parents were getting jobs in the 1960s, there were 2 sections in the newspaper “Help Wanted Men” and “Help Wanted Women.” Even when the exact same job appeared under both headings, the advertised pay scales offered were inevitably higher for men. Do you think all of this discrimination disappeared with legislative penstrokes in the 1960s and 1970s? Sure it is more subtle now that the laws do not officially support this. But it is harder to change society than laws.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking discussion. I will refrain from further history lessons in case you are new here. I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments and we will not solve it here. But hopefully we can get some awareness raised.

  19. Ms. Erika:

    You are correct about one thing. There is someone on this thread that needs a history lesson: You.

    I also believe that your comments with regards to Nick Corcodilos (I did not see another Nick posting here today) were condescending and offensive. For such a student of history that you claim to be, you forgot to make a cursory investigation about our esteemed host.

    Mr. Corcodilos is an American with a Stanford MBA. A Greek-American guy. He does not need to be set straight about history or anything else. I’ve read his newsletter for the last 10 years and was privileged to review his best-selling book.

    With regards to your premise about historical discrimination of minority groups, please allow me to mention a few other ethnic and religious groups that merit inclusion for historical accuracy:

    “Irish not wanted here.”

    “Italians not wanted here.”

    “Catholics not wanted here.”

    Jewish people of both sexes. They didn’t need any special signs in this country or in other places.

    Japanese men. Their sons fought for the US in WWII while their parents were sent to internment camps.

    African-American men. They could fight and die for their country on foreign soil, yet couldn’t use the same water fountains as “white” people or play professional baseball until 1947 in the land of their birth.

    Shall I add more groups or ask other participants in this forum to provide additional examples? No doubt we could go on ad infinitum.

    From my own experience as an Italian-American male (not “white” because Dr. Martin Luther King warned us many years ago not to classify ourselves by skin color) who grew up in Washington, D.C., I have lost count of how many times I was low-balled by “white guys.” Or “What kind of name is Amoia?” as a way to ask if I were Latino or not.

    Ask Justice Scalia why Ivy League schools turned down a brilliant high school student who happened to be Italian-American? Or why Gov. Mario Cuomo and other qualified minority (so deemed in those days) lawyers couldn’t get a job at White Anglo Saxon Protestant law firms? It was discriminatory and egregiously wrong. But it was how the system worked in those days.

    You are correct that discrimination exists and that the “Mad Men” office life and mores of the 1960s need to be made a remnant of the past. Women have born the brunt of discrimination in initial hiring, compensation and advancement. Women, regardless of background, are not the only group who have and continue to face discrimination. Two of my godsons are African-American. I have told both since they were young that the evaluation standard for them would be very different than it is for others. Is it right? No. But it is reality in my opinion. As a society, we still have a mountain to climb on these issues.

    The important thing is to learn from these situations. Companies and individuals who discriminate only hurt themselves in the long and short run.

    Steve Amoia
    Washington, D.C.

  20. Whoa Steve!

    I AM a proud Italian America and Catholic, the granddaughter of immigrants who came to Chicago where I still live. You do not need to assume I need a history lesson about discrimination against my own people! Egads!

    I certainly did not mean to offend Nick. He’s a great guy and gives good advice, but he did seem to downplay the possibility of discrimination. Yes, it is only a possibility.

    I do know a bit about Nick’s adult achievements, but not about his whole childhood.

    I never said that discrimination was only against women and racial minority groups. Where are you getting this? Not from anything I wrote. I too am Italian-American, Catholic, and the granddaughter of immigrants. There is nothing “offensive” about being an immigrant. I completely understand all the examples you cite and agree that they are unfair also. I do NOT need a “history lesson” just because I did not catalog EVERY injustice that has occurred on American soil. (You forgot Native Americans anyway, the original injustice.)

    My own elder family member is part of the reason the “Help Wanted, No Italians” signs came down. He was a preeminent Italian-American civil rights lawyer that had a little something to do with it.

    I really think you jumped the gun and overreacted.

    If I didn’t love Nick and Ask the Headhunter, I wouldn’t read it. I also read his excellent book. Nick gives practical advice.

    I find it interesting that you ignore that I was responding to Michael Enquist’s and Addie’s post.

    From one Italian American to another, I frankly think you owe me an apology. On the other hand, it seems that we fundamentally agree. You said it very, very well, “The important thing is to learn from these situations. Companies and individuals who discriminate only hurt themselves in the long and short run.”

    In the mean time, what do we do about it?

    Nick, if I offended you, I am sorry. I just found it curious that the Bible story you chose seemed to lay the blame on the guy who only negotiated $3 an hr while the other guy negotiated $5. While I get your point about the importance of negotiating, Michael Enquist’s point was about how some members of our society may have a hard time negotiating that deal for $5 simply because of who they are. They may also have trouble getting their request for parity with more favored groups honored. I agree with those points. That is all. Thanks again for a great discussion!

  21. Dear Erika:

    Thank you for your kind response; however, I did not assume anything about you.

    I believe that a reasonable person would conclude that your offer to teach Mr. Corcodilos American history lessons was disrespectful and condescending. Whether or not Nick views your comments in a similar fashion will be his decision. You have the right to disagree with me.

    I did not ignore your penultimate response. Actually, it prompted my response.

    I did not mention the historical injustices suffered by Native Americans because that would be akin to state that the wind blows in Chicago.

    I respect what your family member did with regards to civil rights for our ancestors. But I don’t owe you an apology as an Italian-American or because we may share a common heritage. If I were wrong, I would apologize to you as a fellow American. I stand by what I wrote and see no reason to apologize for my opinion.

  22. This is purely my own personal reaction, and I don’t presume to speak for anyone else.

    If something depends on straightening out the law, regulations and so on for there to be progress, I feel hugely frustrated, because it’s going to take a lot longer than I’d like for anything to happen.

    I agree, it does need to change and it will make life better for my grandchildren. I’d add, though, that I’m likely to be dead and gone by then.

    I’m much more interested in knowing what I can do now to improve my circumstances, without needing to wait for external change.

  23. I agree Jane. Where do we go from here? We have the legislation, but discrimination can be hard to prove. We can’t file a lawsuit against everyone who is unfair to us. Attitudes are harder to change than laws.

    Steve , thank you for your reply. My elder relatives did not fight for changes for our ancestors but for us. When I read your original response I nodded in recognition of what we both have experienced. You did make an assumption that I did not realize the examples of discrimination that you enumerated. (You said I was the only one who needed a “history lesson.” Remember? But that is okay. Get the word out about these other examples. It’s a good thing.)

    You know this whole exchange goes to show how much unconscious assumptions play into how we perceive people and their relative value. It also shows how emotionally charged the topic is. If one is an immigrant, is it inherently a bad thing? I don’t think so, but some of my relatives had “American” names in addition to their real names. It smoothed their way. What about belonging to any other group? I see nothing wrong with being African American, a woman, having physical challenges, etc… The problem is that people do not value everyone equally and they are not even aware of it. The “people” are not just others, but ourselves! My immigrant grandparents were both the victims of prejudice, and occasionally the perpetrators of it, as they held some incorrect assumptions about other groups of people, usually due to an over-generalized bad experience. The human brain is predisposed to categorize everything and everyone, so that decisions can be made, so maybe it is just human nature. But what can we do now? Perhaps the real reason Nick gave the discrimination issue short shrift was because he doesn’t think we should worry about things we have little control over? (I’m guessing.)

    I like the idea of interviewing remotely that was brought up by David. However, a woman’s voice is usually distinctive. I once read of an orchestra that required musicians to interview behind a screen with their shoes off. The reason? Woman’s shoes make a different noise. Before that rule, the orchestra had 10% women. After the shoes came off, and the interviewers could ONLY hear the quality of the music, women became 50% of the same orchestra! Their subjective value went up when no one knew that they were woman.

  24. @Erika: Now, that’s a question I’ve never been asked before. Was I born in the United States? Yep, in one of them. ;-)

    No offense taken.

    “I just found it curious that the Bible story you chose seemed to lay the blame on the guy who only negotiated $3 an hr while the other guy negotiated $5.”

    We don’t know whether either guy negotiated or whether they both just settled for what they were offered. I intentionally focused very narrowly, to see what factors people would bring into their calculations. And all the factors that have been brought up are worth talking about. It’s how we figure out what value means to us. My larger point is that we often don’t know what goes into a salary offer. It’s worth trying to figure it out.

  25. Let’s talk for a minute about the discrimination factor, without lecturing one another. Let’s suppose that “Isaac” is really “Ruth.” But Ruth has no evidence – other than the lower salary – that the boss is a bigot or taking advantage.

    Ruth could quit, file suit, and play it out in court.

    Or, what else could Ruth do to get up to par, assuming she wanted to stay on the job, and had no other gripes with the boss?

    (I don’t discount the social issues at all. But my turf is “how to.”)

  26. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought Erika was kidding with the US comment, to make a point.

    Of course discrimination is out there, in many many forms. I’ve done the job hunting thing after 55 and ageism is one of the many forms. Discrimination is an extra hurtle but not surmountable. I was up front about my age because the way I was looking at it, if I got some traction I had some inkling they didn’t care about my age. Those that didn’t salute MAY have cared, & if so I didn’t want to work there anyway.

    MAY is important to understand, because you’ve got to make sure that you’re not focusing so much on possible discrimination in your case, that you’re not challenging other key areas, e.g. your plan, your approach, your presentation, your networking etc. Job hunting is a sales campaign & you need to pay attention to your sales collateral & how the market responds to it. Absence of action or unsatisfactory compensation offers may be telling you something other than discrimination.

    to get back on the original track, Nick’s last question was how do you factor all the comments on salary differences, and the permutations and combinations of salary administration (or non administration) that impact it, into the hiring side or the searching side.

    some in the hiring side seem to like games & negotiations. I don’t. And I’m well schooled in the massive dialogue on the topic of broaching and haggling over salary. So we cut to the chase and post the starting salary range with the job & other aspects of the compensation package. If that doesn’t work for a prospective hire, then don’t apply. If you apply, I confirm you’ve seen it and I treat you like an adult and assume you are OK within that range. I’ll also explain how we administer it, warts and all. Then we can do some negotiation if events move us to mutual interest in coming aboard. I also make sure people understand that it’s not going to be a case of courtship where you aim to have us fall in love with you and you negotiate compensation outside the boundaries. I want you fully briefed so you can make an informed decision for further exploration and possibly offer acceptance. It is as it is. This saves everyone a lot of time in my view.

    On the hiring side, my advise is ask for an explanation about the salary structure and how it’s administered. This is an important aspect of your working environment, the play pen you’re planning to join. You need to know 1st off, it there IS a structure. Don’t assume there is. You’d be surprised about how poorly some major players handle this area. Especially young companies. They grow faster than they organize and get sloppy. If there’s a structure, understand it, vocational grades and salary ranges, so you can put both your current & desired comp in perspective. How does the company plan, and administer changes, e.g. raises, promos etc. Have they had freezes to same? Understanding this will help you understand an offer, and challenge it in terms that company can relate to, if you think you have a case.
    Managers can range from oblivious to smart as to salary administration. When you understand their structure you may see why a manager sometimes is tactically smart, knowing if he/she brings you in, high in your range, you can kiss a decent raise goodbye in your 1st year & likely thereafter. and that if you show you’ve got what it takes and give him the performance ammo he can deliver a decent raise & a promo. Some of us hiring managers/interviewers will share that with you. Someone else may simply give you what you want, and in so doing box you in. except you don’t know that until a year later.
    Will an interviewer answer questions like this? Like everything else, yes or no. If not, you’ve just learned something useful for an informed decision. If they don’t know the answer, ditto.
    Some companies treat salary structure like intellectual property, you don’t ask & I won’t tell you. And in those environments it’s a firing offense to share salary information. And in a sense you’re always negotiating and wondering if you’re getting screwed. On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve worked in a place that printed the salary ranges on a wallet sized card for your handy reference. And get was the same place. If you work for a major corporation for a long time, you actually work for several different companies as they mess with their cultures.

    When people discover unfairness, an immediate reaction is they’ve discovered a company’s or boss’s dark side. In 40 years working with a lot of people in several companies, mostly as a manager I found real discrimination (both the overt and subconscious types) to be rare . What the reason usually is, is sloppiness, laziness, disorganization or incompetence when it comes to basic administration on the part of a manager, company or both. If you want to experience real frustration, try being a manager who gives a crap about his folks pay, and work for a more senior mgr who doesn’t or within a company that is sloppy about it. As someone pointed out earlier, sometimes the differences in pay between departments for the same job is the differences between managerial ability and effort to work the system.

    If there’s been fast growth, you can almost count on weak or poor structure. Where there’s siloing between organizations within a company ditto.
    My point in this long winded diatribe, is an astounding # of people don’t make it their business to understand the rules of engagement in compensation. They don’t know how the game is played, what their bosses have to contend with. And think it’s as simple as asking for a raise. If you understand this stuff prior to signing on you start off with an advantage & will likely retain it.

  27. “It’s hard to be happy and effective at work knowing someone else who does the same things you do earns so much more.”

    What is the motivation for this feeling? It sounds like envy. What if you complained to your boss and he lowered the salary of your coworker to match yours? That would fully address your concern (and eliminate your basis for envy), but that would be destructive to your coworker. I’ve seen this happen, and it’s not pretty.

    Instead, celebrate your coworker’s good fortune, knowing that if you perform the same, you’ll be viewed as underpaid. In my experience, if the boss thinks you’re underpaid, you’re much more likely to be given big raises.

    Don’t measure your personal worth in terms of what you’re paid and especially in terms of what you’re paid vs. others. Give up this jealousy and focus on the satisfaction you get from good relationships with your family and coworkers and in serving others in your work.

    You were happy with what you were paid when you were hired — CHOOSE to stick with that feeling.

  28. Well said, Don and Larry.

    With regards to salary equity and discrimination, please allow me to quote Frederick Douglass:

    “In the early part of the year 1838, I became quite restless. I could see no reason why I should, at the end of each week, pour the reward of my toil into the purse of my master. When I carried to him my weekly wages, he would, after counting the money, look me in the face with a robber-like fierceness, and ask, “Is this all?” He was satisfied with nothing less than the last cent.

    He would, however, when I made him six dollars, sometimes give me six cents, to encourage me. It had the opposite effect. I regarded it as a sort of admission of my right to the whole. The fact that he gave me any part of my wages was proof, to my mind, that he believed me entitled to the whole of them. I always felt worse for having received any thing; for I feared that the giving me a few cents would ease his conscience, and make him feel himself to be a pretty honorable sort of robber.”

    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Chapter XI.

  29. So many of us have been struggling with the same situation, and now I have a clearer understanding. There’s not much you can do with that knowledge without compromising your own position – just try to negotiate a better salary next time around. I just wish that companies were more consistant and fair in their dealings with respect to salary and other issues – seems they create more disharmony within the company than not!

  30. I always go about the salary negotiation fairly simply. I’ve got a number in my head that I’ll settle for, and ask to see the benefits package before anyone talks numbers (if they haven’t already totally disclosed it before an offer) and tweak that number accordingly. if they want me to give them a number first, of course i high-ball what i’ll take. usually if they do that i’ll say ‘why don’t you make me an offer first and we’ll go from there.’ basic market haggling, with the old saw that whoever goes first loses. almost always has been better when i get them to go first…wildly better than my number in some cases.

    the one’s that were significantly higher than my settle-for number were the cases i mentioned above where the entire process was remote.

    as pointed out by someone else, no, that can’t hide the fact that you’re a woman, or if you have an unmaskable accent that you probably have a different national origin or non-white ethnicity…but it has shielded me from age, disability and at times weight discrimination and the fact that sometimes i’ve been a smoker, which they can discriminate against you for…and that i might be sweating bullets the entire interview (smellism? physical nervousness?)

  31. @David: Smellism!

  32. TECHNICAL NOTE: Apologies to all who had a problem accessing the blog over the past couple of days… it wasn’t your computers.

    Without notifying me, the company that hosts this blog “migrated” the blog to a new server a few days ago. I had no idea this was being done.

    During such a server transition, it’s routine to run both the new and old servers, until the website is fully migrated. So, both the new and old servers were “serving” this blog — and depending on which server you happened to get when you clicked in, you got the current version of the blog, or a version two weeks old. This explains why some of you saw the Feb. 2 posting as the newest one. Sorry!

    Today, when they turned off the old server, the whole shebang went down — the blog was dead — because they hadn’t notified me to redirect the domain name.

    When I found out what had been done, I quickly pointed the domain name to the new server, and a couple of hours later, the blog was back up… displaying the Feb.2 version of the content!

    Now we’re back where we should be. Again, my apologies if you thought there was something wrong with your pc — it was our host service causing the problem.

    There’s a useful lesson in all this. The staff at the hosting company said they had installed the “most recent” version of the WordPress database (the software this blog runs on). That was two weeks old! They said there was nothing more they could do. I had lost two weeks worth of posts and comments! (Mind you, I had backups of my own, but restoring them would have been a nightmare.)

    So I tracked down the president of the company. Turns out they did have a current backup for the blog. The president personally got it installed.

    The lesson? Don’t settle for poor service. When you have a problem, go straight to the top. That goes double when you’re job hunting, dealing with staff in companies that don’t behave appropriately.

    (Maybe my being reasonable, though very firm, and not yelling at anyone through all this helped, too!)

  33. I am so delighted to know that i am neither insane, a complete technological dinosaur,and not in need of two new PC’s, a new ipad, a new laptop and a new iphone. However, i can report that based on your message that my browser was running in text mode i now know a lot more about browsers than i ever wanted to know. :) I can report that to you that thinking all communication devices were in need of replacement or i needed to retire, made me work a lot harder today. Albeit i didn’t get much sleep last night as i was deeply involved in emptying browsers caches and restarting myrid communication devices.

    Although i am very relieved that the error was on your server, being a female of a certain age, i am gloating a bit about being “right”.
    I am sure tired of reading that Feb 2 post. I just knew somehow that i should not be getting the error message from your host. :)

  34. @sandra: Thanks for not conking me on the head! ;-) You and others out there were very patient. I’m just glad it’s over.

  35. [test comment]

  36. I’ve just been able to get back in and add to my last post –way above! I believe there are always two sides equally important in pay disparity issues, whether discrimination is involved or not. The person short changed is always partly culpable. Even where discimination is obvious, people unfairly treated are responsible for finding a remedy, standing up for themselve, etc. My point was not that we need depend on the law to change our situation, but rather that it’s crucial for both employer and employee to know the law. I have worked for a couple of companies constantly under legal seige. An employer needs to know that it’s illegal to offer an employee in a federally protected group less because that person is willing to work for less. That said pay disparities happen because employees allow it. Wishing your fellow employee well because s/he earns more than you do is possible (and probably saintly). But depending on the employer’s good will to reward you when you prove yourself won’t work unless you make it clear you’re willing to leave if you don’t receive the raise. Some responders above appeared to be saying the reward for good performance will be automatic. I don’t think so: why pay more for what you can get for less?

  37. I too think that salary and benefits should be part of the job description. In the US Government you are paid by grade and everyone knows your grade so they know what you make. If all employers in the US did this, it would reduce the impetus and practice of discrimination.

    I’d also like to say to the person who found out they were paid less, to focus on the job. Set for yourself some measurable goals, publish the goals to your boss and negotiate a raise based on those goals and then go nail them. Even if you don’t get a raise, you get respect. That will grease a whole bunch of skids. If you nail your goals and it doesn’t get you the respect, you can probably then suspect discrimination. But until then you probably can’t.

    And I’d like to say that I have worked for only one company in the last 15 year that gave a raise yearly (and up to 4%). They called it a raise and I’m happy to let them off with calling that a raise, but I believe a raise is 10%. 4% is cost of living. But no matter how much I worked and I DID prove my worth, I didn’t get a raise or any salary increase in any other job I had in the last 15 years. So whatever I negotiated at the offer, I had to be happy with for the entire job.

  38. I have a sign in my office. “Fair is a Kindergarten Word.”

    To our friend who is upset and worrying about not being able to do a job because he has found out that the salary doesn’t seem fair based on what somebody else makes.

    Keep your perspective. Remember that you thought it was fair when you accepted it. Think of it this way. If you bought your house at the top of the market, you paid top dollar because you loved the house and wanted to live there. The market dropped the house next door sold for half of what you paid. Your neighbor got a better deal and it’s just not fair. Would you sell your home because your neighbor got a better deal? You don’t like your home any less even though it’s not fair that your neighbor got a better deal.

    If you wouldn’t sell your home, why in the world would you let something that is not fair impact what you thought was a good deal and what you wanted when you accepted it.

    It’s been my experience that more people mess up their career by worrying about what somebody else makes or somebody else having a bigger, better title than they do than by failing to perform.

    Logic over emotion. Do the best job you can do as you agreed to do when you accepted. Find out which jobs in the company pay more and work for a promotion. Make yourself more valuable. If you can’t then sell your home, find another job and start over. But there will always be something somewhere that is not fair.

    Take the attitude that your desk in your cubicle is your own business. You own it. It’s up to you to make it profitable. If you own your own business and you spend your time worrying about whether the business down the street is making more money than your business. It will.

  39. Sandra’s point & direction is on the money. I’d add to that that everyone should run themselves as if they are a business, and your job now that you have it is a base of operations.

    From that base, build a strong internal network, and gain advocates who believe you are running a good business, you know your stuff.

    I don’t mean undermine your boss, that’s usually not a good tactic but circle the wagons around him.

    Let’s assume that the colleague who flashed his more generous salary in your face is telling you the truth. You learned something, you’ve got at least 30% of daylight to shoot for.

    Let’s say you’re an engineer. Keep this in mind, yes your boss is important to your career, even if obtuse, and some kind of bigot. But the boss has a business to run too, & in so doing wants to look really good doing it.

    One of your objects is to do just that, make him look good.

    But it’s not all about your boss. In a company there are both formal and informal networks, fertile ground for building your network. In my example you also want to build good will in the engineering community, your peers, your bosses peers, your bosses boss. You don’t do this with politics, but by stellar performance

    over your tenure you quietly collect your attaboys (e.g. an email touting some task/job accomplishment) and deliver them to your boss. Better you, you tell people when they pat you on the back to “tell the boss”. You have to be careful and tactful with this as the boss can suspect you’re running a campaign to make him look like a jerk, even if he is a jerk, forget that

    You’re building a business case for your business that is such if your boss blows you off, he loses a lot of face in the engineering community and the byproduct and a safety net kicks in for you. That is a transfer to someone who appreciates you.

    And you’ll have to be practical. Don’t expect your boss to go with hat in hand to his boss/HR with an “oops” I screwed up on the hiring salary and cause a 30% kicker. Not likely but not impossible if handled right, but it may take a new boss to do it. A combination of promo, raise and something called an “administrative adjustment” can do it. If you’re perceived as a blazing star, it won’t be done to be “fair”. Forget fair and think performance and adding value.

    Let me give you a true example. At one time I managed a department populated mostly with engineers. But I had few techs…i.e non degreed people. One wanted to be an engineer. The usual answer was get your degree. And I told him he needed to go after one, if only to give me a playing card. But that would take years of evening school. I thought the guy was brilliant and could see he could hold his own & then some with the engineers. In fact I thought degrees aside and on ability he was one of my best engineers. So I put him on a choice project, which positioned him to working with some brainiacs in development and other influencial managers. He did really well & word did get around. My 1st sign that it was, was a visit from an HR guy who informed me that techs can’t do that work…because he was a tech. (I worked in an environment where “real men” had degrees). I just told him that was moot as he was already doing it. When his performance review time approached I worked the hallways and asked the senior engineers and managers what they thought of his work (I knew they held him in high regard), and they gave me the applause I wanted, after which I let them know he wasn’t one of the chosen & I wanted to fix it, I wanted to promote him & I needed some help from them. Which was for each of them to send me an email with their appraisal. I packaged these with his Outstanding review, a recommendation for his promotion to engineer and an attention getting combined promo and performance kicker. The Plant was headed by an elite degreed GM who was not known to bend. But my mgmt chain support me, (along with their peers) and we prevailed.
    The point is, he could have sulked, quit, been bitter, but he didn’t he focused on his job, what he loved to do & was great at, and built a LOT of respect from people who counted. If I was a butt my boss or bosses boss balked and were uncooperative, I can assure you, a # of other managers would have ganged up on us and made us see the light…or ask that he transfer to them.
    It works