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20 Phrases PhDs Can Use To Make Any Salary Negotiation Win-Win

Written by: Sumant Grover, Ph.D.

I am an international student, was jobless for 2 months after graduation, but followed my heart and remembered my value as a PhD!

During my job search, I was super focused on finding a sales job.

I reached out more than 1000 people over the period of last 2-2.5 years, did more than 300 informational interviews, and established solid contacts in big biotech companies.

When the time came, I nailed almost all the interviews I had and ended up juggling between interviews, follow ups, job offers.

I was focused on finding a company where I fit well and where I would be valued.

Here’s how things went down for me:

Job Offer 1:

Microscopy sales position in a small company, base salary only.

The company was located in Chicago and they were willing to sponsor my visa.

But, I wasn’t really interested in the position and they sensed it.

So they offered me an application scientist position in a warmer place (southeast).

However, I said no as base salary was unacceptable.

Job Offer 2:

Service provider position for a manufacturer, located in the Midwest.

They interviewed me extensively over phone, via skype and in person.

But, ultimately it was not the right fit.

They offered a low base salary and the products weren’t very exciting.

Job Offer 3:

Sales position at a California based small (<20 people) and growing company, huge potential because of geography and products.

They had a low base salary, but really nice bonuses and commission.

There was the potential for making a 6 figure salary in first year.

The hiring manager told me, “I want you on my team at any cost.”

However, circumstances that arose during the interviewing process made me realize that this was not a good fit for me.

Again, I am international student and was dealing with unemployment, so it was important that I never forgot my value.

I turned down this offer because it didn’t seem right for me.

Job offer 4:

Sales position at a small and growing company.

Really nice and straight forward people.

They didn’t have the best of salary structure and benefits.

However, I negotiated a base salary increase by 14%, plus relocation costs.

But there was almost no bonus or commission.

This seemed to be the right fit for me and a good starting point for my career.

I happily accepted their offer.

It was really confusing to work through all of the different job offers, but I followed my heart and always remembered my value as a PhD.

Stay hungry and stay foolish.

The dots will connect in the end.

Why Not Negotiating Is The Worst Mistake You Will Make In Your Job Search

Negotiations are the final – and often the toughest – part of the job search process.

You want to earn a salary that makes you feel valued and the company want to stay within their budget.

Because negotiating creates what many see as a stressful situation, most people don’t even try to negotiate their salary.

A survey by Robert Half, found that 61% of people do not negotiate their salary.

That means that the majority of people are missing out on thousands of extra dollars they could be earning by simply asking a question.

Don’t be one of those people.

The fear you have about negotiating is unfounded.

According to the National Society Of Collegiate Scholars, 80% of those who negotiated their salary were successful and 74% of hiring managers reported that they have room to increase the starting salary by 5-10% during negotiations.

So, most companies are automatically offering you 5-10% less money than what is possible.

That is money that you will just be leaving behind if you don’t negotiate.

Phrases You Can Use To Negotiate A Higher Salary While Maintaining A Win-Win Attitude

Once you make it to the stage of your job search where you are getting job offers, you have put in a lot of work.

You networked, you rewrote your resume, you went to many interviews, so it’s tempting to just accept the job offer presented to you.

At least then, this grueling process will be over.

But there is one more step, salary negotiation.

In industry you are expected to negotiate your salary and as a PhD you are worthy of a paycheck that makes you feel valued.

But to get it, you need to know how to negotiate with a win-win attitude.

Here are more than 20 scripts and 5 clear steps you can use to confidently negotiation your industry salary…

1. Avoid giving the first number so you maintain the competitive advantage.

Salary negotiations have begun as soon as the company has identified you as a viable candidate.

PhDs don’t usually understand that negotiations have begun way before you receive a written job offer.

But there is only one tactic that you should use before you get a written offer, and that is to avoid giving the first number.

The person who gives the first hard number gives away the competitive advantage.

So the organization is going to try and get you to give the first number, don’t do it.

There are many ways you can dodge this question while maintaining a positive and excited tone.

A recruiter or hiring manager might ask you, “What salary would you expect from this position?,” “What would it take to get you on board with us?” or “What are your salary expectations?”

Here are a few phrases you can use to respond to those types of questions:

“Salary is not my first concern. I’m much more interested in learning more about the opportunity and the people I’ll be working with. Can we come back to this later?”

“I’m very excited about this opportunity so of course I’ll consider all reasonable offers.”

“I’m sure this won’t be a problem for us, as long as you can make a competitive offer.”

“I’m open to a wide range of salaries. I’m sure this won’t be an issue for us. By the way, who is responsible for making those decisions?”

Another way the recruiter or hiring manager might try to get you to give the first number is to ask about your current salary.

Again, you don’t want to tell them this number.

Use a phrase like the ones below to deflect the inquiry:

“Well what I was earning in academia is not really relevant. That was a very different situation. Instead, I am interested in earning competitive compensation for this particular position. Which I’m sure won’t be a problem for us.”

“In academia I actually didn’t earn a salary, but rather received a stipend, so it’s not relevant in this context. And as long as I am compensated competitively I am not going to be unhappy. Salary is not going to be a problem for us.”

“My previous work is in a different industry and is not really relevant to this position. Plus, I am very interested in this opportunity, the people I will meet, and where this could lead in five years. I’m sure salary will not be an issue for us.”

Also, realize that if you do make the mistake of telling the recruiter or hiring manager a salary number there is still a way to negotiate.

You just need to be honest and tell them that based on new information you think the compensation needs to be adjusted.

Use the following scripts as a guide for how to approach the conversation.

“Well, I believe I spoke prematurely in our first meeting. Now that I’ve looked into the position and compared it with similar roles, I think that the salary may need to be revised.”

“Well, I have more information now than I did before, and I think that considering this position, a higher salary is more appropriate.”

2. First, focus negotiations exclusively on your base salary.

Once you have a written offer it’s time to negotiate, starting with the base salary.

An organization expects you to negotiate. They expect you to fight for what you are worth.

You will probably receive this written offer by email, but when negotiating, it’s better to do this over the phone or in person.

You could write:

“Thank you so much for the offer. I am very excited about this position. I’d like to go through the offer so I can understand it better. Can we set up a meeting or phone call?”

Always remain positive, thankful and excited.

Remember this is a win-win situation: you are going to get a high paying job and they are going to hire an amazing candidate.

Once you are on the phone or in a meeting there are key phrases you can use to negotiate a higher salary without being too aggressive or negative.

You will want to practice using these phrases before you are in the real negotiation.

Here are a few sample dialogues for how the negotiation might go and what you can say each step of the way.

You: “I’m so excited, this is fantastic, and this job aligns perfectly with my background. But, I was really hoping for more than that, what can we do?”

Hiring manager: “What were you hoping for?”

You: “What’s possible?”

You: “Thank you very much for the offer. I am very excited to join the company and start working with the team, but I was really hoping for a higher salary, what can we do?”

Hiring manager: “We have set pay scales and don’t usually negotiate.”

You: “Okay, great, I understand your policy. Under what circumstances in the past have you raised an initial offer?”

Hiring manager: “Under some exceptional circumstances.”

You: “Okay, then perhaps we can discuss the difference between me and those candidates who you raised the initial offer for and see if the value I will bring to the organization warrants having the kind of salary offer that they received. I know this position is a great fit for me and I am excited to bring my expertise in xyz to the organization.”

The theme with these negotiations is to always bring the conversation back to your excitement to join the organization and to use we/us instead I/me as often as possible.

You are not in opposition to the recruiter or hiring manager.

You are on the same team, and finding a salary that everyone is happy with is the goal.

Focus on the value that you will add, talk about how great the company seems to you, and how you will be a great fit.

3. Negotiate your signing bonus.

Once you have settled on your base salary, which is the most important part of your negotiation, you can move on to negotiating your signing bonus.

Don’t feel like you are being greedy by bringing up a signing bonus – it is a standard practice.

The thing to remember is to maintain your positive attitude throughout the whole process.

Negotiating your signing bonus is a place where your informational interviews or connections at the company could be helpful.

You could ask them about the policy for signing bonuses at the company and what you might expect to receive for a bonus.

“Great, I really appreciate this, thanks for going to bat for me, now can we discuss my signing bonus will be?”

“Fantastic, I’m very excited about this position. Can we discuss my signing bonus now?

Apply the same strategies you used in the main base salary negotiation here, by asking open ended questions and not giving the first number.

4. Discuss your stock or equity options.

Stock options are a fantastic way that you can begin to grow your wealth.

But most PhDs don’t understand stock options or equity and feel intimidated when asking about these during a negotiation.

The first thing you can do is to learn about stock options.

You are a PhD, you can learn anything and you can learn it quickly.

So do some research, and then use what you do learn to ask good questions about the stock options and/or equity that you are being offered.

It is okay to ask for a breakdown and explanation of these benefits from the human resources department.

You could say:

“Can you help me understand options for equity participation?”

“It’s fantastic that this offer includes stock options, can you to help me understand these options further?”

“Can we discuss what the options are for equity participation?”

Asking for clarification actually shows that you are confident asking questions and seeking guidance when you don’t know something – which is a good thing.

Gaining equity into the company you work for is a great opportunity, so don’t pass it by just because you don’t fully understand the process.

5. Determine your relocation package.

The final thing that you will want to negotiate is any moving expenses that you will have as a result of starting this position.

If you have been given a job offer and the company knows that you will need to relocate, then it is totally normal for you to ask about a relocation package.

Your relocation package could be a lump sum of money, with the idea that this will pay for you to move all your belongings to the new location.

It might also include the ability to stay at a corporate apartment for the first few months of the job.

This will allow you to get settled into the position and the new location without the stress of finding a place to live right away.

It’s important for your specific negotiation to ask about what options are available and to know what your ideal outcome would be.

For example you could ask:

“Can you tell me about your relocation allowance?”

“I’d like to discuss a relocation allowance, can you tell me what the company usually offers in terms of relocation packages?”

“Can you get me xx days/months in a corporate apartment so I don’t have to be distracted by trying to find a place to live and can focus on the job for those first xx days/months?”

If you aren’t sure what to expect it always best to ask open ended questions.

You don’t want to ask for 30 days in a corporate apartment when they might be willing to give you 6 months.

So be confident, stay positive, and show excitement as you negotiate the final part of your job contract, your relocation allowance.

Lastly, if you don’t need to relocate or you don’t have many belongings to move, you may want to see if these funds can be reallocated into a larger signing bonus.

All you need to do is ask those open ended questions.

You must be negotiating your salary. This is a thing you have to do as a PhD, or you will miss out on thousands of dollars. However, there are clear steps and phrases that you can use during your negotiation to make the process as smooth as possible. The steps you should follow are to avoid giving the first number so you maintain the competitive advantage, first focus your negotiations on your base salary, then negotiate your signing bonus, next discuss your stock or equity options, and finally determine your relocation package. These steps coupled with the win-win language described above will set you up for a fantastic salary negotiation experience.

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Sumant Grover, PhD

Sumant Grover, PhD

Sumant Grover, PhD is a Next Generation Sequencing account manager for a company in North Carolina. He
earned his PhD in Molecular Biology from the University of Dayton and completed a masters degree in Biochemistry from Kurukshetra University.
Sumant Grover, PhD

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