I’ve written and spoken about this issue before. The long and short of it is that women don’t tend to negotiate their salaries, and not doing so goes a long way toward accounting for the wage gap between men and women. So, now that I’m in my fifth professional job, I’m going to give you some real talk about my approach to negotiating.
You do not work for the joy of the collections. You do not work for the joy of research. You work for money. And even if you don’t, I do, and I don’t want you sending bad messages to employers that we’re compensated by the joy of our experiences.
Do everything you can to make sure you’re not negotiating with your future boss. If possible, it’s best to negotiate with someone from HR whom you’ll never see again in your life. If your future boss calls to make you the offer, say “I’m very happy to consider this offer. Could you please arrange for me to negotiate details with a human resources representative?”
On the flip side, if you’re a manager, you should also insist within your organization that negotiation must happen between the candidate and someone from HR (or the business office, if you’re a teeny-tiny organization and you don’t have an HR department). It is in your best interest that your new employee has the opportunity to negotiate an employment situation that works for everyone. Do you really want them to get a bad deal because they’re worried about how they’ll come off to you?
For my first job, my future boss emailed me and said that he would like to interview me, but I should know that the salary was set and that he would require me to stay for three years. I said that we could talk about that after he made an offer. Guess what? I was able to get a little more money and I didn’t agree to stay for three years. Don’t assume that a bogus first offer is final.
Educate yourself about market salaries for your job type and in your area. This is obviously really tricky when job ads don’t post salary information. But, salary information for public employees is freely available. You can even call the reference desk at a university or public library to ask them to help you look up salary information.
I’m a huge advocate for talking about salaries with friends (or anyone who asks — I’ve worked for five university libraries and I’m happy to answer questions about what I earned to anyone who contacts me). It’s hard to know if you’re making less money than you should be, or less money than male colleagues.
When I negotiated for my current job, I called the person who filled my seat before (it was a slightly different job, but the skill set is comparable and he came in with about the same experience and education). At one point in my negotiation, I point-blank said “I know that this person was making $X when he started four years ago and $Z when he left. $Y would be an equitable salary.” This did a lot to re-balance power in that negotiation. If you can say “I know that someone with the same job title at X peer institution makes $Y,” you can help demonstrate that they need to be competitive with the rest of the market.
They’re going to say a lot of stuff about equity within the institution, their budget, blah blah. And I don’t buy it. Let me tell you why. Librarians/archivists are the second-lowest paid profession that requires a master’s degree (we’re ahead of social workers… woo). We’re ALL already underpaid. If you’re an accomplished candidate, play hardball. And if you’re just starting out, start getting them used to the idea that archivists are worth money and that we’re going to ask for it. Professionals in other specialized fields wouldn’t put up with this, and neither should we. It may be absolutely true that this institution is broke and suffering. But this is not your responsibility. You have no obligation to let them balance their budget on your back.
For me, this has hit really close to home. I don’t work at a poor organization — in fact, I work at an extremely wealthy organization. My husband has pretty much the same job I do, but he’s in a museum at my university and I’m at an archives. He had been in his position for a year before I started, so I obviously knew his salary and the resources available to him. He also doesn’t have a master’s degree, and I have a very good one. I’ve been working as a professional for slightly longer than he has. Anyway, I was pretty gobsmacked when the starting salary I was offered was $13K less than what he earns.
I was ready for a serious negotiation. I’m not here to help protect this university’s decisions about which professionals in which departments deserve better salaries. The HR rep’s concerns about parity within the department rolled right off of me — they’re very welcome to give everyone else a raise to help achieve parity. I knew that I was a very desirable candidate, and I knew how much money they needed to offer me for me to take the job.
Negotiations can be full of bullshit. Stay cool with your list of what you want. HR reps like to talk about the intangible benefits of working at a wondrous institution like theirs — listen politely and let them say their piece, but don’t fall for it. I’ve worked at three Ivy League universities and two very wealthy private research universities, and really, the benefits (especially the “intangibles”) are all pretty much the same. The “merit increase” process is all pretty much the same, so don’t assume they’ll come to realize that you’re a spectacular employee and will give you a big raise. They won’t. You need to be in the ballpark of where you want to be at the time of negotiation, or it’s never gonna happen.
Obviously, you need to be polite and you need to listen. It’s best to start the conversation by asking “are you able to negotiate salary?” As we know, “tone” is important for women. You may end up with a crappy salary, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up if the negotiation doesn’t go the way you want it to. You may even have to walk away from a truly crappy offer. The very most important thing is for you to develop a sense of responsibility and solidarity so that when you’re in the position to affect a new employee’s salary/hire package, you won’t participate in the bogus hivemind of scarcity and sacrifice that seems so prevalent in archival institutions.