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It (almost) never hurts to ask: Negotiating your nurse salary

Salary is a natural negotiation point for a job offer, but there are a few others as well.

Sometimes making more money as a nurse is just a matter of asking. And that time comes right after you've gotten a job offer and before you've accepted. Yet almost a third of nurses don't negotiate their pay for new jobs, according to the 2018 Nurse.com Salary Report. That could be because new nurses are just so relieved to receive that first job offer, or more experienced nurses aren't willing to make a fuss during the hiring process.

But making no effort or too little effort can cost you, according to Corry Klebold, a recruiter for senior travel nurses and surgical technicians for a medical personnel company. "The biggest mistake I see many nurses make when negotiating is that they are too accommodating, and don’t ask for what they want or need," he explained. "It takes a lot of compassion to be a good nurse, but sometimes that compassion can bleed into their personal lives, which can make it very difficult to negotiate a higher salary."

To get your due pay without being overly optimistic, Klebold and other nurse recruiters offered this advice:

Start by negotiating with yourself. "You have to know your minimum salary requirements, and you have to be willing to ask for more than that to start," noted Klebold, who also co-hosts the podcast Bedside Manners with Paul Ulrich.

A few good places to start include Nurse.com's Salary Research Report, or Payscale's free calculator that can help you establish your market value depending on factors like the location, how many employees are at the potential workplace, and any benefits involved.

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Determine where there's wiggle room. According to registered nurse and nurse practitioner Donna Cardillo, who writes as The Inspiration Nurse, "It's not possible to negotiate salary in every position you go after. For example, when you apply for a staff position in a public healthcare facility, salaries are usually predetermined and pretty much set in stone. They're based on objective criteria, such as years of experience, degrees, certifications, shift differential, and so on. However, once you get into management, or in some cases, private healthcare facilities and more nontraditional jobs, there's usually leeway to negotiate."

Consider the total package. Look beyond the paycheck to other components of the employment package before taking a new job, certified health recruiter Jessica Quezada Jackson told Nurse. com. "For example, nurses who are relocating to underserved areas may be able to negotiate more lucrative relocation packages versus higher base salaries."

Get to know the potential employer's pay structure. Often, nurse pay is structured by tiers and mostly depends on years of experience and certain performance standards. That can rule out a more traditional nurse salary negotiation during the application process, but you can still impact the salary you're offered, Jackson added. "The most important thing nurses can do to make sure they're leveraging their experience, education and more is to understand a potential employer's pay structure, so they can negotiate where possible," she said. "Nurses can get that information through their recruiters… they'll be able to tell you what you're going to make based on your background."

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Share your story. Make sure that recruiters know anything that might qualify you for a higher salary when a hospital or office's pay is highly structured. "From a negotiation standpoint, it would behoove the nurses to be able to tell their stories about the experiences of jobs they've had and what they've done," registered nurse and senior talent acquisition specialist at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, told Nurse.com. "Because if we're looking at just a resume and that's the only snapshot we have when we're calculating a salary, we might not have the whole picture."

Employ empathy. Sometimes a soft skill that helps with nursing can also make a salary conversation go your way, Klebold emphasized. "Empathy is your best weapon to win a negotiation," he said. "The easiest way to get what you want is to put yourselves in the shoes of the hiring manager, figure out what they want, and sell them on how you can deliver on that."

Let the hospital make the offer. Instead of limiting your own job potential by naming a salary that's out of the range (or worse, below what they expect), steer clear of stating your pay needs early in the job application process, Cardillo recommended. "If you're asked early on what your salary needs are, you should respond with something like, 'I need to know what the job entails before I can state my salary requirement,' or 'At this point, my salary requirements are negotiable. I'm more interested in finding out if the job's right for me and if I'm the right person for the job.'"

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Get the position, then parlay. "Salary should never be discussed until you're offered a job," Cardillo added. "Until then, you're not fully aware of the parameters of the job and what's expected of you. Most important, once the prospective employer is sold on you, you have some negotiating power."

Wait them out. "In an employment situation, whoever mentions a salary figure first is at a disadvantage," Cardillo explained. "So if you're asked what you think would be fair salary, say something like, 'How much have you budgeted for this position?' or 'How much were you paying the last person? Let's start there.' Many employers will be up-front with this information. Then you can gauge what you have to work with."

Ask for a bit more. With this approach, you can tap into the highest part of the salary range, as long as you recognize you probably won't get the top amount, Cardillo added. "If your request is reasonable and the employer wants you and has the budget, you may get what you ask for," she said. "The worst that could happen is that you get turned down. But asking doesn't jeopardize your standing unless you make a completely unrealistic request."

Bring on the references. Finally, when you're trying to get an edge without being too forceful, remember your fans and supporters, Klebold added. "Don't overlook the negotiating power of manager, director or physician references. Every nurse says they're a good nurse. References provide proof that you are as good as you say."

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