Job Hunting and Salary Negotiation
By Saakshi Terway, Assoc. AIA
Job hunting as an immigrant is hard enough on its own, especially with all the requirements and paperwork that are associated with it. Adding salary negotiation to this mix can easily make the whole process very overwhelming. In a situation like this, it is easier to break down the one big goal of “getting a job/ internship” to multiple, small goals that are simpler to manage. These goals can be further broken down or sub-divided per individual’s need, but a 5-step process keeps it efficient, making it a good place to start.
GOAL 1: Selecting Firms
This goal is unique to every individual as everyone has their own set of restrictions. Knowing your expectations/ limitations are important. I work better with lists and excel sheets; hence I always start by writing down my criteria. Some that worked for me are:
Location – These matter more when you are willing to relocate but can also be a consideration within the city based on your distance/ method of commute.
Firm Size – Everyone has a different comfort zone. Some people thrive in big organizations while others prefer the comfort of a small firm. Knowing what works well for you is critical.
Type of Studio – Some firms have offices in multiple locations, but not all those offices do the same type of work. Knowing which studio is located in the location you are applying to can be important. It is a tricky task as sometimes this information is not that easily available on the company website. Networking and LinkedIn are the best tools in finding this information.
Studio Structure – Some firms have their studios structured such that you get to work on the same project through different phases, while others have you work on different projects in the one phase, like concept packages, or construction drawings, etc.
Sponsorship – As someone who is not a US citizen or a green card holder, it is important to know if the firm you are interested in will support your visa and understand what that process would be like. There is no sure way of knowing this answer until you go through the process and have an honest discussion with them, but it’s comforting to know if they have supported/ gone through this process in the past. A good resource for this would be https://www.myvisajobs.com/ .
Once you have identified your list of criteria, start listing out the firms. I often see people applying to an overwhelming number of positions just because they see there is an opening at that firm. I would encourage you to keep this list to a max. of 30, you can add to it later if needed.
GOAL 2: Selecting a Position/ Understanding what your are qualified for
Sometimes you know the exact position that your skill set will translate to/ you should be applying for, but there are other times you don't.
In the architecture industry, international licenses don’t always transfer over as easily, but your experience does. You don’t always have to start from scratch. Your experience with working in a team, coordination skills, leadership, and mentorship abilities, etc. are all crucial assets that cannot be taught and only come with experience. These are some examples of soft skills that easily translate over borders. Understanding your worth and what you bring to the table is important.
Read the job requirement and understand what they are seeking. See how your skill translates into that role. While every firm has a unique approach towards their office structure, AIA has done a good job of creating a list of typical architecture positions and their duties. Use this resource to understand the position best suited for you, AIA Best Practice – Definition of Architectural Positions . Another good source for this information would be the Foreign Labor Certification Data Center Online Library.
Do not underestimate yourself. Aim for your dream position, if nothing else, the experience might make you aware of the things you need to work on to build yourself up for that position. Some firms also let you apply for more than one position, see if you can use that opportunity to your advantage.
GOAL 3: Getting an Interview/ Reaching out and following up
If the firm is any good, rest assured you won't be the only person applying for that role. Always follow up on your application. If the application process is online through a third-party portal, it might be worthwhile to call the firm and ask to be connected to the person in charge of hiring. If asked what the call is about, feel free to say that you are following up on your job application. If they don’t have a point of contact, ask them what the firm’s application and follow-up process is and how you should go about it.
“Follow-up” is the key word here. Sometimes people skip the firm’s application process and call or email them directly asking for an interview. This seldom works in their favor as they are often directed back to the online application.
The ideal time for the follow-up is one to two weeks after you apply for the job. If you are following up via email, be brief, confirm your interest, reiterate your top qualifications, and express your gratitude.
GOAL 4: The Art of Salary Negotiation
Knowing your worth and what you bring to the table is important. When discussing salary, do not pull an arbitrary number out of your hat, do your homework. Salary negotiations are rarely easy. Some items that might help in deciding this number are:
Salary for the desired position in the given firm
Average salary for the desired position in the given city/ state
Min. Salary required to support your Visa Status
Cost of Living in your location of choice
Some sources that can help you get this information:
AIA salary Calculator http://info.aia.org/salary/salary.aspx
Foreign Labor Certification Data Center Online Wage Library https://www.flcdatacenter.com/
LinkedIn Salary Calculator https://www.linkedin.com/salary/
Glassdoor Salary Calculator https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/know-your-worth.htm
Cost of Living Index https://www.salary.com/research/cost-of-living
There might be cases when the salary is fixed, and it can’t be increased beyond a certain limit. In such cases, it is better to negotiate perks and benefits instead of salary negotiation. Try negotiating the number of vacations, health facilities, transportation expenses and all such things. Sometimes the combined value of the salary offered, and the benefits and facilities provided ends up making up a satisfying salary package.
GOAL 5: Know your “must” and “maybe”
This is one time you can put all your cards on the table. List out your “must” and “maybe” prior to having this conversation with the firm. “Must” are items you need to have. For some people this can be items like visa sponsorship, flexibility with work from home, flexibility with office hours, etc. “Maybe” are items you would like to have but they are open for negotiation. Depending on your priorities, sometimes it is easier to be flexible with the salary but be honest about what is most important to you out of that list.
Know what you are asking for. Example, if visa sponsorship is in your list of “must”, familiarize yourself with the process. Understand what that process requires and what would be needed from you and the firm to make that happen. When negotiating, if there are follow up questions to your request, you should be ready to answer.
Negotiation and self-advocacy go hand in hand. The key is to have reasonable requests and be able to advocate for them.