coworker makes higher salary

Sorry for the silence. I’ve been fighting a horrific flu but am slowly returning to life again.

A reader writes:

I am an Executive Assistant for the CEO of digital printing firm. I worked in this position since 2005. I also worked as his assistant when he was SVP of another firm for 4 years prior to his coming to this firm. When he took this CEO position back in 2005 he called me and asked if I would leave my job at that time, as Admin Asst with major pharmaceutical firm. I left that job to come and work for him.

Here’s the issue. Our COO’s assistant moved to another position in the company. He was looking for another assistant and he hired a young lady that was EA/right hand for a major news anchor until he died last year. Of course, I was part of the interview process and my recommendation to hire her played a part in her getting the job. I heard from someone else in the company that she was hired making at least $10,000 more a year than my current salary. I don’t have the real figure but this assistant made a comment to me a month ago that I should get significant salary increase to bring my salary up to hers…she made this comment to me unsolicited and she apparently knows what I currently make. We are friendly with each other personally and professionally and I feel she was trying to look out for me by saying this to me. My review meeting will be in a few days and I want to know what to say if my pay is not significantly increased to at least be on the same level as the COO’s assistant. Our standard raise percentage is 5% and that will not bring me up to the same salary level as the other assistant.

What should I do/say to the CEO if I don’t get a significant raise, well over that 5%, without mentioning the salary for the COO’s assistant? I can definitely prove my value and worth in this company. He would be lost without me here and has said that to me several times. I’ve been with the CEO since 2005 and with him prior to that at the other firm. Plus, I am the top EA in the company, and I don’t think it’s fair that my salary is not commensurate with what I do.

This is sticky. Would you believe your salary wasn’t commensurate with what you do if you didn’t know the other assistant’s salary?

Basing your own salary request on someone else’s salary is problematic because people’s salaries vary for all sorts of reasons — one person was a better negotiator than the other when first being hired, or the job market was tighter when she was hired, or she has a particular degree or skill set that the company rewards, or the budget for her department is different than yours, or her boss is a nightmare and the company pays people working for him a premium.

What I recommend is doing some research on industry norms in your area for your particular work and seeing where you fall relative to those. In fact, up those a bit, because you’re not average, right? Hopefully you’re better than average and it’s reasonable to ask the company to pay you a bit better than average. But if your research leads you to discover that your pay is pretty in line with what makes sense for your industry and the only issue is that your coworker makes more than you, you can (and should) still try for more, but consider that it might be okay not to get it. Not an insult, just a pretty typical result of the way different people negotiate different packages for themselves. And at that point, you’d want to think about whether you’re happy with the job, whether you think you could do better elsewhere, and what the job is worth to you, not your colleague.

(And always keep in mind that negotiating a higher salary is much easier before you’ve accepted the job than it ever is again.)

Good luck!

{ 3 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I absolutely agree with you. The new person probably negotiated a better salary or was paid more at a previous position and wouldn’t come over without an equivalent pay package. If you are being paid a fair salary and you like your job – count yourself lucky. Salaries are not supposed to be common knowledge and you could open up something messy by comparing salaries with coworkers.

  2. Ginger Koolick*

    Good answer.

    It’s not uncommon for salaries within the same job description to be uneven based on negotiation, budget (timing), or even slightly different skills or experience during a particular time.

    Employers should be cognizant of equalizing salaries within job categories.

    Employees bear more responsibility, since they have more at stake. So, prove your value, and show the stats.

    What is someone in the same job you are, in a SIMILAR market, getting paid? Can you demonstrate that you’re unfairly paid?

    Be an asset. Not an annoyance.

    It’s just that easy.

  3. Anonymous*

    Be an asset. Not an annoyance.

    It’s just that easy.

    Sounds good, but 10,000 would be a substantial positive change to your life wouldn’t it? Extra car or credit card payments, a family vacation, college savings…if you feel confident that you do a good job and have a good relationship, why not make your case (as long as you have one.) Sure, if you don’t need 10,000 – don’t be an annoyance.

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