A nurse’s guide to salary negotiation tips

Carmen faced a crossroads in her nursing career. She could stay in the comfortable position she had worked for the past 10 years or accept an exciting, new job offer with more complicated responsibilities.

The one catch is her boss had not indicated there would be a raise with the new position. However, Carmen is friends with Jeff, another nurse who worked in the exact new job she was considering. But she couldn’t imagine that he was working for the salary she was being offered.

She thought she deserved a raise if she accepted the new position. She felt awkward asking Jeff about his salary, but didn’t know how else she would know how much money to ask for. She also felt awkward about asking for more money, period. What should she do?

Salary negotiation tips to help you earn more

Nurses who don’t negotiate their salaries when accepting a new job or a promotion are probably leaving money on the table. Yet, that is what most nurses, especially women, do.

Kim Delaney, RN, director of enterprise talent acquisition at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, has worked in human relations for 15 years. She believes that most women, even at the highest organizational levels, such as directors, have been socialized to accept what is offered rather than asking for a raise.

In fact, she thinks girls are raised to be thankful that they have a job at all. But men, Delaney attests, don’t even blink or hesitate in asking, “Could you give me the salary? I don’t want to waste my time.”

Negotiating for a higher salary is the biggest tool you have to make more money as a nurse. In our salary report, 45% of the men who responded said they negotiate their salary “most of the time or always,” compared to only 34% of women respondents. That might be one reason why men make more money than women in nursing and indicates many men and women passively accept the salary originally offered.

Negotiating a higher salary is not intuitive or comfortable. Rather, it’s a career skill that takes preparation, practice and knowledge.

First, you need to know what a job is worth. As I tell new students at my regular breakout session at the annual National Student Nurses’ Association conference every year, don’t ever go into a serious job interview without knowing the approximate salary that goes with the job.

This applies not only to new nurses but also to experienced nurses who are interviewing for a new position within their organization or evaluating the possibility of a promotion.

Ways to prepare for salary negotiation

Consider the following so you are prepared to get the highest possible salary increase as you embark on the next position in your career progression.

  1. Figure out your fair market value, which is how much money you should be making based on your job title, credentials, years of experience, skills and location. The shortest road to researching this is to ask colleagues about their salary in comparable jobs. Although situations do exist where employers have legally prohibited workers from discussing salaries, the trend, by law, has been toward greater transparency. And, of course, professionals working in government jobs and hospitals with known pay grades can easily discover salaries. However, you can apply some science to this estimate by first consulting the Bureau of Labor Statistics websites that catalog more than 800 occupations in 400 industries, including nursing and every other health profession you can think of. Other starting points include Glassdoor and PayScale.
  1. Have an exact, negotiable number. Of course, you’ll start by bargaining high; but just like selling or buying a house, you should have a firm bottom number that becomes a deal breaker if you can’t reach an agreement with the employer.
  1. Make a list of not only how you will fulfill the job requirements, but also how your qualifications exceed them. Anecdotes are wonderful accentuating illustrations, but hard data that demonstrates how you will boost revenue or enhance operations is essential. Garbage can organizational theory postulates that organizations have multiple problems looking for solutions. Job vacancies are problems that you can solve, in this case, for what you and the market consider the proper salary. By having a convincing case for salary negotiation, you and the person offering the position can solve this vacancy problem together.
  1. Practice for the scenario you expect. You should know something about the person with whom you are meeting. It might be your manager or someone from HR, but your relationship with that person will set the tone for the conversation. It is a discussion, not a competition or zero-sum game. So be confident and friendly. Glassdoor offers a nice list of what to say and what not to say.
  1. If you can’t come to an agreement, don’t give up. If you leave the meeting without a decision, set a date for when negotiations end. Remember, the person with whom you are having this negotiation might not have the discretion to boost your salary. She might have to persuade someone who does have the authority to increase your salary. According to Delaney, most organizations have given the ability to set salary ranges and make job offers to the human relations department and not necessarily to your boss.

If salary negotiations don’t go your way, thank the people involved and move on. Remember, as Delaney surmises, “We’re in a market where people can compete.” Even a failed negotiation is productive because it provides you with a real-life rehearsal so you’re more prepared next time.

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As the largest healthcare profession in the U.S. and the profession positioned on the front line of patient care, nurses are crucial for leading change and advancing health. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Institute of Medicine made recommendations to transform the nursing profession in their report “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health.” A …read more

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