5 Negotiation Tactics That Protect PhDs From Getting Underpaid
Contributing Author: Sarah Smith, PhD
“I have a PhD,” said the cashier.
My jaw dropped.
This was a PhD: a creative, analytical expert in his field – a talented innovator with the credentials to prove it.
Yet here he was, ringing up my printer’s black & white ink cartridges.
“Do you want your receipt in the bag?” he asked.
All the way out to my car, I wondered what on earth a PhD was doing in a job like that.
Then I remembered my 1st real industry job offer…
Years ago, when I received that offer, what I should have done was negotiate.
But I didn’t.
When I look back on that 1st job offer, it makes me cringe – at that point in my career journey, I had spent a lot of time in roles for which I was extremely overqualified.
There is something keeping PhDs trapped in jobs they should never have to work – I know this personally.
Something that tells them, “So what if you got a good offer? You’re not really worth it, so don’t push your luck by asking for more money.”
That little voice in a PhD’s head is called “imposter syndrome.”
Imposter syndrome tells PhDs to accept the first salary they are offered – as though that’s all they’re worth.
But your PhD took a long time, and you deserve high pay that reflects your uncommon skill set.
I learned to negotiate, and if you want to be paid properly, then you will too.
Why Negotiation is Important For PhDs Who Want Large Salaries
Did you know that, according to Robert Half, 70% of hiring managers don’t expect job candidates to take the first salary offer?
Instead, they expect you to negotiate.
Employers are competing over talented candidates just like you, which means you have plenty of leverage for negotiating.
That being said, it’s normal to feel anxious.
It takes courage to speak up for yourself and ask for something better than what you’ve been offered.
But there is no such thing as a professional salary negotiator.
You can’t hire someone to waltz into the corporate office and advocate for a better salary on your behalf.
If you want a higher salary, it’s up to you to make your voice heard at the appropriate time – after the job offer, and before agreeing to anything official.
Sure, the salary you are offered in industry is going to be much higher than what you were making in academia.
But this doesn’t mean it’s as high as it should be.
Many companies want to pay you as little as possible.
A company is always focused on the bottom line – every dollar spent is an investment.
55% of job candidates are negotiating their salary, and you should be as well.
The math behind this checks out: If you don’t negotiate, you can end up losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your career.
Rely On These 5 Negotiation Tactics To Show Employers Your Value And Get A Proper (High) Salary
Whether or not you understand how negotiating works, it is being used against you.
This is especially true when you’re applying for an industry job, interviewing, or vying for a promotion.
The problem is that most people, especially PhDs, don’t know how to negotiate salary.
These people don’t understand how negotiation works or why it’s important so they refuse to do it.
The problem is that refusing to negotiate can severely limit your career success.
Being willing to negotiate, on the other hand, can push your career forward.
Here are 5 things PhDs can do to negotiate a huge salary with confidence and skill.
1. The data are your greatest tool – they don’t lie.
As a PhD, using data to objectively reach a conclusion is something you’re trained to do. Do some research and find out what people with your credentials are making. Filter by:
- Education level
- Job type
- Years of experience
- Company size
The number that comes up is what you are worth.
Imposter syndrome will tell you that you’re some magical exception to the rule – that you’re different or you don’t deserve that much.
This is a total load of nonsense.
The salary that you discover will probably be much higher than what you’ve made in academia, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t worth it.
Once you receive an offer from a potential employer, compare it to the salary that you researched. If it’s lower than you were expecting, don’t get defensive. Be objective and use the data to support your argument.
Wait for them to give the first number, but when the time comes for your counteroffer, mention the research – that the average salary is $XX.
Ask the employer, what you can do to get the offer closer to that number.
This way, even if you are feeling like an imposter, you are using objective data to demonstrate your worth.
2. Seek an industry mentor and use your PhD mind to absorb everything they can tell you.
An empathetic mentor can be just the thing to give you the right perspective.
Set up meetings with other PhDs who used to be where you are, and ask them about their journey.
These scenarios are sometimes called “informational interviews.”
Find out how they felt when they were first searching for a job. Were they nervous? Did they, too, feel unqualified?
By talking with others who have been where you are, you can gain insight into the industry mentality you’ll need to adopt.
How did things finally change for them? How can you follow a similar path?
They were once exactly where you are, and like them, you are a valuable addition to industry.
As a bonus, by being genuine and open with the other person, you can to foster a strong relationship, leading to a possible referral.
3. The “2-point method” spells out your value in a way employers appreciate.
PhDs who remember their value have a far better chance of successfully finding their career niche. And your value is never more important to remember than during negotiations.
But knowing your value is half the battle – now you need to show the employer.
Before negotiating for a higher salary, create an outline detailing why you are the perfect fit for the role.
Start with your technical skills, as this is usually easier for us as PhDs.
Which of your expert technical skills are important to the role?
How can you use them to get the company the results it wants?
This is just a list for you, so don’t worry about making it perfect.
Just jot down your relevant technical skills and the positive impact they would have on the business.
Next, do the same for your transferable skills.
This list will be different depending on your skills and the position, but in general, be creative and find ways to apply your skills to the context of the job.
Your list represents the reasons a company should be excited about hiring you – this is the value that you’ll bring.
As you go into negotiations, there are 2 things you should do with all this information:
- Commit it to memory – knowing your value will come across as confidence, which will favorably influence the negotiation process.
- Reiterate these value points when asking open-ended questions and making your counteroffer.
Don’t forget these two points – they represent the reasons employers should pay you more.
4. Your excitement and commitment to the role should be plainly obvious.
Always show excitement and commitment to the position.
During salary negotiations, it’s easy to feel frustrated by a low offer or how long the whole process is taking. But that must never influence how you present yourself to the employer.
At all times, you need to be positive, excited, and focused on the future.
This starts at the earliest opportunity: The first phone call or email you get from an employer.
Before picking up the phone or replying in a message, remind yourself of why you are excited about this role.
What drew you to the position in the first place? Armed with this mindset, head into negotiations.
Forget about ultimatums and aggression. It’s not “you vs. them.”
You’re a team working together. Stay positive and excited.
Say something like, “I’m very excited for this opportunity, and know I’ll be a great fit considering xyz. I was hoping for a little more in terms of salary. What can we do?”
What you should NOT say is, “That salary is too low for me. I need to make at least xyz.”
See the difference?
One is focused on the bigger picture – on the company and the future. The other is focused just on yourself and how you want more money.
Create solidarity and make your negotiation a team effort.
Even if the employer is not able to meet your salary requirements and you choose to pursue something else, stay positive. Focus on the future.
You’ll find the right fit, but it might take some time. Don’t accept an offer that doesn’t reflect your value and your needs.
5. Keep an eye on your interviewer for the affirmative gesture (an extremely good sign).
The moment you begin interacting with the company, they will begin analyzing your value.
They’re actually deciding how much to offer you based on how you act in your interviews.
One thing that you can do to dramatically increase the initial offer?
Get the interviewers to nod their heads.
Alternatively, they’ll say something like, “That’s right!” Either way, you want them agreeing with you. Try saying something like:
“I imagine you’re probably a little worried that you’ll hire the wrong person. You want to take your company to the next level, and you want people that are committed.”
If you can successfully hit on the employer’s concerns in this way, you’re placing yourself and the employer on the same team. It’s a step toward making negotiations win-win.
As you interview, pay close attention and watch for those head nods or “that’s right” responses.
These are signs that you’re on the right track – you’re talking about things that really matter to the company.
Leverage the important topics when reiterating the value you can bring.
Armed with these 5 tactics, a PhD can walk confidently into negotiations with a solid, well-conceived plan. Remember, the data are your greatest tool – they don’t lie; seek an industry mentor and use your PhD mind to absorb everything they can tell you; the “2-point method” spells out your value in a way employers appreciate; your excitement and commitment to the role should be plainly obvious; and keep an eye on your interviewer for the affirmative gesture (an extremely good sign).
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