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Slick Scripts For Every Negotiation Scenario

When I went through my first industry interview process, I didn’t realize how important it was to prepare for a negotiation.

So, not only did I go in unprepared, but I also assumed that the only thing that I could negotiate for was a higher salary.

Looking back, I now realize how much value I missed out on because I didn’t prepare. I was blind to what was truly on the table.

As one Cheeky Scientist recounts when considering several offers:

“The other offer was much better. The base salary was close to the 6 figures, but with the bonus structure, the package would get me there.

Not wanting to rely too much on bonuses I started negotiating for a higher salary (ask – 6% increase). They came back with a second offer, 3% increase in salary.

I was super excited and was ready to sign, but the base salary was not quite where I wanted it to be. Thus, I tried one more round of negotiations for the other 3%.

They came back and said they could raise the base another 3% but no signing bonus.

Knowing the signing bonus is a one-off – I took the additional 3% and no signing bonus and pushed out my starting date with two weeks to finish up my ongoing projects and to attend a very important conference where I had an oral presentation.

I started early July and I am super happy as an Application Scientist!”

Are You Even Preparing For Your Negotiations?

I think most can agree – negotiating is the most painful part of the interview process.

Especially for PhDs that’ve spent the majority of their careers in academia. As a PhD, you’ve never had to think about your value in terms of money.

But employers expect you to negotiate, and a failure to negotiate can hurt your entire career trajectory.

For one, 70% of hiring managers expect a salary and benefits negotiation when they make a job offer. Yet, only 36% of job candidates even attempt to negotiate for a higher salary.

But it’s worth it – the stats speak for themselves.  

A recent poll found that 85% of Americans – and 87% of professionals ages 25 to 35 – who negotiated their salary or other benefits (or both) got at least some of what they asked for.

According to economist Linda Babcock, not negotiating leaves anywhere from $1 million to $1.5 million on the table in lost lifetime earnings.

Let that sink in.

When it comes time to enter the ever-dreaded negotiation process, remind yourself of your value – and walk in prepared.

Because the best way to combat against a painful situation is preparation and practice.

That’s why today I’ll cover negotiation scripts that are proven to get you paid what you’re worth. Practice these, and you’ll be well on your way to getting a first-rate compensation package.

Use Your PhD To Dominate Any Salary Negotiation Conversation

An effective negotiation looks like a waterfall. You can’t get to the bottom without first starting at the top – and it starts with salary negotiation.

There are three distinct phases of this waterfall: the initial offer, the open-ended counteroffer, and the remainder of the waterfall (ie, the negotiation for additional benefits).

Stage 1: The initial offer

You finally reach the concluding stage of the hiring process – the ever-dreaded negotiation. The employer comes back with their first offer. How do you respond?

I’ll first tell you how NOT to respond. You never want to immediately agree to their first terms.

Not to say that all employers are conniving, but they will try to get you to agree to a lower salary than what they can truly offer.

Remember, there is a lot more on the table than what they’re showing you. You just have to figure out how much.

To do this, stick to open-ended questions.

For example, an employer says, “We can offer you XYZ as a starting salary.”

Your response should always start by showing your appreciation. Say, “Thank you for the offer – I really appreciate it.”

Then, remind the employer of your value by saying, “I’m very interested in this position, and I believe I can bring XYZ to the company.”

This raises your perceived value, signaling to the company that you know your worth, and that you’re a desirable candidate.

Next, focus on the salary. Say, “However, based on the location and the position, the numbers don’t look quite right.”

This is a gentle way of communicating that you’re hoping for a higher salary. It also conveys why you think that – that the cost of living and the job description come into play.

Then, ask what can be done. For example, you could say, “Is there anything we can do to raise the base salary?”

There are three important things to note here.

The first is the use of the word “we” in place of “I.” When you say “we,” you’re indicating that everyone involved – you, the hiring manager, and any other decision-maker – are working together.

As a team.

The second thing to note is the term “base salary.” Remember, this first part of the negotiation should be focused on your salary – and your salary alone.

Never let the employer derail the negotiation by bringing up other parts of your compensation package.

The third thing to note is the focus of the question. The focus remains off the individual, the actual numbers offered, and even the company.

In other words, no fingers are being pointed – it simply asks if there’s anything that can be done to raise the salary.

Stage 2: The open-ended counteroffer  

When you ask the question, “Is there anything we can do to increase the base salary?” an employer can respond by either saying “yes” or “no” (or some variation of the two).

If they say, “Yes, I’ll see what I can do,” you can respond with, “Great – thank you for looking into this. I really appreciate it. Do you know when I can expect to hear back?”

As before, this shows your appreciation and your willingness to work with them. It also ensures that next steps are in place.

You never want to end the conversation not knowing what to expect.

They may also give you a number on the spot, saying, “Yes, we can raise the salary to XYZ.”

If this is the case, again, show your appreciation and say, “Thank you for the offer. I would like to discuss the number at home. I will get back to you by XYZ”.

This not only gives you time to think, but it also lets the employer know that there are other people involved in the decision.

This tactic is called appealing to a higher power. Employers will also use this in negotiations to claim that they have no control over a salary cap.

For example, when you ask if anything can be done to increase the starting salary, they may come back with, “No, we have a salary cap in place – I cannot offer you anything more that XYZ.”

Basically, they’re saying that someone else has mandated the limit, not them. This shifts the onus onto a higher being.

If this is the case, you can respond by saying, “Great – I understand your policy. In the past, what were circumstances in cases you’ve raised the initial offer?”

Although their response may vary, most often, they’ll say that the salary cap was broken only under exceptional circumstances.

They may say that the person had a particular skillset or experience. If so, remind them of your skills and the value that you can bring to the company.

And always make sure to show your continued enthusiasm for the position.

For example, you could say, “Perfect – I know that this position is a great fit for me and I’m excited to bring my expertise in XYZ area to the company. I also have skills ABC.”

With this, you’re raising your perceived value. You’re showing the employer that you’re worth it – that you’re that exceptional circumstance.

Unfortunately, in some circumstances the employer won’t budge on salary.

If this happens, don’t get discouraged. You have the rest of your compensation packaged to work with, which we’ll get to in the next stage.  

If, however, you can’t get a straight answer from them – just keep punting.

Punting is a tactic that ensures that you never commit to a salary.

For instance, when you ask if there’s anything that can be done to increase the starting salary, they may ask in return, “What did you have in mind?”

Now they’re using open-ended questions.

Don’t fall for this. Just keep punting it back to them.

In response, you could say, “What is possible?”

There are unlimited ways to respond to this, but most often, the employer will either say “We can do XYZ” or “I’ll have to check back with you.”

That’s when you can fall back on some of the previously mentioned scripts to ensure that you have time to think about their offer and/or that you know when you can expect to hear from them.

Stage 3: Additional benefit negotiations

For many PhDs, once they’ve negotiated their salary, they’re done. They then turn on their heels and walk out of the room.

But doing this leaves so much on the table.

Anything from a signing bonus, a relocation stipend, temporary corporate housing, stock options, equity – and the list goes on.

They key to understanding what’s available is to assume that you’re getting it.

For example, instead of saying, “Is there a signing bonus?” say, “Can we discuss what the signing bonus will be?”

Instead of saying “Is there a relocation allowance?” say, “Can you tell me about your relocation allowance?”

You may think that this is presumptuous (and the employers may even make you feel this way), but signing bonuses, relocation packages – all of these are par for the course.

If they say, “We don’t typically offer a signing bonus (or relocation packages),” use the flinch technique.

Remain neutral but also slightly surprised.

Regarding a signing bonus, you could say, “Wow, really? Even truck drivers are receiving signing bonuses right now.” Make it clear that these benefits are common.

If you couldn’t get the employer to budge on the salary, negotiating for additional terms becomes that much more important.

If a pattern of “no” continues, keep moving down the list.

After salary negotiations comes vacation, a relocation stipend, temporary corporate housing, stock options for publicly traded companies, and/or equity in the company.

Not necessarily in that order. You need to determine which benefits are most important to you.

With each benefit, continue to use the same tactics: assume the benefit is offered, use language that shows you want to work with them, remind them of your value, appeal to a higher power (when applicable), and – most importantly – show your appreciation.

Concluding Remarks

PhDs are notorious for avoiding compensation negotiations. But realize that doing so impacts your salary for the entirety of your career. So buckle into the hot seat and go in prepared. To get the most out of negotiations, learn how to respond to the typical situations that you can expect to encounter. Learn not to jump at the first offer you receive; learn to ask open-ended questions, which are key to getting the employer to reveal what’s on the table; learn to negotiate for more than just your base salary. And all throughout this process, remind the employer of your worth. Do this and both you and your employer will come out as winners.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

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Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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