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The new person makes more than you

Katherine Spencer Lee -- We've probably all been there. You inadvertently discover one of your colleagues makes more than you.

In today's candidate-tight market, it's becoming more common than ever as employers go to great lengths to attract top talent. The new kid on the block may, in fact, have been brought in at a higher salary level. How you react to the situation depends on you: You can let it spoil your day or you can allow it to serve as a wake-up call. Perhaps it's time to research your own market value, upgrade your technical skills, and build a business case for a raise.

Analyze It

First off, assess the situation. If you learned of the disparity in compensation from a confidential document that inadvertently crossed your path, it's probably information you're not meant to be privy to, so tread carefully if you decide to confront your boss. Avoid jumping to the conclusion that the new staffer doesn't deserve the higher salary; she might have hard-to-find technical skills that make her more marketable. She also may be taking on more responsibility. If you received the information directly from your coworker, you should mention it to your boss, who will want to counsel the person to be more discreet.

Without comparing yourself to your coworker, think about your contributions to your company. Do you usually say yes to added responsibility and challenge? Do you make efforts to keep your skills current? Do you read trade magazines so you're aware of industry trends and new technologies? Do you offer to take a leadership role on important projects? Take an objective look at your achievements so that you can make a case for a higher salary.

Research It

Research your market value by reviewing salary surveys and other information on IT compensation. Note the geographic location of salary ranges and the age of the data and adjust for these factors. If you live in a city with a high cost of living, salaries in your area might actually be 10-20 percent above the national average. Here are some good sources for your research:

* RHI Consulting's Salary Guide (available at
* Recruiters
* Professional journals and associations (and their Web sites)
* Salary and career Web sites, especially tech career sites

Identify high-paying skills, and make plans to gain experience in these areas. Perhaps you're proficient in HTML, but need to take a class in Cascading Style Sheets, JavaScript, or Flash. If you're a database developer who only knows SQL, it might be time to learn XML. Do you know C++ so well you could program in your sleep? Then you'll have no problem picking up Java.

There are many educational options, so choose the venue that's right for you: Community college classes are inexpensive, and extension courses allow you to meet working professionals like yourself. Online classes can offer greater flexibility. Your employer may even have a training program. (For instance, RHI Consulting offers free access to a range of skills enhancement courses in leading edge software to its qualified candidates.) If your employer doesn't have in-house training, find out if they'll reimburse your tuition.

Discuss It

Now comes the hard part: asking for the raise. It will be a lot easier if you come prepared. Remember these tips to ensure that negotiations go smoothly:

* Timing is everything. Ask for a raise after you've performed particularly well, such as finishing a big project, adding new responsibilities, or completing a class. Don't ask for a raise when earnings are down or your company is undergoing cost-cutting measures.

* Make a business case. Build a case for your raise by highlighting your accomplishments that have directly enhanced your company's business position. Keep a weekly file in which you write down your most significant contributions. When it comes time to ask for an increase, you can use that information to prepare a list of achievements for your boss's review.

* Be ready to negotiate. Your manager might not grant you the amount you've asked for, so be ready with Plan B. Perhaps she'll give you a small raise now and another one in a few months, when you've achieved a predetermined goal or the department is better able to afford it. Also, consider if you would accept a bonus or extra vacation time instead.

Weigh Your Options

If you've presented a solid business case for increasing your salary, your manager will more than likely grant you the raise. If he doesn't think you've earned an increase, however, you will have to weigh whether or not it's worth looking for a new job. Before you start putting out your resume, find out what you would have to do to qualify for a raise. If it's something you feel is within your reach, work with your manager to set objectives and priorities toward achieving your goal.

Finding out you make less than the new person doesn't have to be a career crisis. It could be the impetus you need to take your own career to the next level.

Katherine Spencer Lee is the executive director of RHI Consulting

© 2003

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The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of College Central Network, Inc. or its affiliates. Reference to any company, organization, product, or service does not constitute endorsement by College Central Network, Inc., its affiliates or associated companies. The information provided is not intended to replace the advice or guidance of your legal, financial, or medical professional.