Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Are Salaries No Longer Taboo to Talk About?

Last night I along with 3 co-workers had the pleasure of going to my alma-mater to present a guest lecture in a construction seminar class. The presentation was on safety in the construction industry and highlighted one of our projects. Since our company had the opportunity to be in front a large audience of mostly seniors (about 70 of them), we took the liberty of using the last five minutes of the class to give a plug for our company by sharing the three career paths within the construction industry using our company as the example. Following the career paths highlights we opened up the floor for Q&A on the entire presentation.

We had a very lively and thought provoking Q&A regarding safety until a student in the 6th row raised his hand and asked “Where’s the money?” At first I thought this was about the money to pay for safety equipment and explained that the money for safety is the responsibility of every company and it would be irresponsible not to ensure safety because of money. Then proceeded to list examples where by providing a safe working environment for construction workers productivity actually increased. The student then said “No, in the career paths, where’s the money at?”

I couldn’t believe he asked this question, especially since the people in the room who heard him ask that question are the decision makers in the company (the ones who decide who to hire and who to fire) – not exactly the kind of impression you want to make when you’re going to be looking for a job soon.

But since he asked the question, I responded in the most honest way I could with all paths are similar with regards to compensation, some have certain perks over the other but for the most part if all balances out. The money is in the path that makes you the most happy so you can be the most successful. If you hate what you do, chances are you’re going to struggle to go above and beyond which is the source for monetary rewards.

But just wait – that’s not what blew me away and made me wonder if salary information is no longer taboo. A different student then chimed in with “So what is the going rate for an entry level job at your company?” In my head I’m going HUH…you want me to name a figure?

Out loud I respond with “umm…our company pays very competitive salaries.”

Another student piped up with “How competitive, give us a dollar amount…”

It could be my conservative nature, but never have I asked others about their salary or shared (other than indirectly on this blog) my salary. When asked a to name a number I’m thinking inside my head – are you freakin’ serious?

Well one of the VP’s of our company, jumps in and says “ you were part of the college recruiting event we held this past year, what was the dollar figure used in the offer letters, it was $50,000, right?”

In my head, I’m thinking, how do you want me to answer this?

I mumble “yes around that, some a little more some a little less it all depended on previous experience and location due to cost of living”.

I’m still blown away that this conversation even occurred. I’m also blown away that this VP (not Mr. VP, a different Vice President - one that I’ve never had as a boss or boss’s boss) actually named a dollar figure. Am I being too conservative, when is it okay to talk openly about salary? Do you think I overreacted to the fact this question was asked?


Daizy said...

Since what I really want to do (something in the art field) often doesn't bring in much money, my second choices were greatly influenced by the starting pay. I keep my current job because I can make a living. When prospective jobs are equal in other areas, the money definitely tilts the scales. The local college publishes a newsletter listing all of the majors plus the starting wage. I still like to look at it just to see if there is something I would like better that makes better money. It's smart to go after the money especially if you are undecided on a career path. might as well earn some good money while trying out jobs.

Trees Full of Money said...

Great story. I can relate to being put on the spot about salary issues. It's even worse when you are with a group of friends or family and the issue comes up. I would be embarrased if I were at my alma matta with my boss and one of the students yelled out "where's the money at?" lol, it wasn't that "don't tase me bro" guy was it??

Thanks for sharing!

Fiscal Musings said...

That's an interesting situation. I know that it used to be really taboo to talk about how much money you make, but I'm seeing more and more that people are becoming much more open about things. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or not since I can think of positives and negatives for both sides of the issue.

Mom said...

I think it would be great if everyone could be more open about money. That way we could all learn from each other.

I don't know if that is the trend though. Hopefully.

"Future Millionaire" said...

@ daizy - I guess I can appreciate why the guy wanted to know, but at the same time I just think he could have found a different way of finding this info out (like checking the local college newsletter). The career center of GT, where we were presenting, also publishes a salary newsletter - in fact we look at it to make sure our salaries are in align with the competition.

@ trees full of money - lol, yeah this kid was at least cousins of the "don't tase me bro" guy. Seriously thought I'm glad someone else can appreciate my embarrassment (especially since I'm a big advocate of recruiting from my college). Plus I have to say I was kind of embarrassed for the guy as well. But then again I get embarrassed for other people all time.

@ fiscal musing and mom - I would love if we were all more open about money too, I think of all the positives that would bring. But (you know there's always a but) if the openness included salary I can't help but think of the negatives too. I guess I'm just not a trend setter. You all will have to bring me kicking and screaming. :)

BK Brian said...

so if i understood your post correctly he essentially "outed" your salary to the group? i think that's rude - i usually ask my close friends what they make to gauge well (or not!) i'm doing but i wouldn't just ask general people.....not cool VP guy...not cool

emilyg said...

In my opinion, it's crazy to think that people don't want/need to know starting salaries at a company they will potentially work for. As a recent college grad (May '07), I can tell you that a starting salary is very important to people, especially since so many students leave college with so much debt. Also, salaries vary greatly from company to company. I have some friends with entry-level salaries in the 20s, mine's in the 30's, but I have other friends who just started their first job with salaries in the 50s. Think about that -- $20 or $30 grand a year is a huge difference. I think it is important for young people to know the potential salary upfront so they know if it's worth their time or not. If they are completely saddled with debt, a starting job paying $30,000 may not cut it. I don't get why people are so afraid to talk about money and salaries. If young people don't know what normal salaries are, they may sell themselves short or not know how they should negotiate a raise. Knowledge is power, people!

Kacie said...

I totally agree with Emily. I, too, am a May 07 grad, btw.

Anyway, I linked to this article from my blog, and have more of my opinion about the matter over there.

It's important for people to know if they should reasonably expect starting at $25k, $35k, or $50k. It could make a huge difference if they choose that career path.

"Future Millionaire" said...

All - From your comments and some of the emails I've received I realize I might have over reacted to the comment, a little, but I still think it was inappropriate at the setting where it was asked ( I guess some opinions die hard).

@ bk brian - nope VP guy didn't out my salary. He outed my salary from a couple of years ago (one promotion and three cost of living increases ago), although my starting salary wasn't as high as what they company offered last year. :( I guess that's just inflation

@ emilyg & kacie - I totally agree that recent college graduates and people entering the job market need to know what to expect. I think I'm still close enough to have recently experienced that even though I went a little non-tradition in that I worked and went to college (and my company was nice enough to consider me with out the full degree). To find out the info I needed especially to ensure I was being paid fairly I obtained with my college's career center that states average salaries, a little internet research, and a little talking to people in the industry one on one.

Jennifer said...

I think it is still taboo, or should be, to directly ask a person what they are making. But I'm not reading this as them asking what YOU were making, not directly anyways. I think wanting to know average starting salary at a firm/in a career field is completely fair game.

kentuckyliz said...

I think it was a fair question. You were doing an educational presentation. Occupational information is fair game.

I am a career counselor and I wish more students would be curious about what jobs pay what...they get into low-paying fields then get mad that they graduate and aren't living like a rock star. Completely unrealistic.

Lots of people will tell you TMI about their sex lives...I'd rather know about the money, thanks. LOL

BTW very soon over half the American workforce will be self-employed, independent contractors, etc. Knowing marketplace prices will be critical to successfully negotiating contracts and generating income. So, get used to it.

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