Design salary negotiations

Design salary negotiations

Great article over on David Airey’s blog about negotiating design salary, with excerpts from Ted Leonhardt’s new book Nail It: Stories for Designers on Negotiating with Confidence. This is a great resource for both established & up and coming designers. I wish I’d had this info earlier in my career, it would have went a long way even if I would have been able to miss out on things like nightly ramen dinners or rent check roulette. Anyways, click on the link above or check out the complete article after the jump.

What am I worth?
I recently gave a talk to a group of design students on early career negotiations. Worth, and how to determine it, was very much on their minds. Three of the students shared their bargaining stories.

Focus: publication design. Region: Washington, DC.

Laid off from her first position out of school (the company closed), Margret was interviewed at another company, where they offered her $45K. Then they asked her what her previous employer paid. She told them the truth and said $38K, so they lowered their offer to $40K.

The drop caught her completely by surprise. She went from feeling good to feeling sick and jilted in a heartbeat. Her self-worth had just dropped $5K! The shock was physical; her chest clenched. What should she do?

My observations:

If she accepts the $40K, she’ll lose their respect.
If she asks for the original $45K, they’ll attempt to get her down to $42K-$43K.
If she asks for more, say $46K-$47K, they will be impressed with her confidence. She may not get the job, but she’ll walk out with their respect — and her own.
What happened:

Shocked and dismayed, Margret turned down the $40K. The meeting ended. She’s now expecting offers from two other employers. Above all, the experience helped her understand why she shouldn’t reveal her past salary history, and to always ask for what she needs.

Focus: user experience. Region: San Francisco.

Shortly after graduation, Bridget was courted by some big firms in Seattle (where she attended design school) and eventually was offered slightly under $100K by two different firms in San Francisco. Naturally, these offers filled her with confidence. Better yet, one of them also offered Bridget an $18K signing bonus (although she favored the firm that had not offered the bonus). Both firms told her she couldn’t tell competitors what she’d been offered.

Are her hands truly tied? Should she use the signing bonus offer as leverage?

My observations:

With little experience, she needs all the advice she can get. She should turn to books, articles, friends, or family.
Bridget’s credibility is expanded significantly by the two offers.
Employers use their power to hold down salaries.
Bridget should absolutely use the signing bonus as leverage to get the position she wants, and on terms she is happy with.
What happened:

Bridget told the company she favored that she wanted to work for them, but that she was concerned about the high cost of living in the area. She also told them that another company had offered her an $18K signing bonus. They matched it and she accepted.

Focus: Brand Design. Region: Chicago.

Andrew originally received two job offers. He told the first recruiter what his last position paid, and they offered him $2K more. Underwhelmed, Andrew declined. He then politely refused to tell a second recruiter what he’d been paid and was informed they couldn’t make an offer if he didn’t share his previous salary with them. The meeting ended. Andrew left with that sinking feeling you get when you suspect you pushed too hard. The next day they called and offered $20K more than he’d ever been paid. Why did that happen?

My observations:

Clearly, the recruiter was impressed with Andrew.
The recruiter’s offer, like all offers, needed to be based on an appreciation of Andrew, without the past salary as a reference point.
Andrew raised the recruiter’s respect by refusing to reveal his salary history.
What happened:

Andrew took the second position.

And, finally
Widely available salary surveys provide a way for determining your worth, and it’s important to know the range. Professional associations are the best place to start.

Still, developing the confidence to ask for what you need is an emotional skill, and harder to master than gathering pay-range facts. Learning to note and master your feelings during stressful situations is the real key to negotiation success, and with it you’ll gain respect as well. This book and others like it can help.

Ask yourself: Do I know what I need to succeed, and how to ask for it?

Nail It is available to buy on and

Ted mentions salary surveys at the end of the excerpt, so I’ve linked to some useful info:

Design salary guide, by Coroflot (worldwide)
AIGA Aquent Survey of Design Salaries (US)
Are you earning the right amount? On Creative Review (2014)
On the money, on Creative Review (2013)
Design industry research 2010, by the Design Council (UK)
The Brand Republic jobs salary checker (UK)

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