How to Negotiate Your Nursing Salary

How to Negotiate Your Nursing Salary

You’ve worked 10- to 12-hour shifts while remaining cheerful and compassionate. You’ve gone without a bathroom break or bite of food for the entire time. You’ve cleaned up blood, vomit and more without gagging. You’ve offered encouragement to a patient in need just minutes after watching another one die. You’ve done a lot of difficult—even scary—things as a nurse. In fact, you’ve done them every day. But how many times have you negotiated salary when starting a new nursing job?

If the answer is “never,” you’re not alone.

One study found that 49 percent of job candidates never negotiate when presented with a job offer. Maybe the salary was good enough. Perhaps it was more than they expected. It might have been less. But they—and you—have been leaving money on the table—as much as $5,000 a year (or a whopping $600,000 over the course of a 40-year career) according to some researchers.

Why this reluctance to talk dollars and cents? Survey results regularly show that professionals avoid negotiations during the job offer-and-acceptance process for several reasons. First, it’s unpleasant; no one wants to be told “no” or lose a job opportunity because they dared to ask for more. Second, they lack confidence; they aren’t sure what they are really worth. Third, they don’t feel like they have the necessary skills to negotiate effectively.

If you recognize yourself in any of these fears, it’s time to set them aside.

Employers (84 percent, in fact) actually expect you to negotiate your wages before accepting a job. If you don’t want to let them down, consider these tips for wheeling and dealing your way to the best nursing salary you can get. 

1. Determine your value

It’s surprisingly easy to discover what other nurses are earning for comparable jobs. Health eCareers offers a simple to use salary calculator that will return results filtered by profession, specialty and state. You can even compare annual earnings for different levels of experience. For example, the average salary for an RN in Colorado is $63,000 in 2015. Those with zero to five years of experience earn an average of $49,183, while those with more than a decade in the industry earn $66,380 on average.

Other salary resources include Glassdoor.com, PayScale.com and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Keep in mind that your expected earnings can vary by healthcare facility type and size as well as your specialty, location and years of experience.

2. Don’t make the initial offer

Some employers will ask you to include your current salary or future salary expectations in your cover letter. Others will ask how much you’re looking for during the interview. The reasons for this are many and include wanting to avoid wasting time on someone they can’t afford and—possibly—using the information you divulge to offer you the lowest amount they can get away with.

Put off quoting a number for as long as you can. If there’s no way around it—the employer demands you include a salary range when applying or pressures you to name your price before scheduling an interview—you may have to do so. Use the information you gathered when determining your worth and make the low end of your range your ‘walk away’ number—a salary that would satisfy you and is on par with the current market—and the top end 10 to 15 percent higher than your minimum. Preferably you’ll want to ask the employer, “What kind of salary range are you working with?” or “What is the typical salary at your organization for this position?” before you even enter this discussion.

3. Consider the entire package

While the amount you’ll earn per hour—or per year—is important, you shouldn’t ignore the benefits package. This is especially important if you’re fielding multiple offers, as there can be quite a discrepancy between basic salary and the total compensation package when you’ve figured in the benefits. Consider the value of perks such as health insurance, life insurance, stock options, 401(k) matches, bonuses, holiday and vacation time, personal time, staff discounts, continuing education reimbursement, and other benefits.

If it turns out that the employer isn’t willing—or doesn’t have the budget—to negotiate salary, you might be able to increase the total value of the job by negotiating enhanced benefits.

4. Keep the process friendly

Ultimately, you and the employer are on the same side. He or she wants to hire a great nurse; you want to work for a great employer. This doesn’t mean you just have to say “okay” without asking for more. It does mean you can be enthusiastic and appreciative while asking for 24 hours to consider the offer before responding with your counter.

If the offer was made by email or in another written form, make an appointment to discuss it in person. Negotiating face-to-face, while perhaps more nerve-wracking, is generally more effective. It shows you are confident as well as serious about your worth. If you must discuss it by email, make sure your response is complete, thoughtful and polite.

If you’ve received offers from more than one employer, don’t play them against each other. And don’t threaten to walk if you don’t get what you want. Even if you choose not to accept the job, you don’t want to burn bridges. The hospital budget may change or the clinic may expand and you may have another opportunity to work for the employer down the line.

5. Get the final offer in writing

They offered you $60,000 plus an adequate benefits package. You countered with $65,000 plus an allowance for childcare expenses. They agreed to the allowance and $63,000 as their final offer. You accepted. Congratulations on a successful negotiation and your new nursing job! But before you call your mom or tweet all your friends, ask for the final offer in writing. Any legitimate employer—from physician offices to private nursing facilities—will agree, so if one happens to balk, it’s a red flag you’ll need to consider. 

The first step to furthering and fine-tuning your career is to empower yourself with knowledge. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees,  including an RN to BSN program and advanced degree programs that prepare nurses for a specialty in case managementinfection control, or executive leadership.

This post is brought to you in partnership with Health eCareers. Health eCareers is your destination for medical and healthcare opportunities. Access jobs from thousands of employers spanning small medical practices to large integrated health systems. This post was written by Angela Rose for Health eCareers.

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