You’re sitting in your third and final interview, and your prospective employer says, “We would like to work up an offer. What is your salary requirement?”
A little bead of perspiration streams down your back. What am I worth? If I ask for too much will they withdraw the offer? If I don’t ask for enough, will I be cheating myself out of what I deserve? How long have I been sitting here without answering the question?
There are plenty of salary resources out there. Do your homework before you get to that first interview. Glassdoor.com is one site that comes to mind. Type in a job title and the geographic location, and voila! You get a listing of similar job titles, descriptions, and associated salaries.
But of course, as scientists, we love data. The more data, the better, right? The Government Scale, or the GS pay scale is another resource. My first experience with the GS pay scale was right out of grad school –PhD in hand, but no real experience – and that was estimated to be GS Grade 12 Step 1 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (keep in mind that this was more of an analyst position, not bench science).
If you Google “GS Payscale 2015 Locality Pay Tables,” the current list provided by the Office of Personnel Management will pop up. In 2015 dollars, in Washington D.C., GS Grade 12 Step 1 is $76,278. Not too shabby for fresh out of grad school.
To provide a little perspective, the GS scale goes up to Grade 15, Step 10, which equates to $158,700 in 2015 dollars. This is probably equivalent to a tenured academic professor. It’s also a good idea to check out a “Cost of Living” calculator online, which is especially handy if you’re moving from an expensive area to an inexpensive area (or vice versa).
But there’s more to it than salary. Let’s say you’re sitting there, you’ve done your homework, and you blurt out your salary requirement, confident in your ability to back up that figure. After all, you have data! Then your prospective employer looks at you with an expression that says “I may have just had a stroke.” The best response is, “I’m a little flexible on salary, but I would have to consider it in light of the company’s entire benefits package.” Nice save.
All companies offer healthcare, but what about other “stuff?”
Can you renegotiate your salary after a year? Is there upward mobility within the company? Do they contribute to a 401k, and what type of match is it? These may not be negotiable, but they are good questions to ask anyway.
How much vacation time is there? I recently left a job with two weeks of vacation time, and took a position with a slight salary cut but four weeks of vacation time. Vacation days may be something you can negotiate. For example, a company may have a policy that states that you get two weeks until your first anniversary, and then that goes up to three weeks. Negotiate for three weeks right off the bat. That’s an entire week’s salary in your pocket while you vacation in Mexico.
Would they offer a signing bonus? This is a one-time bonus upon hiring, and can be negotiated. Or would they provide an incentive compensation plan? This is common in positions associated with business development, and is based on performance tied to financial gain for the company (i.e. funds brought in, partnerships developed, etc.). Do they have a performance-based bonus structure (not tied to fiduciary gain)? Is it dependent on the company’s growth? You can negotiate for up to a 10-20% bonus every year based on your performance and the company’s growth. Any of these programs could make up for a deficit in salary.
Does the company offer professional training opportunities, either in-house or externally? Do they offer tuition reimbursement? Can you pursue a certification or an MBA on the company’s dime? That could easily cost $40k. But make sure you read the fine print – for example, you may owe them a minimum of two or more years upon completion or you’ll have to reimburse the company. Even if they don’t have a tuition reimbursement program, you may be able to negotiate for a training budget toward professional development.
This may sound small, but is there parking? A recent company I worked for was located in the middle of a fancy metropolitan neighborhood, where the cost of parking was upwards of $300 per month. If not parking, do they subsidize mass transit? Is there a gym on premises? Or do they offer a health reimbursement for an annual gym membership?
The point is, take the whole package into consideration. Your prospective employer is expecting you to negotiate. And you are your best advocate.