Why you should always ask for more money
Eating Our Young (or, if you prefer, the shame blog) is full of posts about trying to bring some professionalism to a field that doesn’t understand common labor practices. This is my story on that theme, about salary negotiations in archives, and how everything works out for the best because I didn’t end up working for the crazies.
Shortly after finishing library school, I interviewed for a great position with an archive associated with a religious organization. The interview went really well, I liked the supervisor, and everyone was cool with me not going to church. Just an hour after the interview, as I was boarding my plane, I got a call offering me the job. Sweet, my first job offer! All is flowers and sunshine until they mention the starting salary is $32,000. Even right out of school that number was way too low for me to move across the country for, but on the call they mention the details can be negotiated. I get on the plane, go home, and after much debate decide I really liked the position and if I can get them up to $36k I’ll take it. It’s not like I became an archivist to get rich.
Despite this being my first salaried job offer ever, I was ready to negotiate and get the money. My school had an active career services department and a few months ago I had attended a salary negotiation workshop. I knew how to tell a potential employer I was worth more, how to ask firmly but nicely, and that if they couldn’t raise the salary to ask about relocation or conferences. I call the supervisor back, tell her I’m really excited but the salary is on the low side. Immediately, before I can talk about how much I want or why I deserve it, the supervisor offers me $35,000. Looking back, it’s obvious that was how much she was authorized to give me, at the time I was completely thrown as the script I rehearsed in my head didn’t have a scenario for “they offered me money before I say anything.”
In a far less articulate way than planned, I manage to convey I was actually hoping for more, which is inline with the market, my skills, blah, blah. Supervisor says she needs to check and will get back to me. She calls me back, can’t do it, $35k’s the max. I think about it, decide it’s close enough to what I wanted and that I’ll accept, but that I am going to use the tip from that workshop to see if I can get that extra $1,000 in relocation or a trip to SAA. I ask for that, supervisor tells me she has to check and will call me back. Finally, she calls back and let’s me know that based on my high concern for salary I’m probably not the candidate they wanted and that they are rescinding the job offer. Bam, ask for a trip to SAA and lose a job.
Now days I am very glad I didn’t end up in that job, but instead found a great job at an academic archive where I made more money, had better benefits, and didn’t face any concern for the state of my soul. But at the time I was pretty crushed and I am probably making less than I should at my current position because I am now really freaked out by salary negotiations.
Moral of the story: Archives are not like normal institutions and may feel threatened when you try to act like a professional, but you probably don’t want to work there anyway. Also, the career services people who put on the negotiation workshop assured me I am the only person they have ever heard of having an offer rescinded. So you shouldn’t read this and think that it’s a bad idea to negotiate salary – you should just read this and understand that archives sometimes don’t work the same way as everywhere else. This is why we work to set expectations of professionalism; if you’re in charge of hiring, do a better job than the people who hired you.