Join Over 100,000 PhDs Who Are Now Successfully Becoming Industry Professionals.

Entering your name and email address above gives us permission to send you emails and other messages. Please note this website uses cookies. We respect your privacy and your email will never be shared. See privacy policy here.


How To Negotiate Multiple Job Offers With Competing Recruiters

how to negotiate a job offer | Cheeky Scientist | job offer salary negotiation
Written by Yuri Klyachkin, Ph.D.

It is funny how you remember where you were when certain events happened.

Most of us remember where we were and what we were doing when the O. J. verdict was read or when the 9/11 attacks struck.

Similarly, I vividly remember the days when two recruiters contacted me regarding medical science liaison positions.

Mary was a senior recruiter working on behalf of Company A.

She contacted me on a relatively boring Wednesday evening while my wife and I were catching up on the The Walking Dead.

Eric from Company B contacted me two days later while I was ice-skating with my kids.

From the initial contact with both companies, I was impressed with their portfolios.

My enthusiasm was clear and led me to interviews with the respective hiring managers and job offers from BOTH companies.

This is where the ‘fun’ began.

The first offer came from Mary and Company A.

It was decent, but I knew I deserved more.

The recruiter tried to talk me out of negotiating by suggesting it would put the company off from hiring me.

Of course she did – it would be in her best interests to discourage negotiation altogether.

I wasn’t sold.

I leveraged the fact that I had a potential competing offer from Eric to negotiate a higher salary and better benefits package.

Meanwhile, I used this offer to nudge Eric from Company B into expediting their decision.

I was strategic and honest, but firm.

My response to Eric was, “I already have an offer from Company A, (described offer), and they want my answer by Friday.”

Eric: “See if they will wait. Company B is leaning towards you, and the offer will be at least 10% higher than Company A’s offer.”

My reply: “I will do my best, but I do not want to be left without an offer at the end of the day, in case things do not go my way.”

The package from Company B was not only much better, but my extensive research and informational interviews confirmed that the role with Company B was a better fit for me.

I verbally committed and the offer letter hit my inbox a few hours later.

Mary called shortly after I had committed to Company B, and I was tempted to screen out the call.

I had to encourage myself to answer the call: “Come on… you are a professional, Mary is a professional, so just pick up the phone.”

Silly, right?

I told her that Company B had made a more competitive offer and, from that point, she wanted me on behalf of Company A even more.

Mary wanted to go back to Company A and ask for more on my behalf.

Soon, Company A’s head of Human Resources was calling, trying to convince me to come onboard.

They could not match Company B’s offer at the end of the day but Mary and the Human Resources manager respected my decision and asked to stay in touch.

I would not have gotten the salary and package I deserve had I not been willing to dig in and negotiate with these recruiters.

I would have lost out financially, short and long-term, had I jumped at the first offer.

How Refusing To Negotiate Damages Your Career

Negotiating your starting salary is about more than just getting extra cash immediately.

In the long-term, it leads to important financial gains that are hard to come by any other way.

Think about it.

Each year, your raises and bonuses will be calculated based on a percentage of your current salary.

If you do not negotiate now, you may be losing out on compensation for years to come.

According to a survey from NerdWallet, a company that helps connect graduates with jobs, more than 60% of millennials do not negotiate their salary when receiving their first jobs.

Is it imposter syndrome, believing that we are not worth more?

Are we just grateful to be employed?

In this same survey, 90% of hiring managers said they had never retracted an offer because an entry-level candidate attempted to negotiate.

Instead, 76% said candidates who negotiated appeared more confident by doing so.

Adding even more weight to the importance of negotiation is a report from the New York Federal Reserve showing that lifetime earnings are determined during your first decade of work.

This is not the time to be cowardly.

Your meekness can destroy your long-term income potential.

how to handle multiple job offers | Cheeky Scientist | employment contracts negotiations

3 Stages Of Negotiation With Professional Recruiters

The good news is, negotiation skills can be taught.

Most salary negotiations follow a typical pattern.

Once you learn this pattern, you can respond to each phase confidently.

Know your value, be organized, and remain confident.

Remember, negotiation is expected.

Here are three steps for how to negotiate multiple job offers with a professional recruiter…

Phase #1 – “First contact” with the recruiter.

The first contact with a recruiter is usually a 20-30 minute phone call and is a 2-way conversation.

The recruiter describes the position: the company, the responsibilities and a ballpark salary – which is usually on the lower end of an otherwise acceptable range.

The recruiter then gauges your interest for the position and possible start dates – all critical information he/she will relay to the hiring manager.

The biggest takeaway from that initial contact… sound extremely excited and passionate about the position and the company.

Think of yourself as a professional athlete and the recruiter as YOUR agent.

The recruiter does NOT get paid unless YOU land the position and sign that contract.

While most view the candidate-recruiter relationship as a parasitic one, where the recruiter primarily benefits – in my experience, the relationship is in fact mutualistic.

The recruiter will work tirelessly for you to build you up to the company they were contracted by, IF and only IF you show that initial excitement and passion for both your work and the position.

This is as critical as any other interview step – so be extremely professional and put your best foot forward.

“What if I am not interested in the position or not looking at the moment?”

Do not screen the call – you have no idea what the recruiter has to offer you.

If you are still not interested – let them know that you are extremely flattered that he/she thought of you for this position/company but you are happy where you are, and offer to touch base in three months.

It’s that simple.

Short, sweet, and professional.

If you think of someone in your network who would fit that role, connect them to the recruiter.

This is Networking 101, with both parties thanking you and gaining tremendous value.

If you are interested in the position or company, make sure you get answers to these questions during that phone call.

  1. How did you get my name?
  2. What is the interview process?
  3. If it is a field position – what is the geography that I will be covering?
  4. If it is an office position – where is the job located?
  5. What information do you have about my team/department?
  6. What is the compensation package?
  7. What is the reason for the open position?
  8. How long has the position been open?
  9. If the position has been open a long time – why has the position been open this long?
  10. Are you working with the employer exclusively?
  11. How many clients have you placed there?
  12. Does the company have a timeline they would like to hit for filling this position?
  13. How would you describe the corporate culture?
  14. May I contact you if any questions arise?

Take notes during the call to use for follow-up.

If you followed these steps, the recruiter will ‘sell’ your candidacy to the respective company, leading to the next step…

Phase #2 – The phone screen and initial offer.

In many cases, the phone screen will be done by the hiring manager.

Expect a 30-40 minute conversation where they gauge your fit for the role and decide whether or not to bring you in for an in-person interview.

Again, the recruiters work with the companies to set up your in-person interviews.

If all goes well, you will receive a phone call or email along these lines:

“Good afternoon – I have some great news. [Company Name] felt you are a really strong candidate and would like to offer you $X with a signing bonus of $X. However, if I do this, and they agree, I will need your verbal commitment to signing the offer.”

At this point, dopamine takes over and you may stop thinking rationally for a few seconds with the first initial rush of excitement.

Hold on.

You’re not done yet!

It is critical here to leave the emotional part of your brain out of your decision-making and start thinking rationally.

Explore your options – think bigger.

Could I have my recruiter go back with a higher offer?

Could I ask for more in the form of a signing bonus?

Could I leverage a potential offer from another company to elevate the offer from this company, and vice versa?

Do some research and organize your thoughts.

As you research, you’ll likely come up with a range that will represent your market value.

Choose the top of that range and come back with it.

Inevitably, the employer will try and negotiate down, so you need to have room to move while still getting a salary you are pleased with.

Once dopamine levels have come back down, formulate your response.

Phase #3 – The “back and forth” game, and closure.

This should be your reply to the initial offer…

“That is fantastic news and I am thrilled with the offer! Could we go back with $X+20% for salary and/or $X signing bonus?”

You’re asking for more with specific values for them to take back to the company.

At this point, there is one likely outcome.

The recruiter will come back to you and say they have already quoted the highest salary possible and if they go back to the company and ask for more, you will risk angering them and losing your candidacy.

Don’t fall for it.

No matter what the company says they can or can’t do, they can absolutely go higher.

Do not back down yet.

Perhaps the recruiter had specific instructions not to exceed a certain salary point, or maybe the lower the salary you agree to, the higher their commission check will be for the recruiter.

Either way, don’t take it personally.

Tell them that you need a certain number of days to think it over and get back to them on that day.

This is where you need to maintain confidence and be solid.

If you are also in negotiation with another company, mention this now.

They will not want to lose you to another company outbidding them.

It’s a positioning game – you can’t be afraid to play it.

You also need to know your own endpoint in this process – at what point are you willing to walk away?

What final offer is too low for you to accept?

This may seem ludicrous to someone trying to transition out of academia but this decision should be based on your financial need, market value or simply feeling good about what salary you are taking home.

Focus on need and value rather than greed, but be confident about your worth.

At each phase of the back and forth, take a moment to step back and ask for time to consider the offer.

You do not want to accept or decline an offer too quickly – you want to be logical and self-assured.

The company will do everything in their power to recruit and retain valuable assets – whether it’s revenue-generating products or talented people that support them.

When and if the offer is right and the company is well-suited for you, accept it and make sure you receive everything you have negotiated in writing.

Negotiation can seem scary, especially when you are desperate to transition out of academia. But the biggest mistake you can make is simply settling and accepting the first, or any, offer you receive without negotiating. Failing to negotiate your industry job offer will have both short and long-term financial consequences. Learn the pattern of negotiation with recruiters and do some research. Know your value and be prepared. Be patient, confident and enthusiastic. You’re so close to making your final transition into industry – claim your value in your industry job. You deserve it.

To learn more about transitioning into industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

Cheeky Scientist Association Learn More

Yuri Klyachkin Ph.D.

Yuri Klyachkin Ph.D.

Yuri is currently a Clinical Education Liaison and Medical Science Liaison at Bristol-Myers Squibb. His previous work includes 7 publications out of the University of Kentucky where he worked as a Senior Investigator in the fields of cardiology, oncology, stem cell biology, and lipid biochemistry. Yuri secured an NIH T32 fellowship in Clinical Scholars in Cardiovascular Science before transitioning into his Medical Science Liaison role in industry.
Yuri Klyachkin Ph.D.
  • Matthew Smithson PhD

    You are right. I’ve seen the comparable figures on those who start out with a highly-paid position and those who don’t, and it’s not pretty. Decisions you make right after grad school have far-reaching effects.

  • Sonja Luther

    This is awesome advice for anyone, but especially for PhD types who are perhaps a little geeky and afraid to negotiate. But what’s the point of going through all that schooling if you’re not going to get a great job? Thanks, Yuri – terrific article. 🙂

  • Carlie Stevenson, PhD

    I totally agree. The trouble is that these things are definitely not taught in school,and unfortunately we’re kept so busy in the academic environment that it’s hard to breathe sometime. I really appreciate your taking the time to look out after some of the newer PhD’s who need the info. Besides, it’s still good for those of us who already have a position — you never know when you might be able to negotiate for more!

  • Kathy Azalea

    This is awesome information! I can see that there’s a whole protocol behind it. I guess this is where some of those researching skills get put to good use, because the more you know, the better you can negotiate. I especially like that the emphasis is on being professional and considerate.

  • Madeline Rosemary

    I know a person who’s going through this exact process right now! He’s been looking for a while, but suddenly, several companies are bidding for his services, and he’s playing it very cool and professionally. I don’t know if he’s ever had coaching or an education about these circumstances before, but he’s doing a great job in this process.

  • Winona Petit

    So true, Yuri. You really have to know what you’re doing to find yourself in the right place and especially, in a place you can enjoy while you’re working. Even though I went through all of this years ago, the information changes and continually updates. We didn’t have as much computer-assisting technology as we do today, so it would have been impossible to do informational interviews from people we met on LinkedIn. However, knowing how to conduct yourself is an art form that will last through time.

  • Julian Holst

    This is really terrific. it’s like a maze you have to go through. I’ll be glad when it’s over! And, yeah, I get that it’s never really “over,” but it would sure be nice if it could be.

  • Marvin D’Esprit

    You’ve gotta have nerves of steel to pull this off; and fortunately, I think I do. 🙂

  • Harvey Delano

    I don’t know anyone in academia who doesn’t need this information! Thanks for publishing it.

  • Theo

    Hey, this is awesome. I didn’t know about any of these situations and I can guarantee you I never would have figured out what was happening without reading this. You saved me a bunch of money!