Re: What am I worth?

Subject: Re: What am I worth?
From: Maurice King <benadam -at- CYBERDUDE -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 3 Mar 1999 11:19:03 -0500

I follow this thread with interest, partly because I faced relocation from a foreign country a year ago and partly because I'm again facing relocation within North America now.

Knowing the going rate is definitely an issue that technical writers must address seriously. In Israel, as a contractor, I started charging around $30 an hour and very quickly was forced to increase my rates because I discovered that at least half went to taxes and other mandatory payments. By the time I left, $40-45 an hour was considered the going rate for someone of my level of experience. When I arrived in North Carolina and was asked my rate, I mentioned these hourly rates and almost caused the recruiters to go into cardiac arrest! However, if I had mentioned these rates in Silicon Valley, recruiters would have wondered if I were even professional. My conclusion: a writer who overprices may end up with no work at all; a writer who underprices may be regarded with considerable suspicion. I think this is the issue at hand.

There are many hidden factors to consider as well. Canadian jobs rarely pay the same as U.S. jobs, but then again, the thorny issue of the all-important benefits is not the same for living in Canada, either. Jobs in other countries may pay dollar-for-dollar the same, but the cost of living may fluctuate wildly, and I know of no reliable index.

I mention these issues because when I was returning, I often consulted the International Salary Calculator located at:

I still consult it from time to time, but I'm never totally convinced of its accuracy. For example, when I calculated my current salary to find the amount I would have to earn to maintain my standard of living in Tel-Aviv, I got a salary that was probably accurate enough, given the high cost of living in Tel-Aviv, but a salary that no employer there would ever be willing to pay -- and the calculator does not indicate that anywhere. Also, the calculator does not indicate the amount of competition for available jobs, a factor that impacts rates considerably.

Every time I negotiate with an employer who seems anxious to take me on according to a salary level I have quoted, my knee-jerk reaction is, "Did I price myself too low?" When I'm asked to state my salary requirements and then never hear from a company again, I assume that my rate was considered unreasonably high, even though I don't think it is.

It's easy to say that every writer should have a sense of self-worth that dictates rates, but even a technical writer with a strong sense of self-worth and plenty to offer cannot demand top dollar in areas where the demand is marginal. A salary calculator will never indicate this information, although it's probably the most important information to have when negotiating.

Another thing that doesn't help at all when it comes to technical writer jobs is the rather vague definition of the technical writer's role. My first contract job upon return to the U.S. was one of Web designer and documentation specialist, but when I discovered that the client in question meant something radically different when mentioning "online documentation" than I had understood, I realized that I had no future in that job. The client did not need a technical writer at all, but I had to be in the job to find that out. If technical writers know the going rates, a job that pays considerably more than the going rate should already set off alarm bells; if a writer does not know the going rates, the writer may walk into a trap unknowingly.

I often wondered if STC assists with such issues, but it's not been my experience. Is there an organization that does assist in providing such information?

- Maury

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