Monday, September 26, 2011

Lulu's Mailbag: How do I respond when asked about salary and work hours?

First of all, I cannot thank y'all enough for sending in some great questions lately.  I've got so many topics to blog about that it almost makes me dizzy.  I've also received some great resumes for my long-languishing feature Redlined Resumes, about which I have been gravely remiss and need to get off my ass and post a few.  Meanwhile, here's a great question from A. regarding salary and other details in an interview:

I recently just graduated with my Masters in Architecture and just had my first job interview. I have a lot of questions for you if you wouldn't mind answering them. I feel as though my fellow colleagues may be withholding information from me to keep that competitive edge. During my interview, I was asked about starting salary, benefits, and work hours. Would you mind if I picked your brain and asked you a few questions? My concerns are that I am being taken advantage and would like to know where the profession stands on these topics. 

Wow, A.  You were asked about starting salary in a first job interview, where the interviewer clearly had to know that s/he was interviewing an entry-level person?  That's kinda weird to me, as how are you supposed to know what the market really bears as someone with little to no experience?  Websites like are only helpful to a point, as I think architecture as a profession holds its cards a little too close to the vest when it comes to what we make (and what we all should make).  That being said, some firms do report what they pay to whom, and those results make it into certain documents, such as the 2008 AIA Compensation Report.  That report showed that in the first quarter of 2008, intern pay averaged $45,400 a year.  But note the asterisks by that figure--that includes interns with a wide range of experience levels as well as (or so it would seem) geographical locations.  If you lump together an intern with one year of experience in Denver (making $32,000) and a six-year intern in New York (making $55,000), the mathematical average is $43,500.  (Regional reports are also available from the AIA, which might be more valuable to the average architect or intern.)  Plus, this report was compiled and released before the Great Recession really kicked in, so those numbers may be skewed even more.  

Having said all that, I've seen and heard of a few interns with 0-2 years experience here in Denver getting paid about $16/hour for their starting salaries.  I think it's unfortunate that our culture--American, not architectural--has a stigma towards money and discussing salaries.  Especially among interns, it's helpful to know what you "should" be asking for or expecting so that you can know if you're being compensated appropriately or if you're being taken for a ride.

Asking you about benefits and work hours might be a way for the interviewer to test your work ethic and sense of entitlement, or at least that's my guess.  S/He wants to see what you "expect" to have in a workplace, both in terms of the "freebies" (which aren't free) and how committed you are to work.  Are you a slacker who just wants to warm a chair for 40 a week, or are you more motivated?  Or are you so desperate that you'll let them abuse you week in and week out for 60 hours at a time?  

If you're new to the job market, I would turn the question back to the interviewer: what would most of the employees here say if I asked them about their workweek and workload?  If I were an intern and were pressed further on the topic, I might say something along the following lines:

  • work hours: "I suppose 40 hours is the norm in the workplace, and I'm fine with that.  However, I understand that sometimes the job takes more or less than that number, and I'm willing to do the work it takes to make our firm look good.  How would the employees here describe their workweek length and tasks?"
  • benefits: "I see working with a firm as a symbiotic relationship--I provide high-quality architectural services that help us gain and keep clients and make a mark on the built world in our market, and in return I gain knowledge about how to do that job even better through the support of the firm.  Sometimes that support is through additional training or continuing education opportunities, and sometimes that support is through time off that allows me to heal from an illness or take a break and recharge.  How does your firm view employee benefits?"
If you have a topic you'd like to see discussed here or a question you'd like to ask, feel free to do so via email in the sidebar or in the comments.  Thanks!

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