WWYD: Should I Be Upset Because a New Hire is Getting Paid the Same Salary as Me?

I’ve worked at my current organization five years and had multiple promotions in that time. The most recent promotion was at the start of the year and I was incredibly happy with the new role and benefits. The compensation was actually a lot better than I expected and I had been prepared to negotiate for more but ended up not needing to.

We have a new position to fill and since the new person will be reporting to me on a few things, I’ve been involved in the hiring process. My manager has ignored my opinions and decided to offer the job to a guy just out of school who doesn’t meet any of the criteria we typically look for, but who is very charming. OK, so ultimately I don’t get the final say. But I’ve also discovered that the guy has been offered a starting salary equal to what I now earn — the same salary I had to work almost four years to get to. I’ve voiced this to my manager and was lectured on the immense potential they see in the guy and that the marketplace is simply unfair and that I’ll never be paid what I’m worth.

Am I wrong to be incredibly irate about this? It’s hard to know what others in my position earn as the job is in a very niche industry and its tough to get an accurate range. I’ve already started looking for a new job, but not sure how to square all this so I can still get my job done and not just throw my hands up and completely check out mentally.

— Fed up and Frustrated

This is, perhaps, the most frequently asked question I get when it comes salaries and what we should be earning at our jobs. A reader discovers an old spreadsheet indicating that the person who previously held her position earned much more than she did. A friend meets me for a drink and asks me about job leads because she has just discovered that a subordinate earns more than she does.

It’s happened to me too: At an old job, I discovered that I was earning half of what my predecessor was earning because my predecessor was candid with her salary information when we later met up for lunch to catch up. I never thought I was earning what I needed to be earning at that job, and this confirmed it. I left soon after for greener pastures.

This is what it all boils down to: At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the person before you or next to you is earning. All that matters is what you need to be earning to pay for that college degree you took out loans to fund; that house you want to build a life in; that retirement for your future self; that financial obligation that is unique to you and only you. When you’re sitting at the table and negotiating your salary, you’re not focused on what that other person is making — you’re thinking about your monthly student loan payments, or the two kids you have at home, or how you’re tired of living paycheck-to-paycheck. You arm yourself with salary information culled from salary.com, and Glassdoor, and from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and from your own experiences, and when you walk away from the table, you should feel like you are getting something fair — something you can actually live on. And if you don’t walk away from the table with enough money, you make a plan to get yourself a raise and promotion, or you start looking for another employer who will pay you the money you need to build a decent life for yourself.

Are you wrong to be incredibly irate that a new hire charmed his way into a salary that equals your own? I think that’s the wrong question to be asking here. The question is: When it was you at the negotiation table, did you walk away happy?

The most recent promotion was at the start of the year and I was incredibly happy with the new role and benefits. The compensation was actually a lot better than I expected and I had been prepared to negotiate for more but ended up not needing to.

It sounds like you did.

It makes sense to be angry about inequality, about the fact that women are still being paid less for doing the same work that men do, about how women are constantly being told to lean in but are then penalized for doing so. But is this what you’re really angry about?

You’re job hunting despite having been “incredibly happy” with your new role and benefits, and feeling like you didn’t need to negotiate for more money. Learning what someone else is going to be making has done such irreparable harm that you’re starting to mentally check out from work.

Remember that no matter where you go, you will never have control over what other people earn. There will always be some guy who charms his way into a salary he probably doesn’t deserve because, yes, your manager is right, the market is unfair. The only career you can take charge of is your own.

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