Figuring out your salary is the most awkward part of the job application process, and arguably, it's the most important. You don’t want to lose out on a job because you aimed too high with ridiculous salary demands, but a low salary sets you up for lower earnings for years down the line. Remember, most raises are calculated on a percentage basis, and 10% of nothing is, well, nothing.
In entertainment, there’s very little you can do about your salary in your first entry-level position -- assistants are typically offered a certain rate, especially at agencies, and that’s that. But just because you don’t have much power to negotiate when you start your career doesn’t mean you should hold on to that bad habit forever! Before long, you’ll start getting a version of the question, “What are your salary requirements?” By the time you've gotten an offer for your second job, you should be ready to negotiate. So, how should you answer the question?
One big tip: Do your best to avoid throwing out a number first. Try to force them to show their cards, so you know what you have to work with. If HR asks about your salary requirements, pivot with, “Well, I’m actually curious, what is the salary range you anticipated for this position?” If you get an answer that’s way higher than you expected/wanted, that’s great! It gives you room to bring up other types of negotiations -- maybe for flex time or more benefits.
If the hiring manager doesn’t let you get away with the pivot technique, offer a range. The range should start at the lowest number you’re willing to take and go up $10-$15k from there, or whatever’s reasonable based on your research (hint: Glassdoor is a great resource for figuring out average salaries in your industry). They might only offer your minimum, but there's always a chance you'll get lucky with an offer that's in the middle or top of your range. What you’re trying to avoid here is giving a number that's lower than what they had in mind -- if you say you were thinking $60k, and they were going to offer $75k, they will probably accept your low standard, costing you a ton of money!
It's also hard to pivot when you're asked to enter your salary requirements in an online application. However, in some cases you can leave this section blank -- if the rest of your application is great, HR will ask when you get a screening call. If you must write something, write a range or a number in the middle of your range with “(negotiable)” or “(flexible)” next to it. Even better, skip the online application entirely, use LinkedIn to find a person in the hiring department, and email them directly (you'll have far more success in your applications if you can get your resume into the hands of an actual human).
Now sometimes, regardless of how you handle the salary question, HR will offer a lowball number, and you should counter with your demands, backing them up by reinforcing your qualifications and citing some research. If the company can't meet at least your current salary, you have to decide if you're willing to take a pay cut. And if you do, we hope you have a really good reason -- after all, you're not running a charity. In this case, it’s worth asking for non-monetary benefits that may make up for the salary gap. But a better option might be to wait for something that pays appropriately -- don't shortchange yourself.
The biggest thing to remember is to go in unafraid. If a company doesn’t hire you because you’re too expensive, you probably wouldn’t want to work there anyway. Decide what you're worth beforehand, and stick to your guns -- you'll thank yourself in the long run.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan