We’ve all been in this situation: a last minute opportunity pops up and we funnel our efforts into nailing the interview, without considering what we’d like to be paid. This was me, six months ago, as I set foot into a corporate office to meet the managing partners I would be ghostwriting for.
The millennial women of our generation are high achievers. We are here to break the glass ceiling and combat inequality by demanding equal pay — and yet very few of us have received the training and support to do so. Setting a rate and understanding contracts are foreign concepts that never get taught, and I’ve heard horror stories of companies extorting young workers who don’t know their worth, especially women.
I work in journalism, a field with intense competition and low pay, except for those at the top of the ladder. As a freelancer, I have never been asked my rate — simply offered a sum and then given the option to accept or pass. I don’t have a career mentor, or anyone who might nudge me to fight for adequate compensation.
In the interview I projected as much confidence as I could, considering I was green. I cited my college accomplishments as if they were bona fide work experience, and internships as if they gave me a true window into the tech psyche. I referenced narrative-driven profiles I had written of Bay Area entrepreneurs. With delight, I noticed their eyes light up at the mention of genuine storytelling rather than corporate jargon. I had done everything right. I had differentiated myself. Then came the unexpected question: “what is your rate?”
I responded with a feigned desire to appear easy to work with. “What is your budget?” I asked, hoping to quickly work backwards with mental math. They responded that it was still in consideration. At that point I said, “I’ll have to get back to you.”
I was lucky. My employers were both women who had stood in my shoes. Like allies, they said, “take the time you need to research, we want young women to succeed,” and not only quoted competing offers, but encouraged me to consider my worth and return with a competitive rate. They explicitly told me they would not select another candidate in the interim. And they didn’t.
I returned the next day prepared with research from reputable sources: a chart indicating pay by copywriting subgenre and years of experience and a clear idea of how to show the worth of my college degree. I read about the company online, and researched the budgets of their clients. I aimed high, but positioned myself as a bargain for my abilities. I asked for $100/hour. After presenting these items and making my case, I walked away with a rate that made me feel valuable.
When they asked me to send them my contract, I was prepared. I aimed high on the kill fee—the payment for written work that doesn’t get published—and negotiated over email until we met in the middle. I capped the number of allowed revision cycles, and added a fee to each additional edit.
I’m here to pay this good karma forward. Don’t forget to research your rate — your bank account and your sanity will thank you.
Nicole Clark is a freelance writer and associate editor at The Bold Italic where she pens longform, cultural criticism, humor and reviews. Her work has been featured in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Bold Italic, Femsplain and Red Carpet Bay Area. Nicole graduated from Yale College with a degree in English. She hopes to contribute to a better media landscape for multi-racial and Asian American voices.
You can find her looking for stories in Los Angeles.