45 Salary Negotiation Scripts Word-For-Word For PhDs

Negotiation is one of the most challenging parts of a job search.

This is because PhDs are never trained on how to negotiate. In fact most think they put their offer at risk if they do.

The truth is that you have a higher chance of putting the prospects of your future employment at risk by not negotiating because salary negotiation is a social norm in industry. PhDs can and should negotiate successfully. Most importantly, they should never let their academic stipend or fellowship, which is not a true salary, be used against them.

For example, A PhD in the Cheeky Scientists Association recently had this experience:

By researching the current market rate for her role, this associate gave her employers a detailed breakdown of a below average salary ($68k/annum as a floor), the expected average rate for the role ($77k/annum as a norm), and the appropriate range for her as a PhD ($90k to $110) were. When she asked the recruiters what can be done in terms of her base salary, the company countered her request by offering her $83k/annum, which is above the average rate and just under the top bracket!

In another exceptional case, an Associate had a raise from 89k to 225k, in one step— a 252% increase— using the exact same techniques taught in the Cheeky Scientist’s PhD Negotiation League training program.

Remember Your Value As A PhD 

Glassdoor describes salary negotiation as discussions between your and the representative of your current or prospective company aimed at helping you secure a higher salary. 

Negotiation requires us to communicate our needs to the other party in the form of a dialogue, text, or email.

And for most of us this might be our vice, the inability to communicate effectively, especially when it comes to asking for more money.

And to no surprise, this could be the most stressful part of the entire hiring process for many PhDs. It could even be a cause of nightmares for some, involving the long back-and-forth exchanges, long uncomfortable pauses, and the  act of showing your vulnerability.

 Like it or not, salary negotiation is  a crucial part of the hiring process, companies perceive candidates who attempt to negotiate more favorably than those who don’t .

Sadly, over 61% of people do not negotiate their salary, meaning more than half of the people are missing out on the extra thousands of dollars they could be making by simply asking a question!

Another survey shows that 80% of those who negotiated their salary were successful, and about 74% of hiring managers reported that they have room to increase the starting salary by 5-10% during negotiation.

So, “Ask and you shall receive”

Don Asher, one of the best negotiation experts in the world, calls negotiation an art.

“The hottest thing a couple of years ago was the bathroom in your office; you can negotiate anything.” is one his famous lines about negotiation, reiterating that, if done correctly, negotiation can work wonders.

So, how do we do that?

Let’s jump right in.

Use These Negotiation Scripts Word-For-Word To Secure A High-Paying Industry Job

You have to be prepared to negotiate your salaries at any stage of the job search process; even as early as the resume upload step.

Job recruiters are paid to negotiate with the candidates, they negotiate about 7-10 times a day. Whereas, you may have to negotiate only 7-10 times in your entire life depending on the number of times you switch jobs. It is very likely that you are not going to outsmart or out-negotiate the recruiters into giving you what you want.

And it is quite impractical to think that you could accumulate enough behavioral practice to prepare you for an easy and successful negotiation. 

That is why we have prepared these negotiation scripts for you. So  that you can memorize and internalize them so well that you will naturally drop them off in the conversations anytime negotiation comes up.

When it comes to the numbers, we want you to negotiate confidently and get them on paper. That is where you can really win as a PhD. It is called the briefcase strategy, or the briefcase technique for non-PhDs. 

Memorize negotiation scripts, bring data on paper, pull out a chart in person or on a zoom call, type it down, and give a reference for the desired salary.

Always believe what’s on paper, especially if you’re negotiating with somebody who is not a PhD, which is very likely going to be the case in most of the hiring processes. 

How To Avoid Giving The First Number

Most recruiters would ask you early in the interview what your salary expectations are? But, the way this discussion is prompted would be sometimes through questions like – What would it take to get you on board with us? What range are you looking for? What are your salary expectations? How much do you want to be paid for this role?

So, when you encounter those questions, you want to turn the situation around by asking for more information. 

1. I’m very excited about the opportunity. So, of course I’ll consider all reasonable offers.

2. “Salary is not my first concern. I’m much more interested in learning more about the opportunity and the people who will be my future colleagues. Can we come back to this later?”

If you think you’re in a strong position, where you may have a second offer, the script below would be a great short way of letting them know your value:

3. “As long as you can make a competitive offer, I’m sure that won’t be a problem.”

4. “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?”

Here’s a longer negotiation script for the same scenario:

5. “I’m sure you have a range of compensation that you’re working with, but I think it is premature to get into details before you’re sure that you want my services and before I’m sure there’s a good match between my skills and interests and what your organization has to offer. When you’re ready to make an offer, I’ll be eager to discuss the details, but until then, I’d rather concentrate on what the position entails, the kind of performance that’s required, how I might get my first promotion and that sort of thing.” 

Then, immediately ask them a question related to these interests, and having nothing to do with compensation. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to be able to discuss salary without getting uncomfortable.

It’s very important to be able to deflect a conversation about salary  early in the job search process, but you clearly need to plant information into their brains.

Sometimes, you’ll be asked about salary for a position that might be in a very expensive city. The best way to deal with this is by gaining as much information as you can.

6. “You know X (their name), of course I’d have to make a lot because it’s (insert city name).”

7. “In a perfect world, I would like to make a million dollars, but of course, that may not be possible. So, I’ll consider anything that’s fair.”

You can even ask questions throughout this process about what housing prices are. 

8. “Do you happen to know what the average house price is in the area?” 

If they ask about your current salary, which could be a graduate or postdoc stipend, use the following phrases:

What you should at all costs avoid doing is framing your stipend or fellowship as if it’s a salary; because a fellowship or stipend is NOT a SALARY

Instead, you should say something like this script. 

9. “Well, what I’m earning in academia is  not really relevant. That was a very different situation. I am interested in earning a competitive salary for this particular position in an industry setting. Since that is going to be much higher than what I was earning in university anyway, I’m sure this won’t be a problem for us.”

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

11. “My previous work is in a different industry and it’s not really relevant to this position. Plus, I’m very interested in this opportunity, the people I have met, and where this could lead in five years, I’m sure salary will not be an issue for us. What I’d like to know more about is….?”

Come back to things outside of salary – the team, the culture, the company. Talk about how salary is not relevant at this stage of hiring. 

When the recruiters ask you about your expected salary, you can use this script about how you are from a different background, so salary is not really relevant.

12. “I’m trying to get into a new industry. I’m trying to get a job in a different background.” 

It will always be a big mistake to verbally commit to a salary offer early on, as they will use it against you. However,  if you ever find yourself in a sticky spot with the recruiter by verbally committing to a number,  try this script. 

13. “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. How much room do you have to go up?” 

14. “Well, I have more information now than I did before. And I think that considering this position, a higher salary is more appropriate. Would you like to see some of the positions I’ve found advertised with higher salaries, backing it up with data?” 

How To Use The First Offer To Generate A Second Offer

15. “I feel like I’m about to get another offer from XYZ company (or a company in this industry, if you don’t want to say the company’s name) but I like you guys better (then give them a reason related to their values or mission statement). I want to know where I stand. Can we accelerate this process? If you are interested in me, I am very interested in you, but I’m not going to walk away from a solid offer.”

These scripts are the most important. If you get an offer from a company, go get a second offer and leverage them against each other. 

16. “I don’t want to be forced to make the decision before I have all the information. Could we speed up the process? I can make a quick decision if we can get this finalized.”

17. “I’m about to get an offer from another company, but I like you guys better. What can we do?”

If you want to stall the company that gave you the first offer, be clear about how long you would want to consider their offer.

18. “I will be able to respond to your offer by the first of the month. Will that be okay?” 

You could use the excuse that you need to appeal to a higher authority (family/spouse/financial adviser/could even be your dog in reality – they don’t need to know that).

What To Do Once You Have A Real Job Offer

Congratulations on that job offer! Now, here is what you may want to do, something that’s called selling yourself into the close. You always want to keep the attention on what you’re going to bring to the company and how valuable you are. 

Example 1

19. You: “I’m so excited, this is fantastic. 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?” 

20. You: “What’s possible?”

Example 2

21. 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.”

22. 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, usually people with rare or hard-to-find

skills.”

23. You: “Okay, then perhaps we can discuss the difference between those candidates for whom you raised the initial offer and me. Would the value I will bring to the organization warrant 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 [your field] to the organization.”

Remember to bring the conversation back to your excitement to join the organization, your potential contributions, and to use we/us instead of I/me as often as possible.

How To Negotiate On Behalf Of Someone Or Something Else, When You Are Actually Negotiating For Yourself

Isn’t it sad to learn that when over 50 % of men negotiate their first offer, less than 10 % of women even attempt to do so? Check out Sherl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’ for more on this gender wage-gap.

24. “I’ve read that a major cause of the gender-based wage gap is that women don’t negotiate for salary as often as men, so because I want to do my part to reduce this social problem, I guess I have to force myself to ask: Can you raise this base? Would you give me the same base as a man who negotiated hard for the maximum?”

25. “It makes me uncomfortable to negotiate on behalf of myself, but my mentor coached me that it is expected of professional hires. Since I promised my mentor, I guess I have to follow through. How can we move these numbers up?”

26. “I guess I would be happy with that offer, but I am a breadwinner for my family, too, so I guess I have to push back. What can we do to increase this base salary?”

Additional Scripts For Negotiating Your Base Salary

27. “I need to set aside money to pay off my student loans and also help pay for my parents’ medical bills. I was really hoping for more than that. What can we do?” (An appeal based on personal need is usually not persuasive, but there is no harm in asking. Explain specific reasons and circumstances why you need more money.)

28. “Would you consider what you are offering me, a competitive salary, compared to other companies in the industry?”

29. “What is the most you offered anyone this year, and what is the difference between that person and me?”

30. “I really had in mind more than that, but I’m really excited about this opportunity. What can we do?”

31. “I’d like to move these numbers if we could. How much room is there to move these numbers?”

32. “Who do we need to bring into the loop to get closer to the maximum you’re willing to offer?” (This one is very aggressive, so only use it in specific circumstances).

Turning Down A Very Low Offer

33. “That’s really way below what I believe I can make elsewhere. It’s a shame, too, because I really like your organization. Would you like me to make some recommendations for people in my network who might be interested? And would you please keep me in mind for any positions that might pay more?”

Turning Down An Offer

34. “I truly appreciate all of the hard work you went through to get this offer. I even feel somewhat guilty letting you know there is another offer at a company that I feel I have a better fit with. I appreciate your work on my behalf. You went above and beyond the call of duty, and I recognize and acknowledge that. I will always think fondly of [their company], and it is mainly due to your efforts. I am sure our paths will cross in the future, and if I can ever do anything for you, you can count on me.”

Remember, to always use win-win language and to be pleasant; and not to burn the bridge.

Punting Their Request To Committing To Signing Prematurely

If the recruiters are pressuring you into committing to sign the offer, you need to punt their requests kindly.

35. “Unfortunately, I can’t commit to signing yet. I am not yet at the stage where I can make a final decision. Like I told you before, I need to bring this home and think it over for a few days. Choosing the company I’m going to spend the next several years with is a serious commitment for me and my family, so I want to make sure I make a well-thought out decision. I really like this assignment and the company, so I can assure you I am not pursuing this for any frivolous reason whatsoever.”

Negotiating Beyond Your Base Salary

Signing bonuses can be significant —as high as $15,000, and you can present specific rationales for requesting one – like the need to buy a new car or a professional wardrobe.

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

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

38. “I’m glad we established that the base would be $xx. That’s great. What will my signing bonus be?”

If they say “we don’t give signing bonus,” you say:

39. “Oh my god, that’s a real surprise. New truck drivers are getting $5,000 signing bonuses in Tulsa right now. I’m sure I’m worth more than a truck driver, so I just assumed there would be a signing bonus. What’s possible?”

40. “Oh, that’s great. I really appreciate it. Is there anything we can do to make that higher?”

Gaining equity into the company you work for could be a great opportunity, so don’t pass it by just because you don’t fully understand the process during negotiations. Ask questions until you do understand.

“Can you help me understand the options for equity participation, profit sharing, stock options, grants, 401k match?” 

 “It’s fantastic that this offer includes stock options. Can you help me understand these options further? How do they work, exactly?”

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

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

42. “Can you get me [xx days/months] in a corporate apartment? That way 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?”

Negotiating Special Terms & Circumstances

Leave these until the very end, when they’re happy with you and things are moving along. Simply state what you need and why, rather than asking if it’s possible, such as:

43. “I need a week off around the fourth of July every year, and I need that to be written into the offer because it is that important to me. My fraternity brothers and I have been renting a houseboat on Lake Shasta for over ten years. We’re going to keep doing it, and I need to know upfront if this is going to be a problem.”

44. “I like to take occasional three- or four-day weekends, but I have to tell you, I would never leave you high and dry. I always schedule my vacations. I don’t want you to misinterpret my interest in having enough relief time to recharge my batteries and to do a good job with any lack of interest in my career. It’s exactly the opposite! I need this time specifically because I am that interested in my career.”

If you are switching jobs, you could say:

45. “I already had two weeks accrued at my last job, so I’m not really excited about starting over. Can we at least match what I had at my last job?” 

As far as ending a negotiation session, whether it’s through a video call, phone call or in-person, you can say, “I’m going to send you an email that memorializes our discussions today.“

Concluding Remarks

Remember your value as a PhD and start thinking and acting like a successful industry professional. The first rule during negotiation is to always avoid giving the first number. Wait until the hiring manager or the recruiter offers you one. Always show your enthusiasm and excitement for the role, divert any early talks about pay until you have an offer in hand to leverage. Whether you are pulling out data using the briefcase technique or you’re recording what was said and agreed, it’s important to use that to leverage yourself into a better pay while negotiating. And that’s a strength that you will have as a PhD. 

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.

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Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.

Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.

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