Figuring out your salary is the most awkward part of the job application process, and arguably, it's the most important. After all, the main purpose of a job is to earn money -- even if it also comes with the bonus of fulfilling your creative dreams. When it comes to salary negotiations, you don’t want to lose out on a job because you aimed too high with ridiculous 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, nor does it mean you should settle for a job that's massively underpaying you.
Unless a company has uniform starting salaries (for assistants, these will often be public information, as many companies promoted their wage increases in the trades a few years ago in response to #PayUpHollywood and social activism), you should negotiate. And certainly, as you move up in your career, you're likely to come across a version of the question, “What are your salary requirements?” in a job interview. But how exactly do you negotiate your salary, particularly in an industry that knows it's competitive?
First of all, do your research before you apply! In California, Colorado, and New York City, companies are required to publish salary ranges in job postings, so you can read a few postings to get a sense of the market rate. Glassdoor is also a great resource for figuring out average salaries for your title in your area, and it can help give you a more realistic understanding of where you might fall in the listed range (if there is one), since many larger companies comply with the law by posting outlandish ranges (like $50K - $350K). It's also a good idea to talk to your friends and peers about their salaries -- while many of us were taught that this is rude, the truth is that talking about salaries is a way to build equity in the workplace. Once you have the data in hand, you'll be empowered to walk away from an offer that's egregiously below market rate -- and even avoid applying in the first place, if the pay is listed. Underpaying employees isn't usually a sign of a healthy workplace. And if you find that the jobs you're applying for typically pay below your cost of living, you might consider pivoting your job search or adjusting your expectations.
The salary conversation itself depends on whether the range was listed or not, and how big of a range it was. If no range was listed, or the range was too big to be meaningful, you'll probably be asked about your salary requirements during the interview process. Do your best to avoid throwing out a number first. Try to force the interviewer or hiring manager to show their cards, so you know what you have to work with -- when asked about your requirements, pivot with, “Well, I’m actually curious, what is the salary range you anticipated for this position?” 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, DO NOT give up and tell them your current salary. In California, it’s actually illegal for them to ask, which gives you a big advantage. Start off with a question about benefits – what’s the vacation policy, 401K, insurance coverage, stock options, bonuses, etc. This will allow you to assess how much you need to make as base salary to maintain (or really, to improve – the goal here is to move up in the world!) your current lifestyle. Then, you can offer a range. The range should start at the lowest number you’re willing to take based on how good the benefits are and go up $10-$25k from there, or whatever’s reasonable based on your research. 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. The beauty of giving a range is that it helps you avoid 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!
When the salary is listed, this can be a little trickier. You might feel like you can't negotiate, and that by applying, you were already accepting their salary offer. However, even listed salaries are negotiable, within reason! In these cases, you'll likely be presented with an offer that falls within the range or is the stated salary in the posting. If this doesn't align with your expectations -- if you're offered the lower end of the range, or if the rate listed was low to begin with, but not so low that you avoided applying -- ask the hiring manager for a higher number. Explain why you think your expertise demands that higher rate, and cite your research on the market if it applies. If they hold firm on money, you can ask if they can make up the difference in benefits, and suggest specific benefits that would persuade you.
Whenever you are offering a range, make sure the number is enough money that you'll feel good about accepting the offer. If you want at least $70K but can theoretically, if absolutely necessary, trim your budget and make some sacrifices for $60K, don't start your range with $60K! Ask for the $70K you want, and if they respond with "Well, we only budgeted $60K for this role," then you can entertain the "theoretical, if absolutely necessary" lower number. Similarly, when countering a listed rate with a number of your own, offer a number higher than the one you'd settle for, as they are likely to meet you in the middle -- if they list $1800/week, and the lowest you'd feel comfortable with is $2200/week, counter with $2500.
Remember that a good employer will respect that this is an important dialogue, and anyone who treats you rudely during this negotiation will likely take advantage of you in other ways. It's not a shameful secret that people work to make money, or at least, it shouldn't be. It's totally okay to turn down the job offer if you can't find a compensation package that works for you -- don't shortchange yourself. 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