The thought of negotiating your salary may not even cross your mind, and if it does, the idea may intimidate you.
Although negotiating salary can increase starting wages by an average of 7.4%, according to a Forbes article, many nurses don’t do it. In fact, in the 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report by Nurse.com, 30% of the nurses surveyed said they never negotiate salary vs. 18% who said they always do.
When a nurse is seeking a career move, salary tends to be a motivating factor, and the ability to negotiate can affect the salary.
“Nurses with experience know their value and understand the demand for their skill set,” said Lora Sparkman, MHA, BSN, RN, Relias Partner in Clinical Solutions for Patient Safety & Quality, in the research report. “There is definitely opportunity for all nurses to negotiate their salary, and that is a real positive for the nursing profession.”
The research report also found that female RNs were less likely to negotiate salary either always or most of the time (31%) compared to male RNs (40%). That said, any nurse can view negotiation as confrontational and fear that an offer of employment may be rescinded if they push too hard.
However, hiring managers often expect a candidate to negotiate salary and may be surprised when a candidate takes their initial offer.
Here are three items to consider when preparing to negotiate your salary.
Calculate Your Salary Requirements
Before you start down the road of an interview, ask about the salary range. There is no point in wasting anyone’s time if the maximum of the range will not cover your break-even point — the salary you need to pay bills and enjoy life. Be aware of the cost of living in your city and state, any chances that there may be rate hikes in the area (tax increases, for instance), and any other expenses that may deeply impact your break-even point either immediately or in the near future.
You also need a thorough understanding of the going rate for the role for which you’re applying. This requires research on your part to know the job market, as well as what others in similar roles are being paid. Salary surveys are a great place to gather this type of data.
And if you’re planning on relocating to another state, make sure you research that state’s cost of living, rates for certain roles, housing availability, commute, etc. The more research you do up front, the easier it will be to hone in on job offers that suit your salary needs.
Many organizations may be very firm about their salary range — and will stick to it — so negotiate within the range.
Keep in mind that it’s your responsibility in your interview to express why the organization needs you. What do you bring to the table and why are you right for the job? How are you unique and more qualified than other candidates?
Demonstrating your value to the organization during an interview not only supplements the list of credentials that you notated on your resume and job application, but can give you more leverage in salary negotiations.
Typically, your next salary will be more than your current salary. Failing to negotiate each time you switch jobs or roles within the same organization can have a major and long-lasting impact. According to an Inc. article, not negotiating salary — especially at the beginning of a career — can cost an individual “between $1 million and $1.5 million … in lost earnings over their lifetime.” And this estimation doesn’t include retirement contributions the employer may make or other financial incentives.
Manage Your Emotions
You may want to respond immediately to a job offer, but instead, ask for a reasonable amount of time to think about it — 24 to 48 hours — instead of letting your emotions respond for you. Then, be prepared to accept their offer or to submit a counteroffer. The counteroffer may be a higher salary, more paid time off, or another benefit. Counter in writing, usually with an email. The hiring manager may need a few days to discuss the counteroffer with a supervisor and human resources.
Negotiations can take 1–2 weeks, so patience is key. If you’re feeling anxious or scared, that is completely normal. However, it’s important to stay composed when responding to counteroffers.
If their next offer still doesn’t match what you’re seeking, you might feel slighted or undervalued. Should you walk away? Make another counteroffer? Accept? Keep a poker face and take the time to consider the whole job prospect, as well as what makes sense for your next step.
Be Ready to Walk Away
What is the worst thing that could happen by negotiating salary? The employer may rescind their offer, or maybe they think you value yourself too highly. But they can also accept your counteroffer.
Negotiating your salary can feel like a game of chicken in which the hiring manager has the upper hand, especially if you indicated your enthusiasm for the job position during the interview. But if you really believe you’re not being offered a salary that is conducive to your needs and experience (or a benefits package that makes up for the salary’s shortcomings) and the organization rejects your counteroffer, do you really want to work there?