Negotiating Your Graphic Design Salary: Questions to Ask

As a creative professional, you know how to ask your clients the right questions to arrive at a solution that works. But are you using the same savvy when it comes to salary negotiation? Regardless of where you are in your job search or in your career, here are six questions to ask yourself or your potential employer.

Graphic Design Salary Negotiation: Before the Actual Talk

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1. How much do I want and need?

Before you walk into a salary negotiation, and even as you’re sifting through job ads, you need to know your bottom line. First, think about your salary history: You don’t want to go lower than what you’ve been making unless you’ve moved to a less expensive city, you believe the benefits or bonus structure compensate for a lower base salary, or the job is less demanding than what you have done before. Next, consider your present obligations and future financial goals. Remember, the best time to boost your annual salary is before you accept a job offer, not after you’ve been with the same employer for several years. Don’t shy away from negotiating if you think you deserve more pay: In a survey by The Creative Group, 45 percent of advertising and marketing executives polled said candidates try to negotiate salary when presented with a job offer.

2. How much are others making?

It would be uncouth to poll your future colleagues about their wages, but you can consult resources like The Creative Group’s Salary Guide to see what creative professionals with your skills and experience are earning. Having this information can help you gauge whether the posted salary range or an actual offer is laughable, on target or outstanding.


During the Salary Negotiation

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3. What’s the entire package?

Salary is just one part of the total compensation, albeit a very important one. Consider the robustness of the rest of the package:

  • Health Benefits: How is the medical insurance? Is it bare bones and expensive, or comprehensive with low out-of-pocket costs?
  • 401(k) Benefits: Are 401(k) contributions matched? If so, up to what percent?
  • Reimbursement: Does the company offer reimbursements for education and training?
  • Time off: Would you get the requisite two weeks of vacation, or is the employer more or less generous?
  • Parental leave: If you’re thinking about starting a family, what’s the parental leave policy?

Then there are the less quantifiable perks–relaxed dress code, pet-friendly office, flexible hours, telecommuting programs–that can make a real difference in job satisfaction.

Yes, you can negotiate more than just the salary. According to another survey by The Creative Group, 36 percent of advertising and marketing executives said candidates most often ask for more vacation days, followed by flextime (26 percent) and telecommuting (15 percent) options. Although the employer’s policy may be to give every worker the same nonwage compensation, there may be wiggle room for certain perks during a salary negotiation.

4. What’s the potential for salary increases and promotions?

OK, so the employer puts a so-so salary on the table and can’t go any higher. Is that enough reason to turn down the job? Not necessarily. If there are frequent opportunities to move up in the ranks– with corresponding raises–it may still be worth it to sign on. While you’re talking money during a salary negotiation, also ask about signing and retention bonuses.

After the Having the Talk

5. Is it time to stop pushing?

Many hiring managers expect candidates to push back once or even twice during a salary negotiation. But be careful: If you ask for too much or refuse to negotiate, an employer could perceive you as difficult and rethink the offer. At the same time, don’t settle for a package you’re unhappy with. If you’re not getting what you need during a salary negotiation, be willing to bow out gracefully.

6. Can I get that in writing?

Before you formally accept a position, get the final details of your negotiated wages and benefits on paper; verbal agreements are far less binding than written ones. Ask for all the details on bonuses, perks, work hours and so forth, and review them carefully before formally signing on.

A salary negotiation can be stressful, but it’s an important part of the job search–one that will have repercussions for the rest of your career. Enter into the negotiation with a positive attitude and the right questions, and you could reap the benefits for years to come.

Tired of losing creative battles? Learn to integrate business objectives into your creative strategy in Creative Strategy and the Business of Design. Design and career expert Douglas Davis will uncover how you can be part of the dialogue and take a seat at the table–to preemptively consider clients and their business needs.

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