Looking for that first job can be stressful. Around this time of year, graduating residents and fellows polish up their CVs, cobble together persuasive cover letters and hit the pavement for their first REAL jobs.  Others may be evaluating administrative or educational promotions.  Either way, whenever a job is in transition, you are looking at a period of negotiation.  You make your money, so to speak, going into a deal. Let’s make sure that you get the best deal for you and that your employer is also happy with the terms. We want a win-win—the kind of deal that keeps everyone as happy as possible throughout the tenure of a job. It’s so much easier when everyone is happy from the beginning.

Negotiating is a skill that you need to learn and practice. Here are a few tips that I’ve learned over the years and words of advice from experts:

  1. Be prepared Before you walk through that door to negotiate, be prepared. Research the salary ranges for the location and position. The Association of American Medical Colleges publishes salaries based on academic appointment. Merritt Hawkins and Daniel Stern groups also regularly survey and provide data. Be sure to use your network to do your research as well. For my negotiations for a previous position, I surveyed my physician colleagues in the same position on their base salary and benefits before I met with the COO. Her initial offer was 20% less than their base. By sharing my knowledge of the market with her, we quickly came to agreement on the full salary. Remember there are other potential perks other than salary. There may be loan repayment or bonus program. You may be able to negotiate pursuing an advanced degree—expect a potential pay back period if the company invests in you. In academic centers, you may receive protected time for teaching or research. Your network will have knowledge on creative approaches to get to that win-win scenario.
  2. Ask for what you want Women still earn less than men. Research shows that one reason is that women do not ask for what their hard work is actually worth. Author of Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock, found in her study that only 7% of women asked for more compared to 57% of men. And, those that asked got 7% more. Professor Margaret Neale from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business theorizes part of the reason is that women are simply uncomfortable asking for more. How do we get more comfortable? Practice and Preparation. Also have a wide focus. Think about the other person’s objectives and perspectives. Why would they want you? What special things do you bring to the position? And what do they bring to the table for you? Finally, your approach is important. Women tend to do better, and are perceived in a positive light, when they focus the conversation on a communal discussion. Men can speak directly about their competency. Studies show women have higher success rates and perform better discussing how their attributes best help the institution. It is a subtle, but important difference. It is an unfortunate prejudice, but I’ve tried both ways, and I recommend the former. Better to get what you want.
  3. Listen When you go in, start with the end in mind. At the same time, have some flexibility and adjust your requirements if it matches the goals of the other party. An executive coach for many women, and my friend, Anna Soo Wildermuth, bluntly advises: be patient, listen, and stop talking. The old adage that the first person to speak loses the negotiation is often true. By listening, you may find that pearl that creates the win-win negotiation you want.
  4. Have a Plan B On the 80s TV show, The A Team, the elite squad often jokes that they have “no plan B.” That’s television. Have options and another plan. It relieves some pressure, and if necessary, allows you to walk away. Know your bottom line, and set your expectations high! Women tend to undervalue themselves. You deserve the best, and you’ve worked hard for this day.
  5. Go for it! Women tend to believe that they must have every single qualification to get a higher position, and they unnecessarily hesitate to apply. Men are more likely to take a chance, even if they only meet 60% of the stated qualifications. Take that chance. You have nothing to lose. People commonly learn on the job, and most job hires are based on acumen. You have the skills, know-how, and determination. You deserve the position.

In the end, whoever is looking to hire wants to find the piece of the puzzle that helps build the company into a stronger workforce. If you know exactly what the company wants, you can convince them that you are the match that they need. In some cases, you may realize that this is the wrong company for you, for whatever reason, and move to the next opportunity. In short, you must prepare, understand the perspective of your counterpart, and ask for what you want. Be ready to say no, understand your bottom line, and walk away, if necessary. With these simple guidelines, you should be off to a great start. Now go get it!


  1. Stanford Executive Education: Executive Program for Women Leaders. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.
  2. Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean in. S.l.: Virgin, 2013. Print.
  3. Fisher, Roger, William Ury, and Bruce Patton. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving in. New York, NY: Penguin, 1991. Print
  4. Sunzi, and Stefan Rudnicki. The Art of War. West Hollywood, CA: Dove, 1996

A version of this post was previously published in an AAWEP Newsletter