This is Part 2 out of 5 in a special blog series, Version 2.0, on the Job Market outlook for New Grad Physical Therapists. As last post addressed the compensation package with a special focus on the pay grade, I felt it appropriate to pick up where we left off and cover this popular topic on how to negotiate your salary. Now, while this post is definitely geared for PT, the principles here are strongly valid in any industry. So without further ado:
5 Tips For Negotiating Your Salary
1. Start with a strong point of reference. As a former rehab director, I almost feel this is a silly bit for a first piece of advice. However, drawing from the memory of the old days, I can tell you I was repeatedly approached by people looking for a job who boldly stated their minimum pay with no respect for what my program was able to offer. In fact, I had people coming up asking for more than 25% more than that of my highest paid staff!
So, the first thing to do is to perform your own market research on what competitive compensation packages are for your region is the first action of respect when you’re approaching the table for negotiations. You can obviously use the infographic from Part 1 as a resource. You can also use websites like Glassdoor. All this to say, be very mindful about the range your dollar signs can go. Most hiring managers, regardless of their titles, are typically paid only 5% above the average pay grade. There’s a lot of red tape, unwanted overtime, and headaches that come with that 5%; Please remember to respect that fact as you approach the negotiation table. From there, asking for an extra dollar or two an hour shouldn’t be too much to ask.
2. Know the business structure. Knowing the business structure is an exercise in deciphering a department and/or firm’s supply chain. This is really important to understand because while Tip #1 lets you know a good base of reference for negotiating a number, Tip #2 tells you the actual wiggle room you have while negotiating. While some places can’t give you anything above what they initially offer. This is due to rock hard company policies. Some places just won’t, they need to lower their cost per hour to operate.. Also remember, it’s not always up to the hiring manager.
Consider the area, the location, and why they need to hire. Also, when you tour the facility to which you are a prospective candidate, take a peek and ask around about what the turnover has been like. This will give you a huge clue as to why they are hiring and what the wiggle room per dollar actually is.
A department filled with senior staff; veterans of the department for 10+ years are very expensive to retain. They’ve received 10 years worths of merits and successive raises; it is likely they will want to hire you to lower their cost per minute. If the department is basically all new staff, what you are likely looking at is a shuffling period for the department or company; there is definitely wiggle room in this case. Another tip is to take a look at what the temp staffing is like. You could do this if you’re actually part of a staffing company. Or, you could also ask around. If they are using a lot of temp staff for quite some time, it’s likely they need to fill that position soon… before the department manager gets yelled at for being too expensive. In which case, being less expensive than any temp staff is a plus where you just might be able to get a little bit of a better deal.
3. Consider the entire compensation package. Some hiring managers may look at you like you’re crazy when you want more money. These managers typically represent organizations that just don’t find compensation in cash as the “big” part of pay; they compensate you on benefits. This is where I tell you to fully evaluate any compensation package before you negotiate.
Again, you can go back to Part 1 using the functional assumption that the numbers represented per state represent the mean total compensation value. To this, take the offer home. Ask for a day or two to consider it, nothing more. You don’t want to be wasting their time, nor yours. Examine the compensation package carefully. Take a look at the retirement portfolios, pensions, matched contributions, health benefits, PTO rate, con ed dollars, mentoring, fringe benefits, work-life-balance, opportunity for upward mobility, etc.
Specifically on the PTO accrual rate, the range I’ve seen is from 0.75 – 1.1 FTE (8 hours) per 2 week pay periods. This tends to stay the case until you get seniority which means your accrual rate increased to 0.9-1.3 FTE every 2 weeks of work. At that point, you’re more likely dealing with maxing out your PTO hours which means you need to either cash out or start taking time off!
4. Value Added, Cost Alleviated. The soul behind negotiating salaries is most basely this:
They are trying to rip you off, and, you are trying to get more of what you’re worth.
Sorry, that’s the truth of the matter. Where the middle ground is found is when the marginal cost of adding you to the department does not exceed the alleviating any temporary staffing costs and/or lost revenue because of your absence. The more value you add and the more cost you can convince them you’ll alleviate, the more wiggle room you have to push the upper bound. Sometimes you can demonstrate how you’ve already proven your productivity is far greater than par. One way to do this is with a savvy resume, which will be the topic of our next post.
You could also use any formal exposure to whatever additional training to your advantage. Example: Home health companies are always clawing for PTs already trained in OASIS. Competency in various EHR interfaces is also a welcome plus. Just remember, Value = Benefit / Cost. How much benefit can you bring to this department, company, and/or organization for the cost of compensating you for your time, work, and presence? This is a key element in leveraging and justifying whatever upper bounds you wish to press for.
5. The Counter Offer (aka “Who’s turns is it, again?”): Whenever negotiating, it is crucially important to know who’s turn it is. Meaning, who has the control of the conversation. Now while in most situations, it is more common that the employer has the locus of control and they’ll pass the control to you once they make their offer. Nevertheless, there are plenty of situations (to which I’ve been a part of) where the prospective candidate is actually in control! Just make sure when you make your move that it is actually your turn to speak.
Here are a few guidelines to go by:
- Offer what they want for what they are willing to give. This usually has to do with scheduling, productivity standards, or team dynamics.
- Offer what they need for what they are able to give. If they need weekend staff desperately, you may be able to ask for $3-5/hr more. Just make sure that it is truly the employer’s need. If they are desperate, they will pay out.
- Always ask humbly and with copious amounts of respect.
- When counter-offering, do so with gratitude and the mutual understanding that turnover is expensive. Subtly, gently, and almost reverently insinuate that better pay means you’ll stick around longer. Good managers will recognize this and remember that training costs can get upwards of tens of thousands of dollars.
- Keep in mind the sign on bonus. Some companies won’t give you more directly. However, savvy managers may be able to strike a deal with a couple thousand dollar sign on bonus!
- Don’t take more than 2 days to respond with a counter-offer, acceptance, or declination.
- Don’t take more than a week to seal the deal.
Some Closing Thoughts
Negotiating your salary is always a game. Sometimes you make it; other times you break it. Sometimes what you ask for is a deal breaker. Other times, it a reluctance. Whatever the case, it is always a gamble. Just remember, the job market is still an element of business. It’s JUST business — it is nothing personal. Be likeable and charming, but also be sure to understand that these days, hiring managers are attracted to humble, thankful, and gracious applicants. Whatever you negotiate, it must benefit them as much as it benefits you. If you can convince them of this, they will surely do whatever they can to make the situation mutually profitable.