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Salaries never stay secrets forever. Hiding them only delays the inevitable.

Last year we were having a discussion at lunch. Coworker was building a new house, and when it came to the numbers it was let loose that it was going to cost about $700K. This didn't seem like much, except to a young guy that joined the previous year and had done nothing but kick ass and take names. The new guy was arguably the most talented guy in the company by a considerable margin, so he thought someone building a $700K home might've been overextending themselves. The person buying the home retorted that it was reasonable and asked the new guy why he wouldn't buy the Porsche Boxster he considered his dream car. The new guy responded that would never be prudent. That didn't seem right, as several of us at the table could've nearly swung a Boxster with just our bonus.

The conversation ended up in numbers. Coworker building the house pulled about $140K base (median for a programmer was probably $125K), and his bonus nearly matched the new guy's salary, which was an insulting $60K -- and got cut out of the bonus and raise in January for not being there a full year, only 11 months.

Turns out he was a doormat in negotiating, though his salary history was cringeworthy. It pained everyone to hear it, considering how nice of a guy he was. In all honestly, $60K was a big step up for him. Worst of all, this wasn't a cheap market (Boston). The guy probably shortchanged himself well over a half-million dollars in the past decade. This was someone who voluntarily put in long hours and went out of his way to teach others, and did everything he could to help other departments like operations and other teams. On top, he was beyond frugal. Supposedly he saved something around 40% of his take home pay, despite living alone in Boston. He grew up in a trailer park.

He spent the next day in non-stop meetings with HR, his manager and the CTO. That Friday he simply handed in his badge without a word, walked out and never came back.

Until 3 months later. As a consultant. At $175/hour.




That guy could have been me. Modest upbringing, lean living, doormat at negotiations, accepting absurdly low compensation because it seemed like the thing to do at the time, check check check. I'm glad he is doing better now.

That said, mission effing accomplished for the company: they're well north of a million dollars richer because good little kids don't drop their drawers or talk salary numbers. This topic makes me feel positively Marxist: we're willingly participating in a system designed and perpetuated to exploit us because to do otherwise would be impolite.


Ah yes. The old bit where social/moral obligations and judgments are only applied to normal citizens and never corporate citizens.

When a private individual walks away from an underwater mortgage because the deal suddenly sucks, they're seen as a scum-bag leech whose word isn't worth dirt. Get the economic-justice crowd in on the discussion and they start bandying about "debtor's prisons" and erecting straw-men for the dead-beat bonfire.

But when a bank walks away from an underwater property because the deal suddenly sucks, they're seen as smart. Shrewd. Walking might even be a bonus-worthy decision.

Not that private individuals are incapable of screwing one another over and somehow dodging social judgment [1]. It's just far, far less common. And the best treatment they get is a polite look in the other direction. No-one's printing an Op-Ed celebrating those decisions and castigating any attempts at socio-moral critique.

[1] For some reason we all look the other way when it comes to immigrant au-pairs. And that's horrible.


Loved your tweets on salary negotiations from last night, pity I haven't properly followed through on them in recent times.


Sounds like a Google story.

But regardless, some people define 'winning' as getting more out of you than you get out of them. Sometimes those people get into management positions, and when they do their groups seem to develop really wide pay ranges for the same amount of work. If you're a senior manager and one of your managers is trying to get points because "I can convince him to join for half what the last guy cost." then you need to jump on that problem right away.

Managers have the challenge when they pay someone $X but they aren't doing the same level or quality of work of someone making $X - $Y. As a manager you have three choices: 1) Bring the lower paid person up to an equivalent level 2) Fire the guy making "too much" and replace with someone who is more calibrated to your organization. 3) Engage in a potentially unsuccessful campaign to bring the contribution up of the under performer.

Of the three #1 is the "easy" one (giving people raises is always pretty easy), #2 is the "quick" one (especially if you're in a place where turn over is expected) and #3 is perhaps the biggest gamble (both the opportunity cost of not having the guy perform and the possibility he may never get there). It's one of those things that is different about being a manager vs being an individual contributor.

Things are weirder in pre-IPO + post-IPO worlds where people assume that if they are throwing around a bunch of money its because they got it from stock or something. It can be psychologically difficult on someone who has a lot of money due to an IPO but is doing the same "level" of work as someone who joined later and got post IPO stock. Harder to manage and harder to deal with morale issues if they start 'resting and vesting'.

Google was famous for having a 'personal multiplier' which would adjust your bonus and a 'median salary' for your pay grade but they wouldn't tell you either of those numbers (they made it a policy not too) so it was impossible to back check to see whether or not your bonus reflected your work or was just a beauty contest. When the company won't tell you what the median salary is for your pay grade that should be a red flag. But not sharing individual points across the spectrum I can see the argument for that.


$175/hour * 40 hours/week * 50 weeks/year = $350,000/year, for anyone else (like me) who can't immediately estimate equivalent yearly rates.


But remember that there is non-billable work (accounting, etc.) and a 15.3% self-employment tax. And also remember that there are probably not 50 weeks of 40 hours/week at this company but rather short-term or part-time work. And you are paying for your own benefits.

I've found a good (albeit a bit conservative) rule-of-thumb is to convert the hourly wage into the yearly salary. Working as a consultant for $175/hour is similar to being employed at $175K/year.

EDIT: The U.S. federal self-employment tax for 2011 is 13.3% (15.3% was for 2010).


A minor correction: it's not as bad as 15.3%. The self-employment tax is really just the company share of FICA withholding (6.2%) plus Medicare withholding (1.45%) If you're an employee you pay 6.2%+1.45%=7.65% and your employer pays the same. If someone else (employer) is not paying the 7.65% then you do.

However, for 2011 the FICA rate for employees is 4.2% instead of 6.2%, so the self-employment tax remains effectively 7.65%. But that's only for the first $106,800 in earnings - everything above that is not subject to FICA and Medicare for employer and employee.


Another (even more) minor correction: there's no limit on the Medicare tax, currently 1.45%.


As "bad" as 15%? Tax is at least 38% here in Au for that wage (was 60% not so long ago).


Well, it's 15% for FICA (employee + employer), but there's also normal income tax, which starts at 10% and gets up to 35%. And then the state and, depending on where you live, the city have income and/or payroll tax as well (usually in the single digits).


That's "only" for social security and medicare. You still pay federal income tax on top of that.


And on top of that the state income taxes in most states, and sales taxes that usually approach 8 or 9%, and property taxes on real estate (and autos where I live). Also if you manage to save anything after all that, you can look forward to paying dividend or capital gains taxes (a form of double taxation).

It is a myth that America is a low tax nation.


Most other countries have twice that sales tax, as well as having all those other taxes. The best rough estimate of taxation burden might be proportion of government spending of GDP, which IIRC is about 35% for US, and is lower than eg most European countries.


Government spending as a percentage of GDP per country

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_spending#Government_...


You need to take into account what you get in addition to what you pay.

In American those taxes provide a strong military. Most of the rest of the world are very poorly equipped by comparison. Other countries get health care and education.


Improving foreign policy would be a cheap way to reduce military costs - relying on a militia was the American tradition up until the Cold War and is indeed one of the reasons you have the right to arms.


Keep in mind that the US is a deficit spender, so effective tax should be even lower than that figure.


As other pointed out that is payroll tax, not income tax.

The differences in tax between the US and Australia are not so much in the headline rates as in the deductions.

In the US mortgage interest on a home you live in is tax deductible.

And in the US you get taxed as an economic unit with your spouse and children.

So a home owner with a big mortgage and a spouse at home looking after kids pays much less tax in the US.


Keep in mind that there are many tax tricks you can play here too, like paying yourself dividends and writing off a lot of expenses (speak to an accountant before doing so).

Also the overhead of running a corporation (including lawyer, accountant, payroll, and general insurance) is not much if you're making over $100/hr. It is certainly less than 26.7% (ie, $75 of every $175 minus 15.3%) worth. Most of these costs are fixed, not variable.


my wife is a cpa/cfp, and this is how i set up my company. i write off most stuff (car, office supplies, computer equip, internet, phone, etc), and pay out yearly dividends on top of a base salary. for a one-man corporation, the overhead can be really minimal. if you can get health benefits from your spouse and keep nearly 40 hrs week in billable hours, you'll never look back.


Even using your conservative numbers, this guy is earning almost 3 times what he was previously, a fantastic effort and do envy him :-)


That's 3+ times what he was making while reducing his hours or 6+ times his salary if he is pulling overtime.


Depending on how many hours you bill, maybe. But if you have a steady client or two, bill 35 hours per week (conservative) and work 48 weeks, that's $294k. Yes there are some additional taxes (but only up to the first $105k or something) and keep in mind salaried employees pay half the "self employment" tax too..


Yep, my accountants rule of thumb is after deducting time for admin and other downtime you will be doing well to sell about 60% of your available billable hours. So that about ties up with what you are saying.


Calling that pay rate $175K/yr is beyond conservative. Maybe if he's taking off 2 months a year for vacation (another benefit of contracting!).


$x/hour * 40 hr/wk * 50 wk/yr = 2n1000

The general rule is always "times 2, add 3 zeros" to do it in your head.


That would never work. You'd find some garbage in the output, or even worse, get a core dump due to n being undefined. I think you mean 2x * 1000. .... or I've been refactoring my code for too long.

But yes, this is generally the rule I use as well, take the hourly rate and double it and add a K (eg $30/hr = $60K)

Doesn't include holidays, sick leave or efficiency trade-offs (billable time vs maintenance, research). Personally I use an estimate of about 75% efficiency to get a realistic answer, so then your formula becomes 3/4 * x * 1000

So at $175/hr I'd expect something like 130,000 annually. Given that its said he's quite frugal and doesn't mind hard work, it could well end up being around the 250-300K, but I'd expect he'd end up burning out after a year or 3.


For 75% efficiency I assume you mean 3/4 * 2 * $175 * 1000 = $262,500 / year.

3/4 on it's own is less than %40 efficiency. I.e. Taking half the year off.

You also just stated the same thing slashcom did while meaning to correct him?


yes, quite right... maybe I should go and lie down somewhere...

But hey, at 75% efficiency at a half year's work at that rate I could probably afford it...


quite true ;)


Much shorter, just double the hourly rate for yearly salary in K's.


Eeek, only 2 weeks holidays per year? :(


Yearly revenue = hourly rate * 2 (in thousands)

$40/hr => 80k/y $120/hr => 240k/y


and his bonus nearly matched the new guy's salary, which was an insulting $60K

Is it common to get ~$60k yearly bonus as a programmer? Was this for a finance-industry job? All I've seen (either myself or others) so far is a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.


Large firms will do 'bonus targets' as some % of your base salary. Goals are established based on measurable metrics that you probably won't feel like you can directly do much about, such as average revenue per customer. If the company hits the goals, bonuses pay at some multiple of target. E.g., 10% bonus target, it's a good year so bonuses pay double = you get 20% of your base as a bonus. Managers will be given both a higher base salary and a higher bonus target.

Small firms are all over the map, from nothing to "finance industry".

Glassdoor suggests that no, this amount is not normal. But I wouldn't be at all surprised to see ~$10k be normal from a ~10-15% target. And it is certainly possible at a big company that does this sort of thing to get classified as a manager and have a 15% target payout double on a good year for 30% of base = a free car.


Avoid bonus systems. Bonus systems do not work out well for non-executives. Look at the story again: the kid made out better than anyone because his $175/hr is his for as many hours as he works no matter how the company performs that year. He gets his "bonus" every hour he works. The senior dev has a whopping 30% of his yearly comp tied up in a nebulous bonus that probably gets paid out far enough into the next year that he's already earned about half of his next bonus by the time he actually gets it (i.e. makes leaving expensive).

The bonus system was originally set up for high up executives to tie their comp more exactly to company performance since they are responsible for it. As a dev you are not responsible for company performance. Are you able to sack the sales team if you feel that they're not competent? Are you able to change company direction? You can't be responsible for something you have no ability to change. People saying you do are just manipulating you to their own advantage.


"The bonus system was originally set up for high up executives to tie their comp more exactly to company performance since they are responsible for it. As a dev you are not responsible for company performance."

As a dev, we might not be "responsible", but we sure as hell have an impact on the performance of the company.

So many people overlook the fact that we design, build, implement, enhance and support the products that earn the company revenue. The products might not be our idea, but we are the ones executing them. And in true HN fashion, we all know an idea is nothing without the execution.


You can affect it, but that's not what the bonus system is about. It it were you would "deserve" a bonus for simply not destroying the place, since this is the only thing really somewhat under your control.

Everyone, down to the cleaning service, has some effect on the company. Otherwise they wouldn't be there. Should a big chunk of everyone's compensation be based on company performance? If you do that then we're all suddenly big risk takers, and therefor vastly underpaid.


Can someone please shed some light on what would be a good strategy to follow if you were in his position talking to HR, manager, CTO?

What's the best way to save yourself once you've realized you're worth nearly double, triple, or quad your current comp pkg?


Honestly, the best way to obtain your newly-discovered market worth is to leave and find another job. In almost every job your only chance of negotiating a competitive salary is before you start.

Sure, you can talk to HR and your manager and perhaps see some form of bump in salary, but if you're significantly underpaid then a) it's likely other people are too and they won't want to rock the boat, b) there's a decent chance you wouldn't leave anyway, and c) even if you do chances are they can fill your position for what they're paying you now.


Agreed. Not only that, but the less people pay for your services, the less they respect those services (it doesn't feel as earned as the next guy billing twice as much).

So you pretty much have to jump. Which is likely anyways since if you were being paid less than half than everyone else around you and doing the same or better work, you'd probably be more than a little annoyed.


This is a sad fact. There are huge (irrational?) barriers for giving employees big raises or bonuses. Take Borland for example - they'd rather sue Microsoft for brain-drain (i.e. paying the employees more) than match the offers: http://news.cnet.com/2100-1023-279561.html


> There are huge (irrational?) barriers for giving employees big raises or bonuses.

Since they exist at almost every company, I think it seems probable that it's rational. Here's a simple possible argument for their rationality:

Creating big barriers to large raises/bonuses discourages employees from sharing salary info, since there's little they can do about it. Furthermore, the more your employees are worrying about their salary, the less they're working.


> ...I think it seems probable that it's rational.

It's an example of bounded rationality: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bounded_rationality

The decisions seem rational given the perspective and limitations of the decision-makers.


The easiest way is to just find another offer from another company. You're not "worth" double your current comp if you can't find it somewhere. Then you let them know that you have another offer but would prefer to stay if they can match the other offer.

Keep in mind that this happens all the time and is standard procedure in most American and European companies. As long as you act honestly, your boss will probably not hate your forever or start looking for your replacement. If your employer can't deal with negotiating over salary, you should probably just take that other offer . . .

The other option is to say that you're going to leave to go consulting. This is a harder sell because they'll think you're bluffing. You have to be ready to actually do it.


I think that it works better if you don't say you would prefer to stay. If they want you to stay, they will make the offer anyway.


You can also use the approach suggested in "Up the Organization" where you put in your two weeks and then re-apply for your position. It's good to have, as you suggest, a best alternative to a negotiated agreement on hand (BATNA), such as a job offer from some place paying the same or more than you're getting now.


Never take the counter offer.

If you're going to go, go. If you're going to play employers to get more compensation, play prospective employers.

If you take a counter-offer from your current employer, they'll just put you on the shit list. First to go in any sort of rough terrain. First to get thrown under the bus if they need a body. And most importantly: you'll have set a new normal for salary discussions. That is, they'll feel they can simply say 'no' to every request until you're ready to leave again and then just match the offer.

They get to continue paying you X for however many months you give them; however many months it takes to find a job worth leaving for. Then they coast in and match someone else's 1.2X offer, having enjoyed months and months of paying your old salary and playing all that stress and frustration and work of getting another offer against you.

And you can be certain they'll be playing every social/moral game to make you think you shouldn't get it along the way [1].

Further, you'll have damaged the nascent relationship with the would-be hiring company. They invested nontrivial time and energy vetting and planning for you and will be miffed to find they were a pawn in a raise-play. Sure, it's a valid business decision to change your mind and turn down an offer. But those individuals will remember and give you less preference in the future [2]. Taking a counter offer from your current employer just isn't seen the same way as taking a competing offer from a third firm.

By all means, use a counter-offer to negotiate for more from would-be new employers [3]. But don't take the counter offer and stay put. Unless you really love searching for jobs and can dispassionately go through the "I'm going to quit." stage and that doesn't negatively impact your co-workers [4].

[1] "it's not a good time right now". "the economy has everyone really tightening down". "no-one's getting a raise this year". "i had to really push to get you guys a bonus, there's nothing left for salary". etc.

[2] They'll also see you as one of those "threatening to quit to get the best possible raise" people. Which is a negative for any manager who'd rather not go through that drama.

[3] Keep in mind that asking for a bid against a counter-offer can blow up if you have no intention of taking the counter. If you push for them to bid and they decline, accepting that job marks you as a certain type of negotiator, which isn't helpful for you. So if you really want to take this route, be prepared for the case where you need to actually accept the counter-offer, but continue your job search anyway.

[4] Remember that in any group-work situations, your co-workers will catch nontrivial shit when you move into the negotiating/quitting stage and they have to adjust and plan around your possibly not being there next month. Which they'll be forced to do, because management will ensure they can most-effectively bargain against you.


Apply for other jobs while at your current job. When you have an offer that you would like, go to your current employer and say "I have been offered a job for X". That's all.

They'll either decide they want to keep you on at Xish or not.


Now the current employer will say sure we are happy to give a raise. You decline the good job offer. One week later your manager fires you.... That's what actually happened with one guy in my previous job. He actually came to an office party in the new company but then his previous manager asked him to come back with higher salary offer. He came back and was fired . He was very lucky that our company agreed to re-offer and accept him back


That's why you get the new job conditions in writing, i.e. a new employment contract. If your old employeer fired you, you report them to the Labour Relation Commission (or whatever body is in your juristiction (assuming you're not in the USA, who's employement law is about as good as China's democracy laws))


Visit www.paynegotiation.com (disclosure this is my friends site!)


I've learned an interesting relation regarding salaries myself. It's not about the amount that you can live with, or what you think you need but about appreciation. I was such an idiot earlier: this whole angle was anything but clear to me.

Early in my career I never asked much and I was quite happy with what I got because I didn't spend that much. All my salaries were big enough compared to the previous salary that I didn't even think much about the fairness of it all. Given also that as a programmer I was still enjoying better than the average national salary and still better than my dad.

But eventually I realized that the only tangible way a company can truly appreciate a good employee is biting the bullet and by paying him a bigger compensation.

Even if he doesn't need it.

In the previous job I stayed for five years. Year by year I started to wonder when will they give me a raise: I still liked the job and I was considered a good programmer. I was already approaching the senior status earlier, but they reworked their career plan and bumped seniority forward into the future. Of course, seniority would have meant some standard increase in the salary. It took me those five years to determine my own value and at the end of it, I left at the brink of my five-year review that turned into an exit interview in promptu.

It wasn't about me physically needing more money: it was about me deserving being paid more money for my skills and experience, about my employer actually acknowledging their appreciation towards my contributions.

These days, I enjoy about the double of the average salary in my country. Quite a considerable increase! I still don't need all that money which has allowed me both to voluntarily work part-time and to also invest part of my earnings monthly. But now I feel like finally receiving each month the appreciation I never got in the previous job. Given my skills and experience, I'm being paid much closer to my market value now and that is what matters, eventhough I still live a small life and could easily live on my old salary.

Job markets are like any other markets: the correct price is not the cost of production plus some profit (or employee's cost of living + some more) but an arbitrary agreement between the smallest amount an employee will accept and the highest amount the employer will pay, an agreement that makes both equally happy.

The next time I'll negotiate a salary, I will have a request ready for an amount that is high enough that I won't be in a hurry to get a raise, but which is hopefully within reasonable limits depending on the job. In the case it's too high for the company, I'm willing to scale back the salary along with my monthly hours, linearly.

But my value per hour remains the same. I know my worth now.


the only tangible way a company can truly appreciate a good employee is biting the bullet and by paying him a bigger compensation

Exactly! A lot of people say what they really want at work is to be appreciated by their boss. Well he will appreciate you a hell of a lot if the money that should be in YOUR salary is in his instead!




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