How to Research a Salary and Negotiate When the Job Title Is…Creative

The nature of the workforce has changed quite a bit in the past handful of years. While many of these tweaks have made way for company-culture wins—like work-from home flexibility and the rise of workleisure—some updates have introduced new complications. For instance, you've probably come upon a job title that, while certainly creative, does not provide a whole bunch of clarity about the role, or its associated salary. And it's a problem, because if you're in the running for the role of, say, "Bacon Critic," where do you even start to research what you should be negotiating regarding comp?

As industries branch out and companies become more innovative, there’s a greater need for roles that don’t fit squarely into boxes and easy-to-understand categories like "Consultant" and then "Senior Consultant." So, when and if you find yourself in the situation of negotiating a salary for a job offer to be "In-house Philosopher" or "Chief Executive Unicorn," here are a few steps you can take to make sure you’re not shortchanged by your prospective employer.

Check out 3 expert tips for decoding a not-so-straightforward job title

Photo: Getty Images/People Images

1. Research using the right tools

While you may initially feel powerless in the face of your creatively titled job, when you turn to the right tools for help, you can actually find out a lot about what kind of range your salary should be in. Tyler Murphy, a rep for job site Glassdoor, suggests using the platform's personalized salary calculator called Know Your Worth to get a semi-accurate estimate. Based on your experience, location, and education, it gives you a range you're theoretically qualified to shoot for. (Other platforms, like PayScale, provide similar intel.)

Furthermore, reading company reviews (also available on Glassdoor) can be helpful for prospective employees to get a 360-degree understanding of a company beyond pay, Murphy says. "For instance, if the salary is not as high as they would like, reviews may reveal more benefits or perks at the company.”

2. Find your counterparts—for company and title—and get nosy

Sure, it may feel awkward to ask friends and family members how much money they make, but one expert says the knowledge payoff is worth the uncomfortable convo. Lauren Berger, founder and CEO of Intern Queen says if you know anyone who has a similar job or title to what you're pursuing, ask about their salary. “If you are interviewing at a small business that has no investment money, for example, speak to someone you know who is also working at a small business with no investment money,” she says. Because when your job title is unclear, it's important to also understand the size, scope, and financial health of the company in question.

Even when titles are a constant, executive assistants at two very differently sized and funded companies will likely earn different salaries.

The same can be said for comparing a small business with a huge corporation. “Consider the size of the company when asking around—not just the industry or the title, as titles and hierarchy vary from company to company,” Berger says. After all, even when titles are a constant, an executive assistant at two very differently sized and funded companies will likely earn different salaries. By researching salaries by comparable company rather than by comparable title, you may have luck when the roles are hardly straightforward.

3. Ask the right questions in the interview, and negotiate accordingly

At some point in every interview process, salary is discussed. When this comes up, Berger says to flip the question back to your interviewer. "While you can't exactly say 'based on my research, I know most people in this position typically make XYZ,' but there’s a lot you can say," she says. “For instance, ‘Is there a range or a specific budget set aside for this position that you can share?'” Then, ask for more, and share the special qualities you'd bring the job. If the company wants you, you'll likely be met somewhere in the middle, and all parties end up happy and satisfied.

And if negotiations don't leave you feeling satisfied, ask about other, non-salary benefits the company can offer you. Think: bonuses, additional vacation days, work-from-home days, or a more flexible schedule.

It’s also worth asking if there’s room for growth. “I always appreciate when employees say, ‘I’d like to make X amount of money in the next one to three years. What would you need to see from me to get there? And do you think that goal is attainable?’” says Berger. “There’s also something to be said about loyalty in the workplace—it rarely exists. When asking for money, express that you’d like to stay and grow with the company. That will help.” And hey, if you end up with a role like "Chief Troublemaker," why on earth would you ever want to leave anyway?

Here are four super-smart questions to ask a hiring manager in an interview. And check out Ava DuVernay's tip for landing your dream job.

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