Tanya Zanish-Belcher: A key competency for any archivist starting out or moving up is the ability to negotiate a fair and equitable salary. Statistics show that accepting a smaller salary than you deserve can cost you thousands over the course of your career, so it is well worth investing the time to develop the skill of negotiating with a potential employer.
To that end, Beth Myers, Director of Special Collections at Smith College, agreed to write a guest post focusing on this issue. Beth and I taught a workshop on Career Planning for Archivists at the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) Annual Meeting in Milwaukee (2016) and salary negotiation was a component of the curriculum. While we are taking a break from teaching this workshop for the year, it will be available as part of MAC’s Speakers’ Bureau (hosting fee only) in 2019: http://www.midwestarchives.org/speakers-bureau
Although there are many archivists who do not have an MLIS, the American Library Association’s Advocating for Better Salaries Toolkit (2017) provides additional information on this important topic:
The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) recently published this research on the salary negotiation patterns between men and women in academic libraries. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) also provides resources.
Beth Myers, Smith College
If ever there was a reason to celebrate, a successful job search is at the top of the list. For most people there is a palpable relief that so much hard work is in the rearview mirror — mulling the posting and potential ramifications of getting a new job (good, bad, and unknown), crafting and submitting the application, the waiting, the interview(s), the reference calls, the waiting. But in other ways hard work still lies ahead and few other psychological roadblocks loom as large for so many people as the salary negotiation. The negotiation period places the job seeker and organization making the offer in a nebulous sociocultural-economic space loaded with assumptions, guess work, power dynamics, and awkwardness. Like an ABD distinction for PhDs, the salary negotiation period conveys the status of incomplete (or perhaps uncertain) success—a journey not yet finished.
Not all jobs come with a period of negotiation for salary and benefits, let alone so-called perks. Some first offers are also final offers due to internal constraints that are rarely visible to the job candidate. Term positions, hourly positions, and entry-level salaries are often, but not always, fixed. Some organizations don’t negotiate as part of a unique workplace culture or, more whimsically, the habit of a particular administrator. Some organizations are more transparent in the process than others, but none that I know of completely reveal the boundaries or wiggle room or define exactly what is on offer. In the absence of specifics, most job candidates are forced to guess at the limitations of the offer: Where is the real ceiling and where is the real floor? All the while, a psychological ripple begins for the job candidate: How much do they like me? Need me? What if I ask for too much? The reverse of this can also be true. Hiring managers often function under institutional pressure to keep labor costs low. If too low, the best candidates may well (and rightly) be out of reach.
There are steps a candidate can take to enter the negotiation period with confidence that, with some luck, will result in a quadam victoria — certain victory (or, more likely, certain compromise). First and most important is knowing what your red line is. The red line is the package that you need in order to live the quality of life that you require. The red line is so-called because it is non-negotiable, solid, and inflexible. The red line exists so that you know well in advance what it will take to complete the negotiation and at what point you are willing to walk away regardless of how tempting the job might be.
You will know your red line because you’ve done your homework to determine the amount of income and benefits that you, and often your family, need to flourish: 1) if relocating, cost-of-living changes from housing to commuting costs, gas, electric, insurance, and similar; 2) health insurance, including dental and eye care; and 3) long-term benefits, such as retirement package and employee support for dependents of any age. That includes school tuition discounts and family leave support not otherwise determined by the federal government. There are a bevy of tools out there to help you determine the economics of your job transition. One of the more oft-cited is the living wage calculator from MIT.
There are other ways to do your research a bit closer to the profession. Some of these sources are dated now, but can be instructive: SAA’s A*CENSUS (2004), SAA Salary Survey (2015), Association of American University Women (2016), Digital Asset Management Foundation (2014/2016), and Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook (2014). Newer work, especially the 2017 WArS/SAA Salary Survey: Initial Results and Analysis by Robin H. Israel and Jodi Reeves Eyre of Eyre & Israel, LLC, is also very helpful.
It is also important to gather as much unofficial information as possible. Tap your professional networks and friends and, by extension, their networks and friends. Although there is a general reluctance in U.S. culture to talk about salaries, there absolutely should not be. Ask around — public academic and government job salaries and grades are typically posted publicly; academic and corporate jobs are as often obscured. Sometimes the only way to get a sense of the salary is to ask friends or former employees at that institution. If quality of home life is a main motivator to change jobs, talk to people who live in the area. The more you know, the better prepared you will be.
Once you have done the homework, determine your red line. Remember to consider the full package on offer, not just the pre-tax salary. The employer will be thinking in terms of salary + insurance + retirement + cost of employment over time, and so should you. The retirement package in particular is often overlooked, especially by new/newer professionals, but it has the greatest long-term impact on the employee.
Do some soul searching: How much do you really want the job? No job is perfect, no institution is perfect. Even self-employment has its drawbacks. What a new position offers is potential and hope. That hope can be for advancement. How does the job fit in the longer professional trajectory? That hope can be for a better work environment and culture. How do people get along at work? How does the institution support its workers? That hope can be for a better living environment. Is it time to leave the city for the town or vice versa? Although it would be easier to reduce a prospective job to the salary, such an approach ignores the real impact and complexity of making a professional move.
A few more suggestions to keep in mind prior to starting your salary negotiations:
- Know that everyone wants a positive outcome.
- Odds are that no one is trying to deceive you, but it’s good to remember that there are systems and expectations at work that will not be visible to you.
- While it is important and reasonable to have high expectations about the offer, be prepared to compromise.
- It is likely that your initial salary number will be high and the first offer low. Respond professionally. This is a 5K, not a sprint.
There are also practical concerns when negotiating salary. Typically negotiations will take place over the phone. You will likely be negotiating with the person who will be your supervisor, but it might be a representative from human resources or another person in the organization who is authorized to negotiate. Typically the first offer comes from the employer. Keep notes on the conversation to reflect on later. Ask clarifying questions. If you feel pressure or are uncertain, ask for a little time to think about the offer. Twenty-four hours is common, but you can ask for more time. If the offer is truly too low and below your red line, tell the employer and provide a counter offer. If you think the negotiation is not moving forward productively, you can ask to speak to someone in human resources (although responses to that request will vary by institution).
Importantly, do not forget about so-called “periphery benefits”: What kind of tech package do you need to be successful on the job? What support is guaranteed for professional development and training and professional association memberships on an annual basis? What is the organization’s approach to short-term schedule flexibility? What support will the institution offer for a trailing partner or spouse? Is there a chance for a one-time signing bonus? Ask about raises: What’s the five-year average for merit-based raises or contractually mandated raises? Are funds for continuing education for advanced degrees and certifications available? Does the institution support paid leave for research and scholarship? Does the institution offer subsidized housing? Relocation support?
No matter how high the stress or emotions involved, avoid ultimatums and framing your needs in absolutes. (This is a poor negotiation tactic in any circumstance!) Instead, frame your needs from a practical point of view. The core language of a job search is that an organization has a need / opportunity and that you are the best possible answer to that need. Throughout the negotiation, restate your commitment to the job, the specific ways in which hiring you will benefit the organization, and the unique skills and abilities you will bring—all of which translates to how you are worth the investment. Because you are.
Finally, no deal is final until you get the offer in writing from the institution, so hold off on making any public announcements or giving notice at your current position until that all-important letter arrives. Once it does, put on the party music because it’s time to celebrate a victory for all involved.