How Much Are You Worth?

A few Fridays ago I posted some tips on being a Starving Creative. I mentioned asking someone else for more advice on the topic since I still have a hard time telling the difference between a nickel and a quarter. (I'm an immigrant and where I'm from our money makes sense. And has colours.)  Well, I've kept my promise. 

I interviewed Anne Hubben, former creative recruiter and current career & life coach and blogger. She's always given me amazing advice and her blog, The Satisfaction Quotient is teeming with information, insights and goodness.

She did me (and you) a huge favour by answering some questions on salary, job offers, packages, raises and those little bits that make up the big decision of where you're going to work and for how much.

(Please note that everything depends on the city you're in, the type and the size of the agency. These are all averages and ranges.)

Q: What is the average start range for a junior? 

An average starting salary for an art director or copywriter could be anywhere from 35k to 55k.  That range covers right out of school to juniors with 1 to 2 years experience.

Q: What factors make up how much an agency is willing to pay you?

It depends on the size of the agency, where you live and sometimes the type of work. The larger agencies tend to pay more, and the smaller agencies usually pay less. 

In cities like NYC, SF, Boston or Chicago, 40-45k would be a good starting point when you're a recent graduate. For 45k it would be expected that you've had an internship or two.  But I hear that some places do still offer 35k so don't be insulted if that's your offer.

If you've had two years of experience at an agency, then you're probably looking at 50-55k.  Agencies have salary grades that they work with so it's not just an arbitrary number.  I recently found an excellent explanation on how salaries are figured out here.  

In addition to your experience, as a creative your portfolio is as important as you are.  Hiring managers pay attention to what's in your book and how you present it. They want to know what was produced and what wasn't.   Are you talking about your team and giving credit where it's due?  Are you excited about the work?  Also, people don't want to see a "safe" book from someone who has just graduated.   If you're playing it safe in school, then what's going to happen with a real client? 

Q:  What should a junior be looking at in their offer package?

They need to consider the whole package and not just the base salary. What are the benefits?  Is there a 401k and when can you start contributing to it? Does the company offer any sort of a contribution to it?  Are there any additional perks, like do they offer education of any sort? Some agencies will reimburse you for classes that are relevant to your field of expertise.   Also, will you have a mentor of some sort?  That could be your new boss or some agencies will connect you with someone else.

At this point in your career, you might be willing to take a lower salary if you're going to learn a lot.

Q: How do you know if it's a good offer or not?

If you're happy with it. Or you might want to ask someone that you trust like a recruiter or a coach :-) or someone who has been in the industry longer than you.  You could also check out Glass Door.  

Q: What if you have more than one offer and one is a bit better but you'd rather work at the other place?

Only you know what matters to you most. For the majority of creative people that I've met, it's more about the work that they'll be doing than the salary.   

Every creative I've met wants to be working on interesting, engaging and creative projects.  You also have to keep your portfolio in mind. If you get paid a lot, but have nothing good to put in your book when you leave, then it can affect where you go next.  Some hot agencies take advantage of this too.  They know that they're hot and you're dying to work there, so they don't have to pay juniors as much.  But in the end, it's probably worth it because you'll have great work for your portfolio and a name on your resume that gets people's attention.

Q:  As a junior, is it ok to counter offer?

If you're right out of school, I don't think a counter offer would be a good idea.  It just comes across as presumptuous.  

When I was a recruiter, I would work very closely with a candidate throughout the process to make sure I knew what they were looking for monetarily.  I would then get the offer approved, sometimes fighting for that particular number and if I then made the offer and was counter offered, I'd be annoyed.

Q:  If you accept a lower pay now, how can you make sure you are eligible for a raise later? 

You should make sure you know what the review process is at the agency.   i.e. how many times a year is it? Who gives you your review?  How are you evaluated? Will it be clear what your goals are?

But don't assume that if there's a review in 3 months, you'll be eligible for a raise. Ask how soon you would be eligible for a raise.   Also some companies use spot bonuses to keep you happy until you're eligible for a raise. It would be okay to ask if that's an option.  But don't assume anything.  Always make sure everyone's clear on expectations.

Q: On average, how much is a raise?

It's usually 3 to 5%.  But it could be less in a recession, so keep that in mind also, pay attention to how the company is doing.  Typically, you can potentially get more of a "raise" by switching companies. But that's not a reason to switch every year. That would be bad form.

Q: How can you increase your worth to an agency?

Do great work that gets produced by the client, become invaluable to your team, in fact, be the one that other teams ask for when they need help, communicate well, speak up, but know when to keep quiet too, be willing to do grunt work, and take chances when you have the opportunity to.  Watch the superstars and learn from them, be humble, but figure out how to advocate for yourself. (That's where a mentor can be invaluable).

Before you get a job, if you know you don't interview well (it can be tough for shy people) then work with someone to get better.  

Also, always, always be working on improving your portfolio. Ask people what they think and learn to take criticism well. You don't have to take the advice, but be able to hear it graciously.

Q: Off-topic - what does a career coach do and how could you help a junior?

We're probably all a little different, so I'll tell you what I do. I help people at all levels, from recent grad to ECD, navigate their careers. That might be helping you with stuff like we're talking about today, or adjusting to your new boss, or if you're more senior, managing a new team. I also help people strategize on a job search, which often includes improving or fine-tuning your portfolio, resume, cover letters.

As you know, for juniors, it can be really overwhelming figuring out all this stuff, so I work with them on basics like how to network effectively, what do headhunters actually do, when is it time to leave a job, how do you ask for a raise, etc. That's why your site is so fantastic.  People just need a place to go where they can figure this stuff out. 

 Check out Ann's blog and call her up if you need any coaching.