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How to negotiate your nurse salary
Fear not, negotiating is a part of the process
By Jennifer Mensik
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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 won’t cover your break-even point. Your break-even point includes knowing what you need to live on to pay bills and to save money. This needs to be paired with an understanding of the going rate for the role. 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.
Many organizations may be very strict about their range, and will keep to it, so negotiate within the range. On the other hand, it is
your responsibility in your interview
to demonstrate why the organization also needs you. What do you bring to the table and specifically why are you right for the job? How are you unique and better than other candidates?

Typically, your next salary will be more than your current salary. Failing to negotiate each time can have a major impact on you.
It’s been shown that executives who negotiated
their first salaries out of college earned at least $500,000 more over the course of their work life than those who did not initially negotiate. But you may not always “go up” in salary each year or in each job. I have had a few wide swings in my own salaries over the last 15 years. There are other benefits to consider, however, including learning a new skill set that in your next position could get you salary you want. So this isn’t always about making more money.
Jennifer Mensik, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, is division director of care management at Oregon Health and Science University and instructor for Arizona State University College of Nursing and Health Innovation DNP program. She also is treasurer for the American Nurses Association. Formerly, Mensik was vice president of CE programming for published by OnCourse Learning. A second-edition book she authored, "The Nurse Manager's Guide to Innovative Staffing," won third place in the leadership category for the American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Awards 2017.
The thought of negotiation may not even cross your mind, and maybe if it does, it strikes fear into you. Negotiating salary can increase wages by 7.4% over your working career, so don’t be shy!
One study of graduating professional students found that only 7% of women attempted to negotiate their initial offers, while 57% of men did so. A 2016 study I headed of 425 nurse leaders in Arizona 2016 described generational and gender differences in Arizona nurse leaders. The study found that 41% of men often or always negotiate their salary compared with 29% of women, which is a statistically significant finding.
Both genders can view negotiation as confrontational and, therefore, unpleasant. However, in a “Lean In” culture that suggests women should be more aggressively ambitious, it is important to push forward with negotiating. Many fear, rightfully so, that the offer of employment may be rescinded if they push too hard. However, managers who have experience hiring staff say they typically build in wiggle room for negotiations. One manager I spoke to was always surprised when individuals took the initial offer and didn’t negotiate.
What should you consider when you need to negotiate?
1. Decide ahead on your break-even point, aka the point at which income and expenses are equal; 2. Manage your emotions; and 3. Be ready to walk away
Manage your emotions
You may want to respond immediately to a job proposal, but instead, I suggest you ask for a reasonable amount of time to think about it, and not let your emotions respond for you. This is usually 24 to 48 hours, or over a weekend. Then, be prepared to accept the offer they gave you or to submit a counteroffer. The counteroffer may be more in 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 their supervisor and human resources.

Negotiations can take 1-2 weeks, so patience in key. You may feel anxious or scared, and that is normal, just don’t let that come across in your communication. We tend to lose our ability to rationally think when we let our emotions completely take over. If you get a poor initial offer, you might feel slighted or undervalued. Keep a poker face and ask for time to think about it. This gives you a chance to remove yourself from the situation, and time to think about the whole job prospect, as well as what makes sense for you as a next step. Should you walk away? Make another counteroffer? Accept? You should always ask for at least a short time to think about all this.
Be ready to walk away
What is the worst that might happen by negotiating? The employer may rescind their offer; or maybe they think you value yourself too highly; or — they accept your negotiation! This can feel like a game of chicken, where the hiring manager has the upper hand, especially if you indicated in the interview you really need the job.

Sometimes, I had to say no to a
job offer
. If you really believe you are not being paid what you should be, and the organization rejects your counteroffer, do you really want to work for them? Maybe you do. As I noted before, you might gain a valuable new skill set.

However, it’s okay to say no and walk away. It happens more often than you might think. Believe me, if an organization really needs you, then you have more power than you know.
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... in speaking to managers who have experience hiring staff, they typically build in wiggle for negotiations.”
- Jennifer Mensik, RN