After a prolonged search, you’ve been offered a position as an art director at a dynamic company. You know you’re talented, but you still count yourself lucky to have landed a job; many of your equally gifted friends are still searching for work. You’re ready to celebrate until you learn what your starting salary will be: It’s much lower than you anticipated. You’d like to negotiate for more money, but do you dare in the current employment market?
The answer is yes. Even though compensation levels for creatives have leveled off since they reached unprecedented highs in the late 1990s, starting salary is still among the most flexible components of a job offer because companies typically have a range in mind. However, the degree of negotiability typically depends on the job role, the manager, the organization and your perceived value. Following are some factors to consider.
Do your homework. Conduct research to determine your market value, or, in other words, what the skills and experience you possess are worth. Begin by reviewing salary surveys in business and trade publications, talking to colleagues and recruiters, and checking salary comparison sites on online job boards. (To get a copy of The Creative Group’s annual Salary Guide, go to www.creativegroup.com/salaryguide.) Keep in mind specific industries and geographic areas play a significant role in determining salaries—it’s unlikely an art director in Midland, Texas, will be paid as much as one in Los Angeles. You may find the company is offering you a fair amount given your skills, experience and location.
Research the company. Is the firm in a position to bargain? Find out before attempting any salary negotiation. If you’ve been offered a position as a graphic designer at a newly formed start-up, or a company that recently announced layoffs, your bargaining power may be limited. Reading business and industry publications, visiting the corporate website, and, if it is public, studying its earnings statements, will give you a better sense of whether to negotiate. You’ll also have valuable background information about the company you’re about to join. If the firm isn’t in a solid fiscal position, consider some alternatives to higher salary, such as requesting more vacation days or a flexible schedule.
Look at more than money. Whenever you are offered a new position, make sure to review the unwritten benefits of the job itself. Will you gain more management responsibilities or work on a high-profile project that will be a valuable addition to your portfolio? Such aspects of the position are excellent opportunities for your long-term professional growth and your resume. Also, consider your benefits package. In addition to health insurance and vacation time, some companies provide extras such as industry group membership fees, tuition reimbursement, job-related courses or gym memberships. While the amount of your gross salary should never be overlooked, these additional factors may be important in your decision to negotiate—or what to negotiate.
Timing is everything. If you decide to negotiate, the best time to do so is when you’ve been offered the position—and before you accept it. Even though there is plenty of competition in the job market, your potential employer obviously views you as the strongest candidate, so you may have more leverage. However, this still won’t guarantee you’ll get more money, and you must be prepared to accept a "no" graciously. If your request is rejected, ask if the subject could be addressed again in three to six months. In that time you’ll be able to demonstrate your abilities, and your impressive job performance will be a strong negotiating tool. If the potential employer agrees to revisit the issue, be sure to confirm the stipulation as detailed—as well as the role’s duties, perks and compensation package—in your letter of agreement with the company.
Flexibility and an open mind are critical to successful salary negotiation. And by researching your market value, assessing the company’s financial position and demonstrating return on investment, you’ll most likely find an offer that’s agreeable to both you and your new employer.
The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.