Contributing Author: Surayya Taranum, Ph.D.
I had just finished an interview for an industry role that I really wanted… after just a few hours I got an email saying they were offering me the job!
It is quite a challenge to transition from academia to your first industry role.
I was elated at my success and wanted to start the celebrations.
But then I remembered… it wasn’t time to celebrate just yet.
I still needed to negotiate my salary.
This was the most challenging part of my job search.
I had no experience in salary negotiation at all.
I was lost for a while, unsure how to proceed.
But then started to do some research on salary negotiation practices to prepare for discussions with my future employer.
I found that in industry, it is common and expected that you will negotiate your salary, and employers expect that you will ask for more.
So as a PhD, I must negotiate for my salary, even if I was not used to this as an academic.
The more I read about negotiating, the more I realized that everything is negotiable.
Actually, it came as a surprise to me that even in academia, some professors get paid more and get larger starting packages when they negotiate.
That said, negotiations can be nerve-wracking, even for those with experience.
But I knew that I had to negotiate, because that was the only way I would be paid what I am worth.
Why PhDs Must Negotiate Even If You Are Terrified To
You are expected to negotiate.
When you don’t ask for a higher salary and employer will know that you are inexperienced and they will know that you don’t really know your value.
A report by CareerBuilder shows that 52% of employers stated that the first salary offer they give candidates is lower than what they are willing to pay.
They are trying to get you to work for them for the best price possible, but remember you are valuable.
Don’t accept the first offer.
Negotiation is brand new for most PhDs.
But, remember, there was a time that research was brand new to you, and now you are an expert.
The only way to get better is to practice and to jump in!
You are a PhD, you can learn how to do anything, including negotiating.
A recent survey by Glassdoor revealed that 60% of people who received a job offer negotiate for a higher salary.
You can negotiate.
You just need a plan.
So how can you make sure that in your career you are paid what you are worth?
You can use this 5-point plan to guide your preparations for salary negotiation…
1. Do your research on the company and role thoroughly.
You must prepare for your salary negotiations before you even begin interacting with the company.
You must prepare for salary negotiation as thoroughly as you prepare for the rest of the interview.
The best strategy to overcome negotiation anxiety is to do your research on the role and company.
Remember, information is your best ally.
Informational interviews can be a very good source for finding out more about salaries and industry salary trends.
You can learn more about the base salary for the type of role you applied for and the benefits.
You should also look at the location, the living costs, all other relevant details, and decide on what you will be willing to accept as salary before things become messy.
You must use all these resources to establish your walkaway number.
Your walkaway number is the frame of reference that will guide your salary negotiations.
You walkway number will decide whether the salary you are being offered meets realistic expectations.
Because if it does not, you will walk away from that role and company.
It is okay to walk away if a position or salary is not right for you.
2. Keep your options open by interviewing for multiple roles at the same time.
You must always aim to negotiate your salary from a position of strength.
That is why you have to interview for multiple positions at the same time, so that you are able to negotiate from a position of strength. So that you have options to leverage from.
If they come back with a firm ‘No’, then you must look at your walkaway number.
You have to research your walkaway number even before you start interacting with the company.
This is because when you invest a lot of time interacting and interviewing with a company you will start making concessions.
Because you have invested so much time, energy and effort, you don’t want to start all over again.
So you start making concessions; I like this person, I like this company, I am willing to accept a lower salary and so on.
This is how you will end up getting paid less than you are actually worth.
And means that it is time for you to look at your walkaway number, and be willing to walk away if it is not a good deal.
3. Ask the right questions when you are made a job offer.
The best time to negotiate your salary is between the time you have a written formal offer, and the time when you accept it (or not).
Two things that you must keep in mind during the negotiation…
#1 Never make the first offer. Wait for the Hiring Manager to make the first offer.
#2 Always ask to see the written offer before starting to negotiate. Don’t be quick to say yes.
Many PhDs fail to ask for more because the salary offered can easily be 3-5 times more than what they were paid as an academic PhD or postdoc.
Sometimes employers may deliberately try to lowball you because they know PhDs are paid less in academia.
In fact, this number may even be less than what they offer to candidates without a PhD.
So, what should you ask when you get the job offer?
How do you get them to increase the salary?
Once you have a written offer for the job, express your interest in the role and company, ask, ‘Is there anything else you can do in terms of salary?’
Keep in mind that salary here refers to the base compensation.
If they say there is a salary cap for the position, or that there is no budget, you can ask if there are any exceptions they have made in the past.
If they say yes, you can ask why, and match relevant skills and experiences you have to that.
If they say no, ask why, and what you can do to be an exception to that rule.
Be willing and prepared to talk about your skills and experience, and to present evidence of past performance that is relevant to the position you are interviewing for.
If they still say no, ask ‘Is there anything else you can do instead of salary?’
You have to look at compensation holistically; consider other perks like signing bonuses, health benefits, paid vacation time, relocation allowances or commuter benefits.
Employers are usually open to offering these perks if they cannot promise a higher salary.
4. Focus on creating a win-win situation for you and the employer.
A successful negotiation is when both sides walk away feeling they have gained from the discussion.
Always ask for more than your walkaway number, especially in terms of your base salary, so that once you come to an agreement, both sides feel that it was a fair deal.
For that, you must work these three things into your negotiation strategy…
#1 Keep your focus on the company and make it easier for them to give more than they offered initially. Use win-win language throughout discussions.
#2 Frame your conversation around what makes you an outstanding candidate for the role. Remind them of the value you will bring to the role and company, and the contributions you will make.
#3 Avoid coming off as too rigid or arrogant. Avoid discussing personal financial issues during your salary negotiation. Keep your emotions in check and refrain from ultimatums, keep the conversation positive and ask open-ended questions.
Always keep the conversation future-focused.
As long as both sides are on the same page, it’s a win-win situation.
Instead of ‘I want this…’ you can say ‘I know we can come to a mutual agreement on this,’ or, ‘I know we can together do what’s best for the company.’
Frame it in a way that makes it a mutual decision.
5. Practice, practice, practice.
Salary Negotiation can be a nerve-wracking experience even for industry professionals.
That is why you must practice your approach before you go to the job interview.
As a reminder, your salary for your first industry position will determine the salary trajectory of your career.
Do not neglect this aspect of your job search.
Practice is the only way you are going to get better at negotiating.
Do practice exercises in front of the mirror, speaking out aloud will help you get used to the sound of your own voice negotiating.
Role-playing with a friend or colleague is another great way to hone your negotiation skills and prepare for the actual conversation.
All this preparation will help you navigate the process with more confidence and grace, keep the conversation friendly and build bonds that will survive the negotiation outcome.
Keep in mind that in life, you negotiate every time you work out a difference of opinion.
If you consider salary negotiation as a specific type of negotiation, you will approach it with a lot more confidence and success.
Salary negotiation is sometimes the most dreaded part of your job search. But, it doesn’t need to be. If you prepare and remember that you are valuable this is a time for you to surprise yourself and get a salary that you deserve. To negotiate properly follow the 5 point plan outlined here, do your research on the company and role thoroughly, keep your options open by interviewing for multiple roles at the same time, ask the right questions when you are made a job offer, focus on creating a win-win situation for you and the employer, and practice, practice, practice.
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