by Valerie Arendt, MSW, MPP
Social workers are not in it for the money. “I do this for the money,” said no social worker ever. Social Work: We’re not in it for the income; We’re in it for the outcome.
What do all these memes from Pinterest say to me? “My lack of adequate compensation as a degreed social worker is hilarious!” This is no laughing matter. These common social work salary jokes make me angry and actually hurt the profession instead of helping social workers advocate for a higher salary. No social worker or social work student should be resigned to the fact that they will never be able to make the salary they deserve.
Social work is a female-dominated profession. There, the secret is out! It would be irresponsible of me not to mention gender-based pay inequity, which remains a persistent problem for social workers and other female-dominated professions in the United States. Male-dominated occupations consistently pay more than female-dominated occupations at similar skill levels (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2013). In 2011, The NASW Center for Workforce Studies published an occupational profile on “Social Work Salaries by Gender.” In general, social workers who earned higher salaries were more likely to be older, male, to hold an MSW as their highest degree, and to be licensed in more than one state (NASW Center for Workforce Studies, 2010).
Linda Babcock did a study for her book Women Don’t Ask, in which she found men initiate negotiations about four times as often as women, and 20 percent of adult women (22 million people) say they never negotiate at all, even though they often recognize negotiation as appropriate and even necessary.
Women and social workers are amazing at advocating and negotiating for their clients and even their organizations, but not all are great at negotiating for themselves. There is nothing unseemly about trying to negotiate a higher salary. Employers expect negotiation. Employers may actually think less of you if you do not negotiate. A potential employer may even become concerned that you will not be able to advocate effectively for your clients if you are hired.
Okay, you have been offered the job and have been given a salary amount and benefits package. Here is what you should do BEFORE saying, “Yes! I want the job!”
1. Do Your Research
Generally, job offers are made over the phone. It is great to be excited, especially if this is the offer you have been waiting for. But it is very important that you take time to do research before and after the offer, so you can be prepared to negotiate. I accepted my first real job out of graduate school immediately, at the lowest salary in the range I was given. After months of job search, interviews, and rejections, I finally landed a great job. I didn’t want it to slip through my fingers by asking for more! I should have told the hiring manager I would call back with a decision within 24 hours. This would have given me time to do the research and the negotiation that the hiring manager later told me she expected of me. Accepting a job is a life-changing decision and shouldn’t be rushed.
There are hundreds of salary negotiation articles floating on the Internet, and they all rightly insist the need to do your homework before you negotiate. What should you learn during your research?
- Research the organization’s financial position. I have worked mostly for nonprofit organizations, so I always look at an organization’s IRS 990 on http://www.guidestar.com to see how the organization stands financially and if I can find out how much individuals in a similar position make.
- Check out websites such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; PayScale.com; Salary.com; and your state office of human resources, which employs many social workers, to research comparable salaries for social workers in your geographic area and in roles, sectors, and specialty areas similar to the job you seek.
- Find out what benefits they are offering and do some research on what benefits other organizations offer. You may feel better about not being able to negotiate for a higher salary if you know the benefits offered are excellent.
2. Consider the Whole Package
It is not all about the money. You want a job that will be fulfilling, and you want to work for a reputable organization that will be able to help you make positive advancements in your career. If you have the good fortune to choose between more than one offer, don’t just go for the offer of more money. At the end of the day, the things that make your work easier, improve your skill set, or save you time actually translate into more money.
Consider the value of your entire compensation package. Here are questions to consider for potential areas of negotiation:
- What benefits are included? Health and dental? Vacation/sick time? Retirement? Disability?
- Is there a probation period before I can use my vacation?
- Will I be provided clinical supervision for my licensure?
- Will I be reimbursed for mileage?
- Will the organization pay for my continuing education?
- Will the organization give me time off for continuing education without having to use vacation time?
- Will the organization pay for my personal liability insurance coverage (not just coverage provided by the organization)?
- If I am expected to be on call and available by phone, will the organization pay for a phone?
If you don’t need health and dental insurance because you have better coverage with your partner’s benefits, then this may be a negotiating point for you, because the organization may save money if you don’t take advantage of the entire benefits package.
3. Determine Your Worth
You worked hard for your social work degree. Even if you are a recent graduate, you are already walking in the door with professional experience from your internships. Your skills and talents are worth something, and you want to get paid the fair-market value when an organization makes you a salary offer. But what is your market value? Don’t trust the hiring company to tell you what you are worth. You will find out for yourself during your research.
It is important to decide ahead of time what your bottom line is. Based on your research, determine the lowest salary/benefit package you are willing to accept. The NASW Leadership Ladders (2012) has a great article on negotiating a higher salary outlining your “bottom line.”
- Know the amount that you can live on comfortably, as well as the amount you need to feel valued as an employee.
- Understand that this rate of compensation will drive future raises, cost of living increases, and so forth.
- Be prepared to walk away if your minimum salary cannot be met. Do not sell yourself short.
- Determine what other benefits you might be interested in, in lieu of a higher salary.
- Don't accept less than you are worth. Doing so can set you back significantly.
4. Point Out Your Value
You are a professional social worker, and you bring significant value to the table. How do you persuasively tell your future employer you are worth every penny you are asking for?
- Sell yourself. Show what you are able to contribute to the organization by talking about your competencies, training, and certifications. They are making you an offer because they think you are the best candidate for the job in their pool of applicants. Help them remember why they chose you.
- It’s not all about you. Talk about how you can contribute to the organization by helping them achieve their mission and goals. Discuss concrete ways in which you contribute to the organization’s outcomes and are worth a higher salary. Leave any personal or financial woes out of your negotiations.
- Share your research with your boss or interviewer. Citing facts and figures will show them that you’ve done your homework and will be a savvy employee.
Don’t even think about asking for more without having specific and detailed reasons that show why you are worth it.
5. The Ask: Negotiation
The number one factor in determining whether or not you get a higher salary is based completely on whether you ask. So ask! Now is the time to advocate for yourself and ask for the compensation that reflects your education, experience and expertise.
- What is negotiable? Salary, benefits, job duties, title, moving expenses, time off for vacations you have already planned (what if you don’t get paid vacation until your 6-month probation is over, but you have to be in your cousin’s wedding next month?) and start date. An agency with a small budget might not be able to raise your starting salary, but you may be able to negotiate your benefits package.
- How much should I ask for? When negotiating salary, it is typical to ask for a few thousand more than your true “bottom line” and meet somewhere in the middle. You may even get what you ask for!
- Be reasonable. If you discover the person who held the position before you made significantly more than you were offered, recognize that the person may have had 10 years more experience than you.
- Be professional. Most organizations expect negotiation, but there are some that have very little wiggle room when it comes to increasing your compensation. Don’t burn any bridges during negotiation if they aren’t able to offer you more. At some point, you need to be prepared to either accept the job as offered or turn it down.
Asking for more money is a hard thing for many people, but you have nothing to fear as long as you research a fair compensation package and act professionally and with respect. Remember, you are a professional social worker, and your community needs you. Your expertise does not come for free!
Healy, R. (2013, February 21). The exact words to use when negotiating salary. U.S. News & World Report - Money. Retrieved from: http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2013/02/21/the-exact-words-to-use-when-negotiating-salary
Institute for Women’s Policy Research. (2013). The gender wage gap by occupation fact sheet. Retrieved from: http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/the-gender-wage-gap-by-occupation-2
NASW Center for Workforce Studies. (2010). Summary of key compensation findings. Washington, DC. Retrieved from: http://workforce.socialworkers.org/studies/profiles/Gender.pdf
NASW Leadership Ladders. (2012). Negotiating a higher salary. Retrieved from: http://careers.socialworkers.org/documents/NegotiatingSalary.pdf
Valerie Arendt, MSW, MPP, is the Associate Executive Director for the National Association of Social Workers, North Carolina Chapter (NASW-NC). She received her dual degree in social work and public policy from the University of Minnesota and currently provides membership support, including résumé review, to the members of NASW-NC.