Game Theory and Lying About Your Salary

Started with the intention of writing about lying during exercises with others, like this one posted on Mind Your Decisions where they do an excellent job of incorporating game theory into analysis of situations we humans face.

The blogger noted that this exercise — the salary puzzle — can do a nice job of determining someone else’s salary without them telling you. One issue that comes up though, one person lying or supplying false or fabricated salary numbers can mess up the average for everyone else. Interesting that a puzzle that can work surprisingly well can be messed up surprisingly easy by simple fabrication of a number by a willing liar.

But I started thinking about lying about salaries and found a bunch of pieces of the Internets with comments and thoughts on lying about salaries. This article on MSN Money pointed out that lying about salary is one those pieces of individual puzzles employers interviewing you will not likely no. Search or screening firms will have a difficult time verifying this as well (if they do a strictly legal search and not raid state or federal data banks).

Made me wonder, who would actually tell the truth about their salary? Would you if asked? I wouldn’t. I proudly talk about working at the Tulsa Business Journal right out of TU for $13,100 per year in 1994. But I haven’t divulged salaries past this point to anyone other than my wife and mother.

I have to ask the question — why wouldn’t you lie about your salary? Unless you work for a government organization or publicly traded company required to report it, I wouldn’t want anyone knowing my salary. It is unfortunately our nation’s arbitrary worth or value placed on us.

If asked how much I make, I answer “more than I need, less than I want.” And if it is someone looking to hire me, I’d answer “a little more than you are currently willing to pay…”


About Christopher Metcalf - Author

Christopher Metcalf is the author of Lance Priest / Preacher novels. Lance "Preacher" Priest is a spy, a killer, a human chameleon. He is the CIA's perfect weapon who lives by one simple rule -- there are no rules. Spies and Lies is a blog dedicated to espionage, the art and science of lying and occasional creative writing.
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