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Why you should always ask for more money

November 12, 2010

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.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Bill C. permalink
    November 12, 2010 10:58 am

    Great post. I wish I could say this was “surprising” but “horrifying” is probably a more accurate description. Based on how poorly they handled this situation, it’s a pretty good bet something similarly annoying would have happened in short order. So, congrats on not getting the job!

    • Catalina O. permalink*
      November 12, 2010 4:22 pm

      Thanks for the note. Now I’m so grateful that I didn’t end up there, I have trouble believing I was actually upset when it happened.

      • Jordon permalink
        November 14, 2010 10:36 am

        By the way, I would be curious to hear more about your career services department. Truth be told, I didn’t even know mine existed–even if they had been doing terrific work. What in particular did you like about them? Might be some useful ideas for those of us mentoring archives students.

  2. Beth C. permalink
    November 12, 2010 12:37 pm

    Excellent post, Cat. This is a good experience to share on salary negotiations in the archives world.

  3. Jordon permalink
    November 12, 2010 1:20 pm

    All’s well that ends well, but good god. I’m sorry that happened to you!

  4. Matt permalink
    November 16, 2010 12:23 pm

    Isn’t it funny how we can look back at jobs where, at one time, you were excited to get the interview and/or offer but are really happy it didn’t work out? My situation is not related to salary negotiation but I was reminded of how thankful I am that some jobs didn’t materialize based on my decisions. I’ve turned down interviews after learning what the salary was (couldn’t justify moving from PA to CA for such a low salary). I’ve also been rejected by jobs that I’ve really wanted which was depressing at the time, only later to be thankful that I found a job elsewhere with higher pay and better benefits.

  5. Chris permalink
    May 3, 2012 4:16 pm


    I’m 2 years late finding your post, but the same thing just happened to me! I was so shocked I Google’d the topic to see if it happened to anyone else. Long story short, I went back and forth with the HR person ONCE about salary, they came back and said no. Then I asked about flex time options (which was stated in the company website as one of the benefits for employees) I asked if I could think about the offer and get back to them by the end of the day. The HR manager said that she would draft up an offer and if I had any more questions let her know. I called her back a couple hours later and told her I was interested, only to find out that she wants to rescind the offer. I guess asking about salary and flex time put up red flags to them that I wouldnt be a good member of the team….Nevertheless, I was pretty shocked and felt that it was a spiteful move on their part. But, I’m glad that they made the decision for me.


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