04/03/2013 by Molly Donovan |

All About the Benjamins: Navigating Salary Talk

It’s an awkward but necessary truth of the job search: at some point, you’re going to need to know about salary.

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It’s an awkward but necessary truth of the job search: at some point, you’re going to need to know about salary.  No matter how much you love teaching, you can’t do it for free—you need to know how you’ll support yourself before you accept a job offer.

How do you navigate asking salary-related questions?  When is it appropriate to begin the discussion?  How do you know if the offer is reasonable?  Is it okay to ask for more?  Read on!

When can I ask about salary and benefits?

It makes sense: salary is an important part of your decision-making process.  You hear the same advice over again: in an interview, ask good questions and interview the school as much as the school is interviewing you.  However, this does not apply to salary-related conversation.

You can negotiate salary once a school has made you an offer and, in certain cases, when the school has invited you to interview on-campus.  Discussing payment before then, though, is a bit presumptuous and can be off-putting.  During an initial interview, focus on the school’s mission and vision, your passion for your subject, and your excitement about working with kids.

If you’re asking yourself, “but what if a too-low salary would put a school out of the running?” hold off a minute.  In a job search, it’s best to keep your options open.  Interviewing doesn’t mean you’ve committed to a position, a school, or a location.  Figure out how much you like the school—you might find that, if the opportunity is exciting enough, you have more wiggle room regarding salary than you’d initially thought.

As you gain experience, you might learn that salary is something that could become a deal-breaker for you.  If this is the case, you can ask a school about the position’s salary range if your interviewer indicates that the school will spend more time and money on you by inviting you to campus.  In this situation, decide in advance just how important salary is to you; you don’t want to waste a school’s time or resources.

What if I’m asked about my salary requirements?

This can be tricky.  If asked, you can tell your interviewer a range that would be acceptable to you.  Keep the conversation brief and reiterate your flexibility: you don’t want to lock yourself in, either by low-balling a salary or by making yourself seem unattainable.  If a school offers a set salary in advance, keep an open mind: you can always think it over after the interview.

What questions should I ask about salary?

Remember: when you’re teaching in an independent school—and particularly in a boarding school—your total salary is not solely the sum of all your paychecks.  Benefits like health care and retirement savings, as well as room and board in the case of a residential teacher, are important to consider.

When a school has made you a salary offer, make sure to ask what benefits are included with that salary.  If you’re considering a boarding school, keep in mind that most people spend about 25-30% of their income on housing.  If a school takes care of those expenses for you, your net salary will actually feel higher than the number originally presented to you.

Similarly, ask about cost of living in the area, or do your own research.  A $30,000 salary will go much further in Texas than it will in New York.  Check out different cost of living calculators online—try this one from CNN money, for example.

Whoa—this salary offer seems really low.  Can this be right?

Before you enter a salary discussion, you should understand that independent schools, which are non-profit institutions, traditionally pay lower salaries than their public school counterparts.  That said, independent schools often make up for that lower salary in added benefits and professional development opportunities.  It’s up to you to decide what salary range is manageable for you and your finances.

Do some research on what teachers are making in area schools, both private and public.  Be as informed as possible before you begin a negotiation.  Keep in mind your experience level—you will likely make less as a rookie teacher than you will if you have 10 years of experience or a masters’ degree.  Teaching isn’t the most lucrative profession, but it is incredibly rewarding—remember that as well when you’re sifting through numbers.

Is it okay to negotiate a salary offer?

Yes—it is okay to have a discussion about salary once you’ve been offered a position.  When presenting your case, stick to the facts.  Do your research so you’re calm and prepared, avoid getting impassioned or offended by a salary offer you deem too low, and listen to what your hiring contact says.

Before you begin to negotiate, weigh all the information you have.  Given the area, the benefits, and the bottom-line salary, decide what you reasonably need to be comfortable.

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