Successful salary negotiation

What librarians must know before negotiating salary

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Successful salary negotiation is all about being prepared—prepared to ask for what you’re worth, and to back it up with knowledge.

According to Brad Rogers, LibGig Director of Recruiting and an experienced salary negotiator:

“Being able to make a confident, concise pitch of the key points that make you uniquely valuable to an employer communicates that you’re worth the money you’re asking for. You have to believe it—that’s critical in a salary negotiation. If you can’t speak clearly and confidently on your own behalf, no one else will be able to do it for you.”

Here are the three ways to nail that critical preparation and to be able to speak confidently on your behalf.

  1. Know the going rate for your LIS credentials and experience

What do other people doing this type of work get paid? These are your “salary comps,” or comparables. Keep in mind that geographic and industry circumstances will influence these numbers. For example, jobs in large cities and on the coasts tend to pay higher (often because of higher costs of living). Also, positions in emerging rather than shrinking industries tend to pay more, for example biotech versus manufacturing.

First, please see the recent article I wrote for LibGig, How much librarians make.

In addition, the following sites all offer useful salary data:

  • CareerOneStop: Salary Info – Use this tool from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to find salary information for more than 800 different occupations. To start, either search for an occupation by keyword (such as healthcare manager), or select an occupation from a list of categories provided, for example, Business and Financial Operations, Computer and Mathematical. Provides salary info by region, and then by the U.S. as a whole, which is a great way to see whether a given region will pay higher or lower than average for your skill set.
  • Cost of Living Calculator – If you’re relocating for a new job, you’ll need to figure out how far the salary being offered will go in your new location. This CNN-Money site enables you to put in a specific salary, where you live, and your target location, and see how much you’d need to earn in your new location to have the same standard of living. Plus you can see how much more you’re likely to be spending on groceries, housing, utilities, transportation, and health care.
  • Job Seekers Salary Calculator – From the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), this salary calculator has you select state, region, occupation, number of years of relevant work, and education level completed then provides the appropriate salary info per the BLS.
  • Payscale Salary Calculator – A leading web-based salary tracker, Payscale.com enables you to compare your current salary to others’ in the same role. It also provides a type of salary scenario simulator based on your answers to questions such as how many people you’ll be managing, how many years of experience you have, what type of organization your employer is/will be, etc. The service is free; more detailed info available for a fee.

Also check to see if any relevant trade publications or associations in your LIS field have done recent salary surveys, which can be invaluable for their detailed, insider information.

Writing notes
  1. Know your unique added value

Most employers have a salary range for a given position; sometimes it’s posted, other times not. If it’s posted, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the negotiating range going in. More likely (especially when applying online), the prospective employer will insist that you name a number or a salary range as part of your application. Rely on the salary comps you’ve identified, and hit mid- to mid-high within that range depending on how clearly your strengths align with the job. (Too low and interviewers will question your skills, too high and you’ll price yourself out of the running.)

Once you’re in an interview situation, you’ll want to focus on selling your extraordinary value to the organization, so that by the time you get to the salary negotiation point your interviewer will be highly motivated to bring you on board.

Although the ideal strategy is to get the interviewer to identify a proposed salary first, most often you’ll be pressured to name a number to initiate the discussion. At that point, you’ll be able to say “I know that the pay range for this position is generally $45,000 to $60,000, and I believe my skills put me at the top tier of that range. I think that $58,000 is an appropriate salary, based on the value I can provide and depending on the full compensation package.”

Key point:

Be sure to add ‘Depending on the full compensation package’ when you specify a salary number. This will give you the flexibility to ask for additional benefits like more vacation time, stock options, conference-attendance funding, working from home one day a week, etc. or a higher salary if the benefits are skimpy.

As noted, you want to able to confidently identify your unique, value-adding skills and experience. Most importantly, you want to position them as how your unique traits will benefit the organization, which is the way they will merit the higher end of a salary range.

Examples of added value that will support your salary expectations:

  • Experience and contacts in the employer’s industry.
  • Broad and deep understanding of the company’s competitive environment.
  • Experience with relevant tools or software like Hadoop for a job in data librarianship or management.
  • Proven skills in key proficiencies like project management or managing remote teams.
  • Other capabilities that could be useful to the employer, like your fluency in a second language, security clearance, or a recent certification or training.
  1. Know your must-have priorities

As part of preparing your salary negotiation strategy, you’ll want to think through what is truly valuable for you, as this is unique to each of us:

  • Help with childcare expenses?
  • Tuition reimbursement?
  • Health insurance benefits that start from day one?
  • Schedule flexibility for eldercare or other family responsibilities?

Determine what you’re willing to compromise on versus what’s truly a deal-breaker before you start any salary negotiation so you’ll be able to discuss your key points with confidence and conviction.

As you do your salary comparisons and consider your priorities, remember that salary is only one element of a compensation package that may include bonuses, additional vacation time, professional development support, and other perks, so you’ll want to make sure you’re evaluating the total compensation package when evaluating a job offer.

Equally important, however, is to keep in mind that strategically valuable career intangibles—for example, building a larger or more valuable network, being part of a highly-visible project, or getting started in a new industry or career path of interest—may be at least as important as the salary you make when it comes to considering a job offer. These intangibles fall into the category of long-term career investments, and often pay off over the course of your career as greater opportunities, more financially rewarding job choices, and more professional independence.

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to negotiating

One of the greatest negotiating strengths you can have is confidence, and knowing the going rate, your unique value, and your must-have priorities should definitely help you feel more confident. But rehearsing those three elements so you can calmly articulate them in a salary negotiation will also demonstrate your confidence and knowledge to the hiring manager with whom you’re negotiating.

Repeat your lines as often as needed, until you’re comfortable saying something like, “I’d really love to work with you, but it’s important to me to be fairly compensated for the value I’ll be contributing. I believe, based on the information I’ve just presented, that [target salary number] is appropriate. Is there a way we can work together to get to this number?”

Also practice getting rejected, because the answer may be no, in which case you’ll have some decisions to make or more negotiating homework do do.

But regardless of the answer, the fact that you asked to be paid what you believe you deserve, rather than simply accepting a lower salary, means you’ve proven to yourself that you take your career and your value seriously. And the really good news is that it will get easier each time you do it.

Kim Dority

Kim Dority

Kim Dority is a library and information science (LIS) career adviser and consultant. As Adjunct Faculty at the University of Denver's Library/Information Sciences Program, she teaches graduate courses on alternative MLIS career options. Special Libraries Association (SLA) has awarded Ms. Dority the Rose L. Vormelker Award for her commitment to teaching and professional development.
Kim Dority
Kim Dority

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