Ask the Headhunter: Why does my co-worker get paid more?

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Photo by Milton Brown/Getty Images

When it comes to pay, value isn’t as obvious as you might think. While you may be getting treated unfairly, you just as well may not have all the facts to make that judgment. Photo by Milton Brown/Getty Images

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: 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. I was dismayed to find out that he makes 30 percent more than I do. He has the same job, the same responsibilities, but I think my skills and background are stronger than his. (He did have a contracting relationship with the company for some time before he was hired.)

Value is relative depending on the needs of the employer. You may indeed be worth more than you’re being paid, but you made the deal.

It’s been very demoralizing. This job is otherwise a good situation for me. How should I 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!

Nick Corcodilos: There’s a relevant parable in the Bible. Two farm hands stop work for a break. Abe complains, “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. “Why do you pay Abe more than you pay me?”

The boss raises an eyebrow. “What did I offer you to do this job?”

Isaac answers, “$3 an hour.”

The boss leans a little closer. “What do I pay you to do this job?”

Isaac shrugs and says, “$3 an hour.”

“So, I’m a man of my word,” says the boss.

Why the pay disparity?
You have no idea why the boss pays your buddy more than he pays you. But there may be many reasons. For example:

  • Your buddy 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. (Need to beef up your negotiating skills? Here’s some help.)
  • Maybe the company can’t afford to pay more now.
  • Or, it may be easier to find workers today than it was six months ago.

The point is, you accepted the deal, and your boss is honoring it. Don’t leap to a conclusion about this.

Can you justify higher pay?
My guess is your boss isn’t going to pay you more just because you want more. You’re going to have to justify your request, and it won’t help to compare yourself to someone else. Demonstrate your own value. (See “Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire”)

When the time comes for your first performance and salary review, I suggest you prepare for it like this:

  • Outline what you think will be the three biggest challenges, problems, hurdles or objectives in your job next year.
  • Then, list three things you will do to tackle them. This should include significant detail, but don’t overdo it.
  • Finally, explain how your approach to doing the work will be profitable (or beneficial) to the company.

This approach will help you justify your value — and the extra money you want — to your boss.

What’s fair depends on the facts
In the meantime, consider how presumptuous it would be to ask your boss for more pay, 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?

READ MORE: How do I know this company isn’t a horrible place to work?

Be careful: Value isn’t as obvious as you might think. Your co-worker may be more valuable to your employer than you are. While you may be getting treated unfairly, you just as well may not have all the facts to make that judgment.

(My good buddy Suzanne Lucas, aka The EvilHRLady, offers some strong advice about equal pay practices in “5 Ways Smart People Are Solving Income Inequality.”)

You made the deal
I believe employers should pay equitably and people should be paid what they’re worth — but value is relative depending on the needs of the employer. You may indeed be worth more than you’re being paid, but you made the deal.

Be careful not to disturb your good relationship with your co-worker. Focus on what the boss knows about your value, and make it your job to clarify that.

Could you have made a case for more pay? If yes, then this is on you. But consider that negotiations will come around again at review time. I suggest that you focus on the issues we’ve discussed — issues that might not seem so obvious — and that you respect the deal you made until the time is right to renegotiate it. It doesn’t sound like the salary was unsatisfactory when you accepted it. (Needless to say, you always have the option to quit.)

My advice is to take this one step at a time, and be careful not to disturb your good relationship with your co-worker. He’s hardly to blame. Focus on what the boss knows about your value, and make it your job to clarify that.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: 5 tips for avoiding terrible employers

Finally, my apologies to the Bible for mangling a good parable.

(Ever wonder how asking for a promotion and a raise are similar to interviewing for a new job or a new career? The challenge is almost exactly the same — it’s about how to deliver more value to get more money and a better position. To learn more about how to make yourself stand out in front of your manager — or the boss you want to work for — check out “How Can I Change Careers?”)

Dear Readers: Should you suck it up when you accept a deal that suddenly appears less desirable? If you’ve been in this situation before, tell us how you handled it. What can this reader do now?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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