You’ve probably noticed how unequal salaries in the arts can be. You hear about $7,000 / week along with hourly rates that are below the minimum wage. The good news is that, on average, art jobs tend to pay well.
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Many have noted that there are structural issues that make salaries unfairly biased (women and minorities earning less for the same art jobs). One U.S. state has already taken measures that should prevent this from happening.
But most discussions on the subject forget one crucial thing you can do to get paid what you deserve:
You Do Not Need to Answer the Salary History Question
[July 1, 2019 Update: Salary history questions are now banned in many states and localities. Click on this link and look for your state.]
Or at least, you can delay much more than you think… to your benefit.
The first thing to realize is that there is nothing for you to win by answering this question the first time it is asked. This usually happens as early as when you fill an online job application.
A useful negotiation tip in this scenario is: the one that speaks first, loses.
Salary History Question: Salary Negotiation Scenario 1
Mary applies to job 1 with a well-known performing arts center. The job application asked her for her previous (or current) salary. She dutifully fills it in.
[HR staff reviews the application, option A]: “Oh, this is way out of our salary range” (application goes into the trash can).
[HR staff reviews the application, option B]: “Oh, she was only earning $xx,xxx which is $5,000 below our range for this position. If she successfully passes the interviews, her offer will be at the bottom end of our range.”
Salary History Question: Salary Negotiation Scenario 2
Ray applies to job 2 at an internationally-known museum. His job application also asked for his previous salary, but he left it blank. (Sometimes, the system will not allow you to leave it blank. In that case, you can enter N/A or an obviously bogus number like $1.)
[HR staff reviews the application, option A]: “Oh, the salary field is blank. I’ll make a note for the interviewing manager to make sure to ask him.”
[HR staff reviews the application, option B]: “Oh, the salary field is blank, let me give her a call.” (In our experience, this is rare).
These two scenarios give Ray an opportunity to do one of several things: when he is asked, reply with another question about the salary range for the position or reply with, “I’ll certainly give you my previous salary in a moment but first I’d like to explore how I can add value to your organization.”
[This article is part of our Salary Negotiation in the Arts series. When you’re done here, you can read part 2 on showing how much value you can add (which will make you more valuable for them, too) or part 3 on how to maximize your salary after you receive a job offer.]