Your Conservation Career: Resources for Negotiating Your Next Salary

In November of 2014, I gave an ECPN Webinar titled “Beyond the Portfolio: Your Conservation Career” in which I briefly discussed salary negotiations (that webinar is here). Whether you’re just starting out or are further along in your career, here are two more resources to help you research and negotiate your next salary.
1) BUST magazine recently had a short but excellent feature on how to negotiate a salary for a new job. If you’re male, be aware that although BUST is aimed at women, most of the content is great for men, too. Including this article, which you can read here.
2) The 2014 AIC/FAIC Compensation Survey is online now, here! I LOVE these things! They are gigantic goldmines of data about our profession. But back to you – here is how to use this survey report for salary research. Start by having an overall look at how the report is organized, and then start to think about which sections and criteria apply to your situation. Page 69 gives an example of how to combine criteria to determine a salary.
Let’s use the survey for a pretend scenario: you are applying for a full-time job at a medium-sized, private museum in Washington, DC; you have a master’s degree in conservation and 3 years of post-graduate experience. What kind of salary offer should you expect?
To do this exercise, you’ll need to have the survey in front of you. Flip to page 70, Exhibit 3.17. We’ll move back and forth between columns a bit; because you’re a relatively new grad, you can expect your salary to be below the median in most categories. But I also don’t want you to aim too low, so we will stick mostly to the 25th percentile column* and not reference the 10th percentile data. Once you get the hang of this, though, you can figure out a range for yourself with points at the high, middle, and low end.
You can see that a salary in the 25th percentile for a medium-sized museum is 49K – write that down. It’s not part of a university, so the 25th percentile there is about 47K. Write that down, too. For a private museum, we’re at 46K. Keep writing these numbers down. You have less than 5 years of experience, but here let’s look higher – you’re really good, right? The 75th percentile for your level of experience is 47K. This would be a new position for you, so 35K. Look at the numbers for gender (yes – look again, my friends!). We’ll say you’re female. Write down 45K. Nope, that was too painful for me.  Erase 45K! Let’s assume instead that your work is worth the same as a man’s; write down 60K. You have a master’s degree in conservation, so write down 45K. Probably no one will be reporting to you, so write down 34K. Will you have input into the department’s budget? Probably not? Write down 34K. We’ll say you’ll be working under supervision, write down 34K. DC is in the “South Atlantic” as defined by the survey (which you know, because you paged through it and looked at how the report is organized), so write down 43K.
Based on this super basic research, you should be looking at a salary somewhere between 34 and 60K/year. Add together all the numbers you wrote down (I got 474) and divide by 10 to get the mean, which is 47. 47K/year would be a solid salary offer that you could feel good about.
Remember that you can calculate a salary range for yourself based on the different criteria and percentiles given in this table. Also remember the gender disparity; if you’re female and you feel a salary offer is too low, this survey provides solid statistics to which you can point.
Finally, you can use this survey for more than salaries; it gives good data on rates charged by private conservators, and you can also use it to evaluate benefits packages. In case you were wondering, I had nothing to do with this survey. I just really like it. Good luck!
* When you use this survey to find a salary range, make sure you use the data in a way that makes sense for your situation. This example is written for a recent graduate, which is why I suggest the 25th percentile in most places. If you’re mid-career, look at the 50th percentile. If you’re quite senior, look higher. There are also a few places where the survey data are sorted by level of experience. In these places, look at the midpoints that match your criteria.

AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting- Joint Objects and Archaeological Discussion Group Session, June 2, “Get Your Fieldwork for Nothin’ and Your Sherds for Free: Compensation for Archaeological Field Conservators,” Suzanne Davis and Claudia Chemello

Just what does an ‘80s rock band have to do with conservation?  Quite a bit, according to Claudia Chemello and Suzanne Davis, Conservators at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, who gave a talk titled: “Get Your Fieldwork for Nothin’ and Your Sherds for Free: Compensation for Archaeological Field Conservation.”  The title refers to the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing”, which proved an excellent inverse parallel for the Qualtrics survey Claudia and Suzanne conducted, the findings of which they presented in this talk.  For context, you might want to go ahead and watch the music video for this song before reading the rest of this blog entry: Money for Nothin’

Claudia and Suzanne started this project with three hypotheses:

  1. Most conservators working on archaeological sites are not paid
  2. For those who are paid, there is no standard
  3. Most conservators are unhappy with the current state of compensation.

Happily, their first hypothesis turned out to be false: 82% of the conservators surveyed are paid something.  Of the respondents who did not get paid, the highest percentage (33%) said that the project was not able to pay a conservator, but, interestingly, did pay other professional staff; this slide is appropriately accompanied by a photograph from 1920 of a young volunteer on site in Syria who says: “Get your money for nothin’ and your chicks for free?”.  69% of the conservators who were paid also volunteered on other projects, and they did so for several reasons: they wanted to help a project with a small budget, they wanted to gain experience, or simply because they enjoy it.  I think its safe to say that many of us in the audience, myself included, have done some amount of unpaid conservation work—in the field or out of the field—for one or more of those reasons.

Although only 50 of the 116 responders used for analysis provided salary data, the information given by these 50 professionals proved that the authors’ second hypothesis is correct: there does not appear to be a standard salary for field conservators.  Indeed, the salaries provided varied rather dramatically, ranging from $58 per week to $8,000 per week!  The mean salary was $946 a week, the median $563, and the mode $1,000.   The difference between the very low minimum salary and very high maximum salary is partially based on the experience of the conservator: the person making the highest salary was very experienced and provided a number of services other than conservation treatment.

Claudia and Suzanne reported a number of other interesting statistics: 44% of the responders have only 0-5 years of experience (perhaps this explains the relatively low median salary?); 72% of those paid were paid by archaeological projects and 68% of these conservators were compensated based on the project’s budget (“are we letting projects determine what we’re paid?”); and a rather surprising 22% of respondents did not provide their projects with a written report (yikes!).  The survey yielded many other interesting results, too many for a single blog post, and I look forward to re-visiting them in the Postprints.

In the end, it turns out that only 41% of the respondents are satisfied with their current state of compensation—proving the authors’ third hypothesis to be more or less correct.  Claudia and Suzanne hope that the data obtained in this survey will be used for the following purposes: in salary discussions with dig directors and employers; to educate dig directors about the number and value of the services provided for their projects; to encourage conservators not writing reports to do so; and to advocate for an appropriate conservation budget from the beginning of the grant-writing process.  The authors told the audience to feel empowered to challenge the statement: “everyone on my project works for free”.   This fascinating (and entertaining) talk certainly emphasized the importance of communication and outreach, essential topics that have been highlighted by many of the speakers in this meeting.