Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Realistic salary expectations

Editor and writer Kim Pittaway was kind enough to email me her thoughts on salary after a discussion she had with a young colleague. Since I can't say it any better myself, here's what she had to say in full:

There are some basic realities that many junior employees don't really understand.

Most large corporations have a cap on the percentage increase a manager can recommend annually for an employee. My recollection is that an increase of about three to five percent max annually is permitted for someone whose job title hasn't changed.

To confirm this, I've put in calls to various HR departments and will let you know what they say should they get back to me. Kim continues

In exceptional circumstances, a manager could make the argument for a bigger increase, but it would be tough, especially in a year when the ad market is soft or the magazine isn't meeting its budget goals. Even when there is a job title change, the salary jump generally isn't going to be huge – 10 percent would be considered a big jump.

So, the problem is that if you start at a low salary, you're going to have a heck of a time moving up salary-wise within the same magazine: start at $30,000 and even if you get the super-big five percent increase every year, you'd be making about $36,500 after five years.

So how do you move up the salary ladder? You have to move out to move up. Consider this example of two young colleagues with basically the same level of experience (yes, it's based on a true story!). Both start at a magazine at around $30K. One toils away at that magazine for six years. The other makes a jump at about the four year mark. The one who stuck it out loves her job – and makes about $40K. The one who made the jump is in a job she's less enthusiastic about – she finds it a bit boring –but is making $70K, which frankly makes up for the boredom factor since when she's bored she can spend time thinking about the condo she's saving for (something her $40K colleague can't afford). That example is one of the most dramatic I've seen (and it involved a jump from print to online) but even a more "normal" jump from one magazine to another can result in a salary increase of $5-10K or more.

All of which points out the need to negotiate to maximize your starting salary!! I can't tell you how many times I had prospective employees just say "okay" when offered a starting salary. That honeymoon period – when as an employer I've decided I love you and want to have you on my team – is the best chance you're going to get to maximize your salary. And most people (and the studies bear out that this is particularly true of women) leave money on the table, as they say in sales. If I offer you $35K, I can probably afford $36.5K and I might even give it to you – if you ask for it!

Some basic research can help you figure out what's reasonable to ask for. I did a piece for More Magazine about getting what you're worth, and Melanie Hazell of Hazell & Associates had this advice:

• Know what's realistic for the position and the company. Where do you find that out? For those of us in the magazine industry, check out the Masthead salary survey (available in the resource library for paid subscribers). Ask others who work in that company – do they typically pay more or less than the rest of the industry? You need to figure out what this position is worth to this company.

• Negotiate with your whole package in mind. For editorial types, that's usually base salary and vacation time, but in some cases (depending on seniority usually) also involves bonuses. It could also involve additional pay for articles written above and beyond your job duties.

• Get it in writing. The person who agreed to your salary might not be in that job forever. If the contract you sign doesn't capture all of the details of your agreement, write a letter outlining your understanding of what you've agreed to so you have a record of the discussion.

The other lesson in this: stay with the same magazine forever and you're likely trading security (of a sort) for income. I'm not saying you should never have a long-term relationship with a magazine, but if you do, you'll likely pay for it with a lower salary over the long-term. The other disadvantage of sticking with the same shop is that your experience won't be as broad – and when you do eventually go looking for a new job (as pretty well everyone does – by choice or by circumstance – eventually) your resume likely won't be as rounded as someone who has made more moves. (Which is why it's especially important, if you're in a long-term relationship with a magazine, to bolster your resume with industry volunteerism, professional development and anything else to expand your skills and experience.)
- Corinna vanGerwen
About Me
Corinna vanGerwen


Corinna vanGerwen is a freelance editor and writer. She has worked as senior editor at Style at Home, senior design editor at Cottage Life and is the former Canadian Director of Ed2010. She has also held the position of operations manager at a boutique PR agency, where she handled strategic planning and daily operations.

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Corinna says:
Thank you, Alicia!...
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