Working hard for the non-money
February 20, 2007 5:19 PM   Subscribe

[I got a master's degree for this?] Filter. I just got a job offer for a barely-livable amount of money. Other applications are pending. Please tell me whether my expectations are insane, and how to plot my next move.

I've been offered a job as an assistant editor for a big non-profit organization (let's call it Organization A). Half the job's copy-editing; the other half is writing original content for their website and coming up with cool new-media stuff. I have a master's degree from a well-respected school, good computer skills, and two years of full-time work experience (plus scads of internships).

The salary Organization A is offering me is $30k.

a) I think this is sort of insulting. Am I insane?

b) I have gone on three interviews for another organization in town and two interviews at another (both took place Mon/Tues of last week). I'm still waiting to hear from both, so I e-mailed them today to let them know that I had another offer and would like to get a decision from them within "a day or so" because Organization A wants a decision within the next couple of days. If I don't decide to take the job with Org A, and I don't hear back from the other orgs within the next two days, how should I play it with them?

Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.
posted by hazelshade to Work & Money (48 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just to provide context for my "barely-livable" assessment of this salary: I'm in D.C.
posted by hazelshade at 5:20 PM on February 20, 2007

yeah, I'd be insulted. Is a masters degree a requirement for the job? If not, is there anything your degree offers them that could justify a bump in pay?
posted by Saucy Intruder at 5:25 PM on February 20, 2007

Just some thoughts:

Just because you're qualified to work for more doesn't mean the position/organization can or will pay up to your potential.

They could be low-balling you. You can always counter by saying "I'm sorry, but I can't take the position for less than $xx,000"

In my experience, non-profit and new-media jobs aren't especially well paying.

You can always take the job but keep looking for new jobs.
posted by gnutron at 5:29 PM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

You don't say where you live, but I agree this doesn't sound like much money, even for a non-profit. If I were you, I would keep looking.

(on preview) I would definitely keep looking, since DC is an expensive town, and one where there are likely to be plenty of other jobs.

Question on b): You say "If I don't decide to take the job with Org A..." Do you mean "If I decide not to" or "If I haven't decided"?
posted by ottereroticist at 5:29 PM on February 20, 2007

Non-profits don't have a lot of money to throw around. In my experience, they'll almost always try to get you for less than you're worth - it's part of their culture to save money at all costs.

So, respectfully ask for more if you're interested in working there. They may well be expecting you to do exactly that.

If they're simply not able to come up to the salary level you're looking for, simply thank them for the offer and move on.
posted by aladfar at 5:30 PM on February 20, 2007

A master's degree isn't a requirement for the job (they do want a BA and 1-3 years of experience). But the stuff I studied pretty directly applies to this job and makes me uniquely qualified for it.
posted by hazelshade at 5:32 PM on February 20, 2007

ottereroticist (love your name, by the way), on question b I meant to write "If I decide not to."
posted by hazelshade at 5:33 PM on February 20, 2007

I agree that salary is frightfully low. However everything depends on the local labor market. Maybe there is a tremendous glut of copy editor new media types. But that job at that salary in that city clearly won't work for you. Don't take it. At the very least try to negotiate them up a bit.

You probably will not hear back from B and C in time (hiring processes can be slow and if they're not ready, they're not ready). If time has run out on A, think about a minimum salary level where you would take the job. Then try to negotiate up to that, making it very clear that you will walk otherwise. They may be happy to let you walk. In that case, it wasn't meant to be anyway.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:39 PM on February 20, 2007

If you've told Orgs B and C that you have another offer and you don't hear back from them, I would interpret that as meaning They're Just Not That Into You. I bet you'll hear from them though, if they've interviewed you two or three times.

As far as using an offer you've declined as a bargaining tool: the most you can do without lying is to say as little as possible and let B and C think the offer is still on the table.

I agree that you should tell A how much you think you're worth for that job. The worst they can say is no -- and the negotiation will give you more breathing room with B and C.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:42 PM on February 20, 2007

hazel, since the Masters isn't a requirement for the job, they probably haven't budgeted more. But the reality is that can't live on less than 50k in this city and even then is a big barely, so I would keep looking. You can definitely do better.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 5:46 PM on February 20, 2007

I'm worried now that the other two organizations will cut me from the running because I wanted a quick answer. Should I e-mail them again to let them know that there is less time pressure? (As I am pretty decided on the basis of this advice that I won't accept Org A's offer right away?) Or would that just make me look bad?
posted by hazelshade at 5:46 PM on February 20, 2007

Sorry, posted that last question before seeing ottereroticist's reply. Thanks, OE.
posted by hazelshade at 5:47 PM on February 20, 2007

I am also in DC and $30K is not bad for an entry level job at a non-profit after grad school. Quit whining, it's entry level. After year one you'll either get a raise or you'll find a better job. When I came to DC I was making the same amount of money. It's called paying your dues.
posted by parmanparman at 5:58 PM on February 20, 2007

a) I think this is sort of insulting. Am I insane?

Yes, but simply because you seem to be taking it personally and there's a sense of entitlement BECAUSE you got a Masters from a "good school".

It's not personal. They have x amount of dollars for the job. Either that's good enough for you or it isn't, but no need to feel insulted. Just move on.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:01 PM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

You can't live on less than 50k in DC? Please. That's more than the median family income.

For an almost entry level job with a non-profit, that's not unusual. I'd be interested to know which one - some have plenty of funding, some don't. I do agree with wildeepdotorg that they probably have a budget for the position. You need to factor in other benefits too, many non-profits have great leave policies, education benefits etc.

I don't think it's "insulting", (unless the head of the org is making 400k), that's sort of the deal with non-profits. I think you have a little room for negotation (+5k?) then you have to decide if it's worth it to you. But you can live in DC on 50k, just maybe not in Adams Morgan without a roommate.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:05 PM on February 20, 2007


30K isnt a lot for someone with a masters, even if its at a DC nonprofit. i would urge the poster to keep looking, somewhere out there is likely to pay better.

And keep in mind that they might have student loan debt as well. 30K is tight for living expenses in DC in the first place, but very much so when one has to pay back grad school debt.
posted by jare2003 at 6:06 PM on February 20, 2007

Make that '30k' in my last paragraph. I was responding to wildeepdotorg in my first.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:06 PM on February 20, 2007

To me, assistant editor is one step up from entry level. Is that right?

30K is a little low, but it's not, like, shockingly low, especially seeing as how it's a non-profit. I work at a major publishing company in New York and I make (not that much) more than that, but I imagine if I had ended up working at a university press instead, that would probably be about what I'd be making after two years. Now, I don't have a MA but my job doesn't require it and neither does this one, so that's really not a factor. You say you have two years full-time experience--is that within the same field? How much were you making then (you don't actually have to answer that, I just mention it because you could use it as a gauge on how much your next salary should be--as in, at least a little more than your last job). If you're looking for an entry-level job, and this is one, then anything 30K+ is pretty good, especially for non-profit and/or a creative position like editorial.

50K seems high for a bare minimum to live in DC to me. I have friends who live in good neighborhoods in DC for salaries in the low 30s, but it is tight. I always see numbers like this on message boards and stuff, like "you could NEVER live in x town for less than x dollars," and I find it really depends on the person. I myself am always a little stunned that people my age and at my salary are so deep in credit card debt, when I live very happily and easily within my means.
posted by lampoil at 6:06 PM on February 20, 2007

The non-profit I work for has an extremely tight pay schedule: There's no wiggle room, no bartering, nothing. The good news is that as an institution, there's really good promotion within the company to better jobs, and occasionally even better-paying jobs (that's a little non-profit humor, ha, ha.)
posted by boo_radley at 6:10 PM on February 20, 2007

Sorta contra Brandon Blatcher, you're not insane. I agree that you should take into account that the NGO's offer is indicated by its budget, but it's not like they believe amount X is decreed by God (well, depends on the kind of NGO) -- rather, they think it's sufficient to land an acceptable candidate. They are also likely to be willing to pay more than their initial offer for someone they really like. I don't think taking it as an insult is the most constructive approach, but on the other hand, it's not like you should treat the amount as a fait accompli. Every job I've ever taken was priced relative to the other opportunities they thought the desired candidate would be eyeballing.

I would be wary of rushing the other places -- in addition to what was said by others, calling to afford them more time may be construed as a signal that you were blowing smoke before, or turned everything else down and put yourself in a bad bargaining position with them (hello again, 30K).

Finally, 30K is a bummer, esp. if you have loans, but there are lots of people in the city who get by on that or less
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:12 PM on February 20, 2007

Where I work (I'm a software engineer) degrees mean very very little. Experience is the all important factor. I certainly wouldn't view a post doc degree as being worth more (in terms of salary and usefulness to the team) than even a single year of work experience on a good team.
posted by Riemann at 6:19 PM on February 20, 2007

I've lived on less than 30K - as an ass.ed. for a nonprofit - in DC (for most of my nine years there). It's absolutely possible.

One thing to consider: how are the benefits? I'm currently working for a nonprofit, and what comes into my bank account every two weeks isn't all that impressive. But my health insurance is fully paid; they contribute 20% of my salary to retirement; they offer tuition assistance; they'll pay for a chunk of a gym membership; if I were able to commute via public transport, they'd chip in for that. Etc. Good benfits outweighing a crap-ish salary might not be an important issue to you right now, but it's never a bad idea to at least take it into consideration.

Also: try negotiating for more money. It can work.
posted by rtha at 6:20 PM on February 20, 2007

I am so happy that someone posted Steve Pavlina's advice, which I have seen trumpeted so many times, so that I could have the opportunity to remark that while there's every reason to think creatively about jobs and becoming self-employed . . . there's also every reason to think that his advice is the ridiculously extrapolated, remarkably condescending barking of a man who may or may not himself be insane, but whose income depends completely on the willingness of others to follow his unique path to personal growth and professional fulfillment.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:21 PM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I work for a large non-profit, and I can confirm that this is about typical. Masters degree or no, with only have two years of full-time work experience, you're still in basically entry-level territory at non-profits. They will probably give you 32K if you ask for it.

Anyone who thinks that 50K is a bare minimum to live in DC may want to talk to a more representative sample of the population of DC.

Seconding lampoil, basically.
posted by desuetude at 6:21 PM on February 20, 2007

This sounds pretty typical for writing and editing jobs in both journalism and nonprofits. I was made $23k in DC in 2000. It took me six years of professional experience to break $30k without a master's degree (I also left the east coast during that time). and I know people with masters who've taken at least 2-3 years to get to this salary level in your field.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:32 PM on February 20, 2007

was made was making
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:32 PM on February 20, 2007

Yeah, that is pretty standard. If you wanted to make money you should have become a lawyer.
posted by dame at 6:34 PM on February 20, 2007

I'm confused. What does your having a Master's degree matter to the employer offering you this job?

If they are not requiring the applicants have one for the position, then you wanting more money from them (and stressing over it) just because you have one seems silly on your part.

Quit taking things so personally. They're not insulting you, thats what the job pays. You either want it, or you dont.

But good luck with your job hunting.
posted by sandra_s at 6:46 PM on February 20, 2007

I've lived in NYC for under 30K since 2001. Stay true to what you want, but also give some consider the assumptions on which you're basing those wants.
posted by allterrainbrain at 7:07 PM on February 20, 2007

Sorry, typing too fast. "Give some consideration to the assumptions on which you're basing those wants." In practical terms: you can live on 30K in DC. In market terms: this offer is not an "insult" and I don't know how useful it is to think in those terms.
posted by allterrainbrain at 7:11 PM on February 20, 2007

Yeah, this is a typical salary for an assistant editor (maybe on the slightly low side, but I can't imagine any asst. ed. job in publishing that would pay more than $35K or so). The job doesn't require a Master's, so you really have no reason to expect them to offer you more money for having one. They don't care that you're overqualified for the job.
posted by MsMolly at 7:25 PM on February 20, 2007

I'm sorry for posting so much on this. I do agree with the majority that you have to take into account the job's constraints ("that's just what the job pays") and downplay your qualifications if they're not what they were seeking ("they don't care that you're overqualified for the job"). But both are stated a little too forcefully. "That's just what the job pays" simply doesn't acknowledge that sometimes salaries are negotiable -- not 30K to 50K, but perhaps 30K to 32K or something like that. As to the latter point, the mere fact that a qualification wasn't sought doesn't mean that they wouldn't regard it as desirable and perhaps worth paying more for. It's useful to recall that they're paying for what they want, not to compensate you for the choices you've made, but that doesn't mean that your hyper-qualification isn't worth something to them.

In short, I think that both points have merit, but they probably take too static a view of the job's fiscal and performative character.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:49 PM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

But the stuff I studied pretty directly applies to this job and makes me uniquely qualified for it.

I obviously don't have as much information as you do, but the phrases "assistant editor" and "uniquely qualified" seem to be at odds. From the way you describe it, it seems that many, many people would be qualified to do this job.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:52 PM on February 20, 2007

From personal experience something better will come along. I applied for and interviewed with a very large Cambridge (MA) college (read not for profit, but well 'endowed') for a position that I felt was worth over 50k. They offered 40K. I flat out told them I couldn't do it for less than 48k. They flat out told me no thanks...Two weeks later I interviewed for a similar position in a growing Biotech (read for profit) company. I asked 48k they gave me 54 plus the full boatload of bennies. Reason- Their HR people said that is what this job pays. Hey I don't understand the logic, all I'm saying is don't settle, you won't be happy, you'll always be looking for something better.

ps. the biotech laid me off after 3 months and gave me 9 months severance!
posted by Gungho at 7:55 PM on February 20, 2007

As somebody who recruits staff: if your Masters degree isn't absolutely necessary for the job, I'm not going to pay you for it. If you think you deserve more, apply for a job that pays more. You're not worth what you think you're worth - you're worth what you'll take. With a whopping two years under your belt, I'd offer you $30K to try you out - if you were any good, you'd get more pretty quickly. If you weren't, then I'd be paying you what you're worth.

I work with three people who have Masters degrees from reputable institutions but who can't construct a simple paragraph, have no initiative and make bad decisions consistently (and no, I didn't recruit any of them). It's not any kind of indicator about your capabilities or potential for development, especially if your Masters is in a generic field like "public policy" and was undertaken through coursework rather than research. At best, a Masters might help me decide between two otherwise identical candidates, but I doubt it.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:06 PM on February 20, 2007

That sounds typical for that kind of work, especially at a non-profit. Does it come with benefits, perks or extra vacation? Will they cover training?
posted by acoutu at 8:41 PM on February 20, 2007

Seems pretty typical to me.

Despite your fancy education, as far as any business is concerned you are new to the world of work, and will likely cause a net decrease in overall business productivity for the next six months.

Beyond that, being overqualified isn't a good thing. it makes you less valuable, not the opposite. You're less likely to be happy and more likely to leave the business looking for your replacement in a year.

Besides, even if they love you, love your qualifications, and think you are the most fantastic thing ever, they budgeted for some random schmo to do some minor editing. Not for somebody with special skills. Money doesn't magically appear whenever you want it to.

So basically, grow some thicker skin, and take a lesson that businesses (and non-profits in particular) do not have infinite money, and that hiring procedures exist for a reason. They're trying to hire an assistant editor. You want to be something more than that. Your wants do not matter.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:19 PM on February 20, 2007

would like to get a decision from them within "a day or so"

This is another absolutely insane request. Hiring usually involves a fairly large number of important (read: heavily scheduled) people getting together to have at least a brief conversation about the options.

Asking for this in a day is a wholly unrealistic time constraint. The only time I know within a day is if I despise the candidate. Otherwise there's a solid week's worth of work to push through, and that's if I put a rush on everyone.

Fortunately for you, they will probably just ignore this request, and make the decision on their own timetable.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:23 PM on February 20, 2007

I asked 48k they gave me 54 plus the full boatload of bennies. Reason- Their HR people said that is what this job pays. Hey I don't understand the logic,

This is pretty standard. It makes you happier at the start, which is good, it sticks to the budget so there are no problems there, and it makes sure that over time your salary is competitive, so you don't get too much financial pressure to look elsewhere.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:25 PM on February 20, 2007

Tacos and others upstream are right. If B and C don't respond in two days, it may well mean they're not ready to make a hire, not necessarily that they're not into you.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:46 PM on February 20, 2007

as long as you're not in the red, stick with it for a year, building your portfolio, and either become a key player worth more $$$ to them or use the portfolio to move onwards & upwards.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:34 PM on February 20, 2007

Data point: I did almost that exact same job at a big DC nonprofit and made 42K. I didn't negotiate that salary, nor do I have a post-grad degree. I think you could get more, but maybe not at that particular organization---they probably just have a lower scale than the one that I was at. I definitely wouldn't be insulted, though; every organization has a different budget.

If you really like the org, the mission, and the job, I say do it anyway---it's way possible to live in DC on 30K as long as you have someone to split rent with (speaking from personal experience).
posted by slenderloris at 6:58 AM on February 21, 2007

I'd be insulted since I make a little more than that and I don't have a college degree. (if it matters - I supervise an office).

However, my friend who works for an NGO got her job about 5 years ago and they offered her 29K to start but she know makes just under 40K.
posted by heartquake at 7:07 AM on February 21, 2007

I've been working for nonprofits for almost 20 years and I'm making 30K. Granted, I have no masters degree and I'm not in DC but on the other hand I clearly have more than 2 years experience and I used to make 28K in Baltimore at a job where I was supposed to have an MA. So no, I don't think that's an insulting offer and I doubt they will raise it. Ideally, they make up for the low pay with flexibility and benefits and you'd be surprised at how easily you can live on less when you have, for example, four weeks vacation rather than one and a human who will let you take a week off to deal with the loss of a close friend.

FWIW, I have to tell you that I have worked in human resources in nonprofits and in my experience there is. no. wiggle. room. for salaries. If that's what they're offering, that's what they have. I seriously doubt they will offer you any more. I also have to tell you that I routinely receive in excess of 100 resumes for every single open position, including $8 an hour front desk ones and some of those people are more desperate than you are and will work for less.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:34 AM on February 21, 2007

Non profits just aren't going to pay much. And I doubt you can negotiate for much more - there are people willing to work there because they have passion for the mission, and they will work for less. I would only take this job if (1) it's an organization you love, (2) it will give you very, very marketable experience and you have a plan for your next job step that uses that experience, or (3) you absolutely must have a job right now.

Get back in touch with B and C, tell them that you have decided not to accept the other offer and that you would appreciate their continuing consideration, apologize for any inconvenience, thank them.

30K, with a Masters, in DC -- I think you can do better.
posted by KAS at 7:49 AM on February 21, 2007

I think we need a list of their qualifications for the job to make a reasonable judgment. Also, we need info on what your previous full-time position was.

I'm guessing you might be overqualified for the position, in which case you can find another position, or suck it up and write it off as a way to gain experience for your next, better job.

The other thing you'll want to look at is the career advancement opportunities in that organization. Pretty much everybody, masters degree or not, has to start at the bottom when they first get into the working world. If you're as smart as you think you are and there are opportunities elsewhere in the organization, you can move up pretty quickly.
posted by chundo at 8:29 AM on February 21, 2007

I work for a nonprofit in Maine. Our guy who does the job that you're describing has ten years experience and a Master's and we started him last year at $30,000. We also pay about $6000 per year for his health insurance, plus all the other costs of having an employee.

His salary, like the salary of everyone here, is set by our Board of Directors. No wiggle room.
posted by anastasiav at 9:19 AM on February 21, 2007

Just wanted to thank everyone for their thoughts and provide an update on how it all went down. I didn't try to negotiate with Org A because they made it clear that the amount they were offering was the amount budgeted for the position. Org B wanted me to come in for a fourth (!) interview, which I did, this morning. At the end of the meeting, the guy said they'd make a decision within three or four days. (The decision was between me and an internal candidate.) Nary a peep from Org C.

Because Org A wanted a decision today, I decided to go with them. When I e-mailed Org B to let them know I couldn't wait any longer for their decision and had to go with Org A's offer, they e-mailed me back to say that they were "ready to make a decision" and wanted to call me.

Too bad I'd already e-mailed Org A a signed acceptance of their offer. So if Org B wanted to hire me after all, I suppose this was a lesson for them in what can happen if you string people along for too long.

Anyway, thanks everyone for your thoughts. They were really helpful (except for the snarky or just plain mean ones, that is). Just to be clear, I wasn't thinking in a million years that I'd be making big bucks in this editing job for a nonprofit, but I'd hoped for $35k or so. Before grad school I'd worked for a nonprofit for two years at $24-25k and I was just really tired of being poor, but oh well. I'm going to give the job at Org A eight months to a year and move on if it doesn't look like I'll get promoted or get a raise.
posted by hazelshade at 10:26 AM on February 22, 2007

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