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So . . . how much are your colleagues making?

Donna Rosato of Money Magazine

TESS VIGELAND: Rule number one at a dinner party, never ask what kind of money people make. Oh, and never serve 10 at a table that collapses. Long story. But we're all about breaking the rules here, so we invited Donna Rosato of Money magazine to join us. The latest issue looks at the best way to find out what your coworkers earn. So, Donna, you've decided to do the salary snoop. Where should you start?

DONNA ROSATO: You can go to those salary websites that kind of give you a general idea, but they're not just specific enough. So have a conversation with a colleague or a peer. It's often good to talk with someone who is no longer at your company. They may be less inclined to feel awkward about talking about something out there at a new place, and invite them out to lunch. But don't just shoot-out and say, hey, how much did you make when you were here in this job? And...

VIGELAND:
At least not before you order.

ROSATO:
Right. Right. Or, you know, after you've paid the bill.

VIGELAND:
Right.

ROSATO:
But a good way to ask is, look, I'm trying to, you know, understand whether I'm being fairly paid in the job that I'm doing. I know you would probably have a good sense of that. Can you tell me what you think the appropriate range for this job is?

VIGELAND:
What about your actual colleagues at work? Is it something that you should avoid asking them about? Or - are there situations where it might work to actually ask each other what you're making?

ROSATO:
One of my colleagues has a great tactic that he suggests. It's sort of like a party game. Afterwards, so you all go out with a group of colleagues for a drink. Maybe you could get the salary conversation going. And then invite everyone to write their salary on a slip of paper. You know, fold it all up, put it in a hat. Mix up the hat and read the numbers out loud.

VIGELAND:
Wow.

ROSATO:
My colleague swears by this. So, you know, it'll give you the information that you know without hurting anyone's feelings or exposing anyone.

ROSATO:
So there are certainly some things to think about before you go into this conversation?

ROSATO:
That's right. And - another tip I - would suggest is, you know, obviously, most people want this information because they're thinking about a way they can get a raise. It's also helpful for you to just think about your own standing in - the company. Get a sense of how valued you really are before you start getting resentful if you're making less.

VIGELAND:
If you do go into the boss armed with the information about, well, you know, I'm making less than - Joe Smith who's doing my same job, aren't there risks involved in doing that sort of comparison in front of your boss?

ROSATO:
It is never a good idea to go to your boss and say, I want more money because so and so is making more than I am. Because the boss might just shoot back and say, he makes more because he's better than you are. Knowing what people make is just information for you to understand. You understand the range for the job, and you're not quite there. You wanna use that information, but it has to be built on a foundation of you being valued, and a base of good accomplishments.

VIGELAND:
Donna Rosato, you wanna tell me what you make?

ROSATO:
Maybe over drinks sometime.

VIGELAND:
Fair enough. Thanks so much for coming in.

ROSATO:
Thanks, Tess.

VIGELAND:
You can find the link to the Money magazine article on our Web site, Marketplace.org.

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