One of the most difficult parts of applying for that first leadership role can be negotiating your salary. I recently had a student ask me what she should do if the salary offered was less than what she thought she was worth. I have found in my research that one of the factors that lead staff nurses to reject nurse leader roles is the realization that they will make less money. With a few overtime shifts and shift differentials, the salary of many staff nurses exceeds that of their manager. With the incredible responsibilities placed on managers and work weeks that easily exceed 40 hours, it is not surprising that many capable staff nurses say no to leadership roles. Many health-care agencies are struggling with this issue. But the bigger question for the individual nurse who seeks a leadership role especially for the first time is what is a fair salary for the work.
Salary should not be your only criteria
There are many things to consider in the salary negotiation/acceptance process. I have personally never turned down a job strictly on the basis of salary. The opportunity needs to be evaluated within the context of your long-range career goals. Beginning nurse leader salaries are often not commensurate with the responsibilities but as one climbs the career ladder, senior nurse leaders are often very well compensated for their work. It is important to ask yourself what you can learn in this job, how well will you be supported and will the organization pay for your leadership development. Full tuition reimbursement for a graduate program might be a key factor in a beginning leadership role. A bigger contribution to a 401K or stock options could more compensate for a lower starting salary.
Learn to negotiate – In most organizations, nurse leader salaries are negotiable so learning how to negotiate is important. Some key points from the health-care experts that I have spoken with on this topic include the following:
Let them know that you are interested – it can be frustrating when candidates have no real interest in the position but continue to negotiate for salary, get what they ask for and then say no. Be authentic about your intentions in the job search.
Don’t give an immediate answer to salary offer – give yourself time to think and reflect on it. Asking for as specific time-frame to think about and consider the offer can send a very powerful message.
Know the market value of the position – it is important to do some due diligence as to what comparable positions pay in your community. In the case of my student, she had done this and told me that the offer was almost $8000 less than the lower end of the scale in her community.
Speak to the value/contributions that you will make in the role and to the organization – be very clear about your value and contributions and what you can bring to the role that will help the organization to achieve better outcomes. If it is your first role, speak about the depth of your clinical experience, ability to engage with others, focus on customer satisfaction and passion for excellence. Talk about the energy that you will bring to the job and the skill sets that you already have.
Ask for the offer in writing – any unwillingness on the part of an organization to do this is a red flag. Having the terms in writing will avoid misunderstandings at a later point in time.
Recognize when you need to say no – sometimes you will not achieve your goals in salary negotiation and feel the offer is well below what you are worth. It can be very disempowering to start in a role and not feel good about your compensation. Employers may offer to revisit the offer in six months but HR experts advise that your best opportunity for negotiating a salary is at the time of the initial interview. You may need to say no if you find yourself in this situation.
Whatever you do in the negotiation process, always maintain a professional demeanor. If you do receive an offer even if it is below what you expected, it means that someone is demonstrating confidence in your abilities. And if you can’t successfully negotiate a salary that is acceptable to you, always be very gracious, thank the employer for the opportunity and don’t burn your bridges.