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Thread: Salary negotiation tips for entry-level planner?

  1. #1

    Salary negotiation tips for entry-level planner?

    Hello,

    For those who don't know, I graduated with an MCRP in May and am actively seeking full-time planning work. In the meantime, I was able to snag an internship post-graduation, but that ended and so of course I'm back on the prowl while living with my parents.

    I wanted to know if anyone could offer general salary negotiation tips, particularly for someone like me who's just starting out and only has internship experience. A couple of the jobs I've seen have salaries under $40k, and while I never expected to be wealthy as a planner, I do have lots of debt and would like at least a comfortable living. I don't think it's too much to ask for someone with a Master's degree to make enough money to live in a neighborhood where I won't be waking up to gunshots.

    That being said, my primary concern is also the effect that low salaries for first jobs can have on my career over the long run - so how can I negotiate a slightly higher salary (should I receive a job offer for something under, say, $40k a year in a moderately priced city) without coming off like a young whippersnapper who expects to be executive director in 2 years? I don't want much, and I understand I have to pay my dues, but at the same time I gotta eat and if I wanted to live in a crappy $400 / month apartment in a bad neighborhood, I could've just dropped out of high school.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Seems to me your best chance at full time employment was with the internship.

    I could be wrong but based on my own experience with applying and browsing for planning jobs and my classmates' getting jobs, it seems to me that planning jobs can pay OK. Obviously, the internships won't pay well, but the full time gigs pretty OK.

    Maybe 50K to start with an MUP?

    I felt like the biggest problem was not the pay per se, but landing a job, and then being able to land one again if you ever got laid off. But that's more of an outsider's opinion. I'm educated as a planner but never worked as one. I did know a few Environmental Planners from my old companies. They did OK.

  3. #3
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    Hello,

    For those who don't know, I graduated with an MCRP in May and am actively seeking full-time planning work. In the meantime, I was able to snag an internship post-graduation, but that ended and so of course I'm back on the prowl while living with my parents.

    I wanted to know if anyone could offer general salary negotiation tips, particularly for someone like me who's just starting out and only has internship experience. A couple of the jobs I've seen have salaries under $40k, and while I never expected to be wealthy as a planner, I do have lots of debt and would like at least a comfortable living. I don't think it's too much to ask for someone with a Master's degree to make enough money to live in a neighborhood where I won't be waking up to gunshots.

    That being said, my primary concern is also the effect that low salaries for first jobs can have on my career over the long run - so how can I negotiate a slightly higher salary (should I receive a job offer for something under, say, $40k a year in a moderately priced city) without coming off like a young whippersnapper who expects to be executive director in 2 years? I don't want much, and I understand I have to pay my dues, but at the same time I gotta eat and if I wanted to live in a crappy $400 / month apartment in a bad neighborhood, I could've just dropped out of high school.
    I think you are being a bit unreasonable to expect a certain salary coming out of school. Honestly, if a job comes up take it. The fact that you are underpaid will only make you join the ranks of the rest of us with jobs. After I got my master's degree my first job paid me $32k per year (5 years ago). That was before the recession and job prospects tightened up.

    Usually I am the one who is very positive about this stuff, but you can't be picking on price. If you can find a job that excites you, in this economy you can't be choosy. Take it. We all have to make sacrifices to move forward, and in our profession right now, there just aren't the starting jobs for $40k. I would imagine the range is probably more in the $32-38k starting. You really have to look at the whole package though, as many government jobs have step increases, and you could make significantly more in a year or two.

    Good luck.
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Your internships get you interviews. Combined with solid interviewing skills, I don't think you would have a problem earning offers. Beyond that, with no full time experience, lack of credentials, I don't see any bargaining chips yet. Your willingness to work hard means you are going to have to work hard to pay your dues. I know plenty of entry-level planners who live in decent apartments in nice neighborhoods (of course half of them are maxed out on credit cards and are heavily in debt living a lifestyle beyond their means). BTW, your debt is your own problem, not your employers'.

    Hope this helps-
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  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Well, I'll be blunt....my salary negotiation tip is don't negotiate anything. You are not in a position to even think about that yet.

    If the job description states a salary that is below what you want in a city you can't afford, then don't apply. You might have a valid reason to voice concern if the description says 50 and they want to pay you 43...etc, but other than that, I see no reason to have any concern about pay at this time, take what you can get.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Unless you are looking in a very expensive part of the country, a starting job salary in the mid thirties should be considered very good. There are thousands of planners with many years of expereince who make little more. At the entry level a graduate degree counts for less than experience. All else being equal it is a tie breaker, and at the senior level it is often expected. But right now it is not a bargaining chip, and you don't have much else with which to bargain a salary higher than what is typical in the industry.
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Unfortunately 40K is about the sweet spot for entry-level planners, regardless of jurisdiction. I started out at 38K in 2007 but those step and cost-of-living increases add up quickly.
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    This is a great topic.

    Unfortunately I don't have much advice other than I would wish you luck. If you had to do this all over again, I would have tried to get a job in a related fireld after hetting the bachelors and made sure that it had as part of its benefits package a way for you to attend grad school with the agency or company paying for it. That way you would not have to worry so much about debt, and you would get thousands of extra dollars in benefits.

    I know the last few years however have been very trying on those trying to get a job as a planner, however municipalities would have had other openings, the big question is, would you want to take a job for a while that would not be what you wanted in order to get to where you want to be in the future?
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    I don't have any tips for you. My first post-Masters job paid $34K to start.

    You may have to find roommates or get a second job if a mid-$30K salary isn't going to cut it for you.
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  10. #10
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I would say that in the current planner job environment and that it is a first job you really don't have much chance of negotiation. If you're single with no dependents, my advice would be to avoid trying to get more money, because getting the job and getting the experience should be the most important.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    I agree with Mendleman. Down the road, once you pass your probationary period, and preferably your first annual review, you might even consider working a side a job or doing contract work to bring in more money.
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  12. #12
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    Better salaries are in places with a higher cost of living (i.e. rent). Your disposable income will be about the same either way, so it is a better idea to focus on experience over pay. The market is tough for alot of new professionals, and as others have said, you'll need some bargaining chips to really dictate your salary.

    Goodluck; I'm in the trenches with you
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  13. #13
    OK thanks guys. Glad I posted this before i made a fool of myself.

    But what about the impact on future income? That's actually my biggest worry, since everyone says that having a low salary for your first job will limit how much money you can make in the future.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    But what about the impact on future income? That's actually my biggest worry, since everyone says that having a low salary for your first job will limit how much money you can make in the future.
    This really doesn't matter in public positions. Most all government jobs have set salary schedules that are tied to inflation or some other similar increase per year. Most salary increases are when you switch positions or go to a new city. You can't really say "I've approved 34 building permit so I deserve a raise". There is no quantitative value we bring to cities so we get what's on the salary schedules.
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  15. #15
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    ... since everyone says that having a low salary for your first job will limit how much money you can make in the future.
    I've never head such a statement...and my own experience does not indicate that either.

    My first job out of school paid $24K per year (late 1990's). My second job (2000) I started at $35K, left in the low $60K range. My third job (director level, hired in 2011) is quite appropriate for the department head level it is and the size of the community (the salary range of the position is $74K to $103K...I'm somewhere in the middle after 1+ year here).
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    But what about the impact on future income? That's actually my biggest worry, since everyone says that having a low salary for your first job will limit how much money you can make in the future.
    There's some truth to that but I'm really not sure how applicable it is in the public sector. I would just use your first job as a jump off point to something better. Once you break that entry-level threshold, you'll have more higher paying options available to you.

  17. #17
    I wouldn't worry about starting salaries too much. For one, there may not be much you can do about it. Ultimately, they're the ones who control that. Second, you are never obligated to disclose past salaries to future employers, anyway. It's none of their business. What matters is not how much you were paid in a past job, it's what you did.

    As mentioned by Blide, public sector jobs will always have a fixed bracket, anyway. And if you qualify for a position, step negotiation is based on your merits (experience, education, credentials), not how much you happened to make at a previous job. I have never been asked specifically for how much I made at a previous job, and I routinely leave those boxes blank on applications.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Medleman is correct. There is not much negotiation going on with your first job. My first job was pretty low-paying at 32K and that's in California. That didn't last long after 6 months in where i got a nice salary bump since work was flowing at the OT was adding up pretty quick as an hourly wage worker.

    Get experience, move up or get out. If your single, you want a lower paying job because taxes will eat you up. Good Luck dude and WB.
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  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    There's also a great deal of luck involved with salaries. I had a cousin get a temp GIS job right out of school, then shortly after the two people above her quit leaving her with a well paying (mid-50s) permanent position.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Once you get an offer you can ask for more but do your homework and be able to justify why your request should be honored. Be polite in the request and be able to propose an alternative like a % increase after you come off probation. With unemployment at 8% and a large number of people with planning backgrounds I would be more worried about getting a job than the salary. It is always easier to find a job when you have a job.

    If pay means that much then consider a different field. My first economic development job I started at $45k. I had 4 years experience in the financial services industry and a 3 month internship in economic development and a masters degree when I was hired. Most mid tiered ED jobs pay between $65-90K in larger communities. I just got headhunted to work at an edc in the South as a program manager with a starting salary of $75k plus bonus. If you run an EDC in a major metro area then you can get paid some major money...the director at regional EDC in my area makes over $250k.
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  21. #21
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    I would say that in the current planner job environment and that it is a first job you really don't have much chance of negotiation.
    Agree 100%. You will be lucky to get an offer, and you should take what they give you. Full stop.
    -------
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  22. #22
    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    This really doesn't matter in public positions. Most all government jobs have set salary schedules that are tied to inflation or some other similar increase per year. Most salary increases are when you switch positions or go to a new city. You can't really say "I've approved 34 building permit so I deserve a raise". There is no quantitative value we bring to cities so we get what's on the salary schedules.

    Makes sense. I guess now that I think about it, a lot of the career advice I've gotten from people has been generic career advice that may be more applicable to private sector jobs, and possibly in industries that aren't struggling. But that's why Cyburbia exists, right?

  23. #23
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    I was able to negotiate salary for my current gig with only a year of entry level work under my belt (and a couple internships before that, no masters). Admittedly though, I was pretty lucky to get it and it wasn't a substantial bumb, just the threshold I needed to be willing to move.

    Although, rather than throw a wrench in the entire group's argument, I agree that there isn't much room for negotiation without experience. There's a lot of qualified people in line for that entry level job and they are willing to take it at the base minimum offered.
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  24. #24
    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    Makes sense. I guess now that I think about it, a lot of the career advice I've gotten from people has been generic career advice that may be more applicable to private sector jobs, and possibly in industries that aren't struggling. But that's why Cyburbia exists, right?
    There is tons of this stuff out there, both within university career coaching circles and the Interweb. Most of it centers on the private sector. There are many things about the public sector that are completely different. The people you want to take advice from are, not professors, other students, or career counselors, but people working in the sector and profession you want to get hired into.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink View post
    I would imagine the range is probably more in the $32-38k starting. You really have to look at the whole package though, as many government jobs have step increases, and you could make significantly more in a year or two.

    Good luck.
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Unless you are looking in a very expensive part of the country, a starting job salary in the mid thirties should be considered very good. There are thousands of planners with many years of expereince who make little more.
    Wow. I guess was wrong. A lot of my classmates got jobs out of school but I don't know how much they make. I'm not super tight with any of them. That is quite low.

    A silver lining is that one of them is a Senior Planner with only a couple of years experience under his belt (not sure how that's possible), but I'm sure he makes more $ than that now. But not too sure.

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