Planning and Execution Are the Keys in Salary Negotiation

Oncology Fellows, April 2011, Volume 3, Issue 1

Whether you are negotiating an $80K or $580K salary, the strategies for success are the same.

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.

Dickerson echoed those thoughts. “Negotiation 101 says that when your initial offer is accepted immediately, that indicates they know it’s a good deal and you could have gotten a whole lot more,” he explained. “You’re shooting yourself in the foot.”

Rather than discuss dollars, Dickerson suggested you demonstrate your value to the hospital or medical practice. For example, he encouraged fellows to talk about the job and about the facilities. Who are your peers? What does the practice group look like? Tell the interviewer you would like to speak with others at the hospital or practice. Salary is important, but there are a lot of other deeper, long-lasting factors beyond the money.

“By taking that approach, what you’re doing is really demonstrating a focus on the value you could bring,” Dickerson said. “Therefore, when it gets to the point at the end of the game that it’s time to talk about money, you have taken the time to demonstrate that value. And therefore your perceived value would deservedly be closer to the best possible market price you could have, versus raising the [salary] question at the very beginning.”

Women (Unfortunately)

Don’t Negotiate

The differences between men and women in the business and medical worlds have been debated for ages. One difference that appears undeniable, however, is that women tend to shy away from the negotiation process. According to Lee E. Miller, women tend to negotiate less often than men and accept the initial salary offer.

“Very rarely is the first offer the best offer,” Miller explained. “There’s usually something to negotiate. And when women do negotiate, they tend to ask for too little.”

Miller’s point is echoed in a wide range of studies, many of which are published in Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. In their book, the authors note the following:

  • In surveys, 2.5 times more women than men said they feel “a great deal of apprehension” about negotiating.
  • Men initiate negotiations about 4 times as often as women.
  • Asked to pick metaphors for the process of negotiating, men selected “winning a wrestling match” while women said “going to the dentist.”
  • Twenty percent of adult women (22 million) say they never negotiate at all, even though they often recognize negotiation as appropriate and even necessary.

In addition, failure to negotiate can have a long-lasting impact. By not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60. According to studies, men are 4 times as likely as women to negotiate their first salary.

Proven Negotiating System

Jim Camp is the president and CEO of Camp Negotiation Systems, and an accomplished negotiator who has developed a negotiation system that is taught in MBA programs worldwide. He is also the author of NO: The Only Negotiating System You Need for Work and Home.

Camp said that the first step in the negotiation process is to understand the concept of mission and purpose. In other words, be clear about what you are trying to deliver. For an oncology fellow, that means understanding what you will deliver not only to the patient, but also to the hospital or healthcare organization. Too often that is not clearly thought out.

“How can you help someone else see what you’re bringing, what you’re delivering, if you can’t see it yourself?” asked Camp.

The second step is to recognize the problems inherent in your particular negotiation. For example, although an oncologist and a urologist are both specialists, an oncologist brings a different value to an organization. But if the healthcare organization is trying to establish pay equity across the spectrum of physicians, that is a problem that must be dealt with. Negotiate it out of the negotiations by creating the value that separates you from others in your field or profession.

You will also need to contain your emotions. Camp claimed that decisions “are made 100% emotionally [and] not intellectually, with facts.” He continued, “We all have to deal with what we call baggage: the emotions we bring to the game. The key is to lower that emotion until it’s almost nonexistent and create a vision so that decisions can be made comfortably.”

Those emotions could be tied to someone other than the fellow who is engaged in the salary negotiation process. Dickerson pointed out that personal factors, especially family and the desire to live within a particular geographic location, can significantly reduce an individual’s leverage when it comes to salary negotiation. “There’s a wide variety of comfort levels that people have with that,” said Dickerson. “It’s important to evaluate where that falls among your priorities.”

The next step, said Camp, is to know exactly what you want. Then have a vision of what you want to happen next, after the negotiation. That vision can be viewed in small steps, not big ones. You may just want the person you are negotiating with to take all of the information you have provided, digest it, and then schedule a follow-up meeting. Whatever it is, make sure you carefully think through what you want because, Camp noted, you just might get it.

Perks and Competition

It is often said that competition brings out the best in people. And according to Miller, there is nothing better for a job-seeking fellow than a hospital or practice competing for you. For example, suppose 2 hospitals have expressed an interest in having you join their staff . Hospital A has offered a higher salary, but hospital B is where you would truly rather work. Miller suggested the following approach.

“Tell hospital B that they’re your first choice [and] that you would really love to work there because it’s a great fit,” he said. “But, you have an offer from hospital A. Is there anything hospital B can do to sweeten the offer? Just put it on the table and leave it open.”

And remember, Miller added, it is not always about the money. The reality is that sometimes the compensation at one facility is high because the job is terrible. Sometimes the facility offering the lower salary, combined with perks such as health benefits and vacation leave, might just be the better package.

Ed Rabinowitz is a veteran financial journalist based in Upper Mt. Bethel Township, Pennsylvania.

This edition of Oncology Fellows is supported by Genentech, a member of the Roche Group.