On Salary Negotiation for Librarians

Saw this on Twitter via Teresa Jusino.

The GIF guide to getting paid.

If you are on the market, this is important. I wrote a library-centric version a while back you’re also welcome to look at. I’m reposting it here.

Three sentences are worth thousands of dollars.

From 2011; I’m reposting it here for anyone who wants it.
These are the three most important sentences that I learned in library school:

“I’m really excited about this opportunity. However, the offer is a little below my range. Can we do any better, say [name a number $5000 more than offer on table?]”

I’d like to take a moment to talk about risk taking and salary negotiation.

Taking (calculated) risks is important in any career. This is true when we try to change our methods, update our skills, and re-imagine our personal gigs, or our profession writ large.

This is especially true when it comes to money. One of the risks (which is less of a risk than you might think) that every librarian should take is the risk of attempting to negotiate a higher salary when we move into a new position. Yet not many of us do. Is this because we’re in a female dominated profession, and according to a recent Rutgers University study, women are still much less likely to negotiate salaries?

I have friends on the job market, and I hope that when they get offers, they will negotiate their salaries. But some of them don’t plan to, because they are nervous that somehow attempting to negotiate a higher salary will reflect badly upon them, or will somehow cause the hiring library to rescind the offer.

That, my friends, is just a load of horse-puckey. Never in my nearly 15 years in this profession have I heard of someone not being hired because they attempted to negotiate a higher salary when an offer was made. 

I’m a proud alumna of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s GSLIS program. I learned a great deal about the philosophy and practice of librarianship there, as well as being mentored by some wonderful faculty, and making friends and colleagues that have carried forward into my professional life.

That being said, the single most important lesson I learned in library school wasn’t in the official curriculum at the time. It was a salary negotiation workshop. The Dean at the time, Leigh Estabrook, provided a workshop outside of class for GSLISers who were on the market.

It was a revelation, and I’m going to share it with you, because I want you to negotiate your salary for your next position. Why? Because when we all negotiate for higher salaries, the average base salaries in our profession go up. So your negotiation helps other librarians (including me!) by driving the market rate just a smidge higher. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say.

Here’s what I learned: If you have a job offer on the table, that means that the search committee or hiring committee has decided that they want you. They will now do everything in their power to make sure that they get you. And that includes possibly raising the offer on the table. Because thelast thing they want to do is have to go through the whole hiring process again. That takes up a ton of time and energy, and they’d rather be doing their regular jobs, with you taking on the job that they need to fill.

They likely are not initially offering you the highest amount of salary for that line that they have to spend. After all, if you take their offer, it saves them some money. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. 
They expect you to ask. Really, they do. I promise. And if they don’t, they should. And they will, from now on.
This is the moment when you have some leverage. Use it. Even if they say “sorry, that’s the best we can do on salary,” right up until you accept the gig, you are in the best position to ask for other ways to make your life easier, such as increased funding for professional travel/professional development, or a bigger budget for preservation supplies for your department. Or whatever. One-time money (such as for moving expenses) is easier to find in a budget than recurring money (such as salaries). If you can’t get a higher salary, can you get a bigger allotment for moving to your new gig?
The only thing that failing to try to negotiate your salary will do is keep your salary lower than it ought to be, often for years. Many places base raises on a percentage of the base salary. If you don’t negotiate for a higher salary when you get hired, you are also screwing your future self out of bigger raises.

Scenario 1: You accept an entry-level librarian job that starts at $40K per year (without negotiating), and in the next budget cycle you get a 3% raise, your raise will be: $1200.

Scenario 2: You negotiated your base salary on hire up to $44K per year from the offered $40K. That first 3% raise adds up to $1320.

And it snowballs from there.

Scenario 1 salary (optimistic budget=3% salary hike per year):

Year 2: $41,200

Year 3: $42,436

Year 4: $43,709

Year 5: $45,020

Scenario 2 salary (same optimism)

Year 2: $45,320

Year 3: $46,679

Year 4: $48,079

Year 5: $49,521

So by the fifth year, a failure to negotiate your initial salary on hire will cost you a MINIMUM of $4501.

Why are we so afraid of asking, again?

“I’m really excited about this opportunity. However, the offer is a little below my range. Can we do any better, say [name a number $5000 more than offer on table?]”

Look, I learned the hard way when I was hired for my first librarian position. I was so excited to be offered a Real Professional Job that I didn’t negotiate. I didn’t use those three sentences. Compared to a graduate assistantship stipend, the salary on offer sounded like a LOT of money. But I was moving from the Midwest to the East Coast, which also means that the cost of living was significantly higher.

My male colleague hired at the same time as me who is a dear friend still, did negotiate his salary. We came in basically together, with the same qualifications, doing the same job. I made less money than he did, not because there was gender bias, but because I didn’t ask for more money when I was hired.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

When I was hired for this position, I negotiated. My willingness to speak three sentences, and wait about two hours and bite my nails while my then-hiring supervisor asked the then-Dean if they could afford a slightly higher salary earned me an additional $4000. Because I asked.

It’s not that hard to ask. There’s a book about it: Women Don’t Ask (h/t to Laura McCullough, who mentioned it on FaceBook during a discussion of this topic.)

“I’m really excited about this opportunity. However, the offer is a little below my range. Can we do any better, say [name a number $5000 more than offer on table?]”

Keep practicing these three sentences. They are worth a lot of money.


About Lynne M. Thomas

Lynne M. Thomas is a nine time Hugo Award winning editor and podcaster. In her day job, she is Head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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3 Responses to On Salary Negotiation for Librarians

  1. smkelly8 says:

    Reblogged this on Ruined for Life: Phoenix Edition and commented:
    I was looking for a video about the workshop she mentions by Dean Leigh Estrabrook. I couldn’t find it, but reading this empowers me.


  2. smkelly8 says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I was trying to find a video of the workshop. as a librarian have to guard against the feelings you express, the excitement of getting a real job.


  3. shindoi50 says:

    I’m a GSLIS (now iSchool) alumna too and will try this out.


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