Negotiation strategies for scientists: Preparing your counter offer

You finally did it! You got an interview for the job of your dreams. For years you have been working for this- first, persevering through five years of graduate school while your friends were beginning their careers and making money; then another five years of postdoctoral fellowships where you were not quite a student, but not faculty either.

The interview goes well, and you think this might be it. The chair of the department offers you the position, along with a salary amount, and asks if you think it is adequate. It’s much more than you made as a postdoc, but it’s difficult to know your own self-worth. You may be applying for a position outside of academia or in a slightly different field. In addition, you have been a trainee for such an extended period of your life that it is difficult to toot your own horn. Should you make a counter offer? And if so, how?

Negotiation skills are important for science careers, yet few scientists are trained to in this area. Further, women are less likely to negotiate than men, and receive lower salaries. According to a study at Carnegie Mellon University of graduating masters’ candidate salary offers, men were more likely to negotiate than women. The salary offers for men were 7.6% higher than for women.

At the FASEB Career Center on Saturday, Dr. Debra Behrens gave two sessions on Negotiation Strategies for Scientists. Dr. Behrens, a PhD counselor at the University of California, Berkeley, provided key strategies to determine the appropriate salary for your position and how to leverage your strengths to negotiate for your needs.

Learning to negotiate well has benefits beyond establishing a salary. Preparing to negotiate allows you to evaluate yourself: your financial needs, what you require for professional productivity, and the strengths and abilities that you can provide for the employer. This won’t be the only time you will need negotiation skills in life, so it pays to prepare for the first position. In addition, future salaries are often based on your previous pay.

Dr. Behrens outlined 5 strategies for effective negotiation.

  1. Preparation

Research the position and its typical salary range. For academic positions, you can visit The Chronicle for Higher Education and search by discipline and position for average salaries. AAUP, ACS, Association of American Medical Colleges, and The Scientist also provide salary information. At public institutions, it is a requirement that faculty salaries are made freely available, and can be found on the institution’s website. If you are currently affiliated with a university, you may be able to access their subscription to Vault, a career information website which contains employee surveys and career guides to individual industries.

Salary surveys, as well as federal research are available for private industry positions. Professional organizations are also a good resource for salary information in industry. When searching for salary information, make sure to factor in the region where the position is located, as cost of living will vary across the country.

It is often thought that negotiating your salary is not possible for jobs in the government and public sector. While the salaries for these positions are not as flexible, they may be more negotiable that you would think, as there are differences among agencies. Dr. Behrens shared a pro tip for career advancement in government: when considering your place in career grade and step, it is better to begin at the bottom of the pay grade. Even if the positions are similar in pay, there is more possibility for advancement by increasing your steps within a pay grade than to level up from on pay grade to the next.

During the interview, you may be asked what you would expect for a salary before you have actually been offered the job. It is in your best interest to wait to answer this type of question until you have an actual offer, when you have the most power. If you accept a salary offer during the interview, it locks you in early before you have a full understanding of what you can leverage during the negotiation process.

If they ask you during the interview what you would expect for salary before stating an offer, it is to your best advantage to wait until you have an actual offer. You could respond by saying, “At this point, I’m focused on learning more about the position and telling you about what I have to offer first before discussing salary.”

  1. Effective listening

During your interview, be observant for cues about the needs of the department or company. Consider how you can fill those gaps and use that knowledge as a leveraging tool during the negotiation period. In addition, pay attention to facial cues during your interview. If someone looks confused, it is better to stop and ask if you need to elaborate than run the risk that your future employers do not know your strengths and what you require from them for success.

  1. Big picture perspective

It is important to create a list of the must-haves and deal breakers when negotiating a job offer. However, it is also just as critical to keep the grand scheme of things in mind. What are the things you are willing to concede in order to achieve a higher goal? Dr. Behrens cited a concept called “firm flexibility” in which you remain firm about your goals, but flexible about the way you achieve them (Fisher & Ury, Getting to Yes 1991).

  1. Interactive exchange

Treat the job negotiation as an interactive, not a static exchange. In other words, it’s a lot of give and take. First, developing a rapport with your employer during the interview will build trust that you can utilize during the negotiation process. Second, it’s ok to ask questions such as, “What would it take to resolve X?” “Would it be feasible to do Y?” or “Under what circumstances might you consider Z?” By keeping the exchange interactive, you are able to gain key insight into the rationale behind your job offer and what accommodations are actually possible. Other valuable questions include, “What issues do you foresee with this request?” and, “What might be other ways we could go about this?”

  1. Win-win outcome

Finally, focus on a win-win outcome. Both sides of a job offer have the same objective of fair compensation. Indicate how fulfilling your needs will benefit the organization, making it easy for them to say yes. If you have received a job offer, the employer really does want you. As in the movie Jerry Maguire, your employer is really saying, “Help me help you,” though hopefully without all the melodrama and sweating.

M(internal)RW I can't tell if the woman standing in front of me on the train is pregnant and wants my seat or not because she's wearing all black and not really showing but also giving me the stink eye. - Imgur.gif

When negotiating a job offer, you have more power than you likely ever will with the organization. Knowing that, remember that employers expect you to negotiate. Finally, know that there is more to negotiate than salary. You can negotiate things such as housing benefits, course release, the size and location of your lab space, and many more items listed below that contribute to your quality of life.

Money isn’t the only issue

  • availability of dual career programs (check out Stanford’s website on dual career programs).
  • housing benefits for new faculty
  • moving expenses
  • sabbaticals/vacation
  • tuition reimbursement
  • summer research stipends
  • intellectual property/patent rights
  • teaching load/ course buy out
  • use of teaching assistants/readers/graders
  • advising, theses and committee work
  • work schedule
  • telecommuting
  • on-site childcare
  • parking
  • start up package
  • size and location of office/lab space
  • lab equipment
  • computing/software
  • research assistants
  • conference and travel funds
  • intramural research funds
  • grant-writing support
  • journal subscriptions/books

In part two of Negotiation Strategies for Scientists, we will learn how to make the counter offer and how to navigate an impasse in the negotiation.









Author: ilovebraaains

I am a neuroscientist using zebrafish to study mechanisms of neuroregeneration.

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