Not excited about taking a low-paying job, but do I just take it because I need the work?
January 1, 2010 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I was offered a part-time job that's 1.) an hour away and 2.) pays very badly. I need the work, but also feel like I need to assert my worth, as someone who is hardly just out of college, and has a lot of related experience. Should I just suck it up and take it?

This is a box office manager position at a theater (a live performance theater, not a movie theater). I was recommended to the venue by a friend who is actually taking over as their production manager (their old one just got a job doing sound for "The Tonight Show"). They want me so oversee the box office, do some design work on their website, and help with booking and promoting of shows.

I have years of experience as a 1.) web and print designer, 2.) advertising copywriter (with strong social networking skills), and 3.) concert producer. I have great attention to detail and motivation (other qualities they're looking for), as I'm used to working for myself, but as times are tough, freelance work has been very slow. Where I charge $50-75/for design work (will lower it for certain situations), these guys are paying $13/hr. I am 43. This is what I was making 10+ years ago. The job is also a solid hour's drive away and does not include parking (though they say that there are 2-hour spots where I won't get a ticket).

When I went in for the interview, they told me the pay wasn't good, but they were looking for someone who would really take charge and help build the business, and not just do the minimum, as their other box office people have apparently been doing. During the interview, they went to check (on a computer) what they were paying their current design guy (across the country) and it was $40/hr. It seemed like they were saying that I could take over their design projects (their current guy is slow to make changes), and do the box office stuff for $13/hr. That sounded more acceptable to me. But in subsequent emails, they've said they do not intend to pay $40/hr for design, as they're trying to save money. I've asked what's reasonable, but haven't gotten another figure. Their current guy isn't doing satisfactory work, but they want to pay someone less to do a better job? This is confusing. I've been clear that I'd like to lay out the terms explicitly before we start anything, but haven't gotten an actual number for design tasks.

I have asserted that this is a low rate for me ($13/hr), and I can tell that they're sympathetic to that, but we still have no solid compromise. I've also reiterated my years of experience in the areas that they need, and they've come back with "we know that and we need that, but you don't have box office experience", something that I'm fairly sure varies from place to place, such that box office experience at x venue is completely different from box office experience at y venue. They also want someone who will commit to 6 months to a year.

Am I just being unreasonable? Is it just crunch time, and I just need to suck it up and take it? I'm trying to learn how the people I know who are well-paid convince employers that they're WORTH their salaries (or are ok walking away when they don't get a reasonable salary), but mostly I get offered either nothing, or situations like this. It's hard, if not impossible, to have any enthusiasm for a job that pays so low. It certainly won't increase my visibility, or benefit me, or advance me in any way (other than the purely monetary).

And if I myself didn't have reservations, the people that I've told about this have been pretty clear that THEY think it's ridiculously low. Before you say, "hey, $13/hr isn't that bad", please keep in mind that this is a Boston suburb (very high cost of living), and that my years of experience are why they're interested in me. But again, I need work. And they want me to start on Monday. Would appreciate your (compassionate) input.
posted by FlyByDay to Work & Money (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you are currently unemployed, $13 per hour is infinitely more than what you are currently earning, which is $0 per hour.

That said, there is something to be said for being paid what you're worth.

What opportunities are there for growth at this company? Is it just something you have to suck up for a while until something better comes along? Or are you expecting them to hire you full time?

You say it's a small performance theater company. That sounds like code word for "poorly funded." The low pay shouldn't surprise you and I wouldn't expect it to increase appreciably.
posted by dfriedman at 8:57 AM on January 1, 2010

Do I have it right that they want better work than they're getting paying $40/h by paying someone else $13/h? That sounds crazy. And you have to commute 1 hour each way to help them out?

If their big hangup is the box office thing, can you offer to just take over the design (and/or other parts they acknowledge your expertise in) for the $40/h rate and let them find some other sap to do the rest?

Whatever you decide, do not go to work until there is a clear understanding of your duties and pay.

I hope this works out in your favor!
posted by cestmoi15 at 9:03 AM on January 1, 2010

What opportunities are there for growth at this company? Is it just something you have to suck up for a while until something better comes along? Or are you expecting them to hire you full time?>>

I think there are pretty much 0 opportunities for growth here. And even if they wanted me to work there full-time, $24K with 2 hours of commute a day in my 40s is absurd.
posted by FlyByDay at 9:04 AM on January 1, 2010

It sounds like you're trying to make a case that you're worth more than they're offering. That's probably true in the sense that you're worth more on the open market, but one potential employer is not the open market. If you have only one opportunity for work then the wage you get is the wage they are willing to pay you, and not a cent more. It's not about fairness, not about what you're worth. You don't negotiate by pleading; you negotiate by demonstrating the ready availability of other, better offers, period. If the company you're negotiating with won't meet or beat the other, better offer then you take the other, better offer.

I sympathize with your frustration, but you're allowing that frustration to cloud your thinking. This is not about fairness. Your market value is only meaningful when you're dealing with the market as a whole. When you're dealing with a particular company, all that matters is what you're worth to that company.
posted by jon1270 at 9:08 AM on January 1, 2010 [10 favorites]

I wonder if this will be worth it at all once you subtract your time & cost for commuting 2 hrs/day. I'm guessing you could do the design part from home, if their current person does it from across the country. I agree with cestmoi15 - do the design stuff at $40/h and ditch the rest. Convince them you're a better fit than across-the-country dude because you could meet with them face to face on occasion. For the rest, you'd be better off just finding a retail job close to home that pays $13/hr and avoiding that commute.
posted by desjardins at 9:11 AM on January 1, 2010

Oh, actually on rereading it - if they aren't happy with the current designer at $40/h and you're usual rates are higher, I'd bring that right on up and the phrase I'd use is "you get what you pay for".

The parking thing is also a no go.
posted by cestmoi15 at 9:14 AM on January 1, 2010

posted by cestmoi15 at 9:14 AM on January 1, 2010

It sounds like a bad situation for you, and while I realize you want to get back to work, I don't think you should take the position with the current rate of pay. Contrary to what someone have said above, one does have to factor in the fact that $13/hour for a part time job might NOT bring in more than if you had all that time to continue your job hunt.

But jon1270 is right, all that does matter is what you are worth to this company, and your description makes it sounds like they are a bit seat of the pants. It sounds like a management team that doesn't really have a good handle on their budget but realizes they are bleeding money, so they came up with $13 to fill some line item in an excel worksheet. It also sounds like they are more interested in your design skills than office management.

My recommendation would be: tell them you can not do it for $13. Come up with a number that would satisfy your needs, agree to doing some design stuff, and yes, walk away if they say no.
posted by RajahKing at 9:20 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you afford to walk? If so, walk. This isn't "Would you prefer not to walk?", this is "Can you pay rent/mortgage/utilities/grocery bills until you find another offer which is more than $13/hour?"

You're already in a bad negotiating position, you've let the ball stay in their court, and they've openly admitted they want you to do a better job for significantly less money than you've earned in the past, and less money than they're paying someone right now who is not performing up to their standards.

Even at $40/hour for design work, they would be paying less by getting more results for the money they do pay you. If they admit this and still won't pay it, they either aren't interested enough in actually finding a viable designer or they're hoping to find someone desperate enough for work that they can lowball this severely.

So, the question is, are you that desperate? If not, then walk. If you do want to negotiate before walking, make it clear that you want $40/hour for design. Sell your abilities as being worth the money.

In the end, if you can't afford to walk, your only hope is to take as much control over negotiations as you can and hand them a solid figure. If you keep asking them for one, you'll get $13.
posted by Saydur at 9:23 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

If the job is part-time then it shouldn't inhibit your search for a better one, and they're certainly not paying enough to buy any loyalty. So if the money would be useful right now then perhaps you can swallow the indignity and use it as a temporary funding while you look for something better. The only difficulty I can see might be explaining the absurdly low wage to another future employer.

It would be good to use the hour commute to do something useful; some audio learning maybe? You
posted by anadem at 9:24 AM on January 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

It seems like you are comparing independent contractor rates (1099) to employee pay rates (W2), which needs adjustments made.
posted by smackfu at 9:40 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you do consider it, perhaps propose them reimbursing your parking and travel costs (55c/mile is the going rate these days, I believe?) on top of the $13/hour. Even something like that makes the commute and parking issues at least a little more reasonable.
posted by jgunsch at 9:52 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

The one small case for taking this kind of position is to 'have a job' on the resume. Too often if there are a dozen qualified candidates but the one actually working (in that field?) is the one that 'seems' best. Some kind of bias of 'well the competitor think he's valuable' So if you do this, keep the resume polished and keep looking.
posted by sammyo at 10:19 AM on January 1, 2010

I dunno, I might be inclined to take it at $15 an hour (small bump) and plan to stay there for three months or so while looking for another job. You do not need to tell your next employer how much you were paid, and it sounds like it would be experience that would very nicely round out your skillset for your next gig, whatever that ends up being.

I would also ideally want to be able to do design and update work from home and maybe not commute one day a week. If you can cut it so that one day a week is paid more, even at $25 an hour, that would be a good compromise.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:26 AM on January 1, 2010

$40 and hour for an hour here and there is a lot cheaper than a regular employee making $13 an hour for X hours every week.

Broader picture: I'm sure you are worth more as a full time designer web person. To someone, somewhere. You are not worth more to them. Maybe they are playing hardball, maybe that's simply all they can justify paying.

One big difference is what their concept of part-time is. Do they want you to show up 5-6 days a week for a few hours? Or will they be happy with 2-3 days a week @ 8 hours a day. That makes a big difference. Are they going to be calling you all the time when you aren't there?

Agree with others that having a job is better than not; usually. If you run the numbers on what their expectations are and what it costs you to get to and from work, and that ends up being better than unemployment, then you probably ought to take the job if there is nothing else on the horizon.
posted by gjc at 10:49 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

A couple of years ago, my partner walked away from an otherwise attractive job offer because the salary they offered was too low (he has a family to support!). A few months later, after trying to find someone else, they called and offered him the higher salary he had requested.

This sounds like a crap situation. In your shoes, I'd sit down and think about what it would take to make the job worth it to you, especially since they want a commitment of 6 months to a year. Whatever that is, with regard to parking, pay scale, days when you don't have to commute. If, honestly, you are in a situation where $13/hour an hour away is something you can't afford to pass on, then OK. But if that's not true, tell them what plainly what it would take to get you. And then, if they can't give it to you, walk away.
posted by not that girl at 10:52 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm siding with "not that girl." How long have you been looking for a new job? I came in expecting to give the advice most others above have, but after reading your story, I think they're taking advantage of you. $13/hr and they won't even pay to park your car? Will they pay for the tickets you supposedly won't get?

You're still in salary negotiation land. If you want to go lower than you ordinarily would, fine, do that and immediately start looking for another job. But their offer of what a high school student would make, for real, quality work, is either crazy or calculatingly cynical. They know they're taking advantage of you. I wouldn't let them do it.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 11:33 AM on January 1, 2010

Given the information you've provided, this doesn't sound like the right job for you. I'm not sure about the market that you're in, but there are tons of designers (and "designers" for that matter) out there, many willing to work for next to nothing. When I was looking for new design job a few years ago, there were a lot of $10-12 hour part-time design jobs and many of these employers were looking for experienced creatives. With the proliferation of pirated copies of Adobe products as well as tech schools offering a design degree in "just xx short months!" where "You don't even have to be creative!" there are a lot of designers out there going for the same job. Unfortunately, this is probably a good gig for someone.

Unless your market is radically different and designers are in short supply, I wouldn't expect them to come around and pay you much more than $13/hour for this job. You could make a case to only do freelance at or above the same rate, though quite frankly, this doesn't sound like the job for you.
posted by bucko at 12:05 PM on January 1, 2010

but they were looking for someone who would really take charge and help build the business, and not just do the minimum, as their other box office people have apparently been doing.

They want you to do three jobs (booker, ticket management, and design), one of which they are currently paying $40/hr for substandard work. I'd ask them if they were serious or whether they were wasting your time.

I know you're in a tough situation, maybe you could give them a month at all three jobs, kind of like having them on probation, after which you agree that design time will be freelance at $X/hr once they've seen your work. I'd also try to split out booking, possibly as a commission arrangement. If they don't like your designs, then they find their own designer after that time.
posted by rhizome at 12:08 PM on January 1, 2010

You appear to be looking at this entirely from your side of the table. A successful negotiation has to be based upon an understanding of the other person's needs and the ability to fulfill those needs while getting what you want.

I believe that, if you look at their needs, you will clearly see that they cannot provide you with what you want (need?). If that is the case, walk away. I say this only because, if they can't provide you with what you want, you will not be happy, you will not perform up to your potential and they will not be happy with your work.

Now, on the other hand if, as you say, you really need the work, suck it up, be thankful that your friend suggested you for the job and do the best you can under the circumstances. The worst that can come out of that is a good recommendation down the road for the job you really want.
posted by Old Geezer at 12:25 PM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unemployed? Take the job you can find, and keep searching for a job like you don't have one. While working at said job, do the best job you can do, and when you find something better, give them a chance to beat the new job's offer.
posted by davejay at 12:28 PM on January 1, 2010

It sounds like they want you to deliver the world at a bargain here. They need to move some before you accept the position, unless you're about to miss rent or go without food. Make it clear that you'll be bringing a LOT to the table, including reducing their number of necessary and lackluster $40/hr outings to nearly $0, and that you're able to do it, work VERY hard, and stay committed for $25/hr. If they push back, you can stay firm at something like $20/hr.

Make it clear that your position is that the commute, parking issue, and taxes make this completely untenable for someone of your skill level and experience. Fight all the way; if they end up holding firm, it's still likely you'll be able to come back and say "fine, $13" if you REALLY need it—they won't pass up an opportunity to get someone as talented as you for a discount just because you wanted to bargain.

So that frees you up to bargain properly. Push hard. These are negotiations and they're absolutely necessary for your survival. Don't accept $13 until you're 100% sure a) they won't budge from it, b) you can't get anything else, and c) you need it to afford food. Even then, don't sign any long-term contracts or anything at that rate. They get you at that price until the very second they find someone who values your time appropriately.
posted by disillusioned at 12:29 PM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the commute alone makes this untenable. I personally would not care if the pay were doubled. Not only is a commute expensive, it wears on your patience and energy after a while. Plus it's two hours of your life for how many days?
posted by thisperon at 1:01 PM on January 1, 2010

You might figure out how much you'd actually take home after subtracting the costs of the commute and any other expenses of the job. Then compare that to how many hours of client work you'd have to get to net the same amount of money. That might just be the kick in the pants you need to get more clients. They're probably out there. At least for my business, things are picking up.

Another option is to take the job and spend the commute figuring out how you're going to get your business back on track, then quit as soon as you've got your own work again.

Of course, that assumes you'd really rather be self-employed. If you're tired of self-employment and want a job, then a part-time gig with a long commute is better than nothing, assuming that there really is nothing else out there.

When negotiating a salary, I'd recommend focusing on the value you bring and staying away from expenses like the commute or taxes.

You'll also need to determine if they're planning on treating you as a 1099 (unlikely since they'll require you to be on site) or W-2. Your taxes would actually be lower as a W-2.
posted by PatoPata at 1:04 PM on January 1, 2010

Um, guys? We're talking about a THEATER here. Show business jobs are typically underpaid because people want to be in showbiz.

It also sounds like this is a disorganized theater, where there is a lot of room to take over the business and prove your worth.

What you could do is take the job with the understanding that, "I am going to do my best for the next three months to prove that I'm worth more than $13." Then at the end of three months, you can start looking for work from a job that you already have (which is easier than getting work when you're unemployed -- no one wants to hire someone who's unemployed, for emotional reasons). Or, you may discover that you can save them enough money to pay you more than $13.

Prove you're invaluable to them. Do all that good web stuff. Also reorganize their box office. And get more people in the door. Then you not only deserve to get paid more, they can afford to pay you more.

Showbiz is a world that rewards entrepreneurship, but it's a "show me" world where you're expected to put out first and then get rewarded later. If you just seem like a demanding person, they'll probably go with someone who's more anxious to be working in the theatre.
posted by musofire at 1:04 PM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I should clarify that your taxes would *probably* be lower as a W-2, depending on what types of expenses you usually deduct as a 1099.
posted by PatoPata at 1:04 PM on January 1, 2010

It seems like it really depends on how badly you need to be making money. For me the hour commute would be a dealbreaker, but if I really really needed to be working, then of course. I would tell them on Monday that you would really like the job, but need to be making x/hr, or you'll have to keep looking for other work.
posted by Rocket26 at 1:29 PM on January 1, 2010

I work for far less than my skills could command in the open market. I do this because I enjoy having an extremely free hand at work, and I like who I work for, and I value having enough time onsite to do the job the way I think it should be done; if I were to charge market rate, my present main employer (a primary school) wouldn't be able to pay for enough hours and I'd end up feeling rushed and stressed.

I used to have roughly the same arrangement going at another school as well, but I walked away from that one because (a) the new deputy principal told me that if any school PC had a problem that would take more than 15 minutes to fix, I should leave it broken until it was replaced (b) instead of putting me on as a part-time employee, they employed me as a casual, meaning I had to fill in time sheets and didn't get holiday pay or sick leave (c) they could never tell me, at the end of any given year, whether I had a job or not the next year.

I would not, under any circumstances, work for well under market rates for mad people who though that web design and ticket sales were the same thing.
posted by flabdablet at 1:35 PM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

You say they're dissatisfied with the current guy because he's "slow to make changes", but are you sure he is?

Yes, it's well known that theatre work is poorly paid, but they are still asking you to do three jobs and offering you an amount you know is substantially below even their going rate for what seems to be the most highly skilled of those three jobs.

Based on that information, it seems likely that they are demanding. I also get the impression that they may be disorganized. In my experience people like this are particularly likely to underestimate the length of time it will take to get tasks done. So maybe their perception that the current designer is "slow" is just that - their perception.

Worse, when you accept a job at very low pay, it sends a bad message not only to your next employers (unless you're able to keep rates confidential) but to your new employers - they may be terrified from the very beginning that you must be rubbish if you're willing to work for only $13 an hour, and they may be managing you based on a constant begging of the question of your incompetence.

If I'm right about this, not only will it put you under pressure and annoy you, but you can't assume, as some posters have done, that you'll get a good recommendation out of it. In a few months' time you could find yourself in the same position as their current design guy and they could be offering someone else $11 an hour to take over your three jobs plus dresser duties, explaining that your work just hasn't been meeting their needs. Expect also to face extreme pressure to work extra hours without pay.

I know what it's like to have my back against the wall, but I also know what it's like to take a job that turns out to do me more harm than good. I think that you may have to set strong boundaries from the very beginning if you're to avoid this, and therefore getting $40 an hour for design work will have to be a deal-breaker.
posted by tel3path at 4:05 PM on January 1, 2010

Look, if you need the job, you need the job. There's no shame in taking honest work, even for crap wages, especially if you need to put some food on the table.

However, this sounds totally ridiculous to me. Given that they're telling you to park in two-hour parking (!), does this imply that you're going to be driving two hours round trip for two hours of paid work? So really, they're paying you $7.50 an hour, and that's before you take out the actual cost of the commute. That just doesn't sound tenable to me, especially when you consider the opportunity costs here.

As others have mentioned, this isn't really about being fair, or bolstering your professional pride or anything like that. They're under no obligation to offer more than they wish. But this sounds like you would really come out the loser on this deal. Unless you have no other options -- even retail can pay better than this -- I would pass.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 4:13 PM on January 1, 2010

This can not end well, walk away.
posted by smartypantz at 4:58 PM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I were in your shoes, I would be insulted that they wasted my time. Tell them that you're interested in a different rate. Be firm but willing to negotiate. If they won't budge from $13, walk away, unless you would literally starve without it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:26 PM on January 1, 2010

In my opinion, $13 an hour doesn't seem worth it if you factor in the commute. However, maybe you could come up with some sort of compromise- i.e. you work from home (saving yourself the commute) or you negotiate a payment-per-task situation- i.e. they will pay you X for a website redesign and Y per show for booking and promoting (a lot of which you can do remotely), and they find someone else to do the box office work for the lower rate. Even though theaters aren't generally high paying, if they want an experienced professional (which you are) they should be willing to pay at least $20 an hour. Also, be sure to get a firm, clear, and written commitment of the payment scale if you do end up taking the position- it sounds like they're already being a bit shady in this regard. I like what tel3path has to say- set some sort of boundaries. But be prepared to walk away if they won't meet your bottom line. If you really need the money, you might as well do something more convenient and higher paying (teach SAT prep courses with Kaplan, sign up with an office temp agency, etc...), even if it's not in your field.
posted by emd3737 at 7:35 PM on January 1, 2010

Thank you all for the so many great responses and ideas. I will take it all into account in crafting my answer to them!
posted by FlyByDay at 10:45 PM on January 1, 2010

I don't think you should view the low pay as a reflection of what they think you're worth; I'm sure they know you're worth a lot more but they're trying to stick to $13 because either (a) they can't afford to pay you more or (b) they think you'll take $13, so why should they pay more when they don't have to? I also think your lack of box office experience is just an excuse. Even if you had relevant box office experience, they would probably come up with some other reason to only offer you $13.

Having said all that, I wouldn't get bent out of shape over the indignity of the low salary. Money's money and when things are tight, you do what you gotta do. Negotiate with them to get the highest hourly rate they're willing and able to pay (I agree with the person who suggested asking for $25 or even $20), then factor in taxes, parking, and the commuting cost and time, and decide if what's left over is worth it to you. And don't sign anything agreeing to stick with them for a certain amount of time.

Good luck, and let us know how it turns out!
posted by whitelily at 8:57 AM on January 2, 2010

The upshot was that I suggested a combo of some $13/hr box office work, some home work and some design, at a higher rate, preferably $40 (what they are paying their current designer), but if that's not doable, I asked that they suggest a rate. They came back to say that it didn't seem our goals were in line and that they were looking to save money, not spend more. Though via my suggestion/s, they would be saving money, plus getting a responsive designer in house. So I'm confused but not surprised.
posted by FlyByDay at 9:23 AM on January 3, 2010

Into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.
posted by flabdablet at 2:59 PM on January 3, 2010

In other words: they will get what they pay for, and you're lucky enough to have found out what they're like before they have any kind of claim on you. Walk away. Give them Kerbleckistan's number if you're feeling malicious :-)
posted by flabdablet at 3:06 PM on January 3, 2010

The upshot was that I suggested a combo of some $13/hr box office work, some home work and some design, at a higher rate, preferably $40 (what they are paying their current designer), but if that's not doable, I asked that they suggest a rate. They came back to say that it didn't seem our goals were in line and that they were looking to save money, not spend more. Though via my suggestion/s, they would be saving money, plus getting a responsive designer in house. So I'm confused but not surprised.
posted by FlyByDay at 9:23 AM on January 3

Let them hire some idiot to attempt and fail three simultaneous jobs at a fry cook's salary. Sorry they wasted your time. Even if you did go to work for them, we both know you'd be overwhelmed and frustrated by sky-high, unrealistic expectations within the first week, and you know they'd push for unpaid work.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:23 AM on January 4, 2010

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