How to Ask for More: Tips on Salary Negotiation and Beyond

June 28, 2015

Dale McNeill, Tiffany Allen, and Elisa Topper at the "Art of Asking: Salary Negotiation for Library Workers" panel.
Dale McNeill, Tiffany Allen, and Elisa Topper at the "Art of Asking: Salary Negotiation for Library Workers" panel.

Aliqae Geraci, Chair of the ALA-APA Salaries & Status of Library Workers Committee, moderated the “Art of Asking: Salary Negotiation for Library Workers” panel on Sunday.

The session featured three other speakers: Dale McNeill, assistant director of public services, San Antonio Public Library; Elisa Topper, director, McCook (Ill.) Public Library; and Tiffany Allen, director of library human resources, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. To begin, each panelist offered quick tips for salary and benefits negotiation, and then Geraci directed the conversation with more specific questions.

Allen led off with an emphasis on the power of entering a negotiation armed with information, because “one of the most powerful tools that you have when you start any salary negotiation is information.” She recommended looking at the cost of living in the area of the new job as it compares to your current city, salary information for that institution, and salary information for the library sector you are going into.

Topper opened with a quote by John F. Kennedy: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” She emphasized the importance of collaboration when negotiating. “Listen 70% of the time and talk for 30%,” she said. Topper recommended doing the following before beginning a negotiation:

  • Research the person you are negotiating with or interviewing with.
  • Know what your competitive market value is.
  • Review salary surveys, especially regional ones.
  • If you are leaving a job, be sure you have the new job in writing.
  • Be sure your requests are reasonable.
  • Be sure your manner is direct and honest, not demanding.

When negotiating for positions in public libraries, especially positions that are at-will or are political appointments, McNeill said “you should negotiate hard,” because there are often no classifications, and often no job protection. He also discussed the effect that unions have on salary negotiation. “Often you will be told that in a union represented environment you cannot negotiate. That’s not true.” There may be less room, and it may not be salary that you end up negotiating, but you may be able to negotiate conference attendance or time off. “This process of negotiation is going to show you, in part, whether you want the job or not,” McNeill stated.

Allen stressed the importance of preparing to negotiate early in the job application process. “Salary negotiation starts at the point of application. A lot of online systems are now asking what your minimum requirement is.” She encourages students to put “negotiable” if the application allows for open text responses. If applications have fixed responses, she recommended doing your research. “If you are not fully prepared to have the conversation about salary, do not start the conversation,” Allen said. If you ask, it can easily be turned back on you with a question like, “It’s negotiable, what did you have in mind?”

Each of the speakers emphasized the power of knowing yourself and your skillset. McNeill stated, “The more unique your skills are, or the closer your skills are to those enumerated in the ad, the higher your bargaining power.” The panelists also pointed out that negotiation can include benefits like conference attendance, educational support, or time to serve on a committee. Each of those things can be easily negotiated in an entry-level position, and the responses you receive will give you an idea of the culture of the institution where you are applying. Topper also suggested negotiating for a day to work from home if you have a long commute. She was careful to stress the importance of asking, but in a nice manner. “Be approachable and likeable,” she said, and “find a mentor–someone that you can talk to and who will guide you through your career.” As the session concluded, Allen made one last suggestion, “Start date is one of the easiest things to negotiate.” Libraries are often willing to wait for the right candidate.