After the job offer comes the salary negotiation, so know your worth and be prepared.
By Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC
When interviewing for nursing positions, landing that new job can seem like the most important thing on your mind. But after the offer comes salary negotiation, which can be a source of stress and anxiety.
For many Americans, money is a taboo subject, and most nurses haven’t been schooled in the art of negotiation, unless they happen to also have a business degree or entrepreneurial experience. Remember that salary negotiations aren’t a zero-sum game with winners and losers, although it can sometimes feel that way. In most professions and industries, when a job offer is made, everyone involved expects discussions about salary and benefits.
Learning to be comfortable with negotiations about money and benefits will serve you well as you navigate various positions, employers, offers, and counteroffers throughout your career. These tips will help.
1. Know that negotiation is normal
Salary negotiation is a normal part of the hiring process.
- Most employers, hiring managers, and human resources officials expect salary negotiations to be initiated by the candidate.
- When an employer makes an offer, he or she is usually working from a budget or salary range for the position, often based on experience, education, certification, and other factors.
- Public state or federal facilities may have ironclad budgets with no room for flexibility.
- If a salary range exists, the first offer will likely be on the lower end of the scale in an effort to contain costs.
2. Do your research
Once you’ve interviewed for a position and have a sense that a job offer may be forthcoming, do some research and prepare your questions in advance.
- Learn what salary and benefits are offered for similar types of positions in your geographic region. Check out Monster, Indeed, Glassdoor, PayScale, and similar websites.
- If, for instance, your potential position is in the emergency department (ED), contact your state chapter of the Emergency Nurses Association and request salary data, or ask to speak to a member who’s currently working in an ED in your area.
- If finding a directly correlating position is difficult, seek salary information about jobs with similar responsibilities.
- If possible, speak directly with those who hold similar positions in your area. Use LinkedIn and other networking resources to initiate conversations and informational interviews.
- Recruiters are a great source of salary data and the market value of nurses with particular sets of experience or specialization. If recruiters reach out to you on LinkedIn or elsewhere, use those conversations as part of your research.
- People may not want to share their salary with you, but asking the right questions may get you the answers you seek. For instance, you can ask, “In your experience, what’s a ballpark salary range in our city for this type of nursing position?” Or “What do you feel is a fair compensation package for this position and someone with my level of experience?”
3. Consider your leverage
Most articles on salary negotiation advise job seekers to refrain from quoting a desired salary before the employer has offered a salary range. Many career experts believe the first party to quote a number is at a permanent disadvantage.
- Play your salary cards close to your chest and retain as much leverage as you can for as long as possible. Once you quote a figure, negotiating up is practically impossible.
- When asked for your salary requirements, consider requesting that you first learn more details about the demands and responsibilities of the position or ask about the budget for the position.
- Do your best to force the employer to quote a salary range first.
4. Play the negotiation game
When either party quotes a specific salary or salary range, negotiations begin in earnest.
- In the throes of salary negotiation, be certain to know your absolute financial bottom line. You don’t want to accept a salary that will leave you unable to pay your bills or feeling resentful of your new employer.
- Request slightly more than you actually want so that you’re perceived as reasonable when you allow your original request to be whittled down slightly.
- Asking for a significantly higher amount can backfire if you go too far. For instance, if you’ve been offered $70,000 but were hoping for $80,000, asking for $85,000 may be reasonable, depending on the circumstances. However, if you up the ante to $100,000, you may be seen as negotiating in bad faith. Your counteroffer should be within the upper range of the normal you discovered in your research.
- If an offer is less than you hoped, respond with something along these lines: “Considering my level of expertise and the responsibilities of the position, I was hoping you could meet me at $_________.”
- Remember that your compensation package is more than just your paycheck. If the money itself can’t be negotiated, use vacation time, stock options, health insurance premiums, sign-on bonuses, and other factors as bargaining chips.
- Get every detail in writing after you’ve settled on a salary and benefits package. Only sign a contract or agreement that you feel good about.
5. Believe in yourself enough to sell yourself
When discussing salary and compensation, you’re actively demonstrating how you value your expertise, knowledge, education, and experience. If you want to be valued by an employer, show that you understand your own worth as a nursing professional.
- When requesting a higher salary or enhanced benefits, you must be able to make a solid case for your request, including what your potential employer will get in return.
- Arm yourself with statistics, stories, examples, or other documentation of what you bring
to the table. References, published articles, poster presentations, committee memberships, or other professional activities can enhance your relative merit.
- Be true to who you think you are and what you feel you deserve.
6. Be authentic
Authenticity will get you everywhere in these situations. Being truthful and candid is important, even when you keep certain details to yourself until the right time. This isn’t a game of cat and mouse, and no one is trying to cheat you.
- Be prepared to end negotiations and walk away if you feel your reasonable demands aren’t being met.
- Always negotiate in good faith. Never negotiate and bargain just for fun or practice—do it because you sincerely want the job.
- Don’t say that you have an offer from another potential employer if you don’t really have one. Such duplicitousness can back-fire.
It’s about who you are and what you want
When considering a job offer, your first duty is to yourself. Before accepting the offer, ask yourself these questions:
- Does this position fulfill the current needs of my career and professional trajectory?
- Is the salary commensurate with my experience, knowledge, education, and expertise?
- Does the benefits package satisfy my needs and those of my family?
- Does this potential employer appear to value what I bring to the table as a nurse?
- Can I gratefully and happily accept the offered salary and benefits without resentment?
Salary negotiation isn’t easy, especially for nurses untrained in its finer points. Learning to value yourself and your expertise is key, as is trusting your nurse’s intuition and professional savvy. Research, negotiation, and compromise skills are important for your career growth and as you come into your own as a highly valued and valuable nursing professional.
Keith Carlson is a career coach, writer, podcaster, and speaker in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Visit his website at NurseKeith.com.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Registered nurses.
Glassdoor. Nurse salaries.
PayScale. PayScale’s salary negotiation guide.