How to Negotiate Your Pay Rate

Posted on: May 26, 2023

A clapper board surrounded by 100 dollar bills.Photo Credit: Gorlov /

By Michael Roberts

Whether it’s your first job or your hundredth, negotiating for a higher rate can be an uncomfortable thing to do, and that’s exactly what your employer is banking on. Here are seven tips to be more confident in the negotiation process to get the pay rate you deserve.

1. Compare notes with your coworkers

If you’re a freelance worker and are currently employed or recently completed a gig, check with your coworkers and see what their rate is, if they feel comfortable enough to share it with you. You want to find out what they are making at their current production company, but also at varying companies they’ve worked for recently to see what the industry average is. The more people with the same job function you can ask, the clearer a picture you can get of what you can reasonably ask for in your next negotiation.

Don’t stress if this is your first gig—there’s always room for negotiation. It’s important to find out what your role (even if it is entry level) is typically compensated. You can do this by searching the web for the job title and salary range averages by city and state. Another way to find this information is to search for people online that have your specific job title. See if you can find an email address and shoot them a message introducing yourself as an aspiring [job title] and ask them if they would give you advice on salary ranges and negotiation tips.

Asking your employer for money is tough, but asking your coworkers or strangers what they earn can also be uncomfortable and can even be perceived to be rude. Be mindful who you ask and how. One tip is to be willing to share your salary with coworkers before asking what they make. This offers two-way transparency.

Transparency in wages has historically been seen as taboo, but it’s a benefit to all of us. We hold more power to negotiate when we all know the value we hold.

2. Know your own budget

Once you have an idea of what the average salary for your job is, you need to figure out your living expenses so you know how much money you need to be making to meet those costs. Work out what you need on a monthly basis for things like food, housing, utilities, entertainment, savings, etc.

You want to ask for the most pay you can reasonably get from an employer. Knowing your living expenses will dictate whether you can accept the lower end of the industry average wage for your job or if you need to hold out for the higher end.

Knowing that you can accept a lower salary than other job candidates is a powerful negotiating tool. Negotiating isn’t always about getting more money, sometimes it’s just about getting the job at a fair salary.

3. Be willing to walk away

It can be hard to turn down a job offer with nothing else on the horizon. We all have bills to pay, so the prospect of low income can seem better than no income, but there are ways to prepare yourself to get the upper hand when it comes to bad offers.

One of the most powerful negotiation tools is the ability to leverage a competing job offer. You can do this by applying to other jobs while working freelance. Applying is a numbers game—the more you send, the better your odds of receiving one or multiple offers.

Whether you tell the hiring manager you are negotiating with that you have another job offer or not, it will greatly benefit you in negotiations. Knowing that you’ll have income whether you accept this offer or not will allow you to walk away if the employer doesn’t meet the salary requirements you’re asking.

4. Let them say the first number

Be careful not to negotiate against yourself by being the first person to say a number. If you tell the person you’re negotiating with what your salary requirement is before hearing what they have budgeted for the position, you may be leaving money on the table. You never know if their budget is higher than your usual rate. For this reason, it’s best not to be the first to state pay rate expectations.

5. If you must give a range, make it work to your advantage

Sometimes you’ll be specifically asked for a salary range rather than an exact figure. Put the number you actually want at the low end. This tactic will keep you from being offered less than you are able to accept.

Alternatively, ranges can be helpful when you aren’t given the details of the job. An example could be the number of hours you are expected to work. You might say that you have a low rate for 8 hour days, a medium rate for 10 hour days, and a high end for 12 hour days. This allows you to set boundaries and get properly compensated for your time.

6. Be firm, but polite

Fighting for what you deserve can be challenging. But remember, negotiating is not personal. The production has a budget and it’s the hiring manager’s job to fill the positions without exceeding that budget. If you can’t come to an agreement on this project, they may come back to you later for another project. If you are rude or unprofessional, not only will you risk ruining any further chances with this company, you may create a bad name for yourself with others. The film and TV industry is small and many people work with multiple production companies each year, so you may encounter this hiring manager elsewhere. They may also have colleagues at other production companies that ask them for recommendations. It’s always best when negotiating to treat others with respect.

7. Negotiating isn’t always about the number

While pay rate is the main topic of most negotiations, there are other things to consider that can create a complete salary package. For staff jobs, you should ask about benefits such as a signing bonus, retirement plan/401k with employer matching, healthcare, and extended paid leave. Freelancers typically won’t be offered these benefits, but some production companies offer them once you’ve reached a certain amount of time with the company, so it’s worth asking about. This time period usually ranges from one to six months. More common benefits for short-term workers typically include kit rental fees, expenses, and travel compensation.

Negotiating can be tough, but learning how to do it is as important as learning your trade. No matter how skilled you are, your salary will have more to do with how well you advocate for yourself than how well you do your job. Follow these tips and build confidence as you successfully negotiate more money. Each new negotiation will feel more natural than the last.

Michael Roberts is a docu-reality editor. He recently worked on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and served as the supervising editor of HGTV’s “Battle on the Beach.”

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