"I want my two dollars!!"
October 11, 2012 3:48 PM   Subscribe

Salary negotiating ninjas—throw me a bone!

I have been freelancing and/or contracting nearly my entire 10+ year career in a creative industry (with a couple of year+ stints in-house with a couple of mid-size national companies) and have a great body of work that demonstrates both depth and breadth. Several years ago, I decided I wanted to find a full-time job for more financial stability as well as to advance in my career. I'd been doing director level work and discovered that I both really enjoyed it as well as possessed a natural skill for it, as evidenced by the feedback from those whom I have directed. However, my industry likes official titles and to see that you've worked in-house (either client or agency) side to advance and I felt that despite everyone I've interviewed with thinking my work is fantastic, I was routinely passed over for because I lacked a record of full-time employment. I was also told that, at best, I'd be interviewing for the senior level position I'd been essentially working at for the past five years or so and no higher.

Cut to last week when I had an interview for this director position, which is the next level up from the senior level creative I've been working at. I got hooked up through a friend/former colleague who recommended me to the owners of this studio. It was less an interview than a lunch/love fest in which they asked me to describe my ideal job as a director and them letting me know that what I described is exactly what they have been looking for. The position would be a newly created one that would allow one of the partners who had been doing the creative direction to concentrate on client development, so that the person in this new role would take on the task of mentoring/managing/directing the full-time and freelance creatives. At the end of the interview, they both hugged me and asked me to send them over a number that would get me into this position.

This kind of director opportunity will not likely come up for me again. Everything about this situation is exactly what I have been working toward. Everything, that is, except the money part. Because the studio is small (it would be 10 full-time with this new position) and their salaries have been based on our industry organization's salary averages for our city ("on the lower end"), and because it would be full-time, I knew that I would be essentially taking a 15-20K pay cut to move up in my career. I gave them a number $XXK (that I knew another studio about 4x the size as this one had just offered to someone for the same role) at the start of this week, and they came back to me last night with $XX-10K+ overtime (which they say averages to about 65-85 hours annually) and flash bonuses. Amount of PTO was great, there is an IRA employee matching contribution after two years, but health benefits not so much (half contribution on healthcare, no dental, no vision—which would be tough for me bc of how much I'd spent this year [and will need to spend in the coming year] on dental work and corneal issues).

I can, without having too much anxiety issues over my finances and ability to pay my expenses (I am single, own a house, if that matters), go down to $XX-5K+ overtime (and I would still probably take on some freelance to cover myself), which would be roughly about $15K less than what I've been averaging as a freelancer/contractor the past few years. Would it really be a hardship for a company their size to go up another $5K? How do I word my reply to get this amount, considering they declared that the amount they gave me was their "brass tacks, what they can afford"—or is it really?

(And if that is really their bottom line, then my contingency was to ask that they guarantee me the $XXK as a base since, during out lunch/interview, they had mentioned that sometimes during slow periods, I might not have to come into the office on some days—and therefore would not be paid for those hours.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Do you want money or time in a named position? If you can live frugally accept their offer with the caveat that if you are an outstanding contributor your compensation should reflect that. Give it a year see where you are look for another position if the money is still an issue. Just let them know you are taking a cut in pay. Contract work usually pays a premium so I can believe a full time position might pay less. Doing what you love and making a living at it is about as good as it gets money isn't everything.
posted by pdxpogo at 4:02 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here are some resources I've found to be helpful in strategizing and negotiating salary and benefits:


posted by uhom at 4:06 PM on October 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

I found Slate's Negotiation Academy podcast to be pretty good in terms of both the 'science' of negotiation as well as practical how-tos. It's 10 episodes of 10-15 minutes so it's not a huge time commitment.
posted by machine at 4:50 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Listen, people in charge of salary negotiations will say crap to keep salaries down. Take "brass tacks" with a huge grain of salt. The cost of lowballing is minimal so there's no reason for them not to do it. $5k per year is well within their grasp, but you can calculate how much they're taking in per project per person.

$XXk - 10k is a haggling tactic. They're hoping to be haggled up to $XXk - 5k and then you'll feel all shiny, even though they've just chiseled off $5k off what the market will bear. I would let them know that $XXk - 10k is still a hardship (as you've indicated it's pretty borderline) and that you have student loans, cost of living, and whatnot to be concerned about.

It's clear they like you, and they took the time to interview you and offer you the job. That's not a small investment on their part. I would say "I'm really looking to get closer to $XXk", and then let some silence go. Since you opened with that number, you're stuck with haggling up to that amount. I would hold out for $XXk - 3k, but it depends on how hungry people are in your field.

There are two red flags:

- You say "they had mentioned that sometimes during slow periods, I might not have to come into the office on some days—and therefore would not be paid for those hours". Is this a full time position or not? Don't accept this if they can arbitrarily trim your hours on "some days". Because you probably can't easily fill that time with more freelancing. If they want a full time commitment from you, then they must pay you for all of it.

- You say they offered "$XX-10K+ overtime (which they say averages to about 65-85 hours annually) and flash bonuses". Crunch those numbers and ask people who work for the company if those estimates are correct. The number you come up with for overtime + flash bonuses should meet or exceed that -$10k plus whatever you might lose during these unspecified "slow periods".

Don't settle for less.
posted by Mercaptan at 5:05 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

they had mentioned that sometimes during slow periods, I might not have to come into the office on some days

This is a red flag so large you could distract a bull with it. I mean, is it a full-time job, or isn't it? I would be very worried about someone who offered me this- about their ability to follow the basic rules of doing business professionally. What happens when you have a "day off" and then they need to ask you a question on the phone after all? How will they react when you bill them for the phone call? What's to stop them from having you work one or two hours in a day, then sending you home? And so on.

Personally I wouldn't even consider entering a situation like this, but at least be very cautious.

Also, I don't know what a "flash bonus" is, but you should count unguaranteed bonuses as exactly $0 when calculating compensation. If they're already being cheap and you don't even work there yet, what makes you think they will not plead poverty every time it's "flash bonus day?"
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:40 PM on October 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

I agree with everything Marcaptan said except this:

I would let them know that $XXk - 10k is still a hardship

Your (OP) personal situation is not any of the business of the employer and it is very unprofessional to bring it up. You demand the salary you deserve because it is what you are worth and what the market will bear. Whether you have massive student loans or no student loans does not change that. You put yourself in a negative bargaining position if you bring up your own personal finances - because then they have due reason to bring up their own finances, which they can always spin in a way to pay you less.
posted by saeculorum at 7:59 PM on October 11, 2012

Don't do it. It's a big pay cut and all for a name. Plus the benefits you'd be downgrading for? Hold out for something better if negotiations don't take you somewhere higher than where you are financially.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:06 PM on October 11, 2012

Yeah, the idea of a better title and less pay (particularly if you will not get paid for hours if it's slow...bad sign) sounds like you will end up significantly worse off financially and probably looking for new work sooner, rather than later.

I've said this before: a good job is one that treats you well and pays you fairly. Half the deal is not a good job.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:44 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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