Before You Start Negotiating Your Salary, Know What You’re Worth

Right now, I’m looking at a posting for a senior copywriter that indicates the salary could be anywhere from $65,000 to $110,000 a year. This begs the question, if they’re doing the same job, what makes one copywriter worth 1.5x more than their peers?

Believe it or not, these salary figures aren’t arbitrary (but they’re not set in stone, either). And if you want a good one, you will need to be able to understand the value of your strengths and skills before you start negotiating. Below are some of the factors that can influence your perceived worth.

Your Years of Experience

Raw experience, or years in the business, is a huge factor in determining pay at the beginning and the more advanced years of your career. When you’re first starting out, it matters because employers want to make sure you understand how work in an agency or firm gets done. They want to know if you’ve worked with an account team, collaborated with a creative partner, know how to read and use a creative brief, and/or understand the protocol of the business of advertising.

Even if you don’t have a lot of employment history, include internships, relevant volunteer work and relevant roles. Always be honest: i.e., don’t claim you were a full-time employee if you were only an intern or a part-time freelancer.

Believe it or not, advanced formal schooling won’t give you that much of a bump — at least not in the creative department where your currency is your portfolio. On the other hand, focused advertising-skills workshops such as Bookshop and Adobe or other technical certifications can increase your value.

The Value of Name Recognition

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but it’s true that having a few big-name agencies or brands on your resume can make all the difference (even though, to be honest, I’ve known true hacks who, through politicking and networking, have landed at the kind of big-name, big-budget agencies that are covered in Adweek all the time). Having these names on your resume telegraphs to employers a certain level of creativity and talent for which they may be willing to pay you more — and if an agency pays you more, that means they can bill their clients more, too.

Even if you can’t claim a stint at 72andSunny or Mother, do play up any big-name brands you’ve worked on, even in-house, especially if the position you’re aiming for will be working in the industry or category.

The Skills You Bring

Obviously, you aren’t even going to get an interview if you don’t have certain fundamental skills on your resume. For example, if you’re applying for an SEO copywriter role and you don’t have a proficiency in Google Analytics as a bullet on your resume, or you want to get into an agency that has a lot of CPG clients and all you have is B2B experience, you may not even be considered. But if all the stars align and the agency is looking for skills and experience that you have, try to make the most of them in negotiations. Even if they’re not listed in the job description, talk up extracurriculars: your travel blog or on-the-side photography business are still at least in the ballpark and add to your overall worth.

What everyone else is worth

When in doubt, go online to employment sites like Glassdoor and Indeed to research what people in similar positions, locations, and companies have made. Although these sites won’t tell you the whole story, they’ll give you a good starting point, and you can prepare yourself by seeing local averages and what similar positions in other companies have paid.

Take everything you learn on these sites with a grain of salt, however: They usually only reflect the experience of people who’ve had not-so-positive interactions with a company.

Other Benefits to Negotiate

So you’ve done your homework, feel good about your number, and the employer likes you — but can’t meet your request. You still might be able to make something work by negotiating other benefits like vacation, work-from-home days, health care coverage, or rapid-track promotions. This great article about negotiating the salary you want will give you ideas for other variables that can be negotiated so you can feel satisfied with your compensation and give your new employer your best work.

Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.