Though it may seem that the job interview itself is the most daunting aspect of your job search, in reality it is what looms at the end that makes even the most confident fellow anxious: the dreaded salary-negotiation process. But you can conquer your fear. Whether you are negotiating an $80K or $580K salary, the strategies for success are the same.
“It’s about finding the right job and making sure they want to hire you before you start negotiating salary,” said Lee E. Miller, author of Get More Money on Your Next Job… in Any Economy and co-author of A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating: How to Convince, Collaborate, & Create Your Way to Agreement. And the entire process starts with being properly prepared.
What Are You Worth?
Eric Dickerson, managing director at Kaye/Bassman International in Dallas, Texas, is a top recruiter for the medical field. He said that well before going on a job interview, it is essential that you clearly understand your value in different regions of the country. That is important for fellows, because they often want to live and work in a certain geographical area. Recruiters can tell you the median compensation for a medical oncologist, but unless they do some research they cannot tell you what it will pay in the South, West, North, or East. And even within those regions there are variances. Certain markets have salary caps due to reimbursement constraints that have developed over the last 5 to 10 years. Other areas will pay more based on the demands of the marketplace and according to the needs of a particular hospital or physician practice.
“Doing the research is not just looking at a national salary survey,” Dickerson explained. “It’s truly understanding the geography of where you are or where you want to be.”
So, where can you find that data? Miller said that there is a lot of general information available on the Internet. But for a specialized area like oncology, it is best to talk with people in the field, including members of trade associations. This is not unlike first researching the selling prices of comparable neighborhood homes while house hunting.
“You want to learn what other people in similar positions are earning,” Miller said.
At this stage, you may wonder whether you should work with a recruiter. Dickerson cautioned, however, that not all physician recruiters are well versed in the oncology field, so you should determine their particular strengths and weaknesses. If you tackle the job search process on your own, you will certainly save money. Recruiters earn their commissions by taking a percentage of your future salary, making your actual take-home amount smaller. But if you choose to use a recruiter, be sure you understand the level of physicians they have worked with as well as their knowledge of the oncology market.
Dickerson added, “It never hurts physicians to interview various [recruitment] firms to decide with whom they want to work.”
Lee E. Miller said, ‘If you want to buy a Mercedes, you don’t go out and buy a Hyundai just because it’s cheaper.’ ”
Broaching the Subject
Experts agree that salary is the very last thing that should be discussed in the job interview process. According to Miller, it is all about timing.
“Think of it in terms of when you buy a car,” he suggested. “What’s the first thing a car salesman does? He gets you to drive the car. Because once you drive the car and you fall in love with [it], all of a sudden it’s not the price that matters.” Miller said the buyer will then try to figure out how to afford the vehicle, because he just has to have it.
“The same is true with a candidate,” claimed Miller. “Once they fall in love with you and you’re the one they want, then it’s ‘How do we make this happen?’” They won’t “buy” the lower-priced oncologist if he or she is less qualified than you are. Using a vehicle analogy, Miller said, “If you want to buy a Mercedes, you don’t go out and buy a Hyundai just because it’s cheaper.”
Raising the salary issue too early during the interview process can also harm your chances of landing the position you desire. For example, if you float a figure and it is too high, you have just priced yourself out of the position. If you come in too low, the interviewer may think you do not consider yourself qualified enough. Or, they may eagerly hire you because they realize they have found a bargain.
“The basic rules in life are, you don’t get what you deserve— you get what you negotiate,” Miller said.