Author: Gabrielle Bauer
The devil is in the details
You got The Call. They want you on the job, starting next month. Much as you’d like to shout the news from a rooftop, this is not the time to lose your cool. Reviewing and negotiating the offer will benefit not only you, but your new employer: if you’re happy, you’ll work more productively and stick around longer, which means they’ll be happy.
Some people feel confident about the negotiation process, viewing it as an interesting game. Others would rather skip the whole thing. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it pays to remember that you and your would-be employer share the same goal: having you join the team. You’re simply ironing out the details. (If you truly dread the prospect of negotiating and you used a recruiter to get the offer, you can ask the recruiter to negotiate on your behalf.)
Establish your priorities
Salary, ability to work remotely, work-life balance, vacation time, benefits, moving expenses… you can negotiate just about everything in a job offer, expect items governed by employment law or organizational structure. Even resources such as lab equipment and office space fall into the “negotiable” category.¹ Make a list of your must-haves and nice-to-haves and keep it handy as you prepare your negotiation strategy.
While salary may or may not be your biggest concern, it probably matters to some extent. To get a good read on a competitive salary for your new job, research the salary ranges for the position, taking region and type of company (industry, academic, nonprofit) into account.¹ Websites like Payscale (https://www.payscale.com/) can help you get started.
Negotiation by the numbers²
These figures from Become, a career-development organization, suggest that new recruits aren’t using their full power in the negotiation process:
- 52% of men and 68% of women accept a salary offer without negotiating; many women shy away from negotiation because of fear of seeming desperate or greedy.
- Only 38% of millennials negotiated their first job offers, compared to 48% of baby boomers.
- Gen-Xers line up more closely with boomers, with 46% negotiating their first offers.
- People who never negotiate their salaries can miss out on up to $1.5 million in extra earnings over their lifetimes.
Once you have a written offer—a must for negotiations—evaluate it point by point and see how it lines up with the list you prepared. If you find significant gaps, prepare a counteroffer explaining the changes you’d like to see, and why. Let’s say the salary doesn’t match your expectations: make a list of the assets you bring to the table that “average” candidates may not offer, like authorship in peer-reviewed journals or connections with prominent scientists. If you’re using a recruiting service, they can help you with the counteroffer, ensuring you’re not missing any red flags and helping you build your case.
As you plan the counteroffer, bear in mind that your negotiation ceiling may depend on the company’s size. For example, larger companies hiring a lot of people at the same time may have less wiggle room with salary. In such a case, you may want to focus more on other aspects of the job offer, such as professional development opportunities or even a different job title.
Next, write out a rough script for the verbal negotiation. Practice it out loud, aiming for a friendly, nonconfrontational tone. Just as likeability can help you get a position, it can generate goodwill during salary negotiations.³
Words of wisdom from career coach Carlotta Zee¹
“I’ve helped clients negotiate jobs with salaries starting at a quarter of a million [dollars], and I guarantee that they didn’t just smile nicely and giggle. We rehearsed endlessly. We researched. We made a plan.”
If you’ve done the groundwork, you can approach the actual negotiation with confidence.
As far as possible, aim to negotiate in real time, either sitting across from the employer or by videoconference. Seeing faces humanizes the process and will likely work in your favor.
Don’t let fear limit what you ask for: the worst your employer can say is no. When discussing salary, remember that you do not have to reveal your previous salary to employers: depending on the jurisdiction, it may be illegal for them to ask. Keep the focus on your expectations, supported by the research you have done.
If you explain why you want something—say, working remotely twice a week to cut down on gas consumption or avoid a long commute—the employer is more likely to empathize with your position. By the same token, showing some flexibility will prompt your employer to return the favor. If you want to work four days per week, for example, you could offer to work longer hours on those days or to take a salary cut. If the employer won’t flex on salary, ask them to reconsider your salary in six months or to commit to invest in your career development.¹
Expect to emerge with a satisfactory offer, but be prepared to walk away if your employer shows no flexibility. The last thing you want to do is start a new job with an undercurrent of resentment.¹ A more likely scenario is that you’ll receive a counteroffer that meets you partway. If it aligns with your must-have criteria, you can accept it with peace of mind—and then climb up on that rooftop.
1. The professional’s guide to negotiating a job offer. Become, Nov. 17, 2020.
2. Bankston A. Negotiating for scientists. ASBMBToday, Aug. 1, 2018.
3. Malhotra D. 15 rules for negotiating a job offer. Harvard Business Review, April 2014.
4. Brothers L. How to negotiate work-life balance into an offer. BioSpace, Aug. 15, 2019.