04/28/2022 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

All About the Benjamins: Navigating Salary Talk

white ceramic piggy bank with gold coins falling down into it

Discussing salary and benefits is an awkward but necessary part of the job search.

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, in the world of independent schools this does not quite apply to salary-related conversations.

The general consensus from the hundreds of independent schools we work with is that discussing salary in the first interview, which is often very introductory, can be off-putting. During an initial interview, you should focus on learning more about the position and sharing how your skills align with the school’s mission and vision, discussing your passion for your subject or area of expertise, and demonstrating 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… It's difficult to determine salary right off the bat. Independent schools often determine salary based a number of factors including the candidate's credentials, tasks and duties on campus, and a plethora of other extra factors. Early stage interviews don't mean you’ve committed to a position, a school, or a location. Figure out how much you like the school — once you know more about the whole package offered and the school community, you might find that, if the opportunity is exciting enough, there are more factors to consider regarding salary than just the hard number. (Tip: This is a great time to communicate with your Placement Associate as they are able to offer deeper insight into historic salary data and benefits packages that you may not know, or have considered on your own.)

As you interview, however, 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 is interested in bringing you to campus for a finalist interview. In this situation, if the school offers you a salary range, be prepared to decide if it is a range you would be willing to consider. You don’t want to waste a school’s time or resources to bring you to campus if you are going to end up declining an offer based on salary in the end.

What if I’m asked about my salary requirements?

This can be tricky to navigate. If salary is a hard set dealbreaker, you can give 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 by going too high.

You can often flip the question around and ask the school what range they had in mind for the role. Make sure you’ve done your research, as the school will probably expect you to confirm whether the range they offer is inline with your expectations. If a school replies with a salary that is lower than you expected, you can always keep things open by saying something like “I was hoping for something more in the $X range, but I’m definitely open to discussion based on the entire compensation package.” Then follow up with questions about the benefits that matter most to you, like 401(k) matching, tuition remission, or additional PTO.

Another option is to delay answering questions about your salary expectations entirely. If you choose this strategy, you might say that salary is important to you, but a well-rounded offer and opportunity are more important, and you’d prefer to share your salary expectations later on. This could sound like “Right now, finding the right position and school community for me is more important than salary. I’d love to learn more about the job, the school, and the entire benefits package before we talk about numbers.” Overall, it’s important to convey flexibility while also staying committed to your salary needs.

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, professional development, classroom resources stipends, 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 $45,000 salary will go much further in Pennsylvania than it will in California. Check out different cost of living calculators online — try this one from CNN money, for example.

Finally, keep in mind your experience level — you will likely make less as a new teacher than you will if you have 10 years of experience or a master's degree.

We again want to plug the importance of communicating with your Placement Associate when considering salary and offers. They can offer a lot of context and serve and an objective resource for you as you navigate your next steps.

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, talk to your Placement Associate and weigh all the information you have. Given the geographic area, the benefits, and the bottom-line salary, decide what you reasonably need to be comfortable. If you do decide to negotiate, be prepared to accept the offer if the school does come up to meet your salary needs. It is not recommended to negotiate just for negotiation sake. If there is no way you would accept the position even if the school did meet your desired salary, politely decline the offer and move on in your search.

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