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Designers, How Do You Go About Negotiating Your Salary?

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 06/07/2017 | 5 Minute Read

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How do you feel about talking money with your employer?

In general, people are raised to stay hush-hush about about how much they make. But in making the topic taboo or untouchable, it in turn makes the task of asking for a certain rate (or a raise) incredibly difficult. It also contributes to the larger problem of the wage gap, resulting in women making 20% less than men in the United States.

You should feel comfortable discussing money with employers—design work is valuable, and you deserve to be paid fairly for it. And you’ll only be able to earn the salary you want if you know how to confidently ask for it. Here are some ways that you can respectfully negotiate your salary with a future or current employer at a design agency.

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1. Know what you’re worth

Yes, it’s hard to put an exact number on the work that you do, but if you’re feeling fuzzy here then you’ll definitely struggle to ask for a salary that properly reflects your skills and abilities. The first inclination is to just go off of a gut instinct and pick whatever number might sound nice, but there is actually a method to the madness.

Always refer to what others in your field are making to get an idea of what a total novice and an incredibly experienced designer with years behind them earn. This will help you understand how low is too low and how high is too high, ensuring that the number you aim for doesn’t devalue you—or make you completely un-hireable. Evelio Mattos, Creative Director at Design Packaging added, “Once you’ve landed on a number, always ask for 10% more so you have room to negotiate.”

While arguably more difficult, you should also weigh how much you’d like to make against your experience and skills. No, you probably won’t end up making six digits that first year out of school (no matter how much you’d like to)—but you can consider your monthly expenses and cost of living to determine a number that allows you to pay rent, set aside savings, and not feel like you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck.

2. Look at the package deal

Take a little time to look beyond your yearly salary and consider other benefits that your employer can offer you. This might include:

  • Paid vacation time
  • A 401K or other retirement savings option
  • Health insurance, along with any other insurance (like dental, vision, etc.)
  • The possibility for remote work

Before signing a contract for a new position at a design agency, see if you can throw in a few of these on top of your pay. When asking for a raise, consider which of these benefits you might want to also have. Employers may simply not be willing to exceed a certain amount on your salary, but they know that offering these benefits helps keep them competitive and attracts talented designers.

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3. Highlight your other skills

Packaging and branding design today requires more than just a thorough knowledge of Adobe Illustrator. Designers who can demonstrate proficiency in other mediums like social media or virtual reality—or even those who have other serious passions and hobbies—bring more to the table, and this should be reflected in salary. So whether you’re negotiating your salary with a new position or trying to bump up your pay for a yearly raise, let employers know where else you can be an asset or how other skills enrich your work.

“You have to have strong design skills and a good portfolio to get in the door, but to actually land the job or rise to the next level you have to excel at something valuable to your clients and your employer,” mentioned Margo Chase, Founder/Executive Creative Director of Chase Design Group. “When I interview candidates for design positions I am always on the look-out for designers with interests and skills beyond the expected. If you have a business or marketing background, an understanding of web programming or a passion for writing or painting, I want to know about it. But, more importantly, you also need to demonstrate the ability to think critically and talk easily about the ‘why’ behind your work. You become truly valuable when you are smart and articulate as well as technically proficient.”

4. Back up your case with statistics

If you’re going to talk numbers with a future or current employer, head in armed with numbers. Design is inherently creative, but statistics and reports help establish you as 100% worth the salary you’re requesting.

Keep a running tab of the projects you work on and the significance you’ve made on them. If your packaging design has directly benefitted a product’s sales, be prepared to answer how much. If the branding you worked on helped get recognition on social media, know the increase in followers and shares. Blair Decembrele advised to “bring an organized list of your accomplishments and the impact you’ve made.” This kind of measurable proof clearly demonstrates the tangible value you add to a design agency.

5. Look to the future

 Negotiating your pay is just as much about looking towards your future as it is considering your current skillset and past projects. As Evelio Mattos pointed out, salaries and raises are “investments in employees”—so the best way to get the salary you want it to also show that you have an investment in being a designer at the agency. Mattos suggested to “be prepared with a[n] outlook for the future and how you will continue to grow.” Laying out a plan will prove to a design agency that you’re committed and willing to work for the long haul.