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June 24, 2009

My first (part time) salary negotiation!

June 24. Day 359.

Here's a brief rundown of my financial situation, as of this month. Grad school stipend has dried up. Savings cover the essentials, plus the occasional (read: rare) side project.

But I need to find the cash for extras, like all that coffee I drink. And jeans. And tango night!!

Which means I need more work.

I posted a message on Craigslist offering my tutoring services. I figured that if I pick up around $40/hour, give or take, for an hour or two per week, that would give me enough time to advance on the dissertation, and enough cash to feel comfortable.

Win win.

I got a call yesterday from a mother who wants me to tutor her three teenage children. I offered to go to their house for a free consultation, but she said she prefers to meet me at mine -- for privacy/security concerns. Fine by me.

They came over this afternoon, plopped onto the futon in and I asked them about their academic history, and a few personal details. Recent immigrants, trying to improve their English and get into good colleges. They wanted someone to work on essay writing, debate, reading comprehension and phonetics. Exactly my cup of tea!

Next, it was time to talk money and schedule.

The mom sent the kids to the car, saying "I want them to respect teacher. They do not need to know how much you earn." Thanks, I think!?

I started by saying that ideally, if she had no budget constraints, we should schedule one hour with each kid, and one together. Separately, I could work on their unique goals, and together they could practice debate, discuss books together, critique one anothers's arguments.

She said she prefers all the kids meeting at once.

I convinced her to meet part of the time together, and part separately, saying one-on-one is unrivaled when it comes to discussing feedback on writing.

She agreed to three split meetings.

Next, money.

I explained that if I normally charge around $40 per hour, it would be higher for three students. I'd be grading three times the number of papers, and preparing two summer reading book lists, not one. (Two of the kids are in the same class.)

At the same time, I'd give her a discount since we're meeting more than once per week.

"What about $80 per session? And a session could be a little more than an hour, since they can concentrate at that age."

"That is too much."

Ok. I imagined she'd say that. I tried again.

"How about $60?" This was my target -- what I thought would be a fair price. $20 per hour per student.

"That is too much!"

"Well," I spoke up, "actually I believe that is a great rate, considering my experience and credentials."

"I'm sorry, but that is too much."

"Ok, what is your suggestion?"

"$60 for an hour and a half."

Hmm. That was exactly my hourly rate, for one kid. Now I'd be doing three times the preparation? Not cool...

And yet, I could use the money...


Next: logistics.

I asked if she wanted to meet at my house or hers.

"Our home, please."

"Sure. If I come to your house, I do charge clients for travel."

"How much?"

"50 cents per mile."

"For three times per week? That is almost $20 per trip! Too much!"

"What if we meet halfway?" I offered. "A library or quiet cafe?"

"No, home is best."

Ok, now it was getting frustrating. If she doesn't even pay for gas, I'm earning less now than I did 5 years ago, plus taking time to drive across the city -- when there are probably other potential clients up my street.

I know there is a recession, and I am grateful to have any kind of job offer in this climate, but can't she be a little flexible?

But I offered another compromise.

"Ok, how about I just charge you for gas. Not time. If it's 35 miles round trip [I did a quick calculation] then it's something like $5 per trip."


She left beaming.

I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I got the job. On the other, it wasn't the WOOHOO salary negotiation victory I'd hoped for at the end of this project.

The timing couldn't be better, since it's the final week of asking.

But the results... well... they could be a lot better.

Gained: A job. I shouldn't complain about the salary, but I just hoped I'd be a better negotiator, after a whole year of trying.

And, one positive point: at least I asked. I didn't request $40 and let her drop to $20. I asked $80 and got $40.

A few reflections, after the fact:

1. Negotiating for a salary is HARD. Damn!!! I did not expect it to be so difficult. Truly, after a year of asking for discounts and standing up for myself, I thought I would get much better results here. Perhaps get my target, or a little below. Instead, I gave in at every step of the way. The conversation took a while -- it's not like I immediately said "Ok!" to each of her attempts to lower it. I thought, I calculated. And then I dropped. So, if asking for extra money is entirely different from asking for extra foam on your latte, I've just gotta keep practicing!

2. Negotiating for a salary is even HARDER when you don't have a job or really need the money. This is obvious, but I never realized the psychological effect it would have on me. Compared to the one time I asked for a raise, at the beginning of this project, this time around I knew I had much more to lose.

The refrain in my head, the whole time, was "Come on, you don't have an alternative. Take it. Take it."

What I should have told myself, in retrospect, is that I do have an alternative: grad school, and the other part time work I do, and the other people who could call and accept a better rate.

3. What could I have done differently?

I could have suggested two or three hours per week (not 4 1/2), at a higher rate -- within her budget, but still meeting my salary requirement.

I could have concluded the conversation at a higher hourly rate by telling her, "Well, I'm very sorry if that's too much, but this is what I charge... Perhaps you want to think about it and call me tomorrow?" Rather than giving in immediately.

I could have not caved on the driving. At least that.

I could have identified an ideal minimum (higher than my actual minimum) and, once the maximum failed, done everything I could to settle at the idea minimum.

That is, I could have planned a dollar figure below which I wouldn't want to take the job, and stuck to it. For example, let's say $40 the lowest figure I knew I would do the job for. What if I acted like $50 was? If I countered $50 to her $40, that would have added up over the summer. Since I didn't do that, we ended at my minimum, not my ideal minimum. Does this make sense?

I should not have I assumed that if I start high, we will automatically end up somewhere between her goal and mine. That depends on me, not her. And I was a softie.

I should have factored in prep time and grading, and made that explicit: "For every lesson, I will take about 15 minutes per child to prepare and 15 minutes to grade and write feedback. That is reflected in my fee." As it stands, by not doing that, my hourly rate dips from $40 to $30 (given half an hour of driving time per meeting) to even less, considering I'll spend around an hour per week to prepare feedback.

4. Learn from the other party. Next time, when I'm negotiating, if the other side is good at bargaining, I'm totally going to mimic. This woman was deteremined. She wanted three meetings per week with three kids, for $40/hour. I firmly believe that was her target when she picked up the phone yesterday. And she was determined enough to get it. Kudos!

I could have turn her refrain on her, "That is too much!" by saying "That is too little!"

Instead, she asked, asked, asked. I caved, caved, caved.

5. Conclusion? I'm writing this after the fact, and let me just say that there's another chapter. But what are your thoughts now? Disappointed in the Daily Asker? I admit I am... Not so much about the money, actually, but about the utter failure in this attemtped negotiation...
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