How much are we worth? (was Re: Did I overreact?)

Subject: How much are we worth? (was Re: Did I overreact?)
From: "Mike Starr" <mike -at- writestarr -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 31 May 2006 03:11:51 -0500

Last year, I checked the salary data on for a senior-level technical writer in both Chicago and Milwaukee. They classify technical writers as Technical Writer I through Technical Writer IV with IV being the most experienced. Having been a technical writer for 20 years, I consider myself as fully qualified to fill a position as a Technical Writer IV but in lean times, I'd more than likely be willing to be compensated as a Technical Writer III.

Using their numbers for base pay plus benefits, the median total compensation for a Technical Writer IV in the Milwaukee area was $103,729 ($75,515 in base pay). Dividing that total compensation number by 2080 (number of work hours in a normal year) one arrives at an hourly rate for total compensation of $49.86. As far as I can tell, their numbers are as accurate as salary surveys can make 'em... they say: "This Basic Salary Report is based on broad national data, reported exclusively by human resource departments of tens of thousands of employers from all sizes, industries and locations. Although these numbers are based on national data, the results are most similar to the data from companies with approximately 1,000 employees."

Now that number assumes a full year of work... for a contract where the term of employment is limited, there should typically be a premium added to that hourly rate... the shorter the contract, the greater the premium should be. In addition, the contract agency adds its own markup (a closely guarded secret as far as the employee and the client are concerned).

However, that's nowhere near what I'm hearing from recruiters when I field their calls. So what do I do? I make my best guess as to the strength of the market, taking into consideration the hourly rate I'm hearing from recruiters and the number of calls I'm getting, then I set my own personal bottom line. Sometimes I can negotiate a tad more than the recruiter's initial offer, other times I can't. At that point, I concede to the recruiter that I'm probably a tad overqualified for the client, since they obviously don't want to pay what someone with my skills and experience is worth.

I just ended a great contract assignment where I named my rate to the staffing agency I was working through and the client accepted it. I worked there for almost three months and they made noises about bringing me in as an employee. It was a great fit, the people were nice, the work was interesting, pretty much everything I'd want in a staff position so when my manager asked me how much I'd be looking for, I named a number (again, taking into consideration the valuation placed on my skills and experience at My manager didn't appear to think the number I quoted was out of line, but I told him I thought it was possible that corporate (this is a Fortune 50 company) might think it a bit excessive and that one strategy that might work to bring me in at that kind of money would be to bring me in as Documentation Manager (I was the lone technical writer so I was doing all of those chores anyway).

Well, apparently I overpriced myself so drastically by corporate standards that they felt there was no point in even negotiating... they cut me loose and brought in another technical writer. I was pretty much told that I was too expensive.

BTW, I just checked the numbers again on and they went up 3.5% since last year from the numbers I quoted above. If anyone wants a copy of the PDF report I created based on last year's data from, ping me and I'll fire it off to you.

So tomorrow, another agency is sending me on an interview with a client not too far from home and the entrails seem to be predicting a positive outcome. Keep your fingers crossed.

Mike Starr WriteStarr Information Services
Technical Writer - Online Help Developer - Website developer
Graphic Designer - Desktop Publisher - MS Office Expert
Phone: (262) 694-1028 - Tollfree: (877) 892-1028 - Fax:(262) 697-6334
Email: mike -at- writestarr -dot- com - Web:
----- Original Message ----- From: "Kapoor, Shelly" <SKapoor -at- imf -dot- org>
Subject: Did I overreact?

A recruiter called me last week to discuss a tech. writer position at a
company. She waxed eloquent about this "billion-dollar" company, its
values etc. When we got around to discussing the compensation package,
she quoted a figure of 24 dollars an hour. Needless to say, I was
quite peeved to learn that this "supposed billion dollar company" was
offering me peanuts in exchange for my services.

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