4/9/2016 Your first salary
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Your first salary
For early career psychologists, learning to negotiate is a key skill.
By Rebecca A. Clay
December 2015, Vol 46, No. 11
Print version: page 46
David A. Washburn, PhD, earned his psychology doctorate at Georgia State University in 1991, stayed on for a postdoc and then secured a fulltime research position there. But
what he really wanted was to teach. When a faculty position opened up in 2000, he was extremely eager to get the job.
"When I negotiated with the chair, it was almost like, ‘How much do I need to pay you?' because I really wanted to be there," laughs Washburn. "I was so pleased when they
offered me a job and so glad to have a faculty position, that the chair could have said, ‘Your job will be painting the department,' and I would have said, ‘OK, what color do you
Of course, that kind of attitude doesn't result in effective negotiation. In fact, Washburn was so enthusiastic about just getting the job that he didn't think about asking for enough
startup funds for his research and a year later had to ask his chair for what he needed. "You're in a much less favorable position to ask for startup resources after you've agreed
to come," he says.
Since then, Washburn has become a full professor and chaired the department himself from 2006 to 2010. After negotiating with nearly two dozen potential faculty members as
chair and leading several departmental search committees after that, he has seen negotiation strategies both good and bad. The difference between the two can be enormous,
he says, since future raises, bonuses and other income will be based in part on whatever initial salary you negotiate.
According to a 2013 analysis by Salary.com, negotiating $5,000 more after an initial offer of $45,000 and pushing for 4 percent pay raises every three years — instead of
accepting the initial offer and standard 1 percent pay raises each year — could mean a difference in lifetime earnings of more than a million dollars. That's enough to buy a house
in a pricey neighborhood, put your children through college or retire comfortably. Yet a 2013 study by CareerBuilder found that almost half of workers — 49 percent — don't
negotiate their first job offers.
Whether you're applying for an academic position, clinical role or other job, Washburn and other experts offer several tips for negotiating your first salary:
Don't be afraid to ask
Some job applicants don't negotiate their starting salaries because, like Washburn, they're so excited to have a job offer. But for others — especially some women — the problem
is fear, says Seattle career counselor Robin Ryan, author of "60 Seconds & You're Hired!" "They get timid and tend to accept what's offered," says Ryan, noting that this
unwillingness to negotiate contributes to the gender gap in pay. "They may not want to be seen as aggressive." Or people may worry that pushing for more will cause the
employer to pull the offer altogether, something that never happens in reality, she says.
Whether you're a man or woman, the key to overcoming such fears is practice, says Ryan, who suggests that job candidates roleplay various negotiation scenarios. "If you can
do it with a professor or someone who's a manager, that's ideal," she says. A parent, classmate or anyone else with more jobhunting experience than you can also help. Have
your partner throw out a salary number, then you explain why you deserve more.
Also practice selling yourself, says Dave ShenMiller, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Tennessee State University in Nashville. "Don't be afraid to acknowledge what
you bring and sing your own praises," he says. And find ways to connect your skills and experience to the organization's mission. For a teaching position, for example, you have
to go beyond the idea that you'll be a productive researcher. "So what? They can get other people who can do that," says ShenMiller. "What is it about you uniquely that will
advance the mission of the program, the university, even the person hiring you?"
Do your research
Now is the time to use your personal and professional networks. Ask professors, friends, graduates of your program and anyone else with relevant experience about typical
salaries for your chosen position. For general information on salaries, check glassdoor.com (http://www.glassdoor.com/) , which features millions of job listings. PayScale.com
(http://www.payscale.com) even offers a "What am I worth?" tool that assesses what you have to offer potential employers and then generates a report naming the salary you might
expect. Peruse job listings on Vitae, a service of the Chronicle of Higher Education. For more specialized information for psychologists, turn to the job listings at PsycCareers,
APA's online career resource center. Also check out APA's Center for Workforce Studies (http://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/index.aspx) . The center conducts an annual survey
of salaries in graduate departments of psychology, for example, plus periodic surveys of salaries in other psychology jobs. If you're looking for a job at a state institution, you can
find salary information for every position online.
But dig deeper so that you understand what the numbers really mean, says Washburn, urging job candidates to use their networks and try to contact people at the organizations
they're researching. "The numbers can be inflated," Washburn warns, explaining that the amount listed as his salary includes his summer teaching salary and travel
reimbursements. "A candidate coming in may see that assistant professors make $70,000 at Georgia State, when in reality they make $65,000 on a ninemonth contract and may
or may not get a course to teach over the summer." What's more, he says, applicants should understand how little latitude chairs may have in determining professors' salaries. At
Georgia State, for instance, it's the dean who decides what the school is willing to pay for a position, a decision often made with an eye toward ensuring salary equity across
departments. "The mismatch between these sources of information frequently creates, if not tension, at least unfilled expectations and disappointment," says Washburn.
When it comes to an actual amount, try to make the wouldbe employer go first, says Ryan. "Whoever mentions money first loses," she says. When the employer asks about your
salary requirements, turn the question around and ask what the salary range is, she suggests. "And remember that the first offer is usually the lowest offer," she adds. If you find
yourself in the enviable position of having multiple offers, you can let your firstchoice employer know and ask where you stand, she says.
You can also draw on the psychological literature on negotiation. In a 2013 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/108/2/254/) ,
psychologists Daniel R. Ames, PhD, and Malia Mason, PhD, of Columbia University's business school found that proposing a range in acceptable salary yields better offers than
offering a fixed amount. The researchers speculate that's because the higher number in the range creates the perception of a higher "reserve" price, makes extreme counteroffers
feel less polite and makes you seem more likable. In a 2013 study in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology (http://www8.gsb.columbia.edu/researcharchive/articles/5957) ,
Ames, Mason and colleagues found that suggesting a precise amount — $5,115 or $4,885 rather than $5,000, say — is more effective than suggesting a round number. The
reason? The other party to the negotiation assumes you're betterinformed than those who make roundnumber offers and therefore a better value.
Consider the total package
Your salary is just one piece of your compensation. You should ask the standard questions about health and dental insurance and retirement contributions, but also be sure to
4/9/2016 Your first salary
think about other aspects of the job, says ShenMiller. If you're seeking a therapy position, for example, ask what additional tasks you'll be responsible for. If you're going for an
academic position, ask about startup funds for your research, support for attending conferences, summer teaching opportunities, course load, tenure requirements, lab space, a
job for your spouse or partner and opportunities for outside work. ShenMiller's university allows him to spend one day a week working as a therapist, which not only brings in
extra cash but also offers clinical insights that inform his teaching and research.
Also consider intangible factors, says ShenMiller. He had an offer from another university that was substantially more than Tennessee State's initial offer, for example, but went
with Tennessee State anyway. "For many folks — including my family and me — an area's diversity is absolutely a big factor," he says. "That made coming to this particular
university and to Nashville more attractive." And keep in mind that the people you're negotiating with now are the same people you'll be working with later. "How the negotiation
process goes — in terms of being treated fairly and collegially — goes a long way toward setting the tone for your, and everyone else's, future working relationships," he says.
Be sure to get everything — down to the last detail — in writing, adds ShenMiller. "Someone might say, ‘Don't worry, we'll get you a new computer as soon as you get here,' but
sometimes things change, whether it's finances, leadership or other factors," he says. To make sure you and your new employer share the same understanding of the offer, you
might consider sending an email laying out what you agreed on and asking for confirmation that your understanding is correct, he says.
Be casual, not confrontational
"One phrase recruiters like more than any other in negotiation requests is, ‘Is there wiggle room?'" says Lewis C. Lin, MBA, author of the 2015 book "Five Minutes to a Higher
Salary: Over 60 Brilliant Salary Negotiation Scripts for Getting More." "It's not confrontational; it's breezy and conversational." Plus, he says, it's easier to answer than a question
about whether they can offer a higher salary, better benefits and the like. "When you get into those kind of details, they may have to get approval or may not know what can be
negotiated and what can't be," he says. "‘Wiggle room' is a yes/no question: It doesn't put people on the spot."
And remember that you both want the same thing, adds Washburn. "You've got to remember that the institution wants you as much as you want them," he says, adding that the
chair is trying to consider both recruitment and retention — including promotion and tenure — even in these initial negotiations. "The job negotiation represents the organization's
last opportunity to convince an applicant to accept its offer: You're it!"
Kuo, P. X. (2015). Negotiating a tenuretrack faculty job offer. Psychological Science Agenda (http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2015/02/negotiatingjoboffer.aspx)
Society for Human Resource Management. (2013, Winter). The art of salary negotiation. SHRMStudent Focus (http://www.hrmagazine
digital.com/hrmagazine/201212?pg=107#pg107) , 10–13.
Winerman, L. (2014). Will you earn what you're worth? gradPSYCH, 12(2).
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