“Try not to become a man of success but try rather to become a man of value.” — Albert Einstein
Follow the interviewer’s cue about when to begin the salary chat. Jumping in too early to ask about money before understanding the position is premature.
The company will put an offer on the table. This may come from the manager or an HR person.
Understand everything that is being offered. While not always directly monetary, perks can boost a package. Living stipends, grade of travel and accommodations, daily transport, how many tickets you get, etc, can make a difference. Unless you work in a heavily unionised industry, never assume you will receive the benefits for your pay grade as standard. And it’s no fun when you realise you’re the only one who didn’t get the perks – because you didn’t ask for them.
On films, there is a pre-prep period when various heads of department are required to come in for preliminary meetings. It should be discussed ahead of time if these are paid (depending on the budget, they not always are). But any specialised work submitted to the production (budget, schedule, designs) should be compensated for, unless it’s a top sheet half-day job. It’s not uncommon for producers to ask for bids as a way to compare costs, which they then forward to a cheaper candidate to employ.
Weigh up all the different components: time, salary, benefits.
On your marks, get set, go
You should discuss the offer in as much detail as you like, even if talking about money makes you squirm violently. Now is when you say how much you want. It’s better to state it than sulk in seething resentment every day or, worse, feel exploited. Some folks (not me) even expect a long exchange and purposely start low.
See if there is room for bartering. If you already know your priorities, you can barter with anything not on the list. Showing flexibility (even if not actually budging) is appreciated.
If they say no, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have asked. It doesn’t mean you did something wrong. If the amount they’re offering (and not budging from) is unpalatable, then it means they’re not the right fit for you, and it’s better to find one that is.
Given the anxiety I used to face in my earlier years, as the hirer I learnt that negotiating is not personal, it’s business. I never thought less of someone who asked to get paid more, provided they did so in a professional manner. I wanted to understand the value they would bring to the project. I admired them for being able to explain why they were the right person for the role.
I would advise everyone to be assertive but not aggressive. Being aggressive is an unpleasant indicator of what you will be like to work with. If the company negotiator scoffs or belittles your demands, then that too is a valuable indicator of what they’ll be like to work with after signing. It’s important to work with people you can work with well.
Important: sometimes everything seems fine on the surface, but the gnawing feeling in your gut won’t quit. Ignore it at your peril. It’s picking up signals you can’t yet articulate.
Both or either side has the right to mull over points before a final handshake (unless you’re on a film set and need an answer, like, yesterday). Sometimes even ten minutes will do. I go away for a cup of tea and check in with myself and my notes to see if everything’s been covered.
Anything is negotiable until it’s negotiated. But once a deal is struck, it’s not fair to backpedal or bring up new terms. It’s especially not fair to make anything newly conditional to your joining. The other party then has the perfectly reasonable right to cancel the deal.
Money may make you giddy, but negotiating for it shouldn’t be an emotional affair. Be firm and clear. And above all, be pleasant and professional.
Read the fine print
Wait! It’s not over. The contract should be read over carefully, with a lawyer if necessary. The terms should be clear and reciprocal.
This is when exit strategies are discussed in cold, hard terms. Think of it as the pre-nup and prepare for the worst – but when you’re feeling balanced and on solid ground. One agreement stated I could be dismissed within 24 hours, but would need to give three months’ notice. I had it changed to three months on both sides.
Ensure it covers everything that was discussed: salary (including the day of the month or week you’ll get paid), perks, working hours, time off, compensation for job-related injuries, insurance, and any other conditions. If it’s not in the contract, it won’t happen.
When a good person applies for the right job with the right company, everyone benefits. It should feel like an exciting alignment of minds, ethics and goals.
Think of it like a romantic relationship: you don’t want one side to hold all the cards. It makes for an unnerving imbalance of power. If you want them more than they want you, they can smell the fear. Call it a crass human foible, but we’re disdainful of anyone too desperate.
It’s the same when they want you more than you want them. In this case, a few extravagant gestures to plead their case are fine (a college roommate was woo-ed by an investment bank with a crate of champagne every week until she said yes; I begged her to not say no for a while).
After a respectably lengthy interview, they either get you or they don’t. If they don’t, step away with your dignity intact and keep things cordial.
If things don’t go well at the interview, or on the job, be careful about badmouthing it all over town (unless they did something illegal, in which case and by all means, turn whistleblower).
Our world is becoming smaller, and we are more interconnected than ever before. Hearing gossip about another player is not just unprofessional, but we are psychologically wired to transfer the negative things you’re saying about someone else onto you. Be judicious about who you share what with. Staying positive in a professional environment (hell, any environment) is soothing for everyone.
The other way
When you’ve had your fill, as I have, of applying for jobs (which doesn’t mean the jobs stop coming to you; you’ll probably be surprised by how much your stock goes up when you don’t even want to join them any more – odd, but true), then think of alternatives.
My favourite route is to work out what you want to do and then figure out a way for make it pay. This is explored at length in Free Range Humans by Marianne Cantwell, a book I recommend highly if you’re even vaguely interested in getting off the hamster wheel.
Sometimes combining a part-time paying job with a personal mission makes sense.
Sometimes going freelance and being a consultant pays even more for the same job you were doing before, but this time probably without insurance and other benefits.
Being freelance also often allows you to live anywhere you like and keep the same job (especially if your work is tech- or digital-based). My beloved travel blogs include posts written by parents raising young children and teenagers in multiple countries, and they sound well adjusted and fearless. This works especially well if you decamp from the more expensive western regions of the globe to a place with lower costs of living.
If you’re good at your work, then chances are, someone somewhere is willing to pay you for it, whether you’re in a traditional office or not. There are also grants, residencies and fellowships for artist types.
When you stop clinging to what you’re familiar with, then the world opens up with possibilities, often far more enriching than if you’d stayed in the same-old, same-old.
When I left my last big job and its very comfortable salary, I realised that much of the money I’d earned had been spent on trifles just because I had the cash. When I didn’t have excess money to burn, I spent far less, but was much happier, especially when it meant I was no longer a cog in a wheel.
Sometimes the long view helps. Will you look back on your life and realise the bulk of it was spent making other people wealthy? Or do you want to take a stab at fulfilling your own goals? Our cultural and societal progress comes largely from bright sparks who pursued a new way of doing something, even when it wasn’t initially understood by the masses.
Becoming hostile and bitter over your work environment is a sorry way to live. Remember, it’s a relationship. Either by negotiating yourself into a better one or leaving it altogether to strike out on your own, it feels wonderful to know you’re standing up for yourself.
“Leap, and the net will appear.” ― John Burroughs
Find what you like and do it!
“I saw something nasty in the woodshed!” Spirited young Flora Poste with little money to her name decides to use her tidying-up skills on her distant relatives, the Starkadders, leading them to all follow their long-stifled dreams. Despite the sometimes-forced dialect-driven dialogue, Cold Comfort Farm is a hilarious comic novel by Stella Gibbons. The film adaptation is also full of charm.
Ella Woodward, a young woman struck by a debilitating autoimmune disease, decided to take control when no medication helped. Going from eating only junk food, she changed her diet completely to a vegan plant-based one, and regained her health completely in the process. View her blog deliciouslyella.com where she shares her recipes. Following its phenomenal success, she’s also brought out a recipe book, Deliciously Ella.
A brilliant man with a body hijacked by motor neuron disease never let his formidable mind stop from doing what it loves to do. Watch Eddie Redmayne in his Oscar-winning role as theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, directed by James Marsh and based on the book by Jane Wilde Hawking.