Let’s talk money, specifically my money.
I’ve been in the archives world for close to 7 years now (6 ½ years to be exact) and in that time I’ve held four positions which I touched on this in a previous post. I want to talk about salary because it’s not something that is openly discussed in any specific detail nor the negotiation process or lack thereof.
Note: Most of the numbers are approximate as I don’t keep track down to the dollar amount of my salary. Also, it’s been several years and some of the details get a little fuzzy. So let’s get started shall we?
First job: Research Associate (Great Basin Institute)
Experience Level Going In: 0 years of professional experience (one 3-month internship)
This was a one-year contract position with the possibility of renewal. Essentially, it was a processing archivist job where the position would be contracted out to Death Valley National Park in Death Valley, California. I heard about it on Archives Gig. I applied and interviewed for it while I was in the final months of my grad program. I thought the interview went well but I found out a week before graduation that I didn’t get the job. I graduated and then two months later, I got a call back. Apparently, their candidate backed out of the job so I was given another chance to interview for it.
I was so excited to have a job that I took it. It didn’t even enter my mind to talk about, let alone, negotiate the salary.
Misstep #1: I let the excitement of having a job offer distract me from discussing the specifics of the job.
Starting Salary: 35,000 (approx.)
The salary wasn’t bad considering the cost of living was dirt cheap in Death Valley. I felt like I had hit the big times.
Ending Salary: 35,000 (approx.)
Second job: Archives Technician (National Archives at Philadelphia)
Experience Level Going In: 1 year of professional experience
I used my first job as a springboard to getting my resume critiqued by fellow government employees. With their suggested changes, I applied for government jobs AND I started getting callbacks. My one year contract came to an end and I opted not to renew it. I was tired of West Coast living and ready to be somewhat closer to my family.
When I interviewed for NARA, it was like all my dreams were coming true. I was stupid excited throughout the interview. But, much like the first time, no where did it enter my mind to talk about the salary. A few days later, I received the call offering me the job. It was at that point I was informed I was coming in as a GS-06. I accepted the offer and did a happy dance.
NARA Human Resources got in touch with me and informed me that I was coming in as a GS-06 at a step 1. That was a salary of 37,000 (approx.) I remember feeling disappointed.
Helpful Tip #1: When in doubt, talk it out, preferably with someone you trust.
A distinct “oh” when I saw the amount. At the time, I was living with my boyfriend who was a few years older than me. I’d like to say it was entirely my idea to negotiate my salary but it wasn’t. He pointed out that I had one year of experience under my belt now. I should consider asking for more.
Helpful Tip #2: Do Your Research.
The panic set in. I landed my dream job. I accepted. What will they do/how will they react if I say I want more money? Will they rescind their offer? Notice how most of my questions were about my employer and their feelings versus my thoughts and what I thought I was worth. I looked up the pay scale for my GS level. In my gut, I wanted to go for a step 4 which would put me at 41,000 (approx.).
Helpful Tip #3: Craft your argument.
I worked out a whole explanation of why I deserved that amount specifically pointing to my two masters degrees, my one year experience, and the salary of my previous job when I had NO experience.
(Side Note: in federal government employ, you can negotiate your salary within your GS level aka steps which are $1200 dollar increments. However, you can’t jump to a higher GS level)
When I got on the phone to talk to HR, I made my request but at the last minute I chickened out.
Instead of shooting for a step 4, I asked for a GS-06, step 3 salary (39,000ish). They told me they would get back to me. Once I was off the phone, I was kicking myself that I got scared. My boyfriend at the time had to listen to me go on and on about it.
Misstep #2: I let the fear stop me from asking for what I wanted. I call this “going for the gold” but only you can decide if you’re willing to settle for less or walk away altogether especially when there is an offer on the table.
The kicker? They easily accepted the salary increase.
Beginning Salary: 39,000 (approx.)
One thing I will say about the government: what I started at was not where I finished. I got incremental bumps in my salary throughout my time there.
Ending Salary: 41,500 (approx.)
While I enjoyed my time in NARA, for the most part, one of the reasons I left is that I came in as a GS-06 and there were very little opportunities to move to the next GS level. You have to remember I was there from 2012-2015 so the federal government is really feeling the effects of the Great Recession and a very slow bounce back. Philadelphia was an expensive place to live and all the taxes that came out of my check – federal, state, county, and city – really whittled that paycheck down.
Coupled with a general dissatisfaction with the state of things, I needed a change.
Third Job: Education Outreach Coordinator (Texas State Archives)
Experience Level Going In: 3.5 years of professional experience
I was looking to make a career change and move more into outreach. I applied to a number of positions but this was the only one where I got a request to interview. So, I was off to Texas. I would like to say there was some negotiation but really there wasn’t.
Why? I had learned from misstep #1 and #2 and decided to do a little prodding. I learned that the salary they were offering was at the high end of the spectrum for this position classification. Sometimes, that’s the rub with government jobs, they can only go so high on that initial offer. I weighed my options and ultimately decided I would take the job.
Beginning Salary: 46,000 (approx.)
I felt like my work was appreciated, acknowledged, and I was compensated accordingly.
Ending Salary: 49,000 (approx.)
Some of you are wondering, why did you leave the job then? I was not in a healthy place physically or mentally. And, contrary to what people say, Austin is crazy expensive to live.
Fourth Job: Edsel & Eleanor Ford House
Experience Level Going In: 6 years of professional experience
I left my position at TSLAC and I found myself back in Georgia staying with my sister. I needed the mental break and the rest. After all, your girl was suffering from depression (I didn’t know it at the time) and recuperating. I spent my days sleeping in, going for walks, and loving on my two-month old nephew MJ.
I heard about this archivist position through an old Texas contact. I decided to apply. When I say it was a whirlwind, it was a whirlwind of activity. Within a week of applying, I had a Skype interview. Technology failed me on so many levels but they liked enough of what they saw that I was flown out for an in-person interview. Imagine being in an interview surrounded by six current employees. OMG. That was followed up with an interview with the President over lunch. (ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW???) Imagine trying to talk about your qualifications while eating!
I flew back from the interview excited and anxious. It didn’t help that there was resounding silence on their end. Then about a week later, I heard back. They liked me so much and given my experience, the organization decided to create a new position. The archivist position would still stand but the archives program would become a separate entity. They and I were in unfamiliar and yet exciting territory.
Given this new position, now the salary discussion began. Through subtle prodding during the interview and after the offer came in (see Misstep #1), I got the distinct impression that negotiations would not be as free and easy. They had a number in mind. I had one too.
Much like what happened with NARA, the initial offer of 45,000 was met with a very audible ‘oh.’
Hearkening back to Helpful Tip #1, I took some time and talked it out. Since my bestie lives in the same town as my sister, I hit her up. We talked about the salary for a solid hour. Unlike the previous times where I had a specific number in mind, I offered a salary range of 49,000 – 52,000. Like years earlier, I backed up my reasoning based on experience and prior salary, which working for the government was public information.
I offered a range out of slight fear. I didn’t know what they were willing to spend to have me. I did let the fear creep in. I really hoped for 52,000.
Beginning Salary: 50,250
Misstep #3: Sometimes, despite all of our knowledge and experience, fear is a powerful motivator. It has the ability to push you pass your limits or cut you off at the knees. I let the fear of prolonged unemployment get the better of me.
I’d like to say I am content with my current salary but, quite frankly, that would be a lie. Much of that stems from the amount of experience I have + the responsibilities of my position. I’m in a legitimate supervisory role as I head the archives program and I’m responsible for a budget.
Helpful Tip #4: Sometimes there are other perks to be negotiated if salary is a bust.
I may not have been entirely satisfied with my salary but there were other ways I could have gained such as more vacation time. I didn't realize this until after I was hired. I see that realization as a minor misstep on this greater learning curve.
As you can see from above, I'm not an expert. I haven't mastered the fine art of negotiating your salary. Each job, I learn something new and have a different take away. Sometimes, I progress to that next level only to turn around and let fear undermine it. I would say the underlying thread in all of this is fear. Fear really can play with your mind and have you questioning your abilities. So, don't beat yourself up if you successfully negotiate your salary and then bungle it up the next time.
Over the course of my 6.5 years, I’ve grown in my confidence as an archivist and as a person. Negotiating my salary, while it is based around convincing another person, is an exercise in learning how to articulate your worth.
I am worthy.
I am capable.
I am deserving of these things.
Now whether an employer agrees is a separate matter.