Someone Asks You: How Much Money Do You Make?

September 26, 2013



I have a humiliating professional confession to make. Years ago, when I worked for a headhunting firm, I was at a job fair with some colleagues. This was my first week on the job. It was my first job right out of the military. In the military, you are paid by your ranking. Your ranking is given based on years served, qualifications etc. Each rank has a base pay and there are monthly “bonus” type pays added onto that for reasons like-speaks another language, was away from family for 30 days etc. All of these pay scales are published and accessible by anyone. So, you know exactly what your stateroom mate makes as well as what your commanding officer makes. Men and women make the same amount. Very transparent.

This headhunting job was my first job after the Navy and it was composed of former military people who helped other former military people find Fortune 500 jobs. Well, as I was interviewing for this job, I had negotiated a higher pay than had been offered to me. I had also been offered an amount (unbeknownst to me) that was higher than some other people who had a similar position.


At the job fair, the two other recruiters were warming up to me and we were getting to know each other. Surprisingly, one of them asked me what I was getting paid. I brushed it off, instinctively knowing it wasn’t a good idea to discuss it but then both of them kept pushing me and eventually wore me down, telling me it was no big deal (they were confident that it was less than their paychecks). When I told them the amount, the look on their faces told me I had made a HUGE mistake. “WHAT?” The other two had been with the company for a while and told me their pay. It was very different.

Now as the week goes on, all of a sudden, these two guys are nowhere to be found and do not answer their phones when I am supposed to attend meetings with them. I miss out on an event we were supposed to attend together (they had all the info and offered to give me a ride but disappeared without me). They begin to compete with me in strange ways at work. If we were grabbing lunch somewhere between meetings they told me I should pay for theirs.

Luckily, it had no effect on my actual performance but it felt TERRIBLE. Of course that isn’t a good idea. I am so happy that I had that experience though. If it had been the other way around and I had found out I made less than someone, I would have just thought to work harder and get a raise or quit because I wasn’t being compensated appropriately.

If I knew how much this pictured Turkish rug weaver made, would I want to buy that rug for the price they are asking for it?

Have you ever run into this situation? What happened?