Pork Belly or Sausage

Kitty PoP putting in his 40-hours per week at his job… sleeping!  Such a happy dude, right?

Over the labor day weekend, it seemed only appropriate to do some thinking about jobs and the job market.  And if you caught my guest post over at Making Sense of Cents on Tuesday, you’ve seen some of my thoughts as to why we don’t always have to do what comes naturally in the workplace.

But a recent post by Katie Long over at Marketplace had an interesting insight in understanding your place in the job market that I think is worth exploring a little more.  Her theory is that there are two extremes when you’re considering workers in today’s economy – pork bellies and sausages.


What Do Pork Bellies and Sausages Have To Do With Your Job?

Pork bellies are commodities.  They are all basically the same and can easily be swapped out for one another.  A good sausage on the other hand is individually crafted and unique.  It’s harder to find a substitute for a good sausage (or so I’m told – I’m a vegetarian!).  And Katie Long talks about this mostly in terms of salary…

“Commodity goods are viewed as all alike and thus the market rate is firmly established — a pork belly is a pork belly is a pork belly. Alternatively if your job is a bit more unique, you are priced more like a customized good, a sausage in this case, and while the market has some influence on your price, your distinct features are more important — are you spicy kielbasa or lean cut breakfast links?”

When I first skimmed over this piece and took the brief 6-question quiz she included – my answers showed that I was a “sausage” all the way.  And I thought, “Well, I’m a white collar ‘knowledge-worker’, I guess that makes sense.”  But the thought festered in the back of my brain, and I recalled seeing articles like this one this summer about skilled manufacturing jobs going remaining unfilled despite the high unemployment.  The types of employees that these firms are looking for are highly sought after, and should be able to negotiate pretty successfully if they’ve got the right skills, but they’re hardly white collar or ‘knowledge-workers’.  So there must be something else at play.  But what?


To try and see if I could get to the bottom of it, I made a few people I know take Katie’s quiz.  It’s 6 questions long:

1.  Can you state your job in three words or less?

2.  Where you work, are there three or more people that do a job very similar to yours?

3.  [Did you receive weeks (yes) or months (no)] of training to prepare for your role?

4.  Is there a college major or associates degree for your job?

5. Could your boss do your job if you got sick for two weeks?

6.  Are you part of a union?

Yes answers show pork belly tendencies, and no answers indicate sausage.


And the (Very Biased*) Results

Mr. PoP leans sausage: 1-yes, 2-yes, 3-no, 4-no, 5-kindof but not well, 6-no

  • His job (in HIS words!):  “I sell sh*t”
  • Mrs PoP’s Comments: His paychecks are almost entirely commission based, and pretty much everyone works off the same commission schedule.  So… even though he leans sausage, there’s not a whole lot of room to negotiate his pay.  But (as his management team likes to stress) his income can be as high as he wants it to be – he just has to sell a lot to get there.


Friend #1 is almost entirely pork belly: 1-yes, 2-yes, 3-yes, 4-no, 5-yes, 6-yes

  • His job: Economist at a US federal agency
  • His comments: “I could have done this job as a 16-year-old, but they won’t hire you unless you have a masters.”
  • Mrs. PoP’s comments: This guy is well paid, and has no stress when he wants to take extended vacations as his many colleagues who do pretty much the exact same job that he does can and do fill in.  If that’s being a pork belly, sign me up.  But, he’s had salary caps and no COL raises as of late, so there’s a bit of a downside there.


Friend #2 is leaning pork belly: 1-yes, 2-yes, 3-no, 4-yes, 5-only parts of it, 6-no

  • Her job: Post Doc with teaching and research duties at a distinguished private university
  • Her Comments: For question 5 – “My teaching duties could easily be covered by someone else, but if I were too sick to research, the research would stop.”
  • Mrs. PoP’s comments: I was surprised that this friend wasn’t in a union, but she said benefits were so good for faculty that there’s no real need for them there.


Friend #3 considers herself solidly pork belly: 1-yes, 2-yes, 3-yes, 4-no, 5-yes, 6-yes

  • Her job: University professor nearing retirement at a state university that focuses more on teaching than research
  • Her comments: The only time she ever formally negotiated in her career was for additional step increases when she was hired.  But she can increase her income without formal negotiations simply by taking on more responsibilities like : “summer work, overload, grants, or chairing dissertations”.
  • Mrs. PoP’s Comments:  Much like Friend #1, she’s got a lot of flexibility built into her position and her benefits have always been very strong, so negotiation has never been something she needed to do much of.


Mrs. PoP is solidly sausage: 1-no, 2-no, 3-no, 4-kindof?, 5-no, 6-no

  • My job: Algorithm development
  • My Comments: I think I’m even more heavily sausage because of where we live and the company that I work at.  There are companies that do more of what I do in California or Washington, but not many in Florida.  So I work for a small company and am literally the only person doing what I do.  I actually tend to think this gives me less leverage in negotiations since if I really wanted to do the same thing and leave my job, I might have to consider moving.  (Or have someone hire me to work remotely.)


None of us seem to feel like we have tons of room to negotiate our salaries, whether we’re pork bellies or sausage.  So where does that leave us?  Is being a pork belly or a sausage inherently better?

My pork belly friends have way more flexibility in their job schedules, whereas Mr. PoP and I being more sausage-like are often at the beck and call of work, even when we’re on vacation.  But we don’t really aspire to be pork bellies – in reality, we’d love to have our own business someday, which would make us very sausage-like if we are self employed.


What’s your job and your answers Katie Long’s question?  I’d love to hear them!  Do you think that you’ve got power at the negotiating table?  Have you recently negotiated wages or salary?  


* My survey was definitely biased that it was based on who was signed on my g-chat at lunchtime.  So sue me.  Or better – make it less biased and include your answers below!

20 comments to Pork Belly or Sausage

  • I have a weird situation. My husband is basically my boss…and although almost anyone *could* do my job if I were gone, no one could do it as well as me. And anyone who gets stuck doing my job while I’m on vacation prays for my return.

    • Your husband is your boss? Is that a weird dynamic? Mr PoP and I would love to work together someday… but I don’t know how we’d do if either was the other’s boss. How you make that work is totally worth a post, I think!

  • I started reading this thinking it was going to be a recipe for pork belly or sausage tacos!
    i am actually in a pretty good place in my job, and was recently awarded a promotion and hefty raise to go with it, and i didn’t even ask! I feel well taken care of and as long I keep my bosses happy, they reward me. I’m in the process of going back to school to get my masters, which will help me to keep moving on up in this company.

    • nope – my tacos are made out of TVP! No meat there =)
      Glad to hear that you’re in a good place at your job and don’t seem to have to negotiate much. That’s very lucky.

  • Fascinating post and a very original take! Thanks for linking (also enjoyed your guest post). Re that analogy: At first glance though I thought sausage would be much more generic (as it’s a cheaper mass produced meat) while pork belly is more gourmet. Anyway…

    I’m going to do this here:

    1. Can you state your job in three words or less? Yes (though I’d like to make a statement about how increasingly BS job titles are these days. I could definitely make up a long winded one for myself)

    2. Where you work, are there three or more people that do a job very similar to yours? No

    3. [Did you receive weeks (yes) or months (no)] of training to prepare for your role? Yes

    4. Is there a college major or associates degree for your job? Yes

    5. Could your boss do your job if you got sick for two weeks? Depends. Technically yes (I’ve run her through the key steps) but I’d bet the technical quirks would slow her down a lot, not being used to them, and would probably necessitate some back and forth. Also, her own work keeps her well busy enough – we had a bit of a kerfuffle trying to arrange cover for my upcoming holiday and had to find an outsider freelancer

    6. Are you part of a union? No (but at a larger company, I could be)

    The boy is also

    • It’s been so long since I ate meat, I just went with the analogy and didn’t question it. But I kept wanting to write bacon instead of pork belly – I feel like bacon is all the rage these days, no?

      Thanks for sharing your answers!
      As for job titles, I totally agree – check out our post on our “Personal Banker” encounter for more on it (shameless plug!)

      I think the quiz isn’t perfect, but it definitely made me stop and think about other styles of work than my own (which is very individual work at a desk all day) and what parts of them I might enjoy.

  • CF

    I admit, I clicked the link because I love pork belly. :S My job is interesting because it requires a mix of computer science and biomedical knowledge – it’s actually pretty hard to hire good developers who understand biology. We’ve been looking for a new lead developer for months…

    • Not going to lie – I didn’t even know pork belly was actually a food. Dare I ask – is it really the stomach of a pig? Like haggis but pig, not sheep? (Sorry – not a meat eater, so am pretty ignorant on food sometimes!)

      So when you guys find the right candidate for lead developer, it sounds like that person is going to be in a pretty good place to negotiate if you’ve been searching this long!

  • Interesting post! I am definitely a pork belly. I said yes to all questions. In answer to your question above, pork belly is the fatty meat that runs on the underside of the pig (the belly) and surrounds the pig’s stomach. It is not the actual stomach itself. I believe haggis is the sheep’s innards boiled in the sheep’s stomach. I’ve never tried it and I’m not sure I ever will.

    But in terms of what I prefer to eat, pork belly or sausage, I like the taste of both. lol.

  • 1. No – I make sure airplane parts don’t break(simple explanation but more than 3 words)
    2. Yes – There about 300 other people who do my job haha
    3. Yes – It wasn’t specific training but I had to learn a lot to do my job
    4. No – Out of the 40 classes I took for my major, I’d say I use about 5 of them now haha
    5. No – God no haha
    6. No

    Guess I’m leaning towards a sausage :)

  • I just bought nine pounds of Blue and Gold sausage from a Cub Scout fundraiser. Great stuff! Pity that it’s not available year round at local supermarkets.

    Oh, and I’m sausage as well.

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