What I learned about negotiation while getting ready for my first job interview.

17 Jan 2014
by Kaitlyn Kelly, MD
Assistant Professor of Surgery 
UC San Diego, Division of Surgical Oncology

I recently made the transition from fellow to attending. As I was getting ready for my first job interview, I realized that I knew nothing about negotiating. Several friends and mentors asked me what I was planning to ask for and I didn’t know. I also felt very anxious about that thought of asking for any more than what was being offered to me. It just is not in my nature. Then a mentor suggested that I read, Women Don’t Ask, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. I bought the book the next day and read it on the flight to my interview. It was very eye-opening for me because it made me realize that I was not alone. It explained that many women have trouble negotiating and provided an in-depth discussion of personal and social reasons for why that is. The book went on to explain how to effectively ask for what you need in an effective, yet polite, way. I felt much more comfortable and better equipped for my interviews after reading it.

Another thing I learned as the process went on is that at many academic institutions, the salary for an assistant clinical professor is a set rate and is not considered negotiable. It is important to find out what the standard / acceptable salary is in one’s field and in the geographic region where one is applying. This information is published yearly in the AAMC Report on Medical School Faculty Salaries.  Even in cases where starting salary is “non-negotiable”, there are many other things that one can still negotiate for in the academic practice setting. These include office space, a computer, a window in one’s office, tuition for courses and career development opportunities, travel funding, phone expenses, parking, etc.

After the interview process is complete, you receive a letter stating the terms of the position and the salary. If you accept the position and terms, you sign and return the letter. This letter is your final opportunity to negotiate. You may respond and ask that it be amended prior to signing. It is important to make sure you are complete when responding and that you ask for all modifications that you want. I have heard of a situation where an applicant went back and forth several times with the letter and ultimately, the offer was taken away.

To summarize, I recommend the following tips when entering the job negotiation process:

  1. Read the books: Women Don’t Ask, and the AAMC Report on Medical School Faculty Salaries.
  2. Be organized. Know what salary is reasonable to ask for, and know what non-salary items are important to you that you want to ask for.
  3. And be confident. Know what you have to offer the institution where you are interviewing.
       Good luck!

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